Artist and gardener works to renovate historic rock garden

Cooper Sanchez in the historic Druid Hills rock garden.
Cooper Sanchez in the historic Druid Hills rock garden.

By Geri Laufer

The greatest gift of a garden is the renewal of the five senses, and a historic Atlanta rock garden is once again providing just that.

The 1920s rock garden – complete with stone bench, waterfall and moated pond – is located on the historic Druid Hills estate originally owned by Equifax founder Cator Woolford at 1875 S. Ponce de Leon Ave.

The rock garden was originally designed by Philadelphia landscape architect Robert B. Cridland, but after more than 50 years of neglect it was covered with indiscriminate rubble and leaf litter, overgrown with wisteria, poison ivy, mulberry and privet, while the stepping stone path had sunken and was unusable, and the water features no longer worked.

Cooper Sanchez, a multifaceted Atlanta artist and illustrator that apprenticed under well-known local landscape architects Brooks Garcia and Alex Smith, was appointed to return the rock garden to its original state with a grant from The Sarah Giles Moore Foundation.

The change is dramatic.

Sanchez did a bang up job of clearing away more than 50 years of neglect and growth, resetting the huge rock garden stepping stones, restoring the waterfall, recirculating stream and moated fountain, and replanting the garden with shade garden plants, all set within a cathedral-like forest.

Sanchez drew on his hybrid background of art and horticulture. He noted, “My planting goal for the rock garden was a vibrant garden filled with shade appropriate, traditional Southern plants, including many native species. Although the rock garden is man-made, I wanted the plantings to be as sympathetic as possible and make the rocks feel and look natural.”

Plantings will come into full bloom next spring and increase in beauty in subsequent years.

The current occupants of the property, the Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House, provides a “home away from home” to outpatients and relatives of patients hospitalized in 21 Atlanta-area hospitals in the former Woolford mansion. It offers lodging, meals, supportive companionship and comfort from a committed staff, volunteers and fellow guests, during what is often a crisis period.

“We serve about 200 people a year and the restored rock garden is right outside the door,” said AHHH executive director Melissa Connor. “Its melodious waterfall and tepping stone path provide additional solace and a serene, contemplative nature spot for families in health crisis.”

The grounds of the Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House and the Frazer Center next door, including walking trails, picnicking and the restored rock garden, are free and open daily from dawn to dusk for both guests of the AHHH and to the public.

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