A few years back, and long before blogs, a friend of ours at the Charlotte County Archives produced a page from the June 7, 1919 newspaper The North-China Herald. [Much of what we know about Kingsbrae Arms has come from neighbors near and far bearing treasures that help us understand its heritage.] We tucked the article away with other historic artifacts and only recently pulled it out. With our renewed energies in both flower and vegetable gardens, the article shows a clear through line from first owners until today. We are all passionate gardeners.
The 1919 article described an Exhibition of Sweet Peas—A Pageant of Colour, held by Florence and her husband Francis Ayscough in the gardens of their winter home in Shanghai on Gordon Road.
“Rustic seats and tables were temptingly placed under the refreshing shelter of outstretched trees and to sit awhile in the midst of nature was to attune visitors to a right sense of the glorious shades and colours of the wonderful collection of sweet peas which had been deftly arranged in vases placed on tables carefully protected by overhanging branches from the hot rays of the sun.”
Florence’s St. Andrews and Shanghai gardens were no ordinary gardens. They drew upon her infinite creativity of design and her knowledge of two cultures. Floor plans and garden layouts were realized in China. Others were models of perfection. Harley MacNair commented that she “wanted to work in the soil, to plant seeds and watch them grow, to put on old clothes, kneel on a mat, and dig weeds from flower beds and lawn.”
We discovered her St. Andrews garden beds when the property was purchased in 1996. Unfortunately, the weeds had taken over, but only until our own drive put the beds back in order.