Home & Garden

‘Secret Gardens of Fourth Ward’ tour offers peek at hidden treasures May 14-15

ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

Fourth Ward is the kind of place developers try to mimic when they’re creating a new neighborhood that’s supposed to look old. But there’s no way to replicate the uptown enclave built in the late 1800s.

Homeowners today want niceties like walk-in closets, bonus rooms and at least a little patch of grass. Most Fourth Ward homes have little to no front yard. But what residents lack in a front yard, they make up for with lush, private back yards, courtyards and patios.

And on May 14 and 15, the public will get a look at these hidden treasures Friends of Fourth Ward host the third “Secret Gardens of Fourth Ward” tour featuring seven private gardens.

The home of Dennis and Betty Chafin Rash, Fourth Ward pioneers, is on the tour. Dennis was a key figure in revitalizing the down-on-its-luck neighborhood in the mid-1970s. He looked to Charleston, S.C. for inspiration and used the Holy City as a guide when he helped configure setbacks (they’re minimal) from the street.

He left suburbia in 1976 to move to a close-in, integrated neighborhood where the houses are so close together, you can’t help but be besties with your next-door neighbors.

When Dennis and Betty – a member of the City Council that approved the public part of the public/private partnership that created Fourth Ward – married in 1980, they moved into a townhouse on 10th St. In 1988, they moved again – this time to the ca. 1907 home they still live in today.

Last year, the Rashes undertook a major overhaul of their back yard. And as is tradition in the historic, quirky neighborhood, they worked with what they had. In this case, that’s a back yard that gets very little sun. “We can’t have grass,” Betty said. “It’s too shaded here.”

All that shade is courtesy of the crepe myrtle they planted in 1989. Other homeowners might have considered cutting the tree down to encourage a grassy lawn, but that’s not the Fourth Ward way. Neighbors here care about preservation.

They kept the tree and designed everything else – including a redbud with unique lime-green foliage, a Japanese maple that’s spectacular when uplit at night and a hybrid dogwood with creamy yellow leaves – around it.

Pathways of pea gravel lead you on a circular path around the back yard. Your senses are engaged from the minute you enter the Rashes’ hideaway. Smell the rosemary bushes. Hear the water rushing gently over a masonry “water wall” that forms a half-circle at the rear of the yard. Feel the crunch of the pebbles underfoot. Betty said they especially enjoy their garden at night, thanks to the new lighting.

They worked with Royal Landscape Service, a company that does mostly commercial work, to create this secret haven. They also fashioned a sitting area facing the water feature to take full advantage of it.

Dennis said the brickwork in their back yard relates to the brick sidewalks on the street. (In small spaces, it’s important to visually tie elements together.)

Fourth Ward isn’t grand; it’s something subtler and better than grand. It’s built on a human scale and was laid out at a time ornamental front yards (those wasteful resource hogs) were unheard of for all but Roosevelts and Vanderbilts and their ilk.

Some homes in Fourth Ward date back to the late 1800s. Some were built in the 1970s when the neighborhood was preserved. Some luxury condos and apartments are brand new. But everything is built on a scale that makes sense for the community. With the exception of Sky Park – a full acre in the sky – Fourth Ward gardens are small and approachable. They’re designed not to dazzle – but as a soothing respite.

The Rashes’ shaded, backyard sanctuary proves the best things come in small packages. And that grass isn’t a requirement for the perfect garden.

Secret Gardens of Fourth Ward

On Saturday, May 14 and Sunday, May 15 from noon to 4 p.m., Friends of Fourth Ward will share their neighborhood with the third “Secret Gardens of Fourth Ward” tour featuring seven private gardens.

The walkable, self-guided tour includes docent-led tours of Fourth Ward Park at the corner of Seventh and N. Poplar streets.

Tickets are $20 and are good for either day. Purchase in advance at fofw.org, Alexander Michael’s Restaurant and Park Road Books.

During tour hours, ticketholders must redeem tickets and/or receipts for guidebooks at the ticket booth at the Ninth and Poplar streets. The ticket booth is the only place for same-day ticket purchases.

Tour bonuses: Free beer and craft cocktail tastings courtesy of Muddy River, Rum Distillery, Cardinal Gin, Doc Porter’s Vodka and Rock Bottom Brewery; $1 oysters from Sea Level restaurant; free B-Cycle and horse-drawn carriage rides; and complimentary bites at The Asbury and Rock Bottom Brewery.

In addition to the Rash garden at 610 N. Pine St., other gardens on tour are:

 Merritt garden, 312 W. 9th St.; McKeithen garden at the Historic Newcomb/Berryhill House, 324 W. 9th St.; The Knott/Schooler garden, 327 Settlers Ln.; The Poplar Condos courtyard garden, 301 W. 10th St.; SkyPark at SkyHouse Uptown, 640 N. Church St. ; The Timmins garden, 416 N. Poplar St.

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