Last week, I had the pleasure of being a guest of a Garden Club of Georgia member at the group's Redbud District meeting held at Dunaway Gardens here in Newnan. Dunaway is a beloved local treasure, and the gardens first opened in 1934 and were established under the direction of Hetty Jane Dunaway, a famous Chautauqua actress, on the family land of her husband, Wayne P. Sewell. They operated a theatrical training ground here, and perhaps the most well-known of its performers was Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon, who got her start at Dunaway and went on to become known as Minnie Pearl. Dunaway Gardens was quite famous in the twenties, thirties, and forties, and Walt Disney was one frequent visitor. Like so many once-loved places, this one fell into neglect, and the lovely rock gardens became overgrown and forgotten. In fact, my first glimpse of the gardens was as a trespasser! When I moved to Newnan in 1986, some of my colleagues (who should probably remain nameless) took me out there and shared the Dunaway legend. I could not believe such grandeur had been allowed to slip away, and like everyone else here in Newnan, I was so happy when new owners bought the property and restored the gardens, which are again being enjoyed today.
The garden club ladies had quite a day planned, beginning with informational exhibits and a "country store" set up under one of the tents.
Refreshment tables lined some of the paths, and I was delighted to see the out-of-town ladies enjoying Dunaway Gardens. Even though Dunaway technically belongs to the Bighams now, I think most of us in Newnan feel a sense of ownership that such a magnificent, history-rich place is ours. When I was there last week, I fondly recalled a beautiful wedding I attended there just a few years ago.
From left are Roger and Jennifer Bigham, who purchased Dunaway in 2000, and Josh Fisher, Jennifer's son. Jennifer shared some Dunaway history with the garden club ladies, and as I watched the audience, I got the impression they could have listened to her for hours. Then Jennifer told how gardener Ryan Gainey visited the gardens one day and commented that oh, you have "true tea plants" on the property. That sparked an idea, they decided to learn about tea cultivation and production, and now Josh is in charge of the fields where some 15,000 tea plants are growing, cloned from those Dunaway Gardens tea plants! (Afterward, I told him I'd love to come back some time just to pick his brain about the tea-growing operation, and he didn't seem scared by the idea. Fingers crossed!)
Jennifer pointed out that they would be serving their own Dunaway Gardens-grown tea at the garden club meeting, and indeed, at the first opportunity, I headed over to sample both the sweet tea and unsweet tea. I greatly enjoyed both black teas, which were brisk but not too brisk, and properly made. (But of course!)
I thought it was nice, too, that they had some of the loose leaf tea sitting out for the visitors to see.
Also at the club meeting, I was delighted to see that so many of the clubs had prepared lavish baskets for door prizes, and quite a few of them included teawares!
I'll conclude today's post with a few random shots from the day, and if you'd like to learn more about Newnan's beautiful Dunaway Gardens, click here!