Hills & Dales Estate is one of America’s most widely acclaimed gardens; plus, there is a secret love story at Hills & Dales. A history-filled mansion, beautifully landscaped gardens, and love—who could ask for more?
Hills & Dales is situated atop a hill in LaGrange, Georgia. LaGrange is an interesting town worth the drive to explore this small town in western Georgia. The city is located midway between Atlanta and Chattanooga and often is called the “City of Elms and Roses.” The Downtown Walking Tour has 26 mapped stops, so you can get in your steps while you learn history, and take time to smell the roses!
History of Hills & Dales Estate
The estate wasn’t always called Hills & Dales. The beautiful Ferrell Gardens was started more than 180 years ago by Nancy Ferrell, Sarah Coleman Ferrell’s mother. Nancy showered the garden with love for beauty and passed that love along to her daughter. Sarah Ferrell married and, alongside her husband Judge Blount Ferrell, expanded the gardens with plantings, adding a series of dwarf boxwood parterres (low-profile gardens). Sarah had the boxwood pruned to spell words, like “G O D” at the entry to honor all He created, and “Fiat Justicia,” Latin for “Let Justice Be Done.” The 19th-century design of the garden laid out by Sarah remains today. Historic photographs document the garden’s beginnings.
Sarah entertained a young neighbor boy, Fuller Earle Callaway, on Sunday afternoons in the garden. She enjoyed his company, and she taught Fuller about plants and gardening. A hard worker, Fuller earned his first nickel when he was eight. As Sarah aged, she encouraged the now-successful Fuller to buy the land he had come to love and continue her work. Upon the death of Judge Ferrell, the executor sold the estate at auction.
Fuller Callaway did indeed purchase Ferrell Gardens and, in 1915, began plans to replace the existing structure. Fuller worked with architects Neel Reid and Hal Hentz to design a house that would complement the property. Meanwhile, his wife, Ida Cason Callaway, assumed the care and development of the gardens. Fuller and Ida called the new home they shared with sons Cason and Fuller, Jr. Hills and Dales for the rolling hills and shady dales surrounding the home. Ida had a greenhouse built in 1916. It was replaced in 1949, but the new structure sits on the original greenhouse’s footprint.
After the death of Fuller and Ida, the sons submitted sealed bids for the property, and Fuller, Jr. bested his brother by a small amount. Fuller, Jr. and Alice Hand Callaway moved in. Alice continued in her mother-in-law’s footsteps, tending and enlarging the gardens for six decades. Alice introduced a variety of unique and rare plants, such as the Japanese umbrella pine, katsura, and Japanese stewartia. She also cultivated native Georgia plants like summersweet and fothergilla.
Alice’s goal for the gardens she loved was that it would be possible for everyone to enjoy them and use them for community education. Alice was the last person to live at Hills & Dales, and through an endowment, donated the home to the Fuller E. Callaway Foundation. The current Callaway generation serves as trustees of the Foundation that manages the estate, provides college and nursing school scholarships, and builds medical buildings, sports complexes, and churches.
Hills & Dales Estate Villa
Hills & Dales is an Italian-style estate built on a hill overlooking the dales that give the estate its name. Landscapers terraced the slope in the 1800s to reduce erosion and to provide more level land for plantings.
Three generations of the Callaway family have tended the gardens and estate. Throughout the house, you will see memorabilia and family photographs. Our guide, Rose, knew the story of every table, lamp, and portrait. Her love for the place showed quite clearly. When you visit Hills & Dales, cross your fingers that Rose will be on the job!
When the Callaways built their new home, they included eight bedrooms. Immediate and extended family members filled those rooms.
Hills & Dales Estate Gardens
You need to allow half a day and more if you can; this is not “just a house tour.” With landscapes to explore, time will get away from you.
The gift shop sells drinks and snacks, but if you plan to eat lunch at Hills & Dales, you must bring it with you. A picnic in the garden is a great idea. Picnic tables are available in the gardens, or you can spread a blanket on the ground.
Hills & Dales Love Story
The grounds have been continuously cultivated for over 180 years. Hills & Dales is one of the most widely acclaimed gardens in the United States. A concrete bench with a true love connection is in the sunken garden. A young lady, Alice Hand, was invited to a party with an orchestra on the grounds. Alice was sitting on this curved bench in the cool of the evening when a handsome young man approached. She was smitten with Fuller Callaway (Junior), and within the year, they were married. The bench in this small garden remained her favorite place to sit for the rest of her life.
Clearly, the Callaway brothers were intelligent boys. Another love story grows when the Callaway boys marry the Hand sisters. And speaking of marriage, the estate isn’t a wedding venue (at least, not right now), but you can hold rehearsal dinners and wedding receptions at the estate.
Something for Everyone
Hills & Dales has a special event calendar with something for everyone, making it perfect for family getaways. Be sure to check the web page for planned activities. Picnic in the Gardens is a special day when they fill the Pecan Grove with live music, pony rides, and yard games. Admission is free for anyone arriving with a picnic basket and blanket.
In July, Fuller Sr.’s Birthday Celebration offers complimentary tours of the first floor of the family home, walks through the gardens, and ends with fresh-squeezed lemonade at the Pool Terrace. A Storytelling Workshop, is held the same day with participants holding a storytelling in the Pecan Grove that evening. A Garden Scavenger Hunt is another fun event.
On Wellness Wednesdays you may sign up for yoga, pilates, an herb walk, or a Bluebird Walk. Are you looking for more? Spring workshops on garden-less floral designs, starting your own chicken flock, or a 2-hour walk through historic Callaway Mills may be just the ticket. Children will enjoy summer activities like story time, scavenger hunt, and critter crawl.
Alice’s Herb Garden
In the 1960s, Alice changed Ida’s original rose garden into an Herb Garden. The herb garden contains a selection of culinary and medicinal herbs and aromatic herbs. In late spring and early summer, golden yarrow blooms fill the eye. Alice occasionally harvested chives and mint but usually said that she just enjoyed watching herbs grow.
The garden consists of four quadrants filled with herbs and an antique climbing rose in the center of each, as a nod to the original rose garden that Ida and Fuller, Sr. enjoyed. Also, cherry laurel evergreen topiaries provide a formal element. To learn more, sign up for the class on Herbs and Propagation.
Insider Tip: The herb garden is lush and full in late summer, making it a perfect time for enjoying the heady herbal fragrances.
When You Go
Parking is available at the Visitor’s Center, where you can watch a short film. The staff will transport you to the top of the hill, where you will have a guided house tour and a self-guided tour of the gardens. If your time is limited, you can choose to tour only the gardens.
What happened to Cason after losing the bid for his childhood home? He and his wife, Virginia Hand Callaway (Alice’s sister), moved to the next town and started their own garden estate. The love story continued as they designed Callaway Gardens, a stunning garden estate only 30 miles away.
Things you should see and do while you’re in LaGrange, Georgia:
- Bellevue, an antebellum mansion. In 1942 the Fuller E. Callaway Foundation presented it to the LaGrange Woman’s Club
- West Point Lake, one of Georgia’s largest lakes, covers over 25,000 acres; created when the Chattahoochee River was dammed, it provides fishing and boating and has camping sites. Piers at West Point provide easy access for disabled persons.
- Nutwood Winery, a historical manor, 200-year-old pecan trees, and a tasting room
- Venucci, traditional Italian food – to prepare you for all that walking
- Charlie Joseph’s, making hot dogs every which way for 102 years – order an ice cream sandwich
- Café Brûlée & Dessert Bar, pastry that melts in your mouth
- Crave Cookie Company, OMG-good – get a dozen for the road
- Courtyard Marriott, the perfect place to stay and walk almost everywhere
Jo Clark is a travel writer with a thirst for history, knowledge, and wine! She does her best to live up to her Instagram handle, JoGoesEverywhere! Read more about her adventures on her web page, Have Glass, Will Travel.