William Franklin Ingram, Jr., the son and grandson of two early founders of the textile industry in Griffin, Georgia, purchased the Meadowlark property in the spring of 1939 from Frank Rodgers. The place was presumably intended as a country retreat for Mr. Ingram and his widowed mother.
Mr. Ingram's mother, Bertha Brawner Ingram, had the existing farm dwelling renovated soon after her son purchased the property. In order to separate the house from the surrounding fields, Mrs. Ingram's gardener from the original Ingram house, then located at 433 West Taylor Street in Griffin, planted American boxwood cuttings across the foundation of the house, as well as two pin oaks, two Chinese elms, and several white oaks. Thus began Meadowlark Gardens.
In December of 1945 Mr. Ingram married Rhoda Hopson and the gardens have been expanding ever since. The young Mrs. Ingram had grown up in beautifully planted gardens at the homes of her uncle, John Morgan Dean, in both Fort Myers, Florida, and in Cranston, Rhode Island. With these memories to guide her, she began gardening as an excited artist with ample vision and canvas to spare. There was not even a lawn at Meadowlark in the early days just thousands of early yellow daffodils near the farm house.
Undaunted though, Mrs. Ingram set about to create something beautiful with little more than childhood memories from which to draw. There were no landscape plans or experienced gardeners to guide development but only the pictures in her mind.
Other houses on the property were built or repaired later primarily to care for elderly family members. First, an old tenant farm cottage, now the Dean-Hopson-Garrett Tuck Box, was expanded and remodeled for Mrs. Ingram's mother and aunt.
Another house, the Brick House, was built in the 1960's to care for Mr. Ingram's mother. Jeff Holland, now retired from the Gardens, spent most of his life and raised his children with his wife, Marie, in the Gate House. The Gate House was remodeled in the 1980's when the Holland's moved to their new home nearby. In the mid-1980's, the Mill House became the first house constructed purely for rental purposes. With each home came opportunities for new gardens, and Mrs. Ingram eagerly set to work often before construction was even completed.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ingram pursued his scientific work, having received the Army Navy E Award at the end of World War II for manufacturing quartz crystal technology that was used to advance communications during the war. It has been said that this technology did as much to end the war as the atomic bomb. Later while assisting in the design of a special laboratory for the Smithsonian, Mr. Ingram designed and manufactured the thin section devices that were used to study moon rocks collected during the Apollo missions. These machines are still manufactured and remain virtually unchanged today.
Mr. Ingram also experimented with systems for artificially producing emeralds as well as with development of artificial heart technology. All of this work took place in the dark green buildings at Meadowlark that has always been called, rather mysteriously, "the Shop." Apparently, the emerald experiments would shake the Ingram house some two hundred feet away.
Mr. Ingram continued to pursue his many scientific projects until his health failed. Ultimately he received some nine patents for his efforts. "The Shop" was essentially closed by the early 1980's. Franklin Ingram died in 1993.
Mrs. Ingram recounts Julie Andrews in her famous role as Maria von Trapp saying, "When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window." A family doctor asked Mr. and Mrs. Ingram if they would consider renting one of the cottages to his wife's aunt. The arrangements were made and thus began the cottage rental business.
Presently at Meadowlark, there are hundreds of ornamental trees and plants, a beautiful collection of deciduous magnolias, and thousands of both English and American boxwoods carefully placed in the 30 acres of developed gardens. Several hundred more acres of farmland surround the gardens. Many of the older boxwoods and flowering trees were actually rescued from the Ingram House on Taylor Street before it was razed in the 1960's. Pieces of this 19th century home were used to expand the Ingram House at Meadowlark shortly thereafter. Dozens of pathways and allees meander through cozy garden rooms throughout the property.
An ancient pecan extends an enormous branch beckoning toddlers to swing in the safety of a giant boxwood circle. Shady benches sit waiting to provide rest and views. It is truly a unique place.
The gardens are now maintained with revenues from the rental properties and the occasional private events held there.