Behind the wall: A secret garden blooms in Raleigh


And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed
and every morning revealed new miracles.
-Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

by Jesma Reynolds

photographs by Catherine Nguyen

For more than two decades, Greyson and Garland Tucker have been working together to shape their Raleigh garden into a series of wondrous spaces. It has been a labor of love, inspired by literature and by trips to England’s famous gardens. Over many seasons, the couple has created a garden with elegant proportions and sensibility, one that is full of beauty in every season. It has played host to many memorable events – Easter sunrise services, wedding breakfasts, ceremonies, receptions, and classical concerts.

When they began, the Tuckers’ spacious back yard had established trees and shrubs, and though portions of it were overgrown, Greyson, a master gardener, knew she could work within its existing framework. A grove of Eleagnus seemed to be the perfect area for a walled garden, one that would be near invisible from other parts of the yard. That private aspect had a special appeal: When she had measles as a child, Greyson says her mother read her The Secret Garden, which influenced her desire for her own secret garden someday.

As timing would have it, just as the Tuckers were about to embark on the project, 19th-century handmade bricks became available from the demolition of a relative’s downtown warehouse. Garland recalls that about 20 dump-truck loads were deposited on their front lawn, and after unsuccessful attempts to find someone to help, he began the labor-intensive, solo task of cleaning the rubble from each brick, and then transporting them all, one wheelbarrow-load at a time, to the back yard. It took an entire summer, two hours every evening, to complete the job. “Every great gardener needs a source of cheap labor,” Greyson chuckles.

With materials on site, the couple enlisted the help of architect John Hitch to help design the secret garden’s surrounding wall. They wanted to incorporate an archway entrance and unique brick details like pointed coping and rounded edging along the top of the wall. They had photos from their travels to help illustrate their vision. “We didn’t want it to look like a fort,” says Garland, “and we wanted it to be structurally sound.” The final design included a dovecote in one corner, creating a pleasing focal point that also houses garden tools and a sink for cutting and arranging flowers.

Finding someone to install sharp-cut, steep-pitched slate tiles was difficult until the couple made the serendipitous acquaintance of an English roofer working at Chatham Hall in Virginia, where one of the Tuckers’ daughters was attending school. He said he’d be able to make the challenging cuts required on the corners of the hexagonal roof. His one requirement for taking the job was afternoon tea, so Greyson dutifully complied, serving him every day he worked.

Greyson designed the border garden to mimic the spacing and waves of color found in English perennial gardens. Through trial and error, she determined which plants would grow best in this area, making adjustments so that something would bloom every season. She recalls poring over garden catalogs to select appropriate plants since few were available here at the time. Today, a mix of perennials, annuals, deciduous shrubs and evergreens provides texture and color throughout the year. “Fall is my favorite time,” she says.


When the walled garden was complete, the couple delved further into the process of transforming their entire back yard. Again inspired by their travels, Garland constructed a walkway to the west of the walled garden that gently slopes downward, following the natural contours of the property.

An allée of hydrangeas flanks the path of patterned cobblestone and stone. The composition is framed by a woodsy arch of Lonicera fragrantissima, more commonly known as “first breath of spring,” making a stunning connector to the lower yard. It was another summer’s worth of labor by Garland, done again for the “sheer joy of it.”

“It puts you on a high working with nature,” says Greyson. Her profound love of gardening is shared with Garland. Though today the couple works outdoors together, there was a time, Greyson recalls, when the children were small and the two would have to take turns gardening. “We would fight over who would cut the grass and who would watch the kids,” she laughs.