On The Garden Path: Callaway Gardens

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BLOOMING BEAUTY: For those who love flowers, the 40-acre Callaway Brothers Azalea Bowl is bursting with color in spring, when thousands of azaleas are blooming.
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VEGGIE GARDEN: Mr. Cason's Vegetable Garden is the setting for the popular PBS television gardening show The Victory Garden.
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TRAVEL BACK IN TIME: For visitors who love rustic things, the Pioneer Log Cabin, which was moved to the gardens in 1960 and includes some original furniture and period reproduction pieces, will take visitors back in time.

If you’ve ever seen the popular PBS television gardening show The Victory Garden, you’ve seen Callaway Gardens, located in Pine Mountain, Ga. The gardens, founded by Cason and Virginia Callaway, opened to the public in May 1952 and offer a fascinating glimpse of what can be accomplished with hard work and dedication.

History of the Callaways

After graduating from business school, Cason Callaway worked at his father’s cotton mills in LaGrange, Ga., as a bookkeeper. He worked his way up to be an equal partner in the family business, and he eventually took over financial control of the mills.

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War I, he returned to Georgia, where he met Virginia Hand, who had grown up in Pelham, Ga., and loved growing camellias and other flowers. The two were married in 1920, and by 1927, they had three children.

The mills fought to survive during the Depression, and the Callaway family began spending time at Blue Springs in Hamilton, Ga., where they enjoyed a cottage, horses, a pavilion, a private lake and a spring-fed pool.

In 1935, Cason gave up control of the mills, and in 1938, the Callaway family moved to a home near Blue Springs, where Virginia began helping children and families with financial aid and became active in the Red Cross.

Cason focused his attention on the land they owned, experimenting with cover crops and fertilizer to restore the soil, as well as terracing and raising crops and livestock. He eventually became one of Georgia’s leading farmers and agricultural economists.

Callaway Gardens

After suffering a heart attack in 1948, Cason left the farming industry, and he and Virginia decided to spend their time and energy transforming their property into a residential community for friends and business associates. This was a great opportunity for Virginia, who loved plants and flowers. Together, they planned and built the gardens.

As their hard work paid off, and the property became a beautiful garden, the couple agreed it would be a shame to share its beauty with only friends and business associates, so they decided to make it a public garden for all to enjoy.

In May 1952, when the gates opened, that’s exactly what happened.

Cason worked at the gardens until the day he died – April 12, 1961 – less than nine years after opening Callaway Gardens. Before his death, he approved final plans for a memorial chapel, to be named in honor of his mother, and for a vegetable garden.

Following Cason’s death, Virginia took over as chairman of the board of the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation™. In 1971, she founded the Cason J. Callaway Memorial Forest, preserving 3,000 acres of woodlands on the Pine Mountain Ridge. She died Feb. 11, 1995, after being recognized with many awards for her role in horticulture and conservation.

Here are a few attractions at Callaway Gardens.

  • Mr. Cason’s Vegetable Garden was one of the last projects co-founder Cason J. Callaway began before his death, and it is named in his memory. This garden is the setting for The Victory Garden.
  • The Callaway Brothers Azalea Bowl is a 40-acre garden that features nearly 3,500 hybrid azaleas in pinks, reds and whites each spring. Two thousand trees and shrubs provide color during the azaleas’ off-season. The garden also features a pavilion, a gazebo, a stream, a walking path and an arched bridge. This garden is named in memory of brothers Fuller Earle Callaway (Cason’s father) and Ely Reeves Callaway (whose son, Ely Callaway Jr., donated $3 million to fund the garden, which opened in March 1999).
  • The Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel was named in honor of Cason’s mother. Cason spent 10 years planning and building the chapel in his mind. He finalized the plans a week before he died. It was dedicated a year later by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. In 1990, after undergoing renovations made possible by a donation from Cason’s brother, Fuller E. Callaway Jr., the chapel was rededicated.
  • The Pioneer Log Cabin takes visitors back to a time when life was simpler. The cabin, which was occupied by a family of 15 until the 1930s, was relocated to Callaway Gardens in 1960. The furniture inside – some original and some period reproductions – makes us appreciate the comforts we have today and reminds us of the challenges of those earlier years.

Callaway Gardens is open Jan. 1 through March 18, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; March 19 through the Sunday preceding Labor Day, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Labor Day through Dec. 31, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

To learn more, click here to visit www.callawaygardens.com.