Grandmother's Flower Garden at the Texas Quilt Museum
Grandmother' Flower Garden
It’s a true statement that many people who love to make quilts also love flowers and gardening. It is, then, also perhaps not surprising that the Texas Quilt Museum—located just off the town square in historic La Grange, Texas—also includes a garden.
Housed in two meticulously restored, late-19th-century commercial buildings, the nonprofit Museum offers a visual feast of antique and contemporary quilt art in exhibits that change on a quarterly basis.
The Museum co-founders, Karey Patterson Bresenhan and Nancy O’Bryant Puentes, are themselves both plant lovers. They knew from the beginning that they wanted the project to include a tranquil outdoor setting to complement the interior spaces.
That goal became attainable in 2010 when they were able to acquire the lot adjacent to the Museum quarters, a space that had been left vacant when the locally beloved 1920s-era Cozy Theater, formerly housed on the site, burned down in 2000.
Locals and visitors alike can be happy that new life has emerged from the ashes of the fire, as the Museum’s period garden attempts to recreate those that would have been “typical of turn-of-the-century Fayette County,” explained Nancy Puentes.
“The garden features plants (or their improved cultivars) from 1893, the time when the Museum buildings were constructed, to 1936, when the Great Depression hit Texas in earnest.”
This time span and underlying intention are further referenced in the name, “Grandmother’s Flower Garden,” one of the most popular and recognizable traditional quilt patterns.
Although the first published example of this pattern dates from the mid-1800s, it is perhaps most closely associated with the 1930s. During the Depression, countless quilters made “Grandmother’s Flower Garden” quilts using the colorful pastel fabrics of that era to perhaps bring a bit of cheer into their lives when there was little to be had elsewhere.
“Seventy-odd years of lying underneath a movie theater did not leave the ground in very good condition for planting anything and expecting it to grow there,” continued Puentes. “What looked like an ordinary grassy lot when we acquired it was basically just a thin layer of dirt that had been hauled in with grass planted on top. When we started turning it over, we discovered much of the old concrete foundation for the Cozy Theater. Many months had to be spent clearing that out with heavy machinery and removing it before we could even start laying out the garden design and improving the soil.”
Landscape designer Mitzi VanSant was brought on board to design the garden because of her experience in using old-fashioned and fragrant plantings to create spaces that harmonize with the architectural style of the buildings they adjoin.
The ADA-compliant, 67’ x 88’ garden is organized in a geometric pattern—inspired by another quilt pattern popular during the Depression: Puss-In-The-Corner—of “parterres” separated by granite-gravel pathways and featuring boxwood hedges intended to provide greenery, structure, and visual interest during seasons when there are fewer flowers and more deciduous plants. An antique sundial is installed in the center of the garden’s four quadrants, and a “cemetery” fence surrounds it.
Along the backside of the garden, VanSant included a cedar pergola with aged cedar upright supports. The pergola is covered with shade cloth to offer instant shade while wisteria and climbing roses grow large enough to cover it.
Benches are installed under the pergola and at right angles to it to provide rest areas along two sides of the garden walkways. The entire space is oriented toward the outside wall of the Museum, which features a beautiful 85-foot mural of quilts painted by Texas Hill Country-based artist, Brent McCarthy.
The garden sports a variety of blooming and fragrant perennials, shrubs, vines, groundcovers, bulbs, roses, and annuals, including many old-fashioned “pass-alongs.”
As funding allows and the garden matures, the planners hope to add potted gardenias, hydrangeas, camellias, and tea- and sweet-olive trees to the species in the garden. In addition to more plants, future plans include landscape lighting for security and safety, signage and plant markers, educational handouts (including plant lists and plant markers), and the potential expansion of the garden into a “wild area” that would include plants and herbs used in dyeing fabrics, since early-day quilters often depended upon the landscape around them for adding color to their quilts.
“Our goal is to make Grandmother’s Flower Garden a vibrant part of the community and a Central Texas magnet for garden lovers everywhere,” Puentes sums up. “We envision garden clubs enjoying guided tours, Master Gardener groups visiting for study sessions, and schoolchildren on field trips learning how plants contributed to everyday life in earlier eras in Texas.”
If you would like to assist in this effort, tax-deductible donations can be mailed to the Texas Quilt Museum, 140 West Colorado, La Grange, Texas 78945, or made online at www.texasquiltmuseum.org
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