See how Fourth Ward lives during this ‘Secret Gardens’ tour

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No space is too small for a garden.

If you’ve got a patio, a deck or a sunny spot by your driveway, you can have shrubs, plants, flowers, a water feature, statuary … and the peace a garden brings.

Fourth Ward – which is so perfectly preserved and restored, it looks like a movie set – is proof you can do a lot with a little when it comes to gardening. The uptown enclave, dating back to the late 1800s, was built at a time when homes and lawns were more modest than many suburban mansions today. Intimate gardens offer a magic all their own.

For the fourth year, Fourth Ward is inviting area residents to experience its hidden charms – back yards, patios, decks, rooftop terraces and other spaces you can’t see from the street. It’s a peek inside the uptown lifestyle. And evidence that bigger isn’t always better.

From noon to 4 p.m. May 20-21, Friends of Fourth Ward will host the “Secret Gardens of Fourth Ward” walking tour featuring eight gardens.

This has “always been a garden and lifestyle tour,” said tour organizer Beth Walker. “It’s about crafting a beautiful life in an urban setting, and creating private oases a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of center city.”

Tour organizers intentionally contrast patios and gardens with complimentary tastings at neighborhood restaurants, tours of Fourth Ward Park, and B-Cycle and horse-drawn carriage rides, Walker said. It’s all about giving visitors a true taste of Fourth Ward.

“When you live in Fourth Ward, all these things are at your fingertips,” Walker said. “The bartenders at Al Mike’s know your favorite drink, and you hear the clip-clop of horses pulling carriages. You likely know the names of the carriage drivers and chat with them from your porch.”

Townhouses and terraces

“This year, we decided to start with a focus on Settlers Lane,” Walker said. Fourth Ward pioneer and long-time resident Dennis Rash was instrumental in the design of these brick townhouses built in the 1980s. They look modern, yet they blend in with their historic surroundings.

“Dennis told us about the decisions that went into crafting that pocket community,” Walker said. “The graceful curves of the leafy street create a sense of intimacy (and serve as traffic-calming devices), and the front-facing terraces were purposefully placed on the second story, so you always feel connected to your neighbors.” The back courtyards on the lower level are private.

Fourth Ward resident and tour chairman Heath Knott said one of the smallest gardens on the tour is the Berce garden on Settlers Lane. But small doesn’t mean skimpy. The space was designed by Myron Greer, known for his elaborate gardens in Eastover and other prominent neighborhoods. But here, he made the most of the space he had.

“The upper level gives the homeowners skyline views and window boxes,” Knott said. “The lower level has dwarf mondo grass, a Yew hedge, viburnums and potted plants.”

But older homes and mature gardens aren’t the only spaces being celebrated on this tour. Some of the new luxury residential skyscrapers, including the nearly one-acre SkyPark at SkyHouse, are also featured.

And some of the gardens, even if on the petite side, feature outdoor rooms. There’s one (the Holloway home on Settlers Lane) with an outdoor fireplace and bar and “hanging wrought iron chairs that are like bowls you can sit in,” Knott said.

The Duke garden on N. Poplar Street boasts no fewer than three defined outdoor spaces, each serving a different purpose – a main “room,” a dining area and a space with an outdoor fireplace.

This walkable, self-guided tour includes admission to private gardens, as well as docent-led tours of Fourth Ward Park and the historic Elmwood/Pinewood Cemeteries. Those tours begin at 3 p.m. each day.

Other attractions: Complimentary food and beverage tastings (while they last) in gardens and at restaurants along the tour route, courtesy of Poplar Tapas, The Asbury, The Wooden Vine, Zia Pia, Doc Porter’s Distillery, Rock Bottom Brewery, Copper Barrel Distillery and Potts Chocolate and $1 oysters from Sea Level NC.

“This tour shows people the Fourth Ward way of life,” Knott said. “We love the juxtaposition of these verdant outdoor spaces amidst city life. When you walk here from the skyscrapers just a few blocks away, you’ll suddenly hear the sounds of birds and your neighbors’ fountain. We’re not just showing you where we live. We’re showing you how we live.”

Get in on the Secret

Tickets for the May 20-21 “Secret Gardens of Fourth Ward” are $20 and good for either day. Purchase online now at www.fofw.org or at Alexander Michael’s Restaurant & Tavern and Park Road Books.

During tour hours, ticket holders must redeem their tickets for tour guidebooks at the tour ticket booth at the corner of Ninth and Poplar streets. The ticket booth will be the only location for same-day ticket sales, it tickets are still available. The annual tour frequently sells out in advance.

Photos: Austin Caine

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