Nestled deep into south Charlotte’s Mountainbrook neighborhood is a serenity garden where nature and art blend seamlessly.
by Sharon Smith
photographs by Dustin Peck
For Patsy Reames, her backyard garden is both a masterpiece and triumph. “I didn’t have any vision. I was just doing what I enjoyed,” Reames says smiling, making it sound almost simple how the gently sloping woods beyond her deck evolved into an art-filled paradise.
But Serenity Garden is no weekend-warrior project. Reames points to a collaborative team of artisans and landscapers, inspired by nature, who have taken her ideas to create a suburban oasis.
In 2013, the Reames added a series of waterfalls and a koi pond designed by artisan Johnny Massengale.
The stone Moongate, designed by Gray Edgerton, is one of the garden’s newest contemplative spaces.
On this edge-of-summer day, the Reames estate is lush with ferns, grasses and plantings in every hue of green. The 40-year-old azaleas, taller than a grown man, just finished blooming following the early lead of daffodils en masse.
Reames’ husband, Patrick, bought the 4-acre property in 1968. As his health declined in the last few years, Patsy found refuge in creating an outdoor sanctuary for them both to enjoy. She’s hosted parties for the Charlotte Garden Club, invited grieving groups to meet by the labyrinth, and welcomes visits from neighbors and strangers alike.
Anyone who needs the gift of serenity is welcome here, Reames says. “I hope they walk away with a sense of joy and peace and hope — and fun.” She wants the garden to be a healing place for others as it has been for her.
Patsy Reames commissioned artist Jarod Brown to create “Fledgling,” a sculptural work which stands more than 8 feet tall. It depicts stages in a bird’s life between hatching and the freedom of taking flight.
Kyle McEnroe, owner of MAC Landscape along with his wife Karissa, seems to love Serenity Garden as much as Reames — and all of its layers, from gravel pathways to sun-filtering treetops. “It was intentionally designed,” McEnroe says, referencing the need for shade-loving, low-maintenance plants.
The garden’s allure seems so organic, a casual visitor could easily underestimate the craftsmanship that goes into building out an enchanting landscape of this magnitude and the sculptural art collection that complements it.
One of the newest installations is a walk-through Moongate by Gray Edgerton, lead designer for MAC Landscape. With a stone bench on one side, the Moongate offers the perfect setting to sit and contemplate while taking in a panoramic view of the garden.
Along the trail, something new constantly catches the eye. There’s a small granite pagoda (one of three) and stacking stones. It’s easy to miss the little laughing Buddha statue tucked into a natural area — a reminder to take it slow, look high and low.
Steps away, perennials surround a whimsical statue which Reames affectionately calls her “Butterfly Girl.” She clearly delights in the vignette — as do the pollinators buzzing around. “I wanted her surrounded by plants, like she was in the middle of a garden enjoying nature.”
A short path leads to a stone slab bridge with a sculpted handrail that mimics twisty, old vines overhead. “Inspiration behind the stone bridge came out of observing how people explore the garden,” says Edgerton, alluding to the age-old way of hopping rocks to cross a creek.
It leads to the lower garden and what they call this sanctuary’s masterpiece — a massive flagstone conical sculpture named “The Hive,” which McEnroe designed and installed in 2020. “I think it’s weathering fantastically,” he says, walking around the stacked stones to point out the natural patina developing along one side.
Everything here is designed to awaken the senses and foster a moment of reflection, including most notably the “Dreams Labyrinth,” designed with a Celtic cross motif. “You have to walk intentionally and choose your steps,” says Edgerton, who worked with his brother and fellow artisan, Ransom, on the project. For Reames, it’s an important place to come for healing — and a tribute to loss suffered in her own family.
Patrick and Patsy Reames sitting on their deck, which overlooks their woodland garden. The now-giant azaleas he planted 40 years ago are still thriving.
Even Reames admits she is surprised by the forest garden’s expansive beauty. “It does take my breath away. I thought, this can’t be me,” she says laughing. “It’s been such a joy.”
Before I leave, she brings me to a stained glass window which her husband picked up from a church in Kings Mountain years ago. Edgerton framed the window with stacked stones and repurposed it as an outdoor altar.
Another sign, if you come here seeking serenity, you will find it. SP
Getting here: Serenity Garden is open to all who want to respectfully enjoy the garden for a self-guided tour during daylight hours at 3200 Johnny Cake Ln.