The Sunken Garden is the lowest portion of Mrs. Ferrell’s garden, comprising the 6th terrace. A historic stereoscope image of this area during the Ferrell era shows a summer house structure covering the area where the curved bench now sits and the circular bed is approximately where the pool and fountain are. Note the iron fence to the rear of this garden that is still extant.
Sarah referred to it as “The Valley”, while the Callaways renamed it the Sunken Garden. Notice the semi-circular stone wall that slave masons erected, as they did most of the stone walls on the property. These walls are more visible than others because they’re not covered with vegetation. According to Alice Callaway, the curved walls flanking the Sunken Garden have had only one extensive repair job since they were built when a stone mason from Columbus, GA, was hired to do the work. Reportedly, when he took the stones out he numbered each one so he could put them back in order.
Stone steps on each side of the Sunken Garden lead down to a curved cast stone bench and fountain. Visitors often recognize the bench as the one used by Fuller Jr. and Alice during their courtship. A curved sofa in the living room of the house sits aligned with this bench in the garden. Alice had the sofa designed in the shape of the bench where she and Fuller fell in love. More information on this sofa can be found in our Portico article, “The Curved Garden Bench and a Unique Sofa.”
The view from this bench up to the terrace, house, and upper fountain is one of the most admired views in the garden. From this vantage point, one can also see another fountain shaped into a face mounted onto the stone wall under the railing on the terrace above. This fountain, along with the circular one and the bench were put in by Fuller Callaway Sr. in 1916. Behind the bench, the Ferrell’s iron fence and gates still close off this garden, extending out parallel on each side to the curved walls. The railing up on the 5th terrace and the handrails on the steps were installed by the Callaways. If you will notice, the railing has a grape motif.
Sarah Ferrell designed the boxwood beds of this area, but she had them filled with a wide variety of different shrubs, trees, bulbs, and perennials. Alice called it “a Victorian hodgepodge.” Alice later simplified the plantings by using the mondo grass ground cover, trees, and shrubs that you see today.
In her 1994 recorded interview, Alice Hand Callaway sits on the curved stone bench and tells of a happy memory with Fuller Callaway Jr.
- Azalea (Rhododendron ‘President Claeys’) growing on either side of curved bench. Planted by Alice. She purchased them in 1942, but they weren’t originally planted here.
- Yellow ‘Lady Banks’ rose (Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’) growing on the old fence behind and on each side of the curved bench. This rose was grown by all three ladies: Sarah, Ida, and Alice. It is not certain who planted these here, however.
- White deciduous magnolias (one each of Magnolia x ‘Wada’s Memory and Magnolia x soulangiana ‘Pristine’) in the mondo bed east of the curved bench and against the old iron fence. Both bloom white, ‘Wada’s Memory’ in late February-early March and ‘Pristine’ in March. Planted by Alice, 1990.
- Yellow deciduous magnolia (Magnolia x ‘Elizabeth’) growing in the approximate center of the mondo bed west of the curved bench and against the old iron fence. Planted circa 2005 to replace a Magnolia campbelli subsp. mollicomata (planted by Alice) that was fatally damaged in a 2003 storm. Blooms pale yellow in March.