The legacy of “The Lady in the Garden”

Published 10:23 am Wednesday, July 10, 2024

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“The Lady in the Garden” at Harding Square has stood tall and proud for well over a decade. The square was dedicated in 1968 in honor of Edmund Hoyt, who was dubbed North Carolina’s Ambassador of Goodwill by Governor Gregg Cherry. In 2010, former Washington mayor Archie Jennings and the city council approved a plan by the Washington Area Historic Foundation and the Washington Garden Club to refurbish the square with the planting of “Knockout” roses, tree roses, lantana, and “purple showers, along with the installation of a fence. “The one thing that was missing was a focal point for the center of the garden,” said Dee Congleton, vice president of the Washington Area Historic Foundation. “Who better to contact than local attorney Don Stroud, who had a little of everything. He opened his backyard garden building, and there she stood, a statue symbolizing flowers and mythology. She had a few blemishes but it added to her antique look. It was just perfect!”

In 2018 the statue was pulled down by vandals. They broke her head off, her arm, and other parts of her body. “Alan Weaver, the husband of Washington Garden Club member Maja Weaver, came to the rescue. He took the statue and miraculously made her better than she was,” said Congleton. “We, of course, were thrilled and grateful.”

But a year later in 2019 vandals struck again. That statue had gone missing for three days before it was discovered that it had been dumped in the river. “I think it was the dock master who finally realized there were some broken areas on the pier there by the gazebo,” said Congleton. “Divers were brought in and there she was completely intact. It is unbelievable she had no injuries.”

The “Lady in the Garden” has survived all of this including three hurricanes. But in June of this year, she met her final demise, after being struck by a drunk driver and leaving nothing but a pile of broken pieces. The news devastated Congleton and other members of the Washington Area Historic Foundation and the Washington Garden Club. However as Congleton exclaimed, “She will be replaced!”

Congleton said by chance a few years ago while in Charleston with her late husband, they went into a garden shop to buy some things for their home. They also noticed they had statues.  Congleton remembered the day, made the call, and a replacement is on the way. “They have the very same lady in their shop,” said Congleton. “She is not made completely of stone as the statue is reinforced with fiberglass. We will be using some of the proceeds from the Home and Garden Tour to purchase our new “Lady in the Garden” and get her prominently placed in the center of the garden.”

The Washington Area Historic Foundation and the Washington Garden Club have for years jointly maintained the popular stop for locals as well as individuals and families who are visiting and want to enjoy the Washington waterfront. “The “Lady in the Garden” had an urn in one hand and a saucer in the other,” said Congleton. “People would often put change in the saucer and we would use that money to buy some more flowers for the garden,” she said with a smile. “There have been weddings there, and I can only imagine how many people have posed in front of the statue to have their pictures taken with the river as a backdrop. It was important for us to keep this legacy alive.”

The new “Lady in the Garden” is expected to be in place by the end of July.