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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

Private Gardens of Georgia: Midtown and Green Island Hills

SOURCE: Private Gardens of Georgia, Polly McLeod Mattox and Helen Mattox Bost, 2008.  Photographs by Erica George Dines.


Sally and Madden Hatcher moved back into her family's home in 1997. Sally lived there with her parents, the Bickerstaffs, from the time she was thirteen years old and has many wonderful memories of the home and her mother's garden. Thacker Cargill designed the landscape for her parents, while landscape architect Hugh Dargan helped the Hatchers. Accenting the front façade, divided stairs are enhanced with a small boxwood parterre planted with dazzling begonias in the summer. Natchez crepe myrtles frame the house and majestic oaks dominate the front lawn across the circular drive.

The back is divided into three sections, the middle of which is the main garden. Hugh Dargan added a pergola wrapped with radiant 'Lady Banks' roses and Confederate jasmine right outside the sunroom. From here, the main garden presents itself. An extended rectangle, it is centered on the home from the living room, whose great window seems to bring the garden inside. A brick path leads along either side of this garden to a brick patio the Hatchers added so that one may linger by the fountain surrounded by lush azaleas and a cleyera hedge. The fountain creates a dramatic focal point against this far brick wall under the boughs of a stunning oak. On each side, white topiary camellias line the brick walls, with boxwoods planted in between and perennial beds in front. These camellias were planted by Sally's mom and are very old and grand; the exposed trunks are quite magnificent, covered in rich moss. A pair of exquisite vitex trees frame the house with a boxwood hedge stretching in between and Boston ivy clamoring up the brick around the large living room window.

To the left of the main garden, a pink sasanqua hedge, also planted by Sally's mother, is clipped in the same fashion as the camellias. It marks one side of another expanse of green lawn where a greenhouse covered in fig vine stores her orchids, among other plants. Large Tardiva hydrangeas accent small paths hedged with mondo, while a variety of azaleas and hydrangeas proliferate. On the right side of the main garden, lustrous yoshino cherry trees and dogwoods prosper, their beautiful limbs filling the sky above the main garden's brick wall. Tulips abound here in the spring under the soft pink and white blooms. A verdant cluster of hydrangeas, including Annabelle, Snowflake, and Sister Teresa, takes over in the heat of the summer.


A steep drive lined with beautiful, crisp maples leads up to the striking Italianesque home of Betsy Leebern, "Bella Fiore," built in 1993 in Columbus. Perched at the top of twelve and a half acres, the formal gardens lay in terraces behind the grand home. Woodland trails lead all the way down to the base of the property, where a spectacular view back up to the house and its gardens captivates the eye, especially in early spring, when over 85,000 daffodils curtain the hill in a sea of yellow, white, and green. On the far wall of the elegant motor court, a splendid fountain is framed by lofty Natchez crepe myrtles while boxwoods and Asiatic jasmine soften the lines of the home. A wonderful patio off the right side of the house features an outdoor fireplace guarded by a bronze mountain lion that overlooks the side courtyard where ginger lilies and New Dawn roses bloom amid dwarf Japanese maples and topiary waxleaf ligustrums. Boston ivy and fiveleaf akebia stream down the stairs leading to the pool and guest cottage where a vista opens over the hill. From here, the first long terrace begins back along the rear façade of the house.

Italian cypresses lend height to the long lawn, where perennial beds on either side are filled with spectacular peonies, hydrangeas, roses, and irises. Ile hedges further define the space. On the fourth terrace, verdant ferns, hostas, and daylilies grow lavishly around a grotto draped with Lady Banks' roses where Poseidon reigns over the steep hill.

The woodland trails are on either side of the long, open slope; they include an azalea trail, a holly trail, and a hosta trail. Betsy has added the retaining walls and paths to help wind through the vast canopy of hardwoods. "I wanted to leave as much native as I could, but I wanted to be able to get through it," she explains. Some of the trees were cleared out, while others were put in, including over twenty beech trees, which hold their beautiful silvery leaves all winter long. The tulip poplar tree is Betsy's favorite; you will find an abundance of their magnificent, massive trunks. Native azaleas and oakleaf hydrangeas flourish among all of the striking buckeyes and rich ferns. Though a lot of the native plants were already here, they have been added to as well to enhance this naturalistic garden.

Betsy has made these woodland trails home to her grandchildren and a host of animals. There is a picnic area and a playhouse tucked in by grand camellias, and several animal statues lend whimsy to the woodland scene, including a family of great bronze bears and a pair of deer that overlook the koi pond surrounded by rhododendrons at the base of a long, serene waterfall. Betsy is a true animal lover; a quaint bridge leads to her pet cemetery, and there is even a little fox den in her woods. They have had baby foxes two times. "They will come and sit on my back steps," Betsy notes.

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