Pictured here is the entrance sign to Reynolda Gardens on which is printed, among other things, the good news that admission to the gardens is free.
Lovely Reynolda Gardens (see their website) are a gift to the citizens of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and to anyone else in the world who visits there. The 129-acre “Greater Gardens” are part of the original 1067-acre estate developed in the early 1920's by tobacconist Richard Joshua (“R.J.”) Reynolds and his wife Katharine Smith Reynolds. The Gardens, planned by landscape architect Thomas Sears, are comprised of the “Greenhouse and Conservatory,” the “Greenhouse Gardens,” and the “Fruit, Cut Flower, and Nicer Vegetable Garden.”
These gardens are adjacent to “Reynolda Village,” a charming and historic collection of approximately 60 structures which was originally part of the working farm community that the Reynolds family established close to their mansion “Reynolda.” The “Village” now houses specialty shops, restaurants, and offices.
The purpose of the gardens, owned since 1961 by Wake Forest University, is to be “a refuge for relaxation and contemplation and a haven for reflective outdoor leisure….” The gardens fully measure up to this goal, for a stroll through them is an opportunity to drink in aesthetic beauty, and to learn something, for many of the plants are labeled with their Latin and English names. One wing of the greenhouse has also been converted to a classroom. Just to see the garden layout inspires gardeners and potential gardeners to get to work.
The growing houses provide plantings for the formal gardens, as well as enough plants, such as Christmas poinsettias, to sell to the public. Vegetables harvested from the “Nicer Vegetable Garden” are enjoyed by gardening volunteers, and donated to local food charities.
Okra, which for many is a vegetable symbolic of the South, is often served fried. Frying the sliced pod is a way of defeating the mucilaginous nature of the green veggie. My husband's mother boiled okra and served it “naked” — a showcase presentation for the slime. Nevertheless, I do like the vegetable in gumbo or such.
A yellow swallowtail butterfly kisses pretty Reynolda flowers.
Another butterfly tickles a zinnia's center.
Fragile-looking grapevines seem to be suspended in thin air as the tiny grapes, like acrobats, poise balanced on the “tightrope” vines.
Ah! The joys of summer — a fence (or at least a wire support) on which to climb for these ripening-green and pickable-red tomatoes.
Even in the summer drought of 2002, these tomato plants produced a crop of old-fashioned yellow fruits. (Yes, technically, tomatoes are fruit.)
Old-timey backyard Southern grapevines produced tasty, tart table grapes, and good treats for outdoor snackers (not to mention wasps and yellow jackets and birds). Even sun-warmed grapes on a hot afternoon are refreshing. (But please don't sample Reynolda fruit of the vine.)
Amish Pie Squash, a rare heirloom pumpkin, is used, obviously, to make Amish squash pie. The fruit can weigh up to 60 pounds.
This apple tree is in obedience school — is has been trained to sprawl artistically on the fence.
The fence-leaning fruit tree is ornamented with red apples. This sort of tree-training is called “espalier,” as is the plant so-trained.
If the South had a food symbol (Wales has her leeks), it would probably be the watermelon (though some votes might go to grits).
Sweet bay, a culinary herb, is familiar to cooks as an important flavor-booster. The “best” bay leaves are Laurus nobilis rather than Ambellularia californica.
Fig preserves are a classic Southern delicacy of preservation. And, as the humorist/cookbook writer would start the recipe, “First you take some figs.…”
The Caracalla Bean (Vigna caracalla) was described by Thomas Jefferson as “the most beautiful bean in the word … it will grow in the open air in Virginia and Carolina.”
Other names for the plant include Twisted-flowered kidney bean, Carocol, Corkscrew Flower, and Snail Flower. The lush blossoms emit a sweet fragrance.
Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, look like chives on steroids and have a sorta' garlicky kick, often used in Asian cooking.
Horseradish is a member of the mustard family. Its fleshy white root can be grated to make a pungent relish. Visit a German eatery, and you'll likely bump into this lively food flavoring. Incidentally, some say “Cochlearia armoracia” is an aphrodisiac.
“Rosemary for the remembrance,” they always say. I say use lots of rosemary — its complex taste is exciting, but would you guess its a member of the mint family?
The littlest member of the onion family, chives, or Allium schoenoprosum, is believed to be native to Britain. It is a popular cooking ingredient in many countries, perhaps most often thought of as adding a sophisticated French touch to omelets and salads, for example.
German, or wild, chamomile, and Roman chamomile are both tummy-soothers. German chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla, tastes a bit sweeter than Roman chamomile, Anthemis nobilis.
The identifying signs on most of the plants at Reynolda Gardens are educational.
Grow your own little lemon tree very pretty? Why not, if you have a warm and cozy greenhouse, or a very sunny, toasty spot in your home.
An orchid corsage has traditionally been a symbol of wealth and luxury.
All members of the orchid family are characterized by their three petals, two of which are regularly shaped, the third petal (the lip) is enlarged and irregular in form. This sexy “pout” gives the flower its allure.
Mrs. Reynolds probably wore some of the magnificent orchids nurtured in her greenhouse.
The garden looks bleak in mid-winter, but come back in a few months and it will be lovely.
Available directly from the publisher, and at museums throughout the United States.
Specialties from the Southern Garden
Four Centuries of American Herbs
Colonial Spices and Herbs
Good Food, Good Folks, Good Times: Just Being Southern
Copyright © 2003–2006 Patricia B. Mitchell.