Mary Fleming’s Garden

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Mary Elizabeth Lee Fleming (24) with Anne Cameron Fleming (6) sitting in the gate to her flower garden at Green Mont c1910

The Flower Garden

My father told me that his mother, Mary Fleming, had been “in love” with her cousin, Irwin Fleming. I don’t know if he had discerned this or whether his mother or one of her sisters had told him. It never seemed to cause him any concern. He, I think quite to the contrary, found it quaint and touching. They were first cousins so there was never any question of a “real” romance.

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William Henry Irwin Fleming c1914

On Mary’s 23rd birthday in 1909, Irwin presented her with a flower garden. A bronze sundial was made and engraved for the occasion. He was by that time an up and coming apprentice Architect. He had drawn up a plan in his beautiful hand, complete with humorous notes (an ink blot resembling a chicken labeled as such). He, himself, built the garden structures consisting of a gazebo, an entry arch with seats, and various gates and bird houses, all in a “twig” style. The sundial was the centerpiece.

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Gazebo and sundial with R. B. Lee Fleming Jr.  c1910

When it came Mary’s turn to marry, this relationship had to be put aside so she could pursue a more suitable course. I’m not sure it ended completely. In a wonderfully suffering Victorian way, I think it just went underground. For instance, she pasted new pictures over all the pictures of Irwin Fleming in her personal photo album, but only glued at the corners, so you could still peek in from the edges and see the original photo underneath.

I interpreted this sweetly; that her feelings for Irwin were deep and lasting. So, she did the right thing; married a proper and suitable man, raised a proper and suitable family, and lived a proper and suitable life. I think she just decided to bring a little bit of Irwin along.

My sister, Roberta, was asking me just last night if I knew how Mary was introduced to my grandfather, William F. Rust. I was never told. I do know it was a very socially stifled time. The Flemings had to socialize with the right sorts and marry the right sorts. The rules greatly limited the playing field, and in The Plains, Virginia, there probably weren’t too many of the “right sorts” running around on the loose. W. F. Rust was a not-too-close cousin (through the Lees); he was up and coming in the world of business (which would have appealed to Mary’s mother), and they had somehow become acquainted. A courtship ensued, and on September 11, 1912,  they were married, at Green Mont. She was 26 and he was 38.

Yeocomico

17 years later when Mary and Will Rust were building a home in Leesburg, The sundial was installed in the garden. There was also a wrought iron gate, which I refer to as the “Heart Gate” (as its panel is entirely made up of a network of hearts). My father told me that the “Heart Gate” had been designed by Irwin Fleming. It was used as the  gate to the more private stepped section of the garden off to the side of the front garden. I am quite familiar with Irwin Fleming’s touches, particularly his ironwork. This gate  definitely bears his mark.

Although the drawings for that house were done by a draftsman at my grandfather’s company, The Koppers Company, I feel that some of the detailing may have been overseen by Irwin; and another small piece of iron screen installed on the third floor bore his hand. Some of this may be my own romantic fantasy, but maybe not.

When Mary sold Yeocomico in 1946 and moved into the smaller Leesburg house at 15 N. Wirt Street, the sundial was taken along. When my father bought back Yeocomico in the 1971, he reinstalled a sundial.  The stone pedestal with its attachment anchors was still there, right as it had been 25 years earlier.

When going through Yeocomico before its dedication as a wildlife refuge, and before the gifting to the Audubon Naturalist  Society, I went out and collected the sundial. I also took the “Heart” gate.

When I examine the pictures that I have of the Green Mont garden, I can find nothing of the iron gate. I actually doubt that the simple wooden fence that surrounded that garden would even have held this gate. It must weigh at least 300 pounds if not more. I certainly can’t lift it. I suppose it could have been designed for that Green Mont garden and never fabricated. No one alive knows. Did Irwin have it made for Yeocomico?

I am left to ponder whether my grandmother maintained a communication with Irwin Fleming throughout her married life. I have already mentioned that I suspect that he had a behind the scenes role in the remodeling of Yeocomico in 1929. He designed the addition on Roberta Fleming’s house across the street from my grandmother’s Wirt St. House. I suspect he might have had a hand in the design of the beautiful cabinetry that held my grandmother’s pitcher collection at Wirt St. He was involved in several projects for Lee Fleming Jr. at Green Mont over the years including the new roof and a proposed remodel of the “Old Kitchen” as a farm manager’s house.

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“I do not count the hours unless they are sunny”

There are several slightly different translations of that inscription. One says “I do not count the hours unless they are peaceful”. Another says “…unless they are tranquil”. It is a fairly common sundial inscription dating from the days of the Romans. By the way, the table that I photographed the sundial on is one that I made from wood salvaged from the Green Mont house.

The Second Gazebo

I am saddened to think that my grandfather might have felt that he played second fiddle to Irwin Fleming in my grandmother’s heart, even if only a little bit. The sundial, alone, would have done it for me.

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William Fitzhugh Rust c1914

At the bottom end of Mary’s garden at Yeocomico, my grandfather built Mary another “twig” gazebo, with his own hands. This had fallen into terrible disrepair by the time Yeocomico came back into the family in the early 1970’s, and I never gave it much thought. By the time I fully appreciated the significance of this structure and went back to see if there were any remains, the site had been completely cleared.

Added August 13, 2017: I recently visited my brother Bill’s home in Fairfield, CT to dig through some of my father’s files which Bill has stored. While there, I received some photos that Bill had set aside for me. In those photos I found a picture of the gazebo that my grandfather had built for Mary at Yeocomico.

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from WFR to MELFR ….. with loving hands (c1930)

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