Chandor Gardens, née White Shadows, a hidden gem in North Texas, part 1

October 29, 2019

White Shadows — the name evokes romance and mystery — seems wholly appropriate for the dappled-shade garden surrounding a pale-gray house in the small Texas town of Weatherford, 30 miles west of Fort Worth. Here, in a series of alternately elegant and rustic garden rooms, you’ll find a green pond lapping near a robin’s-egg-blue front door, accessed via a Chinese footbridge; a sunken bowling lawn framed by stone walls and stately trees; a cliff-plunging waterfall and mossy grotto; a whimsical Chinese junk fashioned from stone that “sails” a small pond; and a grand staircase overlooking a spectacular dragon fountain and oval pool.

Chinoiserie appealed to Douglas Chandor, and he incorporated many elements into his otherwise English-style garden, like this bridge, mosaic path, and statuary.

All was imagined and created, rather improbably, in the 1930s and ’40s in a scrubby North Texas cow pasture by English portraitist Douglas Chandor. He’d met Weatherford socialite Ina Kuteman Hill in New York City, and after their marriage they settled in her hometown, dividing their time between Texas and New York. They built a house on pasture land Ina’s family gave them, and Douglas spent the next 16 years building White Shadows, his dream garden.

A sunken bowling lawn hosted games in Douglas and Ina’s time. Today artificial turf stands up to visitor traffic and wedding parties.

And what a dream it was. Merging English and Chinese garden styles, he turned 3-1/2 acres of cow pasture into beautiful garden rooms with long sight lines and strong focal points.

Douglas worked quickly, planting trees galore and building the garden room by room. He died in 1953, just 16 years after he’d started. Ina renamed the garden after her late husband and opened Chandor Gardens to the public. But following her death in 1978, the property was abandoned. Nature swallowed up the garden.

After 16 years of utter neglect, Chandor was resurrected by Melody and Chuck Bradford, who bought the overgrown, decrepit property in 1994 and painstakingly restored the home and gardens. Recognizing it as a local treasure, the City of Weatherford bought Chandor Gardens in 2002 and today operates it as a public garden. A foundation helps sustain it, and the garden’s online newsletter can be found here.

I visited Chandor Gardens in mid-October, detouring on the way home from a weekend in Dallas. Longtime Chandor horticulturist Steven Chamblee had offered me a private tour months ago, but by the time I was able to visit, he’d taken a new gig in East Texas. However, another Stephen, English-born horticulturist Stephen Haydon, had taken over and kindly agreed to show me around.

The Chinese-style bridge echoes the muted color of the house and reflects in the green pond.

In a quiet nook enclosed by a boxwood hedge, a sculpture of a nude bather stands in a small fountain. According to Stephen, she was removed from Chandor Gardens at some point and returned years later.

Black-stemmed bamboo makes a green scrim near a green lattice bench.

A tiered fountain splashes into a round pool, overlooked by a side porch.

Walking along the stream that feeds the front-door pond, you come to a small moon bridge leading to flowering salvias and a rustic cedar gazebo.

Under the cedar-pole roof, a chiseled log bench offers a spot to rest.

Millstones (perhaps reproductions) are repurposed as stepping stones across another pond. If you pause halfway across and look right…

…you see a dripping cliff wall cloaked in greenery. A stone lantern and arching sago palm accent the naturalistic scene.

A palm gives a tropical look to an island in the pond.

Douglas brought in masses of boulders to create what he’d name Mount Cox, for its benefactor. As the Parker County Master Gardeners Assoc. website explains:

“Many of Douglas’ subjects had their portraits painted at White Shadows, now Chandor Gardens. One of his subjects was James E. Cox, Governor of Ohio. While Governor Cox was here, he and Douglas became fast friends. Douglas told Governor Cox of his dream to build a mountain but felt he did not have the sufficient funds at that time to build it. When Governor Cox returned to Ohio, he mailed a letter with a check and said, “Build your mountain, fulfill your dream.” It was quite a feat, there are boulders weighing over 15 tons in the mountain. Douglas handpicked each boulder and rock from Palo Pinto County, the neighboring county to the west. Douglas would go out to various ranches and ask the owners if they would like to be rid of their rocks and of course, if you know anything about ranching, rocks are what they don’t want on their places. Douglas supervised the entire construction of the mountain.”

Mount Cox was completed in 1952, and Douglas died the following year, before he could add the waterfall he envisioned. Today, thanks to the efforts of the Bradfords, a waterfall flows down the cliff face, echoing natural spring-fed waterfalls found throughout Central Texas.

Pond-side plants

Yet another pond is traversed via millstone stepping stones and offset stone planks. Above, a metal arbor stands stork-like in the water, supporting a vine and hanging baskets of spider plant.

Crossing is a small adventure, and you must watch your step.

Douglas built a Chinese junk out of mortared stone, with a bamboo-pole sail — a whimsical illusion of a floating boat, which actually functions as an island planter.

As you reach the other side you see a Chinese-red trellis in the distance. Let’s investigate!

A red Asian-style screen against an abundance of green foliage creates an appealing contrast. Gigantic staghorn ferns hang from live oaks in the center of a gravel and brick courtyard.

This was once a parking lot for visitors. But during Steven Chamblee’s tenure, he wisely banished the cars (there’s parking just outside the main garden entrance) and created this lovely labyrinth of bricks set in gravel under the live oaks. In the central tree well…

…stands a manmade scholar’s rock, constructed of mortared pieces of native karst limestone.

White porcelain Chinese figures occupy ledges on the rock.

What I’ve shown here is only half of the garden. Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Chandor Gardens visit to see the dragon fountain, moon gate, and entry courtyard.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.

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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Austin’s Open Day garden tour sponsored by The Garden Conservancy will be held this Saturday, November 2, from 10 am to 4 pm. Six private gardens will be on tour, and admission to each garden is $10 per person; children 12 and under are free.

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark! Hungry to learn about garden design from the experts? I’m hosting a series of talks by inspiring garden designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year. Held in Austin, the talks are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

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