Weekend garden tour of 8 Macon wonders features botanical paradise

Within the confines of the vine-covered brick walls at 607 College St. grows a secret garden more than a century in the making.

For at least that long a towering oak and scuppernong vines have flourished in this backyard sanctuary, hidden from passers-by unaware of the verdant world growing just beyond the cypress gate.

While much of the framework for the garden was planted decades ago by previous owners, a melding of architecture and horticulture by Peter and Jeanne Holliday breathed new life into this secluded treasure.

“The moment I saw this place I had a vision of what it is today,” Peter Holliday said.

The Holliday garden is one of eight on the Secret Garden Tour, part of the annual Gardens, Mansions & Moonlight event today through Sunday. In its 16th year, the Secret Garden Tour is the cornerstone of the annual Hay House fundraiser, said director Katey Brown. Other events include the romantic Moonlight Tour and the Historic Homes Tours. Patrons may purchase tickets to attend individual tours or all three.

“We have some absolutely gorgeous homes and gardens,” Brown said.

The Secret Garden Tour, held today through Sunday, will feature eight gardens in the historic InTown neighborhood, including College, Orange and Magnolia streets, and Park Place. Today and Saturday evenings, patrons may visit homes and gardens on Rogers and Clayton avenues for the Moonlight Tour.

The eighth annual Historic Homes Tour on Saturday and Sunday highlights four homes designed by architect W. Elliott Dunwody Jr.

The Hay House will host a free garden market on the grounds. Felder Rushing and Todd Goulding will hold free seminars for the public.

The secret to the Holliday garden is really no secret at all. Most of the horticulture dates back to the late 1800s, when T.D. Tinsley lived in the house, which was built in 1854. Dr. Ernest and Pauline Corn owned the home from 1937 to 1984. The boxwood garden took root during this time at the hands of Pauline, according to information provided by the Hay House. The Hollidays purchased the home in 1984.

“We’ve been working on it ever since,” Jeanne Holliday said.

The English boxwood garden is comprised of three terraces or rooms, each with a walk-through and a threshold, said Peter Holliday, a Macon neurosurgeon. Evidence of his patience and precision, combined with his wife’s skill in finding the perfect mix of flowers and plants, envelope all who enter.

In the first room off the Mississippi Delta-style home is an open air staircase that leads from the balcony porch — banked by Confederate jasmine and Lady Banks roses — to an herb garden filled with lavender and rosemary. At one side of the grassy yard is a scuppernong vine that trails along an arbor built by the Tinsleys and refurbished by Peter Holliday. Sitting at its east end and providing one entrance to the garden from the front of the house, is an arched wrought iron gate once used at the Georgia Academy for the Blind when it was housed at its first site on College Street, Jeanne Holliday said.

The side garden near Tinsley Lane features some of Peter Holliday’s favorites, including a small peony bed and a large gingko tree. A canopy of greenery and fragrant aromas welcome visitors to the grassy yard.

Carefully trimmed vines grow under the shadow of a stately cedar tree and along the original brick gate, providing entrance to the second room of the garden. Filled with American, English and Chinese boxwoods, the room’s focal point is a hand-cut fountain the Hollidays found in an Islamic mosque in Marrakesh.

Peter Holliday said he searched in London, Paris and New York before locating the fountain that fit his vision for the garden.

“Wait to find what is right,” he said. “Don’t just settle for anything.”

Other interesting elements include an English, cut-stone gazebo purchased from the former Emmett Barnes home, numerous blooming annuals and perennials, and a stone which bears a favorite inscription of the Hollidays penned by Sir Frances Bacon: “... God Almighty first planted a garden ... and man shall ever see that when ages grow to civility and elegancy, men come to build stately sooner than to garden finely, as if gardening were the greater perfection.”

The Hollidays share a love for gardening. He studied landscape architecture while pursuing a medical degree at Vanderbilt University.

She nurtured a special interest in botany while earning a biology degree from Agnes Scott College.

Jeanne Holliday also is a past president of the Federated Garden Clubs of Macon, according to the organization’s Web site.

Peter Holliday rooted English boxwoods from a Monroe farm and many of those plantings continue to grow in his garden today. The Chinese boxwoods provide a border for the inner beds of the second room of the garden.

The third room of the garden now sits on the former site of Macon’s first firehouse. The original building has been reconstructed and is now a garage and pool house. The pool house entrance is flanked on either side by hand-cut Roman urns. A clear pool now sits where horses that pulled the pumper truck once grazed.

The pool area is surrounded by a variety of trees, flowering shrubs and plants bursting with color.

The stories surrounding any garden the age of the Holliday’s are as abundant as the plants and trees that thrive in the garden, thanks in part to irrigation and the tender care from hands that constantly prune and clip.

Jeanne Holliday said a number of tied plastic bags were discovered while a backhoe was removing a tree to make room for the swimming pool. The bags contained sawed human bones. Investigators asked the Hollidays to report if a skull was found, but it never was, she said.

“People claim that’s why things grow so well is the bone meal,” she said with a laugh.

She and her husband make a good match in the garden. He concentrates on the brick walks, statuary and architecture while she focuses on the horticulture.The combination makes the Holliday garden one of Macon’s premier private gardens, Brown said.

“To have the opportunity for the public to view their pool and pagoda, the gardens and the trees and all those factors that go with the hardscape, we are truly privileged to have them on our tour,” she said. “It is very generous of them to support the Hay House, and we are grateful.”

The garden as a whole is a sight to behold. Yet, it is a secret just out of sight for most — until this weekend.

“You walk past it for a hundred years and you never know it’s here,” Holliday said.

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