As we speed down a mostly deserted road in south Alabama with tall pine growth on either side, a young deer bounds across the road flashing a white tail and darts into the underbrush before our dog, Annie, can muster more than an alert bark or two. After several hours of driving, we arrive at a comfortable country home nestled on a high ridge along a slough off the Alabama River backwater aptly named Riverwood.
Coming out to meet us with warm smiles and cheerful hugs are my brother and his wife, Will and Ruth Liddell. They retired from teaching and life in Montgomery several years ago to return to rural living in southwest Alabama where Will’s family lived for over 100 years. Around here the woods are full of deer, dove, turkey quail, raccoons, opossums, coyotes, foxes and owls. The air smells clean and fresh, the huge old oaks are draped with moss and alligators sometimes laze on the banks of the river enjoying the warm dappled sun.
Sometimes in the still quiet of the night you can hear the low, haunting calls of the owls that send shivers up my back.
Will and Ruth lead interesting lives that are intertwined with quiet nature and the fast paced world of the Internet, computers, iPads and flash drives. They returned to what remains of the Liddell Plantation where they built their lakefront home. As they explored abandoned house sites on the plantation, they found many old farm implements and numerous broken pieces of pottery and glass left by families that had previously lived here. With a love of artifacts and history, they stored boxes of such “artifacts,” which they later used in their garden design.
When the time came to develop the garden, the deer were so numerous and so good at spotting fresh, tender plants that overnight they could eat everything down to the ground!
Ruth says, “The deer leave the daffodils and the iris untouched, but everything else is deer candy.”
In desperation, they built an 8-foot high fence around the entire garden, which enabled the preservation of their unique and innovative collection of flowers, walkways and sculptures. The garden gate incorporates a large iron wagon wheel tire with a smaller push plow wheel concentric with the wagon tire. In the center of the gate is a beautiful iron casting of a resting woman, given to them by their son, Will III. Will III remarked, “It reminded me of Ruth because it was getting old and rusty, and the lady was sitting in her garden.”
The walkways through the garden are made from old bricks, many handmade. The concrete square stepping stones are made by family and friends during their visits, using the pottery, glass and china pieces that have been picked up from around the property where old homesteads once stood. Great niece, Jacque, who visits from Dallas made a ballerina stepping stone and nephew, Josh is responsible for the “Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo” stepping stone.
The centerpiece of the garden is named “Oxter,” given for Will’s deceased half brother, Oxford. The “Oxter” consist of a three foot diameter iron wagon wheel tire on top, with three smaller wheelbarrow wheels mounted inside. Other implements hanging from the branches consist of the hub of a buggy wheel, plow points, ax heads, hoe heads, mule bits, iron rings from an ox yoke and various other old metal objects.
Across from “Oxter” is a bottle tree with dazzling colors radiant in the sunshine. An old metal chair from Will’s mother, Viola, stands guard over the garden. Within the garden you will find several miniature crepe myrtle, daylilies, coneflowers and daffodils. The fence is barely visible as it has been covered over the years with cross vine, clematis, moon flowers and the beloved cardinal vine, which Ruth calls, “Oh Camden, my Camden” because it comes from Will’s mother’s garden in Camden, Alabama.
As I prepare to leave Riverwood, hating to leave this beautiful and peaceful spot of our world, I draw in a deep slow breath of the cool, crisp air to take just a bit of heaven along with me as I step into the car for our return to Destin.
Laura Hall is a longtime gardener and Destin resident. She explores area gardens with her cavalier spaniel Annie. If you would like to show off your garden, contact Laura at 837-8720.