Dreams, those bittersweet mirages that lift us beyond ourselves, must be shared.
Even when they come true, when they are hard and palpable as granite, when they wink and gleam like water wooed by the motes of the hot summer sun, when they are thrusting and timeless as grass and trees and plants, they must be shared.
It is that way with Hettie Jane Dunaway in nearby Newnan. Her eyes, her soul, her very bones tell her the work of her lifetime is good, that it is real and fulfilling.
Landscape experts, horticulturists, garden club women, all the savorers of the earth from every state have come to her astonishing garden on the sloping hill of the old Sewell plantation, six miles north of Newnan, to study her great alliance with nature.
They know the wonder of her dream.
“But my neighbors here do not know about it. Hardly any of our state leaders even knows Dunaway Gardens exist.”
There is a stabbing wistfulness in the way Hettie Jane Dunaway faces that truth. No murmured reassurance can take away what she knows too well. Only two hundred or so visitors from her own prosperous and pleasant town have penned their names in her guest book, bulging with ecstatic comment from visitors from every other state.
“Of course,” she admits with a touch of truculence, “they probably always thought I was crazy because I have spent all my energy, my time and our money on this undertaking. It seized me and has never let me go. I have worked 18 hours a day and planned all night on this place.”
“While others played bridge, I worked on this hillside, with the hands from our plantation. We lifted and shoved more than a million rocks in these 30 years.
“When my friends spent money on lovely dresses, I bought length of pipe for drainage ditches or coaxed a family of strange magnolias into buxom growth. My husband was against it. He said I would work myself to death and spend all my money. He was right. My husband was right.”
The faintly bitter sound trails off.
Hettie Jane walks on, her short figure, sturdy in a soft violet dress, moving purposely. She prods leaves from the mouth of a little waterfall with her walking stick.
“But, you know, most of my friends are gone. Just sat themselves to death. And I am still here, digging in this wonderful soil.”
Twenty-two acres of grass, ivy, plants, exotic and commonplace, slope down to Cedar Creek River at Dunaway Gardens, shaped into terraced stair steps buoyed by rhythmic rockwork. These lush hanging pictures have been called the finest rock gardens in all America.
Mrs. Dunaway considers all gardening a work of worship. She believes flowers are only a shade lower than children in the eyes of God.
Yet she has not planned a flower garden but something bigger, more lasting, quieter and simpler, a deeper symphony of rock, trees, water, grass.
Her achievement is there for all to perceive though the gardens now need more energy than Hettie Jane can muster in her declining strength. She longs for people to see Dunaway Gardens as she sees it, to sense its significance and value to the state and the Southland.
In some areas, she knows, her garden would be a national shrine. It has many plants not found anyplace else in America.
A provincial blindness moves so many of us to ignore beauty around us, while we gasp at glory in far away places. Perhaps we are uncomfortable in the presence of dedication beyond our own capacity.
Overwhelming recognition may come for Mrs. Dunaway’s masterpiece during her lifetime, for she is a vigorous woman.
If it does not, someday a new incarnation of Hettie Jane will come suddenly upon the curtain of cedars fanning out into the curve of seats in one of the dells, note the faerie rings as perfect plateaux for chorus and orchestra, envision a corps de ballet approach the stage from a winding path.
Why, that one will say, this sijus tithepcaloefrnoa ut d roc is just the place for an outdoor theater! Why on earth hasn’t anyone thought of this before?
That day, Hettie Jane Dunaway’s vision will be vindicated. Her millions of rocks and plants will have come into their own.