Urban Westopia

What can you expect to find on this year's Fathers Day Garden Tour, a wandering, self-guided exploration of ten unique West Asheville gardens? Picture this:

Photos by Jonathan Welch

It's late afternoon at Wamboldtopia, a cool and shaded garden filled with art, flowers and few flat surfaces. Dappled sunlight, filtered through the leaves of mature oaks, lazily flickers over wandering pathways. A black tomcat named Tapper flicks his tail while eyeing the bright orange fish that flit through handmade streams. The waters flow through stone-lined beds, pour through perfectly placed clay pipes, momentarily resting still in pools before getting pumped back through the same maze again.

Ricki Pierce, the stonemason who built the stream beds, has been lulled to sleep on the porch by the sound of the moving water. His wife, Damaris Pierce, an artist who met Ricki after she commissioned him to build the water features on her property, shakes him gently awake.

While she waits for her husband to shake off the cobwebs of sleep, Damaris climbs a hill to her geometric herb garden. Sedum crawls out from under the shadows of towering rose bushes, over stones and toward the sunlight, seemingly in defiance of the attempt to corral it into a pattern.

This garden, perched at the top of the property, overlooks the house, a stone workshop the couple shares and the flashing water below. This garden was the first thing that Damaris built on the property, when the rest of it was still an untamed mess. "It was all just jungle, and the rest was just weeds and grass and hard dirt," Damaris says, surveying the now somewhat-tamed rolling patch of land. Damaris, single at the time, hauled lumber, stones and buckets of gravel up the steep hill by herself, without the benefit of tidy stone pathways. The garden, after all, is old enough to precede her stonemason's arrival.

Close by that herb garden is a circular, stone-paved area that Ricki built for Damaris in lieu of a traditional engagement ring (She's a sculptor and works with her hands, he will explain later — she's not much of a jewelry person). The eventual Pierces were bound in marriage by a friend while standing in the center of this stone ring. It's a beautiful piece — a work of art.

Ricki, now wide awake and jovial, standing in earshot of the fat bees lazily buzzing about the flowers of the herb garden, laughs. "I don't classify myself as an artist, I'm a stonemason," he says, amiably dismissive. It's obvious, however, that Damaris considers him an artist. She gestures toward expertly crafted paths, stairs, walls. She smiles and gently says, "Look around."

Interspersed throughout the impossibly tight, yet pleasantly haphazard stonework is a wealth of art — organically eclectic in assortment, but not self-consciously so. Sculpted towers, gnomes, little accents hidden here and there make a stroll through Wamboldtopia one of discovery.

A skeleton with two left feet hangs from a hand-wrought anchor, suspended near the workshop. An old chain-link fence that separates the Pierce's property from that of their neighbors is undergoing a transformation — via metal lathe and concrete — turning the once-ugly barrier into a faux castle wall. The open arches will be planted with edibles that both sides of the wall will share.

A flowing river of welded-together gears, perched on the wall near the entrance to the garden, has been allowed to collect a patina of rust. "It looks better that way," says Ricki. An archway that serves as the entrance to the garden bears a raised, sculpted inscription that reminds those that exit Wamboldtopia: "You are loved."

Chas Jansen, coordinator of the Fathers Day Garden Tour, thinks that love is the common thread that ties together each of the gardens on this exploration of West Asheville green spaces. "You can tell — in every case — among the ten gardens that are on display on this year's Fathers Day Garden Tour, that it was all hand-done," he says.

Magical spaces like Wamboldtopia are on display, as is a restaurant's kitchen garden and a school garden project. It's a beautiful hodgepodge. "There's nothing standardized about what you're going to see," says Jansen. "it's all created out of ideas, wishes and the love of gardening that exists among the gardeners here."

Garden Tour details

The Father's Day Garden Tour takes place on Sunday, June 20, from 1 until 5 p.m. The tour begins at the BB&T West Asheville branch, near the intersection of Haywood Road and Patton Avenue. The gardens are within walking or biking distance of each other, so bring comfortable shoes.

Photo by Zen Sutherland

The focus this year is on sustainable, urban gardens. Gardening experts will be on hand to answer questions, and Asheville GreenWorks Board members will offer refreshments. Divided perennials and local art will be offered for sale. A map of the tour will also be provided.

A preview party will take place on Saturday evening. Visit ashevillegreenworks.org for more information.

Father's Day Tour tickets are $l5 each/$25 per pair, and can be purchased by calling 254-1776 or by visiting ashevillegreenworks.org. Proceeds benefit volunteer-based GreenWorks' local beautification projects. For more information about this fundraiser or to offer support through sponsorships, contact Fathers Day Garden Tour Coordinator, Chas Jansen at cjansen@mtsu.edu.

Home/garden: Xpress-style

Inside/Out is Xpress' new home and garden feature. With this section, we aim to focus on more sustainable methods of living, gardening and decorating. This is not going to be your typical garden section, featuring rambling, overblown mansions with perfect Victorian-style gardens, manicured by a team of hired hands.

Rather, we intend to turn the traditional home and garden focus on its ear. Here's some of what you can expect to see featured in these pages in the months ahead:

A man who lives in a 200-square foot, solar-powered home that he built himself on the edge of the fields he farms in Earthaven, an intentional Black Mountain community.

A couple who live in a solar-powered yurt who intend to eventually make, raise and grow all of the food they require. They drink well water, make bio-diesel and happily live on just a few thousand dollars a year.

A couple of first-time gardeners in West Asheville who are learning "urban homesteading." They raise chickens and enough vegetables to keep them fed in a postage-stamp sized area in the corner of their yard.

Cinthia Milner's collection of trailer-park garden photos that prove that any space, with time, can be made beautiful.

Live in a Hobbit Hole? Grow unusual things in your garden? Send your ideas for the new Xpress Home and Garden section to mlunsford@mountainx.com

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2 thoughts on “Urban Westopia

  1. zen

    i can’t wait! West Asheville has some of the most amazing personal and public garden spaces around. Some call to us, some hide from us, but all are magical.

  2. I have been around the garden block and Wamboldtopia is one of the most unique and compelling garden spaces I have ever had the chance to see in person.

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