Drs. Chris and Sharon Werner have created their own secret garden in the middle of Old Goodwood.
In an ongoing 25-year project, Chris Werner has transformed their yard, once packed dirt and trees, into a lush romantic 19th century garden as magnificent as the one in the famous movie.
With his wife’s help, he remade the garden in stages, creating a patio, pergola, parterre, numerous garden rooms, at least 10 water features and a Zen room. There are paths and beds and dozens and dozens of potted plants.
“I had no idea I had this much interest in gardening until we bought this place,” said Chris Werner, a retired dentist, who did almost all of the design and implementation and who maintains the garden himself.
“I am the support person,” said Sharon Werner, a physician. “My main part is enjoying.”
Chris Werner started his project with a patio that leads to a classic pergola, which he built himself — three times, he said with a smile.
“Katrina did it in,” he said, “but each time I rebuilt it, I made it stronger.”
The pergola with traditional stone columns is planted with white wisteria from an heirloom cutting from his grandmother’s house at Government and Richland streets. Katherine Werner was a devoted gardener who taught her grandson about plants.
“I can still remember all of her plants,” he said.
Werner describes the design of the garden as “semiformal,” with both traditional and casual elements. The formal pergola is on an axis between a fountain on the backside of the house and an obelisk deep in the garden. To the left, also in alignment, is a garden bench within an arch.
Less formal garden rooms branch off the axes. These are all designed in rounded patterns and filled with hundreds of varieties of plants. Borders are made with varying materials including old brick, interesting rocks and a collection of unusual terra-cotta blocks salvaged from Chris Werner’s grandmother’s house.
“I like to repurpose,” he said.
What little lawn the Werners have is designed into shapes among the beds.
“That way it becomes part of the design instead of something to mow,” he said. “I don’t like a lot of grass.”
Werner likes to combine plants, especially his blooming potted plants. He does several plantings during the year to add color to the garden.
“This is my crazy with begonia year,” he said with a laugh.
To make seasonal plant changes easier, Chris Werner has devised a quick-change system. He buries pots permanently beneath the mulch in his beds and places plants in slightly smaller pots in the planted pots. That way he can pull out fading plants and replace them quickly with new plants.
“Color can be changed very easily in a day,” he said.
When the Werners lost a tree on the north side of their home, Chris Werner built a traditional French parterre with symmetrical beds and a gazebo in the center. Lined in boxwood with holly at the corners, the little garden is now filled with blooming plants in pots.
The back garden is divided into several sections with the classic pergola at the center. On the north side is a Japanese garden with a stream in three parts. These run through garden rooms planted with tropicals and natives.
At the back of the Japanese garden is a Zen room made from repurposed materials from an old greenhouse destroyed by Hurricane Gustav. What was once a Victorian chest is now a washstand with a basin. An old mirror hangs on the wall.
In front of the Zen room is a covered sitting area with a hot tub.
Separating the garden rooms are gravel pathways.
“You can make gravel into any shape you want,” Chris Werner said. “I work hard to get the shapes I want.”
On the south side of the back garden is a whimsical area with a birdhouse condo and a blue fountain. A swing in the ligustrum gives one the effect of swinging in the trees.
The next project is the one undeveloped corner of the backyard, where Chris Werner is planning a garden chapel.
“We will use some stained glass,” he said. “Every year it’s a new idea.”
Throughout the garden are dark-colored fans that blend into the environment and cool the areas. Garden sculptures, old flowerpots, benches, iron trellises and hundreds of twinkling lights are placed among the landscaped areas to create the Werners’ own paradise and place of relaxation.
“The problem is that the gardener can’t sit still for long,” Chris Werner said with a laugh. “I am always up doing something.”