Museums without walls

A mere half-mile from the motorized mania of Tunnel Road, garden peace awaits. Yellow nasturtiums tumble out of a big, overturned clay pot. Tufts of bright-red bee balm lean into the mulched garden path. Butterfly bushes entice you to inhale their sweet scent. Sweet woodruff and lamb’s ear hug the damp ground near your feet as you study an old stone wall, then turn to take in the view of the pond down the hill. Even in the drizzling rain, it’s an inviting place.

This peaceful setting is Knowe Manor, an estate that once encompassed the Thomas Wolfe cabin off Azalea Road in east Asheville. In the 17 years that Heather Spencer and Charles Murray have owned the property, they’ve brought it back to life from a seriously neglected state. “It’s been a sanctuary, a private place,” says Spencer.

But on Saturday, July 12, the general public will have a chance to savor it as Spencer and Murray do: The couple will open the roughly 16-acre estate for the day as part of North Carolina’s contribution to the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program. The national nonprofit, she explains, aims to preserve America’s private gardens. Since 1995, the conservancy has spearheaded Open Days — a slate of garden visitations scheduled throughout the spring and summer, from Maine to California.

In North Carolina, only four made this year’s list. All of them are in Asheville: Knowe Manor, the Garry-Doll Garden the Richmond Hill Inn and Sander’s Garden.

The theme for this year’s Open Day in Asheville might be “exuberant growth.” That certainly holds true for Spencer’s garden, which displays the lush, half-wild feel of an English cottage garden. It also describes the Garry-Doll Garden, a 7-year-old perennial garden “designed and refined to reflect the owner’s love of flowers.” The grounds of the Richmond Hill Inn recall Victorian gardens, and Sander’s spread emphasizes native grasses, shrubs and perennials on a hillside that reflects Asheville’s mountainous setting.

Tall, feathery stands of dill sway in the light rain. Pineapple lilies fence in the sprawling nasturtiums. A near-overgrown path leads to an old tub, another to metal sculptures. There’s plenty to explore, plenty to open your eyes — and all your senses.

Admission to Open Days is $5 per garden. The proceeds benefit the conservancy and other charities.

For directions to individual gardens, call Spencer/Murray at 298-9480, Judy Garry at 299-4394, Barbara Sander at 299-8635, or Hunter Stubbs (Richmond Hill Inn) at 252-7313.

About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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