Messenger - Vol. 4, No. 3, Page 2
Friends revive Goodstay Gardens

     A 95-year-old wisteria vine arches over the gate to the garden at
the Goodstay Center on the University's Wilmington campus. This formal
garden-with its gravel walks and boxwood hedges-is being restored to
its former splendor by an organization of volunteers known as the
Friends of Goodstay Garden.
     Dating from about 1740, the house and garden were given in 1923
to artist Ellen du Pont (Meeds) Wheelwright, who in 1968 gave the
property to the University for a conference center. Wheelwright and
her landscape architect husband, Robert, spent 13 years transforming
their American Tudor-style kitchen garden-a rectangular space made up
of six squares known as "knots"-into a horticultural gem.
     Instead of vegetables and strawberry patches, they planted it
with irises, roses, peonies, daffodils, daylilies and azaleas. In its
prime, the flower beds were replanted five times a year and occupied
the time of four gardeners and four assistants. As a crowning touch,
in 1937, the couple added an avenue of 30 pink-blossoming magnolia
trees leading to a circular reflecting pool.
     Even in its earlier days, the garden was memorable. Local artist
Howard Pyle, who spent some boyhood years there in the 1850s, once
wrote, "It was such a garden as you will hardly find outside of a
story book."
     Today, the steering committee of the Friends of Goodstay Garden
includes horticulture experts, community leaders, Meeds family members
and volunteers who help set goals, make plans and provide advice to
the University. Co-chairing the committee are Helen Eliason of
Wilmington, who has been working to restore the garden since 1987, and
Sidney Craven of Wilmington, who happened upon the garden one day and
has been helping restore it since.
     As a result of the efforts of the Friends, the Diamond State Iris
Society has established a demonstration garden at Goodstay, and garden
clubs and nearby residents volunteer to trim and weed under the
supervision of the newly employed University horticulturist Mike
Weaver. University, private and state funds have been combined to
create a new watering system, and an octagonal apple house-formerly an
ice house and then a root cellar-has been renovated to provide a
visitors center. Plans also have been drawn for landscaping that will
integrate the magnolia walk with the grounds of the University's
nearby Roxana and Samuel Arsht Center for Lifelong Learning.
Additional outside funds will be sought to implement these plans.
     "The garden will be enjoyable for local residents and visitors to
Goodstay and Arsht Hall," says Eliason.
     In 1991, the University hired a landscape designer, Harriet M.
Grimm, to prepare a rejuvenation program for the garden and the
magnolia walk, as well as for the Wilmington campus' natural woodland
park, wet meadow, fields and apple orchard. Her report suggests
Goodstay Garden serve as a workshop or laboratory for horticulture
students and as an elegant backdrop for events.
     In addition to the wisteria gate, which dates to 1901, most of
the six original gardens have extensive planting records, backed up by
Wheelwright's diaries and those of her mother, Mrs. T. Coleman du
Pont. The iris garden, for example, was first devoted to dahlias
before being converted to irises in 1955.
     Jim Wilson of the Diamond State Iris Society, which has replanted
the garden with historic and new varieties, explained that the garden
today has more than 100 types, ranging from the bearded varieties to
the Siberian irises and providing a rainbow of colors from late April
to June.
     Originally a colonial vegetable garden, Goodstay's rose garden
has been in place since the 1920s. Because many of the roses are in
poor shape, a decision has been made to replant with modern roses
similar to those in Wheelwright's records. The Knot Garden, so named
because of the "knot" design of its flagstone path, was initially
planted in tulips and iris. Today, an herb collection has been
established there.
     "We've devoted it to flowering or aromatic herbs," says Eliason,
"including sage, thyme, rue, sweet woodruff, tansy and hyssop. The
Delaware Federation of Garden Clubs gave us a new sun dial for the
center of the knot, and Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College and a
friend provided rhododendrons for the borders."
     Goodstay's Turkey Rock Garden, named after a large rock on which
turkeys roosted, is bordered by lilacs. Also planted with daffodils
and daylilies, this garden features a statue by the sculptor William
Zorach, recently restored by local artist Joanna Roundtree, a fellow
in the University's Department of Art Conservation.
     Dating from the 1930s, Goodstay's peony garden features
herbaceous varieties ranging in color from cerise to white. Pink tree
peonies, a variety that does not die back in winter, are found in the
Knot Garden and in the central border. Beyond the formal garden is a
natural woodland garden with a spring-fed stream. Here, visitors will
find wild yellow tulips, may apples, johnny jump-ups, dog-toothed
violets, trilliums, wild azaleas and winter hazels.
     "Ultimately, we plan to have plant lists in our visitor center as
well as guided tours by appointment," Eliason says. On April 30, the
Friends and the University held a garden party during which a plaque
honoring the late Robert and Ellen du Pont Wheelwright was dedicated.
     The Friends of Goodstay Gardens now has more than 130 members.
Membership rates are $15 for students, $25 for individuals and $50 for
families or groups.
     For further information, write to Friends of Goodstay Gardens, in
care of the Goodstay Center, 2600 Pennsylvania Ave., Wilmington, DE