Thursday, October 6, 2011
The countryside around my hometown of Palmetto, Georgia, consists of rolling hills and meadows and piney woods and hardwood forests. When I was a child - I must have been really little - I remember going with my mother down a dirt road to an old mill. I have a very distant memory of a big gray building and the loud, rushing water of a creek. A man handed my mother a white cloth bag about 15 inches long. Inside the bag was corn meal. Mother had taken corn (whether she and Daddy grew it or not, I don't know; they had a huge vegetable garden) to be ground, and we were there to pick it up.
When I became acquainted with Elizabeth Dean through a mutual interest in gardening, I was delighted to find out that she and her husband Gene Griffith were about to purchase Wilkerson Mill. The house wasn't weatherized, and the mill was derelict, but the land was just right for growing the specialty plants that Elizabeth planned to offer to the public.
There was a lot of restoration work to be done. Amish workers came one year and shored up the mill building. Elizabeth and Gene also worked on the white clapboard farm house, turning part of it into an office. They planted orchards of deciduous hollies and surrounded the house with wonderful shrubs that produce flowers and berries. All through the growing season, perennials come up and make a show. It's just the most beautiful place now and will make a plant lover almost faint.
Wilkerson Mill Gardens has become a well-known specialty nursery and mail order firm where you can purchase hard-to-find plants through their Web site, www.hydrangea.com. The nursery is open on certain weekends in the spring and fall. Gene and Elizabeth specialize in hydrangeas, but they have many, many other shrubs, trees, vines and perennials for sale.
I took the above photograph of Viburnum wrightii on a beautiful fall day at Wilkerson Mill Gardens. I'm so thankful that Elizabeth and Gene rescued the historic mill and the beautiful land that surrounds this special place. And, I'm grateful they've persevered through droughts and storms and other challenges (deer, especially) to offer wonderful plants to gardeners who are looking for the out-of-the-ordinary.