Gail’s Gorgeous Gardens

This article appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of Texoma Living!.

Located on the Shawnee Trail just south of the Red River, now Lake Texoma, the sandy loam Grayson County land is rich in heritage and history.

An early morning breeze bears the summer sweetness of roses. Your eyes catch the splendor of moonflower just closing, and hummingbirds dart from bloom to bloom on the trumpet vine. A barn rooster’s crow breaks the silence. Dew shines on the rose petals, and the cattle begin to stir. A southwest breeze touches the hilltop, as butterflies hover over wildflowers. You notice the blackberries are nearing harvest.

A garden like this sets the standard for a lifestyle of serenity. Dean and Gail Gilbert are enjoying just that in a plantation-like setting at the west edge of Sherman. Located on the old Shawnee Trail, their land is rich in heritage and history, as well as in the sandy loam that makes a magnificent garden possible. Hardwood trees, grassy meadows, lakes, and fruit trees have replaced the mesquite and locusts brought by the cattle drives. The Gilberts’ Georgian home sits in the center of some 400 acres and is surrounded by cattle. Two streams join to form Post Oak Creek and provide abundant shelter for wildlife and waterfowl. Deer and turkey roam unmolested around numerous lakes, which are managed in hopes of trophy bass.

The gardens that provide the underpinnings for this slice of Eden are Gail Gilbert’s special mission. And it’s a year-round one. Her passion, her efforts, and her green thumb have produced rose gardens, flower gardens, a vegetable garden, and an orchard to set off the stately home, lending it just the right touch of the ambience of yesteryear.

For Gail, vegetable planting begins in January with root vegetables and continues throughout the seasons. Spring, summer, and fall offer their bounties of harvest to be cooked, frozen, dried, or canned. She lines her pantry shelves with picture-perfect jars of bread-and-butter pickles, tomato salsa, and vegetables, all prepared from her own favorite recipes. In summer, vine-ripened fruits decorate her countertops, waiting to be turned into cobblers and pies.

The garden’s potting shed, framed by trumpet and wisteria vines, is the axis of much activity. Spring wildflowers begin their show in March, and soon flower gardens spring alive with rocket larkspur, bachelor buttons, and corn poppies. By April, Gail’s cherished roses are putting out profusions of bud and bloom. More than 350 varieties of roses find their home here, spread over the property. Among her favorites, Gail names Linda Campbell, Crocus Rose, Grace, Evelyn, Heirloom, and Belinda’s Dream. Gail records the details of each in a journal that will guide her future efforts.

Roses are especially striking along the mile-long entry drive, as it winds around lakes and pastures, pausing at cattle guards. White fencing offers a cooling contrast, and at the height of summer, the rich blooms of crepe myrtle in pink, purple, and white add an extra depth to the planting. Closer to the house, summer shrubs like chaste vitex and hibiscus steal some of the spotlight.

Also in summer, annuals grown from seed begin their show. Many are self-seeded, highlighting the naturalness of the flower beds. Cleome, purple coneflower, pink and purple cosmos, and zinnia, a favorite of Gail’s, spice up the backyard.

Welcoming paths of Pennsylvania blue stone meander throughout the gardens, affording a closer look at the amazing variety of plants, as well as a chance to stop and smell the roses. Island beds provide additional color from species roses with underplantings of annuals and herbs. Large passionvines, mandevillas, and clematis cover arbors and arches and sway in the summer breeze.

The Gilberts enjoy their style of southern living, but they also know the deep joy of cultivating the land and sharing its harvests with friends and family. From sunny January days until frost-kissed November afternoons, Gail Gilbert can be found in the garden. As the icy winds of winter blow across her North Texas land, she’s thinking about next year’s garden.