Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 1: No 1) >> Simms the Gardener: Reconstructing the Gardens at Woodlands >> Page 17

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Page 17

Secondary Scholarship | 1993

James E. Kibler

Like Jefferson, another Southern "Renaissance Man" of the soil, Simms
was a planter and an ardent gardener. A picture of his ornamental plantings at
Woodlands can be sketched in some detail from various sources--especially now
that several of his nursery orders have surfaced.
His poems abound in the imagery of gardens and gardening.1 Particularly
from 1865 to 1868, his verses lament the destruction of not only his house, but
also the gardens surrounding it.2 "Among the Ruins" (1867) speaks of the wind
blowing through broken walls now "shorn of flowers" but "once beautiful with
every loving twine... flowers,/ That won all birds of beauty to their bloom." In
"Heart Omen" (1865, 1868), he writes of his ruins: "Here are no blossoms
now..../Such as with .sacred scent and happy glow/ Recall the Elysian home.../Ah!
God! but it was beautiful and bless'd,/This refuge of Love.../There was no tree
that shelter'd not its bird;/No shrub without its song and summer bloom."
What, then, were those gardens like? T. A. Richards noted in 1852 that
the house stood in a "wide and spreading lawn." The mansion was "sentinelled"
by "ranks of orange-trees and live oak" said to be "the object of his tenderest care
-true and ardent lover of nature as he is." Much is known of his "Druid patriarch"
live oaks, because he celebrated them often in his poetry. But orange trees?
Richards' description is verified by Simms' poem "The Two Upon the Hearth"
(1868), in which he thinks back to his courtship of Chevillette, and to one
particular declaration of love that took place in a "grove, of blended orange bloom
and pine." The oranges were thus of his father-in-law's planting and by 1852 had
become mature parts of Simms' inherited landscape, and redolent of associations
of his courtship and marriage to Chevillette. Like so many of his fellow Southern
gardeners, Simms created a "garden of memories," in which particular shrubs and
trees were important for more than their beauty, owing to the associations
surrounding them, so that it is appropriate for him to speak of his plants in a
closely related triad when describing what he must leave in departing from
Woodlands in 1867: "to forfeit all--/the shrines [including family graves], the
blooms, the consecrated hall,/ And all the uncounted attributes of years,/And
memories sainted in affection's tears,/Link'd with material things--that grew to
things/Of soul."3
Beyond live oak and orange, what plants made up the ornamental
landscape at Woodlands? Some were the native productions of the forest that
blended with "nursery plants." One such native that Richards noted in 1852, and
for which Simms was said to have "a particular fondness," was the giant grape-
vine on an old "forest-king." Richards says, "The vine drops its festoons, one