As we all know, Fort Worth has some of the most beautiful homes, not only in the Metroplex, but in the nation. From the modestly priced $250,000 doll houses in Mistletoe Heights to the pristinely preserved mansions of oil barons and first settler descendants, Fort Worth not only boasts beautiful, classical architecture but seems to preserve and respect her gracious homes with tender loving care.
That is, homes and GARDENS.
I never knew, and perhaps you didn’t either, that one of the nation’s most famous landscape architects created a garden at an acreage estate in Fort Worth. It is not only breath taking, it is practically in the landscape architecture history books. Leave it to the Fort Worth chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) — to bring it all to our attention.
The ICAA, headquartered in New York City, is a leading national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the practice and appreciation of the classical tradition in architecture and the allied arts.
In early September, Bill & Nancy Hallman graciously opened their home and grounds at 600 Alta Drive to a beautiful program sponsored by the ICAA. The celebration was of landscape gardening, in particular, the Hallman’s sprawling, one plus acre garden that Dallas/Fort Worth based architect Ralph Duesing and Richard Moore of M. M. Moore Construction brought together. It was also a chance to hear from Fergus Garrett, Head Gardener for the Great Dixter House & Garden in East Sussex, UK.
Circling back to Fort Worth, the Hallman house is one of the most historic in Fort Worth, a stone’s throw from Rivercrest Country Club. It was built by the Leonard family in 1936. Marvin Leonard founded Leonard Department Stores in Fort Worth in 1918, and built the Rivercrest home in 1936 for his wife and four daughters. An avid golfer, Marvin was also known for building the Colonial Country Club and financially backing the careers of both Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson.
The home was designed by the Fort Worth architecture firm of Patterson & Teague, known for designing the Westover Hills Town Hall structure. It was constructed by Thomas Byrne
The home’s original garden was created by the legendary landscape architecture firm of Hare & Hare, a father and son landscape design team from Kansas City who helped establish landscape architecture as the discipline it is today.
Hare & Hare also designed the original Fort Worth Botanic Gardens, the oldest gardens in Texas, Dallas’ Turtle Creek Parkway, and the grounds of the University of Texas, Austin.
Desiring to preserve and maintain the Hare’s perfect English garden, Nancy Hallman began reading and researching English gardens as soon as she acquired the home. She was particularly inspired by London visits to the Great Dixter House, home of the late legendary gardener and author Christopher Lloyd. A treasure in it’s own right, the Dixter House and gardens, dating back to 1220, were thoughtfully restored by the late architect Edward Lutyens. Lutyens was well known for his ability to weld the architecture of a home to its gardens in a way few can.
Nancy Hallman had a challenge. She wanted a garden that would be in harmony with her 1936-vintage estate home as well as Hare’s masterpiece garden.
It all started with Bill and Nancy Hallman’s decision remain in the original home combine this lot with the adjacent lot. .
She turned to Dallas architect Ralph L. Duesing to re-envision Hare’s masterpiece garden. Duesing’s design was implemented by Dallas/Fort Worth-based M. M. Moore Construction
Moore, by the way, also constructed the exquisite grounds, pools and water features at 6767 Hunters Glen, the University Park home of Debbie and John Tolleson.
At the Hallman residence, the efforts of Duesing and Moore yielded “a new old garden” that incorporated the classic features of English gardens with contemporary style and flair.
Designed for year-round enjoyment, the garden is literally never without bloom. There are tulips, daffodils and irises in spring, followed in by pink and white azaleas, England’s David Austin roses. A walled orchard of native Mexican plum trees for nearly year-round color
The orchard, however, was challenging to construct, due to layers of limestone running below prairie soils.
Limestone was put to use in the dry creek that runs through the property. It was not, as some have reported, salvaged to create the stone walls bordering the orchard.
There are paths, garden features, and faux-bois concrete tables and loveseats. Similar to the Tolleson property, the winding path through the lower gardens ends at the family patio, viewing a classic albeit formal knot garden surrounded by brick walkways. Intertwined green and variegated boxwood hedges create the frame. There are antique roses: white ‘Marie Pavie,’ pale-pink ‘Souvenir de St. Anne’s’ and blushing-pink ‘La Marne’ plus deep-pink ‘Sir John Betjeman’ roses in the four corners.
The visit starts at the home’s crescent-shaped driveway, boasting a pair of giant topiary cardinals filled with boxwood and ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon holly. Then there is Duesing’s 7-foot-tall iron frame fence, created by Black Barn Farm in Massachusetts. Cocktails were served on the back patio and throughout the gardens.
We heard from Fergus Garrett, Head Gardener for the aforementioned Great Dixter House & Garden in East Sussex, UK. Garrett worked there under the leadership of Christopher Lloyd, until his death in 2006.
“It’s about making music with the plants,” he said.
Indeed, there was music coming from the Hallman garden that fine evening.
“My interest are looking at plants and plant communities in the wild,” said Fergus. “Also cooking and boxing.”
That evoked a chuckle, to imagine the juxtaposition of a man so fervently devoted to horticulture using his hands for anything but cultivating the earth.
“I also love Turkey and anything Turkish,” he said, having been raised for part of his life in Turkey.
“And also nice people,” he concluded, “which you find abundantly in Fort Worth, Texas.”