Katherine Wolf Webb's home is newish, built in 2006 but in a Spanish-mission style that has a charming, historical feel. The salvaged front antique iron garden gate opens to an unconventionally free-form yard; St. Augustine turf meets riotous beds of goldenrod, Joe Pye weed, cemetery-orphaned Easter lilies and shrub roses.
My knock on the front door is answered by the artist herself, a mutual plant admirer. She expresses delight that I want to know the stories of her plant collections and begins by sharing about her indoor specimens.
The begonia collection is admirable, with representatives of rhizomatous, cane and rex types. A most interesting variety features a big, green leaf with propagules springing from the leaf veins. This unique specimen is Begonia hispida var. cucullifera, named most recently in 1953. However, the mutation that gives rise to tiny plantlets all over the surface of the leaf was called "phyllomaniaca" and actually first found on a different begonia, B. Phyllomaniaca. They are called plantlets, but most never develop past that first leaflet.
The southern exposure courtyard is reminiscent of a visit to Palm Beach, Florida. The gold stucco walls are a fitting backdrop for climbing fern, and the native underappreciated plant Greenbriar Smilax glaucus is a strong, lofty climber decorating the balcony. High in a Florence-damaged tree is a treehouse for birds providing nature's music in this urban setting. Goldfish swim in a pond shaded by several species of Japanese maple.
The pathway leads from the courtyard back to a lean-to style greenhouse, the artist's propagation laboratory and a bucket list accomplishment. The backyard is a work in progress and contains an exceptional espaliered Sasanqua camellia, muscadine grapevines, and a former chicken coop. Big leaf Fatsia, ground orchids Spathoglottis, and mature Camellias attest to this lovely lady's verbal "lifetime contract as a gardener." Art and nature are celebrated in this human's garden.
Lloyd Singleton is County Extension Director, NC Cooperative Extension New Hanover County Center at the Arboretum.