Mark your calendars to celebrate the twin sisters and their garden

Apr. 26, 2014 @ 09:54 PM

Mark your calendar for April 20, 2015.
Chapel Hill’s favorite twin sisters are planning their 100th birthday party.
Right now, however, they are resting, recovering from the celebration of their 99th birthday a few days ago. Family and friends from all over the country gathered to bask in the glory of the generous spirit of Barbara Stiles, Bernice Wade, and their famous garden on Gimghoul Road.
Resting is what they should be doing after the family birthday event this past week and the earlier neighborhood gatherings that celebrated the coming of spring in their garden.
The twins may be resting, but, as the sign in their front yard on Gimghoul Road says clearly, “The Garden is Open.”
So, even if the sisters are inside resting, their garden is likely hosting visitors. Bernice and Barbara have made their garden one of the most visited spots in Chapel Hill. It is a “secret” favorite of locals. People come from all over town and all over the region.
Especially in the early spring, the garden draws streams of fans who inspect and enjoy the arrays of azaleas, tulips and other colorful flowers.
Hundreds of runners and walkers pass by the garden every day. Basketball Coach Roy Williams is said to be a regular. On Saturday, the tired participants in the Tar Heel 10 Miler road race got a lift when they ran alongside the garden.
How have these sisters made their garden one of the most visited spots in Chapel Hill?
Bernice once told me how it started. “In the winter of 1944, this front yard was full of old cornstalks and clay mounds, the remnants of the former owner’s victory garden. The back yard was a tangle of honeysuckle vines and trees. Alongside the house were a gully-washed driveway and a giant oak tree.
“That spring, Richard Fikes brought his mule over to plow the front yard under. Then he planted black-eyed peas. Just when the neighborhood children were ready to pick the peas, he came back with his mule and plowed the peas under. He fashioned a roller from an old oil drum and rolled it down and planted grass.”
“In the meantime, I had ordered seeds of almost every flower that Burpee’s catalog offered and planted them all that spring. Some of the directions called for the seeds to be covered with fine soil, of which we had none. So I got out a kitchen sifter, and made my own.”
After that modest beginning and 70 years of loving hard work and planning, today’s garden is a treasure the sisters lovingly share every day.
Mark your calendar for next April for their 100th birthday. But don’t wait to visit. The sisters say that their garden’s magic is in April. You have a few more days. Stop by the garden today or tomorrow while it is still at its height of splendor.
Note: You can visit the garden and the sisters any time at this link from a production of UNC-TV’s “Our State” program from several years ago:

D.G. Martin’s regular weekly column appears on The Herald-Sun’s editorial pages on Wednesdays and online at Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. Viewers with access to UNC-TV’s digital channel UNC-MX can preview the program on the preceding Friday at 9 p.m. For information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at