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A fairy tale garden for a hobbit

Inspired by Tolkien's book, Sleeping Beauty's castle, and an abandoned medieval town, a fairy tale garden in Texas would be just right for hobbits.

By Mariana GreeneThe Dallas Morning News/MCT / December 1, 2009

A circular fountain of hand-chiseled stone features a new faux-bois fountain of concrete in a Texas garden fit for a hobbit.

Matt Nager/Dallas Morning News/MCT

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Dallas

"Beyond this place there be dragons," reads the sign over a courtyard door, visible once you've walked across a drawbridge, over a moat, and passed through ornate iron gates. Let it be known there are talking trees and fairy woods, too.

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So begins an enchanted excursion through a unique property in Preston Hollow, Texas. It is wholly unlike its neighbors on this narrow, winding, blacktop road of old estates and new, grand mansions.

The house and grounds were not built for show but for the delight of their imaginative owner and her five grandchildren.

Guided by their client's fantasies, the professionals who designed, installed, and maintain the gardens and grounds have had to create separate compartments, intellectually. The property does not conform to standard operating procedure, for this is a land inhabited by hobbits.

Rule one:
Hobbits are short, about 4 feet tall. The maintenance crew with Southern Botanical, the Dallas firm that installed and maintains the landscape design, must leave overhanging limbs and thick, coiled vines intact. The canopy on pathways through the native woods can be cleared no higher than 4 to 5 feet, to retain the sense of mystery and discovery around every turn.

Rule two:
The property requires meticulous attention to detail, but it must look naturally wild.

Rule three:
All seasonal flowers in the small garden outside the dining room's wall of windows — including hydrangeas in summer and bridal wreath in spring — must be white, twinkling, and sparkling like a fairyland.

Rule four:
The property must be maintained using organic methods and products.

"The imagination started with her," landscape architect Rosa Finsley says of the homeowner. The 1-acre lot, bisected by a creek, was overgrown with vines, trees and bushes, some of them invasive species.

Privet and wax-leaf ligustrum, planted by birds, are left alone, Ms. Finsley says, because the homeowner wants to preserve her thicket of privacy and because the large shrubs' berries are a food source for wildlife.

"We protected as much of the woodsy vegetation as we could," Finsley says. "The idea was to fit the garden into it."

The homeowner doesn't shrink from mixing fantasies. The wall flanking the drawbridge was inspired by the gardens of Ninfa, an abandoned medieval town southeast of Rome.

Constructed of sandstone and slate, the deliberately higgledy-piggledy wall is studded with glass bottles — bottoms out — and partly obscured by a tangle of white Lady Banksia roses that spill over the top and down the sides. Blackberries replicate the brambles clinging to Sleeping Beauty's castle.

The courtyard just inside the gates feels like Santa Fe or San Antonio, set with highly collectible faux-bois concrete furniture and planters. A faux-bois tree trunk, spilling water into rusty buckets, is the focus of a round stone fountain. The craftsman who made the custom feature used existing cedar elms in the courtyard as the pattern for its faux bark.