Historic Garden Week 2015: Merry Point Estates homes, gardens in Newport News impress

Kathy Van Mullekom
Contact ReporterSpecial to the Daily Press

Decades-old azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons, along with dogwoods and redbuds, turn Merry Point Estates into a picture-perfect postcard of spring color.

Tucked along the banks of the James River and scenic Indigo Lake in the Hidenwood area of Newport News, Merry Point is a hidden gem of 1960s and '70s brick and wood-framed ranchers mixed in with some newer residences. The yards are manicured fine fescue grass with rolling wooded ravines uncommon to most of the city, making it a special scenic sight when the spring show happens.

On Wednesday, April 22, you can tour six of those homes and one garden as part of Historic Garden Week in Virginia. Sponsored by the Hampton Roads and Huntington garden clubs, the event will be held 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tickets are available the day of the tour at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center where free shuttles will take visitors to the homes.

"This area of Newport News has never been showcased on tour before," says Chrissy Garner, tour chairman.

"It's such a beautiful area and includes homes old and new with distinctive interiors. Also, many of the gardens in these homes have been tended for years with lush growth and beautiful displays during springtime."

Here are highlights from two of the residences you can tour:

Bowditch home

In 2012, Merriel and Bill Bowditch built their second home as their retirement retreat. The two-story house with white plank siding and wide, long front and back porches is reminiscent of the southern-style architecture in Georgia, where Merriel grew up.

Entering the home, you first see the foyer stairwell and two delicate-looking, 100-year-old silk hangings that Merriel's mother, Sophie Chang, brought from Burma during World War II. When Chang and her siblings escaped down Burma Road, she was only allowed to carry one suitcase and the hangings were safely tucked in that luggage.

"These hangings were very special to her, and had been displayed in her family home in Rangoon," Merriel Bowditch said, looking up at them fondly.

Only the house's first floor is open to visitors during Historic Garden Week, but its 2,400 square feet of living space is luxurious yet family friendly with a master suite, formal dining room and white-and-black kitchen that overlooks sitting and eating areas. This area is also where you can see part of an extensive collection of Federal Duck Stamp prints that Bill Bowditch has collected for many years. Guest bedrooms, a second kitchen and man's den are upstairs.

"Our favorite room is the great room which includes the main kitchen, breakfast room and comfortable seating for reading, entertaining and watching sports and movies on the cleverly designed 80-inch television," says Merriel.

"It's a home filled with an eclectic mix of furniture and art, some inherited and some acquired on trips. Each piece carries its own memories for us."

In the formal dining room, take special note of the 21/2-by-4-foot handcrafted mirror hanging over the sideboard. Years ago, the rosewood dining room table laden with precious china and crystal unexpectedly collapsed, creating several trash cans worth of broken items.

Determined to preserve the memory of those pieces, the couple found a glass artist who incorporated the bottoms of crystal glasses, crystal nuggets and china shards, along with tiny tiles, into a mirror.

"It has been a conversation piece ever since," she said.

The back porch is where Bill likes to cook on the grill while family and friends swim in the in-ground pool or sit on nearby lounges or under umbrellas at patio tables.

"Outdoor cooking and entertaining around the pool are mainstays of our lifestyle, so easy access to inside bathrooms and the main kitchen were important in our planning process," says Merriel.

Landscaping includes front and back yards with sculpted beds and shrubs that change with the seasons. Camellias and Hellebores provide late winter and early spring color, while roses provide summer flowers. Color around the pool focuses on white roses, purple loropetalum, gardenias and grasses that contrast with pots of annuals in yellows, oranges and corals around the pool, Merriel said. Two large potted palms anchor either end of the pool.

"We are 'outside' people and when the weather is warm and the flowers and plants are flourishing, we feel our home is at its best," says Merriel, who said she always looks forward to summer.

Burton home

Just a block away, the home of Kelley and Andrew Burton is a mix of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Six months ago, the Burtons moved into the 1968-built rancher, once owned by Bud Noland, who designed the Noland Trail adjacent to The Mariners' Museum.

Situated on 2.25 acres overlooking Indigo Lake with views of the James River just over the lake, the house features a mini version of the Noland Trail with graveled pathways winding among hundreds of azaleas, rhododendrons, dogwoods, camellias and magnolias, along with other plant material. A cascading water garden has been cleaned, painted and will be embellished with plants by the time garden week arrives.

"As far as I know, the original owner designed the garden, but it became a labor of love for the second owner, Bud Noland. I found a box containing photos of every tree and shrub he ever planted," Kelley Burton said.

Her energy and enthusiasm for change indoors and outdoors bubbles to the surface in conversation. Burton believes a garden is like a house – it's never done, even after it may look like it's done.

"Changes are always eminent," she said, looking wistfully at the nice, green fescue lawn.

"One thing I'd like to do in the future is to plant a clover lawn. I think it would look beautiful, but also it would attract bees."

Burton, a musician with an art background, has spent the past few months getting gardening help to whip the overgrown gardens into remarkable shape because the residence had been vacant for many months.

Enormous willows that hid the house have been removed and replaced with smaller, softer shrubs that allow you to see the home's good brickwork, front doorway and shutters that she recently personally painted a dark purple. And, there's a 10-foot-tall, painted-metal chicken tucked into the garden that can be seen from the front walkway.

"My favorite part of the garden is a section that my kids call Bud's Point," she says.

"It sits at the very edge of the property behind cattails, and overlooks Indigo Lake and the James River. When we moved in, the space was overgrown. However, we cut it back and recently furnished it with Adirondack chairs, purple of course, and now it's the perfect place to sit and watch the sunset."

Burton has also dived into redoing the interior of the home, painting walls deep tones like "ink" in the living room to showcases the couple's vast contemporary art collection.

She describes the home's interior style as a little Bohemian with an eclectic style – or relaxed and comfortable while being a little glamorous, which it is when you consider there's a furry lambskin bench welcoming guests to the foyer. She shops auctions and online sites like One Kings Lane (www.onekingslane.com) and Rustic Garden (www.therusticgarden.com) for vintage and unusual pieces.

"I love color and contemporary furnishings and artwork," she said.

"Many of the art pieces have a story or are personally meaningful."

In the kitchen, she left the home's original cabinets, but has installed new hardware, butcher block counters and a tile backsplash. She recently painted a nearby half bath a peacock color and then stenciled it in silver.

"I hope my home tells people to take risks, and to surround themselves with the things that they love," she says.

"A home should be a reflection of who you are and how you live. We are a busy family — we work, play sports, serve on boards, play in bands," she said. "Our house is not a shrine but a reflection of the type of life we live. It's a gem and I feel incredibly lucky to be here."

Contact Kathy at kvanmullekom@aol.com.

Newport News tour

What: Historic Garden Week in Virginia Newport News tour, sponsored by the Hampton Roads and Huntington garden clubs

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday, April 22

Details: Six private homes and one garden in the Merry Point Estates neighborhood of Newport News.

Visitors are asked to take free shuttles from tour headquarters at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center on Museum Drive, adjacent to Christopher Newport University.

Extras: Tour Gardener's Workshop cut-flower farm, 20 Miller Road, Denbigh area of Newport News, where books and gardening supplies will be sold; visit the Golf Museum at the James River Country Club, 1500 Country Club Road; and the Pope Chapel at Christopher Newport University. Shop The Marketplace of art, garden accessories, home décor and more at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center. Newport News master gardeners and master oyster gardeners from Tidewater Oyster Growers Association will be in some gardens to answer questions.

Flowers After Hours: Wine and cheese reception with a silent auction and The Marketplace 5-7 p.m. at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center, $10.

Lunches: $20 lunches served in boxes hand-painted by local artists at Peninsula Fine Arts Center (limited availability).

Cost: $30 advance tickets through April 21 in Hampton at Barry's for Hair and Hampton Stationery; in Newport News at Anderson's Home & Garden Showplace, Rooms, Blooms & More, Peninsula Fine Arts Center, Salon Elite, Sisters Unique, Red Feathered Nest and Chaffin Interiors; and in York County at Ken Matthews Garden Center.

On tour day, $40 tickets at Peninsula Fine Arts Center and Merry Circle. Single site ticket: $15.

Information: http://www.VaGardenWeek.org or tour chairman Chrissy Garner at 810-9701 or co-chairman Sidney Jordan at 851-3181.

About Historic Garden Week

Historic Garden Week in Virginia, April 18-25, invites people to walk through the front doors and garden gates of 250 of the most beautiful private and public properties in the state.

For 82 years, the annual event has been sponsored by the Garden Club of Virginia and hosted by its 47 member clubs as a way of raising $425 million for the restoration of public gardens throughout Virginia. Club members create more than 2,000 fresh floral arrangements, using material from their own gardens, to decorate rooms in the homes open to the public.

Learn more about each of the 31 statewide tours, including nearby Richmond, Virginia Beach, Norfolk and the Eastern Shore, at http://www.VaGardenWeek.org.

Send us your photos

Planning to go to any of the Historic Garden Week tours this year? Send us your photos and video. Go to community.dailypress.com and follow the steps to share your stories and photos.

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