Here in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I have discovered a “secret garden” in the heart a city once known for its thriving tobacco industry. Reynolda Gardens, a 129-acre Classical Revival garden, is quiet, serene, and beautiful. It also has a fascinating history.
In the early 1900s, tobacco magnate Richard Joshua (R.J.) Reynolds and his wife Katherine Smith Reynolds created a grand 1607-acre estate, made up of farms, formal gardens, greenhouses, woodlands, a dairy operation, and a working village.
Katherine built and oversaw one of the most innovative working farms of her time—a place where local farmers learned the latest agricultural advances. But it was the garden that was Katherine’s passion, and in Reynolda Gardens, she created a thing of beauty, not only for her family but the public.
Katherine engaged the firm Lord and Burnham, which was also responsible for the conservatory at the New York Botanical Gardens, to design the garden’s “Palm House” Conservatory. Finished in 1913, the “Palm House” was the focal point of a complex consisting of the conservatory and four growing houses.
The formal gardens were added next and included fruit, cut flower, and “nicer vegetable” gardens. Katherine worked with premier landscape architect Thomas Sears over many years on the design. Sears’ plan included four theme gardens, or “garden rooms” as the renowned English gardener Gertrude Jekyll called them: the Blue and Yellow Garden, the Pink and White Garden, and two rose gardens.
One of the more interesting features of Reynolda Gardens is the Japanese-inspired teahouses at its center. These vine-covered structures, connected by a central pergola, provided a shady place for afternoon tea.
Beyond the teahouses are rows of carefully tended vegetables. Once the primary source of food for the Reynolds family and their employees, vegetables from the garden are now donated to local food charities and enjoyed by garden volunteers.
I am grateful for this magnificent garden so close to home and for Katherine Smith Reynolds, whose legacy lives in every bloom.