When we think of public gardens in the Triangle area, no doubt the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, the North Carolina Botanical Garden, and the JC Raulston Arboretum come to mind. While not a public garden per se, Fearrington Village in Pittsboro, NC, is another garden worth a visit and it does welcome visitors.
Chapel Hill natives R. B. Fitch and his late wife Jenny purchased the Fearrington farm in 1974. With a gentle hilltop dotted with wooden farm structures, mature specimen trees, and open pastures, the Fitches began crafting a village where guests could relax and enjoy the gorgeous natural landscape, the gardens created by Jenny, and the local birds and other wildlife that inhabited the area.
The inspiration for the Fearrington Village was the melding of the small North Carolina town centers of R.B. and Jenny’s youth, plus the intimate villages of England they so frequently visited. The dream was to offer such an escape—a destination village—in the heart of Chatham County, surrounded by manicured gardens and open spaces.
Enjoy a stroll through the gardens. Take a peek into the intimate spaces that make Fearrington Village so special, but please be mindful, there may be guests staying in any of the Inn’s rooms.
You can begin your tour at any point in Fearrington Village, but I recommend starting in front of The Fearrington House.
The Fearrington House
The house grounds are planted with mostly native trees and shrubs, including Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana’, Hydrangea serrata ‘Tuff Stuff’, and Clethra alnifolia ‘Sixteen Candles’. The flowering shrubs provide a succession of blooms from spring through summer. Ashe magnolia (Magnolia ashei) skirted with bristle-leaf sedge (Carex eburnea) flank each side of the entrance.
In front of The Fearrington House is a stand of majestic white oaks (Quercus alba) that is between 100 to 150-years old. In the forest, white oaks are found in naturally occurring groves. Since these are difficult to transplant, most likely this grove was indeed formed naturally.
The Magnolia Grove
As you leave The Fearrington House and walk towards the barn, you’ll note on your left a grove of Magnolia grandiflora ‘Glenn St. Mary’. Jenny Fitch planted these classic Southern garden icons in 1980; choosing this cultivar for its smaller and tighter leaf habit. Recently, a mass planting of a low growing sumac, Rhus aromatica ‘Gro Low’, has filled the open space under the magnolias.
Exiting through the white arbor, you’ll come upon the Knot Garden. It is planted with a combination of boxwood (Buxus sinica var. insularis) and two types of holly—Ilex vomitoria ‘Bordeaux’ and Ilex crenata—all maintained with three shearings a year.
The Courtyard Garden
During R.B. and Jenny’s travels, they found an old hitching post in an antique shop, and Jenny had it made into a fountain focal point for the Courtyard Garden. This quiet oasis has four boxwood parterres filled with Carolina Cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana) on the north side and possumhaw (Ilex decidua) on the south side. The Courtyard Garden welcomes visitors, while the Garden House and the Sun Terrace on each side of the courtyard are for Inn guests only.
The Herb Garden
Leaving the Courtyard Garden as you entered, turn left and left again to continue under the canopy of pecan trees (Carya illinoinensis). Planted by the Fearrington family in the 1930s, the pecan trees create a beautiful site for outdoor weddings. Past the pecan trees is the formal Herb Garden, maintained and used by the Fearrington culinary gardener. As you turn around from the Herb Garden, you’ll see the white pergola of Jenny’s Garden.
The white arbor and marble fountain of Jenny’s Garden is a memorable sight and was built by a local craftsman to Jenny’s specifications. The artistic fountain in the center of the design, crafted by artist Wayne Trapp, serves as a focal point within the garden beds planted with seasonal displays.
On the other side of Fearrington Village is the Granary Restaurant. Seen from the street-side, the gardens at The Granary contain ninety feet of trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, herbs, and veggies. You can walk along the street to see these gardens up close or relax with lunch where the gardens surround outdoor seating.
On most any given day, you may spot resident birds such as American Goldfinch, American Robin, Carolina Wrens, Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Towhee, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbird, as well as Cooper’s and Red-shouldered Hawks, and even a green or Blue Heron passing through. Sometimes you might spot Yellow and Yellow-throated Warblers, plus Cedar Waxwings. As for migratory birds, Fearrington is a haven for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that stay around during the summer months, and the Indigo Bunting and Baltimore Oriole that pass through in spring and fall.
Fearrington Village is open to visitors seven days a week. For detailed info, visit fearrington.com.
Helen Yoest is the executive director of Bee Better, an area non-profit 501(C)(3) designing and educating area homeowners about building better backyards for birds, bees, and butterflies.