by Susan Taylor Block
Being filmed for TV is very scary. Bright white spotlights form a daunting semi-circle around you. A sudden craving for water follows. Your voice quivers, and you wonder what question’s coming next.
Nevertheless, I will go through it all again anytime I’m asked to talk about Airlie Gardens, because I cherish my volunteer job there as “Historian.” Airlie is visually one of the most amazing public gardens in the American South, and its history is rich with fact and lore. There seems to be no end to the discoveries that continue to emerge.
Sarah Wharton Green Jones chose to purchase the land that became Airlie in 1884, and to create a winding garden from it about 1901. Had she not, it’s almost certain that a grand accompanying property known today as Pembroke Park would not have been assembled from numerous properties nearby. Her vision of natural beauty lives on today in the rooms, heirloom plantings, and aromas of Airlie – and Pembroke Park has gained new fame as Landfall – a 2,200-acre city within the city.
Remaining entirely natural and Southern was a way of life for Pembroke and Sarah Jones, the “Keeping Up with the Joneses” Joneses. They simply refused to be anything they weren’t. Serving up mountains of genuine SFC – Southern Fried Chicken – didn’t hurt either, especially when they conquered the steep social slopes of Newport during the Gilded Age.
In 1948, another Southern family settled into Airlie. Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Corbett, their children, and grandchildren have supported and beautified the garden for all these years. They opened Airlie to public tours and made it a centerpiece of the North Carolina Azalea Festival. The Corbett family sold Airlie to New Hanover County in 1999, thus giving locals and tourists a place of rest and beauty – a haven where the heaviest traffic goes by foot.
Wilmington producer Monte Coughlin (Carolina Video Edit Center) caught the Airlie “bug” and created these film clips for his program, “Wilmington Weekend.” It airs at 7:30 am Saturdays and 8:00 am Sundays, on the local CBS affiliate, Channel 12. Comments on Pembroke Park (Landfall) will be aired Saturday, September 11. Contributions may be sent to Airlie Gardens, 300 Airlie Road, Wilmington, NC, 28403.