Points of Interest in the Gardens
Hiram Butler House
The beautiful home that graces Smith-Gilbert Gardens dates back to 1880 when railroad man, Hiram A. Butler, a long time resident of Big Shanty (now known as Kennesaw), built the home based on Italianate and Greek Revival influences. Prior to being acquired by the City of Kennesaw, the estate was owned by Robert R. Gilbert who purchased the home in 1970. During 35 years of ownership, Gilbert and Richard L. Smith added the extensive gardens and sculpture collection. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
Seeing the variety of birds on the property, Gilbert and Smith began adding plantings to provide both protection and food for their new avian interest. These elements are particularly evidenced at the back of the home where bird feeding continues today. The “Ts-ung Tube XXII” sculpture by Jon Hudson provides bathing and drinking water for these colorful creatures. On your way to the Perennial Garden, note the “Magnolia Gate” and “Mushrooms” pieces, both crafted by sculptor Davis Wall.
The diversity of this horticultural experience had its seeds in the varied interests of Gilbert and Smith. Dr. Gilbert discovered his focus was with trees, shrubs, and other woody plants. Richard Smith enjoyed working with perennials and rock garden plantings. Located at one end of the perennial bed, Tom Suomalainen’s porcelain “Transformation” anchors this lovely herbaceous arrangement that is in constant color from spring into late fall. From daffodils to daylilies, from bearded iris to vivid asters, this perennial garden is a continually changing palette.
Inviting the visitor into the Woodland Entrance, this open space features two important sculptures. The whimsical painted ball by Grace Knowlton is untitled. “The Great Oracle” by Jon Isherwood is a few feet away from the portal to the mysterious trail leading to more hidden delights.
Created in 2002 and recognized by the Southeast American Conifer Society, this area of the Garden features conifers that are suitable for the Southeastern U.S. Most are dwarf or slow growing making them desirable for use in the smaller lots of today’s homes. The signs located by many of the plants give the botanical name and the year in which the plant was installed in the Garden. This gives an interested gardener an idea of form and growth rates for that particular specimen. Fifteen different classifications of daffodils are scattered throughout the Garden as companion plantings. Smith-Gilbert is a proud member of both the American Conifer Society and the American Daffodil Society.
Woodland Walk Entrance
A few feet into this shady area reveals the presence of a Hosta collection donated by the Georgia Hosta Society. Along with many other shade-loving perennials (Hellebores, Epimediums, Jack-in-the-Pulpit), groups of these plantings are scattered throughout the Garden. A short distance past the Hosta collection are “Two Indian Figures” striding through the trees. Constructed by John Payne, they are fanciful representations of how adults might appear to children.
The Mulberry Bowl and Respite Sculpture
Originally imported into this country for the silk trade, Mulberry trees have escaped into the environment and naturalized. Bent by an unknown cause, this particular tree frames a favorite focal point at Smith-Gilbert, “Respite” by Frank Creech.
Japanese Maple Grove
While the Garden has many Japanese Maple specimens scattered throughout the grounds, this section has a wonderful concentration of these smaller growing trees. Impressive for their texture, form, and seasonal color, Smith-Gilbert is home to over 30 varieties of this very popular ornamental. Just a short distance down the path is “Bust” by Howard Taikeff, who engaged a New York City street person as his model. Walking a bit further, one encounters “Clary Lake” by Kenneth Greenleaf. A delightful blend of wood and metal, this piece is one of five at Smith-Gilbert by this sculptor.
Cedar Field and Rose Garden
A handsome Eastern Red Cedar stands as a sentinel in the middle of this grassy expanse, but he is not lonely. Surrounded by lovingly cared for roses, visitors will appreciate their fragrance and beauty from May through late summer. The dates on the signs are the year in which the rose was first hybridized, bred, or found in nature.
Like pearls on a necklace, several contemporary sculptures ring the grassy area beyond. Most noteworthy are Ed Chrisman’s piece “Untitled” and “Antiope” by Kenneth Greenleaf. Carl Andre Davidt’s “Man in the Moon” is a colorful period to the statement in this area.
Proceeding further on the trail, take the gray slate path to your left and enter our newest addition. Given in memory of the donor’s parents, these camellias are at their best during the fall and winter months. As these plantings mature, this ‘room’ will be an attraction on its own. Cut from a single piece of red granite, “Las Mesas
Tree” by Jesus Bautista Morales is interesting from every view. From one perspective, the rock appears to be vertical.
Heading towards the Carriage House, observe “Woman and Dog” by Marcia Pels. At this point, you are at the heart of the Garden. Shaded by an ample pecan tree, Smith and Gilbert began their labor of love here. At the edge of this space are five prayer flags inscribed with messages that are meant to bring happiness, long life, and prosperity to those in their vicinity. The colors represent the elements of earth, water, fire, cloud, and sky. As the soft cloth tatters in the breeze, printed prayers float into the world on gentle winds.
Following your senses of sight and sound, look and listen as water plays its melody. Moving by Linda Cunningham’s “Transformation,” stroll into Richard Smith’s favorite spot. In developing this woodland setting, Smith and Gilbert were inspired by the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland. Nestled among Cryptomeria, you are invited to rest a moment in the Japanese-influenced Tea House.
Crossing to Safety
Allow Marcia Pel’s “Bird in Hand” to entice your feet over the narrow stone bridge and to the other side of the water feature. Travel upslope through a native understory of oak and hickory. This area of the Garden, including the water feature, was developed in the early 1990’s and is a beloved site for respite and tranquility.
A favorite among visitors and staff, our bonsai collection is a particular source of pride. Replicating small scaled scenes, these dwarfed trees are a delight and wonder to all. Careful watering, pruning, and concern are necessary in order to train these plants to survive in confined conditions. Our Bonsai Garden is the only one of its kind displayed publicly in the state of Georgia.
Dedicated to dirty hands and happy hearts, this garden is a space for playful learning. It features paths winding through sensory plantings to please the senses, an “A to Z” bed (with plantings starting with each letter of the alphabet), vegetable beds, and whimsical elements like chime arbors, bubble pools and animal topiaries.
Plant Sale Area
Located between the Bonsai Garden and the back of the Butler Houses is an area devoted to selling some of the plants you will find growing at SGG. Payments should be made to Smith-Gilbert Gardens and are gratefully appreciated contributions to our operations.
And when you have finished your tour, be sure to visit our gift shop located inside the Hiram Butler House. We have garden tools, jewelry, local honey and snacks, note cards, garden decorations, and more!