Inside Pebble Hill
Pebble Hill Plantation’s Historic Landscape Plans
by Whitney White
In the late 1800s, northern families began coming to Thomasville to escape their harsh winters back home. The mild South Georgia climate provided a welcome change, and the northerners embraced all the outdoor activities available to them in this region. Kate Hanna Ireland (later Harvey), from Cleveland, Ohio, became mistress of Pebble Hill Plantation in 1901, and she and her family established the routine of spending each winter at the plantation. Mrs. Harvey immediately began to make a number of improvements to the Main House, and she oversaw the construction of numerous other buildings. At the same time, she was equally focused on creating a beautiful landscape for the property. The family spent a great deal of time outside and often entertained guests in the various garden areas. Mrs. Harvey worked to create wonderful scenic views all around the grounds.
In 1905, an arbor and rose garden were added to the north lawn adjacent to the Main House. Cherokee roses spilled over the arbor in abundance and manicured boxwood hedges outlined the area. This site quickly became a favorite spot for afternoon tea. Brick walkways and plantings were put in place to create interesting designs on the front lawn of the Main House which could be enjoyed from the shade of the front porch. Large numbers of camellias and azaleas graced the grounds to give lots of color during the months when the family was in residence. A century plant was also a part of the planned landscape.
In 1929, Mrs. Harvey employed Cleveland area landscape architect, V. Ethelwyn Harrison, to begin working on formal plans for the property. The Waldorf, the plantation’s laundry and staff kitchen, and the Nurse’s Station/Carpenter’s Shop buildings were both constructed in 1929, and the outdoor plans for these areas were done by Miss Harrison. According to her diagram, plantings in this area included Glossy Privet, Japanese Privet, Flowering Dogwood, Azaleas, English Laurel, Wax Myrtle, Banana Shrub, Tobira, Fire Thorn, and Eleagnus.
Miss Harrison developed instructions that she referred to as Summer Orders. She sent these to the Pebble Hill staff in 1931. These notes, which are currently part of the archives at Pebble Hill, give additional information on some of the plantings in the various areas of the property. For example, the East Garden included violet borders, pansies, annual blue larkspur, white lilies, forget-me-nots, to name a few. Her notes indicate that blue was to be the dominant color with purples and lavenders, too. Other notes reference how and when to prune, fertilize, and cultivate the plants, shrubs, and hedges.
In February of 1933, Miss Harrison prepared detailed notes on caring for the various landscape plantings on the property. One example is regarding the azaleas, “Some of the Azaleas planted along turn around at Front Garden may have to be rearranged for color next year as Mr. Hjort himself was not positive as to all varieties. This planting can be thinned gradually as the bushes grow.” She also describes how the hedges should be trimmed, “…garden hedges should be kept at the bottom in line with the brick edgings and then sloped back 3 inches wider at the bottom than at the top of each side.” The lawn area behind the Waldorf building had clothes lines for drying the laundry. Her notes related to this area state, “…[hedge] should be thick at the bottom and high enough to hide clothes lines.” Her notations also addressed the transplanting of live oaks and other plants to different locations on the property.
Miss Harrison created a master landscape plan for the major sections of Pebble Hill in 1935, and copies of her plan are in the Pebble Hill archives today. She received a degree in landscape architecture from the University of Michigan in 1916. Her work at Pebble Hill ended in the mid to late 1930’s. In the mid 1930’s, her career began to take a different path as she started breeding and showing English Cocker Spaniels. She devoted most of her time and energy to this pursuit, and she was very active with the English Cocker Spaniel Club of America for many years.
Thomasville provided such a marked contrast to Cleveland and the other northern cities which were so devoid of color in the winter due to the extreme cold conditions. When Mrs. Harvey started to develop what would become her family’s winter home, she was as interested in the look of the outside as she was the inside. She loved incorporating wide varieties of colorful flowering plants and shrubs to enhance the beauty of the grounds. Miss Harrison’s master plan brought all the areas together and created an overall design that showcased wonderful vistas throughout the property. A number of things at Pebble Hill have changed over the years; however, the diligent efforts of Mrs. Harvey and Miss Harrison are still quite evident. The overall feel of the landscape design of the grounds that they initiated remains intact.