Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Eden Gardens

On Saturday, Mom, Bunny, Kris, Sophie, Jake, and I went to Eden Gardens State Park in Santa Rosa Beach. The centerpiece of the park is the historic Wesley House, built in 1897. A white-columned beauty with a two-story wrap-around porch, it stands on the shore of Tucker Bayou and is surrounded by lawns and formal gardens. The gardens feature over 100 varieties of camellias, a reflecting pool, and some wonderfully ghostly, eerie white statuary.

Bunny, Kris, and I spent our first hour at the park madly taking pictures, trying desperately to capture all its dreamy romance. Sophie and Jake, age 12 and nine, were getting pretty peeved. They were standing in the background shaking their heads and fake-crying as Kris said to Bunny and me, “Now let’s try some other angles. . . .” Sophie stormed off and pouted for a while somewhere in the bushes, and when she came back she cried out to Mom in indignation, “Are you serious? They’re still taking pictures of that same tree!”

In our defense, it was a terrific tree, a giant moss-draped live oak. The park ranger on duty told us later that scientists had dated the tree and found it to be over 500 years old.

The kids were happier once we started our tour of the house, mostly because the house was air conditioned. Our tour guide, the cheerful blond park ranger mentioned above, told us that the Wesleys had been in the lumber business and that the old pilings in the bayou were remnants of their very successful sawmill. Katie Wesley lived in the house until 1953, the ranger said, and when she died the house sat vacant for 10 years. Nobody was interested in the property, except for a developer who came and bought up all the outbuildings and moved them over to nearby Grayton Beach to become beach cottages. The house languished. Neighborhood kids played in it, and goats ran through it. Then finally, in 1963, Lois Maxon, a reporter from New York, happened to see the house on a Sunday afternoon drive and immediately fell in love with it. She bought it for $12,000, then poured a million dollars into fixing it up. Miss Maxon came from a very wealthy family and filled the house with a remarkable collection of antiques and family heirlooms. Sadly, she only got to live in her dream house for about five years. She got sick, and before she died she donated the house and all its grand furnishings to the state of Florida.

When the tour was over, Sophie said, mostly just to needle me, I think, “I liked the house, but if I lived in it I’d get all new furniture. I like modern things.”

“Like what?” I said, needling her right back. “What would you put in it? Let me guess. Plastic stuff and a One Direction poster?”

“I like One Direction.”

“I know,” I said, “and I'm appalled. I must say you’ve got terrible taste.”

“They're cute. Harry's cute, and so's Liam.”

“They are not. Like I told you before, I’m not going to mince words with you on this.”

Then we argued about whether or not the boys had been booed at the VMAs. I was certain they had been, though of course I didn't watch the VMAs. (I suppose at this point I should mention that Sophie and I love to tease each other and play fight.)

We walked down to the waterall of us, the whole familyadmiring along the way the blush pink cones in the magnolia trees, and the fine, fat hickory nuts that littered the grass. We watched a little squirrel sitting in a tree, eating one of the nuts.

"What a lucky squirrel," I said. "He gets to live at Eden Gardens."

Jake thought Eden Gardens was boring. On this subject and several others, we've agreed to disagree. 


  1. You always share such wonderful places that you have visited.



    I love the photo of you in your about me page.

  2. What a glorious and grand place!

  3. Your pictures turned out so much better than mine! What a fun day!

  4. That is such a lovely place! Too bad Jake didn't have a good time, but I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

  5. I love the angelic, waif-like beauty captured in your photo in contrast to the "seriously, can we get out of here now" look captured in Jake's. My son is 21 and I'm still getting those looks.

  6. He sounds so much like mine when they were his age.We took a trip to Hawaii and drove to the top of a volcano. My daughter, then about 12, didn't want to get out of the car and see it at the top. I took her by the hand and made her come with us...saying that this was something she might never see again.She's never been back to Hawaii and she talks about the crater every once in a glad she was made to take a look.
    Loved seeing your wonderful pictures...Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving such a nice comment.

  7. You look like the Lady of the Manor in your photo. I would get all goo-goo-eyed over a 500 year old tree, too. If only it could talk! What a wonderful romantic looking home. I love visiting old Florida sites via your blog. Keep traveling!

  8. I just wanted to say thank you for the sweet comment on my Wednesday post! Food photography is so hard, but I'm trying to learn how to take appealing photos. I recently read "Plate to Pixel" and it was so helpful. As far as making the bars with an egg substitute, I think it would work out fine. I haven't ever used egg substitute before myself since I get eggs from my own chickens, but I'm sure it would work out!

  9. What lovely photographs! I want to live in that house, it's gorgeous. All those windows overlooking the gardens - wow. I am so glad Lois rescued the house thereby preserving an old Florida site for future generations to meander through and marvel at. BTW thanks for visiting my post and leaving an encouraging comment.

  10. This is certainly an interesting backdrop for a One Direction related conversation!