Vintage Vision, New Blooms: A Tale of Two Trees

They say the true measure of leadership is to plant trees under whose shade you never hope to sit. Such was the guiding virtue of Katharine Reynolds, the visionary horticulturalist, art collector, community builder, and namesake of the Reynolda House Museum of American Art. Like so much of her life’s work, Katharine’s legacy of giving long outlived her time as the matriarch of the Reynolds Tobacco estate. Her garden plantings and thoughtful curation led to an experience that was the first of its kind in Winston-Salem — and one that will endure for generations to come thanks to the stewardship of Jon Roethling.

As the Director of Gardening tasked with preserving Reynolda’s more than 134 acres of historical plantings, Roethling is constantly balancing the needs of old and new. His latest project? Strategically replacing and replanting the signature weeping Cherry tree garden at Reynolda just in time for spring.

The Japanese cherry trees, originally designed by the renowned landscape architect, Thomas Sears in 1917 to flank the formal gardens, have long been a Reynolda attraction. Forty-four trees will be planted to form the allée — six parallel to the greenhouses and 19 along the east and west sides of the greenhouse gardens — using the identical variety in place, Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula’ also known as Weeping Higan Cherry. The new trees will be about 15 feet tall with a 4- to 5-inch trunk caliper.

The expansive project represents the largest display of Cherry trees in the Carolinas, encompassing the north, east, and west sides of Reynolda’s formal gardens. And, just like the garden’s original design, these newer plantings are being installed with the understanding that they, too, must eventually be replaced.

For most gardeners, trees are seen as lifetime plantings. We all expect the mighty oak that held our first rope swing or treehouse to still be around for our grandchildren to climb. But for certain types of ornamental trees like the highly decorative Weeping Higans, the typical lifespan can be significantly shorter — sometimes as little as 25 years. At Reynolda, this creates the ongoing challenge of removing and replanting large numbers of mature flowering trees regularly, all without disrupting the original vision for the space or the seasonal appreciation for visitors who travel each spring for their spectacular show.

It’s a challenging project to be sure, and one that Roethling is thrilled to champion. Jon has directed the strategic revival of the estate’s Cherry tree allée since November 2020. An allée is traditionally defined as a feature of the French formal garden that is both a promenade and an extension of a garden view. The endeavor is made possible through the support of Nik and Barbara Babcock Millhouse, granddaughter of R.J. and Katharine Smith Reynolds. The final product (some might call a blossom fest!) is now on display for visitors to admire this Spring.

Best of all, the team is using this replanting as an opportunity to further improve the soil conditions, including building proper drainage, more efficient irrigation, and complete soil replacement to prevent the possibility of infestation from insect borers or fungal leaf spot spores. Although hardier species of Cherry trees now exist that can greatly lessen these problems, the team is determined to preserve as much of the original vision as possible.

When You Go

The Reynolda House Museum of American Art is located at 2250 Reynolda Road in Winston-Salem, NC. To see the newly replanted Cherry Tree Allee in person, visit www.reynoldagardens.org.

Garden tours are available as either self-guided, guided, or groups. For a schedule of upcoming events including operating hours and availability, click here.

To broaden your garden experience beyond Reynolda, see our blog post, The More You Grow: Winston-Salem’s Historic Gardens Guide.

For special hotel packages, dining, and discounts, visit our Special Packages page. Or, to chat through ideas for your visit over the phone, contact our friendly Visitor Center team at 866-728-4200. We’ll be happy to answer questions, make recommendations, and guide you for your upcoming visit based on your unique interests.