The Historic District Gardens of Rocky Mount – A West Haven Poem

“A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space — a place not just set apart but reverberant — and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.”
Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education


Turning prose into poetry is exactly what MaryJo & Edwin Williamson have done with their Historic District West Haven garden situated a mile west of the business district of Rocky Mount, NC.  W. Henry Toler, secretary-treasurer for People’s Oil Company and his wife, would be amazed at what the Williamson’s have created since moving (2006) into the two-story brick Cape Cod house that was originally built in 1937 for the Toler’s.  The garden is a lesson in how to patiently write a ‘poem’….starting with the installation of pathways in increments, relocating plants, welcoming plant material from friends and neighbors who were dividing and editing their own gardens, and one project at a time, making a garden that has become a healing place of wonder & joy for The Head Gardener (MaryJo) and her Under Gardener (Edwin.)

The success of this joint endeavor manifests itself in a myriad of ways. The sound of water in a garden creates serenity, and MaryJo & Edwin’s 1st project was building a pond edged with rocks they brought home a few at a time from trips to Halifax Co.

Next, Edwin thought he was building himself a tool shed that got commandeered by MaryJo. When you see this charming structure, you will have no trouble imagining the magic it holds.   








Partially inspired by the years the Williamson’s lived in Carmel, California, Edwin built a gazebo that houses some of his Navy memorabilia. The structure is tucked in the corner, another surprise I found while wandering through the garden.

Whimsy plays an important role; a teapot, cups, and saucers holding food for the birds, a collection of bird houses handsomely displayed on perches Edwin has created. MaryJo sews her own garden flags. It would be impossible to select my favorite thing about this wonderful garden, whether it be the hardscape of paths and patios, resting places to sit or happily situated plants, but the mailbox that the Under Gardener leaves love notes in for the Head Gardener and a Corbel from the old sanctuary of 1st Baptist Church, where the Williamson’s were married, ranks high on this romantic’s list.

While MaryJo mentions the Daphne bushes and Coneflowers as favorites, Edwin loves the roses. There is a Sweet Betsy Bush like MaryJo’s grandmother had in her garden. This is a year-round garden where there is always something blooming in this well loved and cared for space. It turns out that from Google Earth Maps, the pathways around this garden are visible. One can find God in a garden and this one is no exception. It made me think Google Earth is surely akin to how God sees us, our pathways watched over by his love and care.

MaryJo and Edwin are taking care of their little slice of heaven, a garden designed and maintained by two knowledgeable, interesting and extremely wonderful folks. We thank them for sharing the garden with us. If you know of a garden in one of the historic districts that should be included in this series, please let me know in the Comment section below.
















About Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin

Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin grew up in Evanston, IL. and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She is an author of two novels: The Greening of a Heart and Facing East. She lives, writes and gardens in NC. Visit her:
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One Response to The Historic District Gardens of Rocky Mount – A West Haven Poem

  1. Stacy Jesso says:

    Thank you for sharing the Williamson’s garden. It is just lovely. Inspires me to get my yard in shape. Very creative and adds that very personal touch.


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