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by Paula LaRocque on July 4th, 2010

During a charity raffle last Christmas, my husband, Paul, and I won a private tour and wine reception for twelve people at the Chandor Gardens in Weatherford, Texas – a prize we redeemed Sunday, June 27.

Our tour of the gardens and party in the estate’s mansion was a memorable experience.  Before our visit, none of our party of twelve had any notion of Chandor Gardens’ existence.  That’s a shame.  The gardens are an easy half-hour’s drive from Fort Worth, and they have everything for a unique and special outing – nearly four acres of gardens that almost give you sensory overload, an elegant old 5,600-square-foot mansion, and the romantic history of an acclaimed British portrait artist and a girl from Weatherford.

The picturesque grounds, originally called “White Shadows” and inspired by Chinese and English gardens, were designed and built more than 70 years ago by artist Douglas Chandor.  The estate boasts hundreds of flowers, plants, and trees as well as a wealth of outdoor “rooms,” grottos, and water features such as waterfalls and fountains. One man-made waterfall is more than 30 feet high.  All of the areas are connected by meandering walkways – perfect for a self-guided tour.  And some of the niches or “rooms” offer vistas conceived by an artist’s eye – in which you watch one area meld graphically into another to make a new design.

There’s no shortage of highlights:  the Dragon Fountain with its base of Coca-Cola bottles (you have to look closely); the Labyrinth, a new feature designed and built by the gardens’ chief horticulturist, Steve Chamblee; the Buddha niche; the fabulous Moon Gate; the Silver Garden; ponds and streams dotted with pacers that allow you to stand amid waters alive with huge, thriving, and beautifully colored koi – including a show-stopping snow-white koi.

Douglas Granvil Chandor was born in Surrey, England, in 1897.  He came to the United States in 1926, and his artwork was exhibited in New York City in 1927.  He married Ina Kuteman Hill of Weatherford in the mid-1930s and undertook construction of his gardens thereafter – an artistic project he labored at for 16 years.

Chandor was already an international name in portraiture before he came to the states.  He’d painted numerous British notables including the Prince of Wales – a portrait he completed when he was only 24 – and went on to portray Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II.  During his career, he painted hundreds of portraits – among them such luminaries as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Sam Rayburn, and Cuban President Gerardo Machado y Morales.

A poignant feature stands on an easel inside the Chandor Mansion.  It’s an unfinished canvas portraying the head of a man – the portrait Douglas Chandor was working on when he was felled by the stroke that caused his death.  He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1953 – having recently returned from London where he’d completed his second portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

Widowed, Ina Chandor opened the gardens to the public and renamed them in tribute to her husband.  The couple had no heirs and, after Ina’s death in the late 1970s, the gardens fell into disrepair until they were purchased in 1994 and laboriously restored by local residents Charles and Melody Bradford.  Thereafter, the city of Weatherford purchased the estate and now maintains it.

Today, the gardens are a favored site for weddings and other such functions.  Certainly they offer wonderful opportunities for a photographer.  (The photos on this page are by one of our party, Julie Delio, and I’ll include a “Chandor” scrapbook in my website gallery as soon as I figure out how to do it.)

We found Chandor Gardens much more than just a beautiful setting for special celebrations, however.  The gardens offered us a lovely retreat from our hectic lives – a lush, restorative place to delight the eye and quiet the mind.  It seems Douglas Chandor realized his 16-year dream – to build a “living artwork.”

If you live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, you should go.

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Here are a couple of URLs for further information. Or Google “Chandor Gardens.”

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