SEEKING EDEN in Our Backyard

Cator Woolford Gardens, a social enterprise of the Frazer Center, is one of about 30 gardens featured in the new book Seeking Eden: A Collection of Georgia’s Historic Gardens, a passion project written by Staci L. Catron and Mary Ann Eaddy, with photography by James R. Lockhart. A beautiful tome featuring gardens throughout the state, it appeals to gardeners and non-gardeners, history buffs, and those who love exploring Georgia’s hidden gems.

Often described as one of those hidden gems, Cator Woolford Gardens has been on the radar of co-author Staci Catron for many years. Staci is a long-time Decaturite, historian, and Director of the Cherokee Garden Library at the Atlanta History Center. She has an affinity for the work of the original designer of the Cator Woolford Gardens, Robert B. Cridland, who also designed the Avondale Estates development and the campus of Berry College in Rome, Georgia.

The evolution of Cator Woolford Gardens from its origins to today’s redesign is all covered in the book, which was originally never meant to be a book. “The whole project grew out of a Georgia Historic Landscape initiative,” says Staci. “A group came together in 2002 wanting to document our state’s historic gardens. We had a lot of important landscapes that had not been documented since 1933.” That’s when the Peachtree Garden Club of Atlanta published Garden History of Georgia 1733-1933. The Cator Woolford estate was included in the “Modern Garden” section of this now out-of-print book.

Staci and her fellow researchers were interested in finding out what had happened to all the gardens in that early publication and making that information available at the Cherokee Garden Library for the public to research. But in 2012, when it seemed like the group was nearing the end of their project, Staci and Mary Ann Eaddy got together to discuss the possibility of creating a detailed book for those less inclined to research. The two had known each other for quite a while by then. In 2000, while Staci was working on her Masters in Heritage Preservation at Georgia State University, Eaddy was her professor. They never dreamed then that they would become co-authors, but the two recruited James Lockhart as photographer, and the three carried on with what they describe as an “epic journey” of research, travel, and discovery.

Catron’s love of gardens and landscape history is palpable. She is a champion of greenspaces as healing oases. She says Cator Woolford Gardens is a great example of that. Not only does it have “great history and beauty, but today it has this even higher purpose,” with two non-profits located on the estate: the Frazer Center serves children with and without disabilities and adults with developmental disabilities, and the Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House, located in the historic estate mansion, offers respite to outpatients and caregivers of patients in local hospitals. “I think Mr. Woolford would have loved that,” says Staci. “He was philanthropic; he cared about civic and social causes.”

Staci hopes the beauty of the book inspires readers to surround themselves with beauty in their own environments. In fact, she is continuing on with further research but broadening the project to include vernacular, everyday gardens. She hopes to create a part two to Seeking Eden. Meanwhile, she, Eaddy, and Lockhart are doing speaking engagements locally and throughout the state, and a companion exhibit is running at the Atlanta History Center through the end of 2018. The book is available on Amazon, and proceeds go to the statewide Garden Club of Georgia Historic Landscape Grant program which funds the restoration of gardens open to the public.

Cator Woolford Gardens is open to the public from sunup to sundown when there are no private events happening on the grounds. Leashed dogs are welcome too. The gardens are available for rent, and proceeds benefit the inclusion programs of the Frazer Center which is charged with maintaining the gardens and forest. Feel free to escape the urban bustle and step into this neighborhood oasis for a bit of natural healing.