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Alvarado woman turns rural acreage into an English garden paradise

Mary Hart poses for a photo in her Mazus Garden at her home in Alvarado.
Mary Hart poses for a photo in her Mazus Garden at her home in Alvarado. Special to the Star-Telegram

The city limit sign reads Alvarado, and the drive along the county road passes farmsteads of open pastureland and grazing cattle.

But when the narrow road dips toward the creek, thick stands of oaks and cedar elms crowd the lane, and a manicured lawn sprawls under the trees, making Alvarado feel more like Olde England.

A lover of the outdoors, Mary Hart purchased 6  1/2 wooded acres 18 years ago, and with the help of her three children, set about clearing the undergrowth. Two acres are artfully cultivated today, although “for my birthday in February, everyone came over — kids, grandkids, great-grandkids — and we cleared another big swath. I don’t know why I wanted to increase what I have to take care of, but I did.”

A brick home with a decidedly English flavor anchors the property. Creeping fig blankets the gabled entry, with long, curling tendrils cascading from the ceiling. An adjacent parterre garden of clipped dwarf yaupon introduces the relaxed elegance Hart prefers.

Behind it, espaliered Asian jasmine creates X patterns on the walls and swags under windows. All winter and spring by the stacked stone wall, the sandy loam is awash in pink and yellow snapdragons and violas. Hart will replace them soon with pink impatiens for the summer.

Her canopied property is devised as a warren of “rooms,” each evoking a distinct personality, and every view from indoors looks out into one of these rooms.

The peaceful master bedroom garden settles like a secluded courtyard. Salvaged brick forms a terrace surrounded by fragrant Mexican plums, with spidery crinum lilies and speckled candy lilies adding color. A wisteria-covered arbor with an ornate iron gate allows access.

Below the terrace, the lush fern garden is dotted here and there with airplane plants for a pop of white — “a beacon in all that shade” — amid the green. Cast iron plants from Hart’s mother’s home thrive here, too, protected from wind under the terrace wall.

An upstairs bedroom overlooks the mazus garden, named for the low-growing perennial that threads between the pavers of a small patio. Hart layered a backdrop of Macho and holly ferns and boxwoods at ground level, with tall metal posts draped with Asian jasmine and topped with decorative finials.

From the breakfast room, the memorial garden is in view, dominated by an ornate metal cross, a church relic found in Salado. Hart repeats a fixed menu of plants — ferns, Mexican petunia, pink lacecap and mophead hydrangeas — because she has learned what works best for her garden conditions.

“Rooms” are joined by meandering paths of lichen-pocked rock dug up by Hart and her family years ago in Granbury and Glen Rose. Patched in, salvaged bricks mingle with the rock, lending the appearance and grace of a walkway made and repaired over time.

Crowning a small hill, a covered patio with timbered ceiling, mortared rock fireplace and comfortable seating allows Hart to enjoy the outdoors all year round.

Hart had admired a stone carving of two angels in a European church — saved as a photograph for decades — and found a mason in Granbury to replicate it for the fireplace.

Nearby, a spacious, French-inspired garden house keeps garden implements at hand and serves as a greenhouse for overwintering plants. On a doorknob, a ring of rusty vintage keys playfully suggests the adjacent outdoor room, where boxwoods and ferns encase a brick walkway in the shape of a keyhole, punctuated by a massive urn of pink begonias.

“At night we have millions of fireflies. Nobody else has them. They are magical,” Hart reveals, also noting the painted buntings and an American woodcock, which visit each year during migration.

“[My] mother always gardened,” Hart says, citing her inspiration. “When one of the aunts would come, the first thing, we’d all walk around the yard.”

Hart presses on with the tradition, and soon visitors will be able to enjoy that newly cleared swath, too — as a garden of white moonflowers, which will bloom at night, creating even more magic.

Call to readers

Readers, do you have a garden you’d like to show off? We’d love to take a look. If it is selected for a “Show Us Your Garden” feature story, we’ll interview and photograph you amid your blooms.

Email a brief description and three or four photographs of your garden — plus your name, telephone number and address — to sallmon@star-telegram.com, with “Show Us Your Garden” in the subject line.

Or send to: Show Us Your Garden, Star-Telegram Features Department, Box 1870, Fort Worth, TX 76101. Photos will not be returned. Email is preferred.

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