4 min read

Empowering Girls Then & Now

Barge Design Solutions | Juliette Gordon Lowe Garden Reimagined

The Birthplace of Juliette Gordon Lowe, the founder of the Girl scouts, has been given new life recently in downtown Savanah Georgia. What once was the beloved garden of Lowe as a child has now be transformed into a modern tribute. Working with a locally women owned architecture firm and taking inspiration from the garden’s original design, i welcoming gathering space and garden was born. Working with any honoring the legacy of women was very important to the Girl Scout organization who now owns the original Lowe property.

Julia Gordon Lowe Courtyard (1)

Juliette Gordon Lowe, Founder of the Girl ScoutsThe Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in downtown Savannah Georgia, in the heart of the National Landmark Historic District, has recently gone through some interesting renovations, particularly to its garden. The changes have resulted in a new space for use by residents and visitors of Savannah and reflect the work of many women— from the founder of the Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordon Low, to the first certified landscape architect in Georgia, Clermont Huger Lee. The site is the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low and is currently a house museum.

Clermont Huger LeeThe house grounds include the garden, which is believed to have originally functioned as an informal garden and play area for Low in her childhood. Low’s time spent and reflecting in nature at the birthplace and then beyond are believed to have played an important part in the development of the underlying values that led her to start the Girl Scouts. For this reason, the Girl Scouts of the USA, which acquired the property from the Low family in the middle of the 1900s, understood that the garden was an important asset. They engaged Clermont Huger Lee, a Savannah-born landscape architect who was one of the first female landscape architects in the United States, to create a design for the garden.

Lee’s garden—walled off from the public and frequently underutilized by the visitors—matured over time into a place that Savannah’s historic preservation community embraced as an important remnant of Lee’s work. Unfortunately, Lee’s formal parterre garden did not lend itself to being a gathering place for young people, an ongoing issue that had been a concern for many years. Lee had been brought back in over many decades to continue to wrestle with this problem. Maintenance issues were chronic since its inception.

Before Renovations  Before Renovations (2)
Before Renovations of Julia Gordon Lowes' Garden

Lee’s garden design reflected the period in which the garden was built. Despite her talents, her stature as a female landscape architect in a male-dominated profession meant that commissions with large budgets and robust materials were not widely available. As a result of these and other factors, the garden had several constraints to barrier-free design, among them too-narrow pathways, loose gravel paths and trip hazards that resulted from settling, aging materials. After many design studies, it was determined that the garden could not meet the standards for both historic preservation and universal design. The Girl Scouts created a carefully contemplated vision for a new, barrier-free garden space that is inspired by Lee’s original design. Understanding the many significant challenges, including Lee’s importance and historic preservation concerns, the Girl Scouts of the USA understood that any garden improvement should respect the original design while balancing the organization’s goal to be inclusive to all.

The woman-led architecture firm Greenline Architecture was brought in to lead and build the team for the improvements. As Shannon Browning-Mullis, executive director of the Juliette Gordon Birthplace, says, “It was important for us to work with woman-owned, local businesses whenever possible.

"As girl scouts, we always support women
as leaders, & the birthplace is deeply rooted
in the Savannah community."

Laura Ballock, a landscape architect formerly with Barge Design Solutions, served on the project design team led by Greenline Architecture. Laura states, “The Girl Scouts had ambitious goals for the garden and the vision started long before. Given that the space was less than 3,000 square feet, we explored several design concepts with them to understand what was sacred.”

Aerial Shot

One of the most significant changes to the garden space to achieve barrier-free access was to open the garden as the entry to the house museum. It required creating a break in the walled and fenced garden and organizing the garden features to create an entry sequence in a formerly secluded space. Local residents can enjoy the garden space in a casual manner without visiting the museum. The new garden has been phenomenally successful, as the many visitors who stop and linger can attest. As Jonathon Rhangos of Savannah Surfaces says, “Now the gates to the garden are open every day for the public.”

"It’s a site that people can just wander into,
& there are people there all day long"

Julia Gordon Lowes Renovated GardenThe design of the garden became a fusion of different sources of inspiration. Geometric patterns in the hardscape became an interpretation of Clermont Lee’s design. Some of the materials were reclaimed from the site. There were also reclaimed, old Savannah Gray bricks that were pulled up and cleaned and then reused in the courtyard space. There were some bluestone cobblestones that were already in the garden and matched the natural bluestone along the front sidewalks of the property so that what is there now is a mix of the original antique bluestone and new bluestone. Old World Tabby porcelain pavers, stylized after the coastal building material “tabby,” were effective in creating a subtly textured paver field that is durable and barrier-free. Jonathon says, “Old World Tabby is a product that was developed by our company, designed and manufactured by Savannah Surfaces. We manufacture it in Italy, and it allows us not to have to reuse real oyster shells. It is a porcelain product that is not only cost-effective but very durable that offers the aesthetic that the garden was looking for.”

Paving DetailThe parterre geometry of Lee’s garden is reflected in the pavers that also introduce a permeable surface to support stormwater infiltration. In addition to this, Jonathon says, “There are 12 or 14 inches of gravel underneath all those pavers to absorb runoff. Stormwater management was important to the Girl Scouts.”

Julia Gordon Lowe's Garden in Savannah, Georgia

The raised planting beds were filled with lush and colorful plants that echoed Lee’s original plant palette. Laura states, “As much as possible, we tried to specify the plants that Clermont Lee had specified in her original design. But there were some choices made then that we would not make today.” For instance, there were species of azaleas that Lee utilized that were replaced by another species due to the Dwarf Azaleas available today. On a contemporary note, pollinator plants, inspired by the Girl Scout badge that can be achieved for the protection of pollinator species, were introduced as a nod to ecological planting design. Challenged with the desire to create a garden feeling in a small space that required a substantial hardscape, Laura says, “We wanted to create a sense of lushness in the garden.” Vines and climbers on vertical walls and screens, in addition to the Chionanthos Virginicus, will eventually create just that. The garden is the result of the work of many women (and some men, too!) to create a space that reflects its storied past and continues to inspire the values of the Girl Scouts into the future.

Above Shot of Gardens


GET IN TOUCH WITH...

Andrea Gold
Savannah Surfaces
www.savannahsurfaces.com

Laura Ballock, PLA
Barge Design Solutions, Inc
www.bargedesign.com


All photos are from ©Andrea Gold