Ararat 3

Many levels mark the garden. Stone in its natural formation juts up here and there.
Around the garage flowers grow in six inches of soil.

Ararat: A Garden Founded on a Rock

On the Brow of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee

By Ernestine Noa

The House Beautiful, January 1923

Ararat came into being by chance. One day, about thirty-five years ago, the father came home to lunch. A light rain was falling. He handed the mother a deed and said, “Here is an un-birthday present for you.”

It was a home in which un-birthday presents occurred with delightful frequency. Explaining, he said that he had been standing idly in front of the courthouse where an auction sale of Lookout Mountain lots was proceeding. The shower brought the sale to hurried conclusion, and the last lots were knocked down so cheaply, he said, that he could not resist buying them.

“What will we do with them?” asked the mother.  “We do not need two places on the Mountain.”

“O, well,” said the father comfortably, “they were so cheap and they are on the brow. They may come in very handy some day.”

The summer home of the family was on a five-acre plot, not on the brow.

Ararat 4

The house faces west; to the east is Chattanooga
nestling in the valley of the Tennessee River.

Fourteen years later the second act began. One November evening the daughter was at a dance. A man came in, cut in, and as they moved away in the forgotten two step of those old days, he said, “There is a fire on the Mountain and somebody said he was afraid it was your place.”

“Oh,” said the girl, “in this horribly dry weather! That old ramshackle house won’t matter, but if the trees are ruined, it will just break father’s heart.”

It was their place. The superb forest trees, the lovely, fruitful orchard, all were ruined. The father and mother felt helpless. Three or four lifetimes had gone into the growing of the forest trees that were now charred stumps. The fruit trees were at least a generation old.

“But you have to live on the Mountain in the summer,” said the mother to the father. “You know you cannot stand the heat in town. What shall we do?”

“Well, let’s go and look at your lot that I bought in the rain,” proposed the father.

The brow lot wasn’t five hundred yards from the old home, but it was a family joke that no one had ever been sufficiently interested to go and look at it.

“If there are trees on it,” agreed the father and mother, “we will build a little cottage there.”

They went up to the Mountain the next afternoon, twenty-one years ago. A little spot, about one hundred fifty feet square on the east brow, and below the edge about twenty feet a lower bluff, one vast rock fifty feet square or so, easily reachable by a flight of steps. The west front on the East Boulevard, eastwardly the view — wife, verdant, Chattanooga in the valley, the Tennessee River curving around its feet, swelling ridges and mountains stretching their stately ranks away to the borders of the Volunteer State and beyond into North Carolina and South Carolina, the Georgia line just two miles south.

“’Taint no use fussin’ ovah the diffunce between a bid lot an’ a little lot,” philosophized Allan, who had been the faithful servant of the family almost from the beginning of its entity as a family, “when the little lot got the whole worl’ to look at for y’alls front yahd.”

What, then, was this hundred and fifty foot lot? One mass of rock and rocks. Rocks broken, rocks solid, but — in every crevice a tree. Unbelievable, impossible trees, forty-five of them. All along the brow scrub pines, a warped volunteer cherry, and one magnificent chestnut oak. North shaded with lovely, slim, straight hickories, west, mixed hickories and pines, with one superb giant pine, the sentinel at the gate. A lot beautifully wooded, except the south side, which was one mass of sandstone that swelled up from the road to a hump in the centre of the lot and then sank down again, a regular chicken breast of a rock.

And besides the impossible, unbelievable, yet sturdily existent trees, nothing. Nothing but pine needles, and hickory leaves and rock.

“At least,” said the father who was utilitarian to the ultimate degree, “we won’t have to buy stone for a foundation.”

“I see,” said the younger daughter, “that I will leave my piano and take to a rake. It will take about twenty years to rake this lot off.”

“And I,” said the other daughter, “I am going out with a basket and get me some dirt. Mamma, will you give me a seed to plant in my dirt, after I find a sot where I can lay it down?”

So, with laughter and fun they began to clean off the lot. They built a little summer cottage and put in a hose connection and wherever it was possible they stuck a fern or a hardy plant. No fixed plan or method of beautification was adopted because, all joking aside, there really was no visible soil at all, and it was only a three months’ residence for several happy years.

Then came changes. One daughter married and went away to a home of her own, and the father went away, away beyond mortal sight forevermore. The mother and the daughter left alone made changes for themselves. They decided to live in one house instead of two, and decided that the one house should be the one on the Mountain. The cottage could be made into an all-the-year house with not too much expense. “And,” said the mother, “I am going to have a garden. I’ve always had a garden and I’m going to have one at Ararat.”

Nothing could have pleased the daughter more. She hired two negro men and bought as much dynamite as the terror of a teamster allowed him to haul. When the supply was exhausted she made him risk his life again. Some — breaking the law — she brought up herself on the Mountain Incline, hidden in a basket.

They blasted rock until the chicken breast vanished. They blasted on until a perceptible dent was made in the surface of the whole south side of the lot. Then they began to blast still deeper for a hardy border.

“I’m going to have an asparagus bed,” said the mother, “and I’m going to have a rose bed. You can make them grow just as well here as down town.”

“Two spaces at least three feet deep, then,” said the daughter and went for more dynamite.

Ararat 1

The pine — back centre — shades the stairway to the lower bluff.
Some day, its branches loaded with ide, it will be blown down by a shrieking wind.

The rock they took out of the garden space built low walls two feet thick all along the brow, exactly following its contour. On the roadside they built corner and gate posts three feet thick and five feet high. The stone that they blasted out to make a furnace room — living in the house all the time — built the garage, and the scraps built a terrace fourteen feet wide and forty feet long, one step lower than the east porch which is twelve by thirty-six. The bird bath, with iris and day lilies growing about its base, is at the edge of the terrace and also the lunch counter for cardinals, brown thrashers, blue jays, wrens, chickadees, juncos, and tufted titmouses, regular boarders, and tourists without number in their seasons of travel. Iris grows all around the base of this terrace, scarlet woodbine and ivy trail over its edges, and the porch edges are smothered in ivy and blue trailing myrtle.

When money and patience were exhausted by the roar and racket of blasting, the hauling of dirt began; and when all possibility of new winter clothes had been lost in dirt, the garden was felt to be begun. And when it was all tilled in, soil depths varying from three feet to nine or ten inches, every friend that ever they had claimed came forward with gifts of bulbs, plants, seeds and vines to help the garden on its way. Roses, shrubs, and other plants that had been growing in the down-town home garden any time these forty years were carefully transplanted, and — it sounds like a fairy tale or a plain falsehood — not one of them died.

About nine years ago the mother said, “I want an orchard. We have that wild cherry on the bluff, and the peach in the west corner, and I want to see apple blossoms in the spring, and plum blossoms, and I want a pear tree, too.”

“How big,” said the daughter, “is this orchard going to be?”

“Three trees,” said the mother, “one each, a pear, a plum, and an apple.”

Ararat 2

Lawn and perennial border. Water should be in this composition,
and the little apple tree — centre — may make way for a pool some day.

Motor cars were commoner by this time. No trouble now about getting the dynamite home. The same two negroes rallied to the call and blasting began again. Sordid as it seems, to mention mere money but let it be done once. The three holes for the orchard, dynamite and labor came to $38.75. The three trees were bought from a nursery, and as it was in the days before the three consonants “H C of L” acquired their devastating present-day distinction, they cost one dollar. The pear got scale and died, a lamented infant.  The apple throve, and in this year of 1922 a crop was gathered of four huge apples weighing fully one pound each. The plum tree was planted very near the driveway, and once in a terrific storm the daughter skidded on to the lawn and cracked the little tree right off at the roots. “The poor little thing,” said the mother, “the poor, pretty little thing. We’ll get another one next fall.” But next fall no one was at home. The daughter, and the mother with her, went away on war work, and they were away two full years. Returning, what was this huge bush by the driveway, rounded, glossy-leaved, symmetrical, a thing of real beauty? The plum, grown up into — not a third of an orchard but a highly ornamental shrub, beautiful all the year round and so enchanting in the spring that it makes one fairly gasp with delight.

“You can’t have that,” said the daughter greedily to the mother, “that is mine. That’s no orchard, that is a perfectly beautiful shrub.” Three plums, good ones, grew to beauteous last year. This year more than three gallons.

The pictures tell the rest of the story. On the north side, under the pines and hickories among the rocks, grow wild flowers, snapdragons (called butter and eggs by the country people), wild asters, wild pentstemon, wild phlox, a sort of trailing wild pea, beautiful black-eyed Susans, trailing myrtle, some little locusts that look like wistaria when they bloom, and sparse, sickly-cutable grass. A compost heap has a stonewall built around it, and stands against the north fence, about eight feet long by four broad and three deep. We get more than a yard of leaf mold out of it every year.

Grass, if you mean such lawns as are seen in the north or east, we cannot have. The rock is so close up to the surface that it is a wonder we have any covering turf at all. But by constant sodding and seeding, and weeding, by being reckless with our credit in the matter of lime and fertilizers and dirt, we do have a smooth green something that will pass for grass, if you aren’t too particular as to your terminology.

Flowers grow well. The daughter has to be content with red and white ribbons in the flower shows, remembering ruefully that when she was a little girl the mother won blue ones in plenty from her down-town garden, but the soil is not deep enough or clayey enough for blue-ribbon flowers. The suns of summer burn and scorch, and the storms of winter wash away many dollars worth of expensive soil, and only the purse of Fortunatas could make it perfect.

One of the big items of expense is water. In the first place, the price of it is exactly four times as much as in Chattanooga. Then, on this shallow soil, with its hot sandstone base, watering cannot be done according to the books. The books tell you to cultivate often, and mulch, and water to the point of saturation at long intervals. You can water this garden to the point of super-saturation, and walking out two hours later in your white shoes you may return presently with said shoes as clean and dry as when you left the house. This mountain sandstone has a power of absorption that is positively uncanny. This whole garden is cultivated nearly every week, under the mulch, and if in hot, dry weather it is not thoroughly watered every day, the flowers simply die, and the grass gets so dry that it cracks under the tread. Professor L. H. Bailey, writing of annuals says, “watering is only a special practice” — and then he goes on to say that in general you shouldn’t. Alas, he was writing for people who could read such sentences as these and remain calm: — “The soil for such flowers should be deeply worked, never less than twenty-four inches,” or, “Three feet is not too deep to dig, if you would have good results” — and then one goes out and sticks an ordinary trowel in the ground and hears and feels the clang of metal on stone.

In 1917 the mother turned a square of about twenty-five feet into a patriotic garden. She did every bit of the work in it herself, and except corn, not one penny’s worth of vegetables was bought for the family table that summer.

After this lapse of years all the stonewalls and the foundation of the house are covered with ivy, and the driveway is edged with ivy. The garage is hung with trumpet vines, roses, hop vines and honeysuckle. Virginia creeper, roses, ivy, and honeysuckle trail along the wire fences on the south and west fronts.

The garden book shows that violets bloomed last year from January 7 till the end of April. Narcissus, daffodils and hyacinths were in bloom February 4. Tulips began the second week in the month and lasted until May. Iris began in the second week of February and continued till May 26. This year new varieties will keep the succession still longer. April 29, lilies of the valley finished. April 1, lilacs, peach and cherry blossoms, white bridal wreath, snowball, pink snapdragons, old fashioned roses, lemon lilies, Newport Pink Sweet Williams, gaillardia; this gaillardia has never stopped blooming and it is as fine to-day, September 28, as it was in April. Delphinium belladonna only grows about two feet high in this garden, and the stalks of blossom are nothing like what one sees in the North. But its blue is as beautiful as the blue of heaven and in this garden it began blooming May 5 and is blooming still. It has won ribbons in three flower shows, June 24, August 18, and August 21. Other prizes were for mixed perennials, mixed annuals, annual larkspur, asters, and dahlias. Digitalis does well here, some grew to a height of six feet and had really magnificent blossoms. The season lasted from May 6 till June 4. Petunias last year, a very mild winter, only stopped blooming for three months, so did snapdragons.

French marigolds are of lovely color and velvety texture, and we always save a bag full of seed. If any reader of this article would care for some, the daughter would be charmed to send it. Annual and perennial ageratum bloom beautifully for us and so do hollyhocks, so do cannas, and miniature sunflowers. But tragedies of the garden are never failing. Bare spots will remain bare in spite of renewed sowings of annuals, and blossoms will be little when you want them to be big, and they will come mixed in color when you want them to come true, and yet — there is in all this world no pleasure, no relaxation to compare with the pleasures of the garden, not even the pleasure of reading in fine books.