Monday, December 12, 2011
Not sure of visiting hours, I arrived at The Fragrant Garden in Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia in the nick of time. Peggy, the docent, was locking the gate. But since we're friends, she left the entrance ajar with assurance I'd secure it on my way out.
When in the Fragrant Garden, Peggy invites passers-by to come in for awhile. Then she tells of its history and points out interesting things in her sweet Savannah voice.
The Fragrant Garden is located within what was originally a "dummy fort", one of a pair which were completed in 1915 for training the Savannah Volunteer Guard. Known as East and West Dummy Forts, The Fragrant Garden is in the West Fort. The East Fort was recently developed as Forsyth Fort Visitor Center Complex, including a café and outdoor stage venue.
The idea for a fragrant garden for the blind was conceived by Jessie Dixon Saylor (1896-1987), collector of customs for the Port of Savannah from 1954 to 1961. (Mrs. Saylor was the wife of Maj. Gen. Henry B. Saylor (1893-1970). Both were close friends of President and Mrs. Eisenhower.*) The Fragrant Garden was inspired, I believe, by the Tennant Lake Fragrance Garden near Ferndale, WA, which she had visited. Mrs. Saylor circulated the idea in Savannah, and it was embraced in 1959 by the Garden Club Council of Chatham County. The garden was designed by Landscape Architect Georges Bignault, and dedicated in the spring of 1963. I remember well those days of childhood when I played in the park. Our house on Whitaker Street was within sight.
The fragrant garden consists of a small parterre and fountain, roses, raised beds planted with fragrant species, and identifying plaques in braille. An ornate stone bench affords a shady place to rest and reflect. The old walls contain the scented air; small birds and splashing water enliven it.
The entrance gates, set in an ornamental iron fence, once belonged to the Old Union Station. Sadly, the Station was demolished in 1963 to make way for Interstate 16 entering Savannah. The gates were given in memory of Frances S. Littlefield by The Gordonston Garden Club and Friends. Littlefield, a longtime member of The Gordonston Garden Club, was the first nationally accredited Flower Show judge in Chatham County, Georgia.
The Fragrant Garden was neglected and run-down for a number of years, overtaken by weeds, ne'er-do-wells and worse. Recent renovation by the Trustees' Garden Club according to a plan by landscape designer John McEllen, and policing have restored it to its former beauty.
The following is a partial list of fragrant genera and species on display:
Citrus x 'Meyeri', Crinum asiaticum, Daphne odora, Daphnephyllum, Fothergilla major 'Mt. Airy', Gardenia jasminoides 'Radicans', Hedychium, Illicium floridanum, Iris cristata, Lilium, Magnolia, Matthiola, Narcissus, Osmanthus fragrans, Rhododendron canescens, Rhododendron indica, Rosa, Rosmarinus officinalis, Viola.
Speaking of the braille plaques in an interview with the Savannah Morning News, Walt Simmons, executive director of the Savannah Association for the Blind, said, "An even more useful tool would be a voice recording to explain what the species are, since the vast majority of visually impaired people are not fluent in Braille." But no recording can replace Peggy's dulcet voice.
* Albert Merriman Smith, Backstairs At The White House, UPI, April 21, 1959.
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