Montrose Gardens – Hillsborough, NC

by | December 20, 2019 |

This week I visited Montrose Gardens. It’s located at 320 St. Mary’s Road in Hillsborough, North Carolina. I made my appointment for Tuesday, not knowing it would be a rainy, overcast day. But as a world traveler I take the weather as it comes. And a garden in winter, even if much of it is dormant, can still be beautiful. While an overcast sky can make certain colors pop.

Nancy and Craufurd Goodwin bought Montrose with its 61 acres in 1977.  Twenty acres are a series of interlocking gardens surrounding the main house on all sides.

Montrose Gardens

The main house dates from 1900 and had a remodel in 1948. Fire destroyed two previous houses on this site. The first was from 1842.

Montrose Gardens in Winter

A banana plant in winter is sculptural:

Here are the bananas!

The bananas are actually pink

A yellow twig dogwood makes its own stark statement in winter:

This beauty is an ilex.

It’s in the holly family

The most intriguing tree on the property is the metasequoia, which is the deciduous tree on the left. It’s in the redwood family.

People had thought it was extinct because it was only known through fossils. That is, until someone identified a stand of them in China. Nancy Goodwin planted this one. They are relatively fast growing.

A rose arbor in summer. A leafy shelter in winter:

Montrose Gardens

The view from the bench:

Montrose Gardens

A layered composition here. I know it tells a story. I just don’t know what it is:

The highlight of the winter garden are the generous carpets of silver bells:

Here’s where the fairies play

There are numerous runners of silver-bells. This one curves around one of the seven tiers of the garden that step down to the flood plain of the Eno River:

Montrose Gardens

Me, I get excited by compost.

I’m serious. I wish I could compost in downtown Durham. I resort to what I call guerilla composting on East Campus.

Nancy Goodwin is best known for her interest in cyclamens.

Montrose Gardens

They have distinctive leaves. If you look close enough you can see a couple of delicate purple flowers:

Montrose Gardens Past

In the middle of the 19th century William Alexander Graham and his wife, Susan, began to develop the  gardens. Graham was Governor of North Carolina from 1845-1849.

An impressive line of boxwoods defining the western edge of the lawn is over 100 years old. What you see here is a small fraction.

Proof that a winter garden has its own charm: a composition of Japanese Hakonechloa macra, aka Hakone grass, set in a black urn against 100-year-old boxwoods:

Montrose Gardens

The original kitchen from the 1840s is now the potting shed:

Montrose Garedens

This building is from the 1840s

William Graham’s law office still sits behind the main house:

Montrose Gardens

Also from the 1840s

Nancy Goodwin’s book, Life in a Garden, would make an excellent Christmas gift for the gardener in your life. Note that the cover features a cyclamen.


Plantswoman Nancy Goodwin and Montrose Gardens have been featured in many national publications. The slideshow from Southern Living offers views of the gardens in bloom.

I’ll leave you with this:

For a look at a garden city with a gorgeous botanical garden check out Lush Urban Luxury: Singapore

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This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen

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