Looking at the map made me shudder.

We were headed to Cleburne, Texas, subject of my last article. The most direct route went through Fort Worth.

Jack and I had just made that drive a few months before, and having a root canal sounded like a more pleasant prospect than trekking down Interstate 35 again.

Construction just north of Fort Worth had turned the freeway into a parking lot. I looked for alternatives, even considering braving Dallas traffic and cutting west on Interstate 20.

A lovely lady at the Texas Visitor Center just south of the state line offered another option: taking Highway 51 southwest from Gainesville to Weatherford and Highway 171 from there to Cleburne.

Although the route may have been longer, it provided a calmer drive and some pleasant surprises. Beautiful county courthouses in Decatur and Weatherford caught our attention, but the capper was Chandor Gardens in Weatherford, Texas.

I had a vague recollection of gardens in Weatherford; consulting Google gave me details. Tripadvisor gave it five green dots. This sounded like a necessary stop.

The gardens are named for Douglas Chandor, a noted 20th century portraitist. He was born in 1897 in Surrey, England.

After graduating from college, he served in the military during World War I. Following the war, he enrolled in the Slade School in London to study portraiture. His first major commission in 1919 was so well-received that he was commissioned to paint the Prince of Wales.

While achieving artistic success in England, Chandor felt more opportunities lay in America, so he immigrated in 1926.

By the next year, a gallery showing brought commissions from President Herbert Hoover, the vice president and Cabinet members.

Included in the approximately 300 portraits he painted during his lifetime are portraits of Queen Elizabeth, Sir Winston Churchill and Eleanor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

A few years after setting in New York City, he met widow Ina Kutema Hill at a dinner party. They married in 1934 and moved to Ina’s family property in Weatherford, Texas. There, they built a beautiful home, White Shadows, and began the gardens out of what had been a cow pasture.

For the next 16 years, the couple spent six months in New York and six at their Texas home. After Douglas’ death in 1953, Ina renamed the property Chandor Gardens. The gardens were open to the public until Ina’s death in 1978.

The property stood abandoned, returning to the wild, until Melody and Chuck Bradford bought it in 1994. The Bradfords remembered visiting the gardens when they were children, before they knew one another.

The sight of such beauty gone to ruin overcame their reluctance to take on such a project. They worked for a number of years, returning the house and grounds to their previous grandeur.

In 2002, they sold it to the City of Weatherford. Since then, it has been reopened to the public.

In 2014, Chandor Gardens was added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

The temperature was hovering around 100 when we arrived at the Gardens. We found a shady spot to park and entered the grounds into a large, semicircular courtyard lined with beds of white lilies.

In the center of the courtyard, a fountain topped with an astrolabe splashed water into a surrounding pool.

Large trees and water features helped mitigate the heat and made our stroll pleasant.

The gardens are an interesting blend of formal English plantings and areas featuring Chinese motifs.

Nothing typifies Chandor’s English heritage more than a long stretch of lawn: the Bowling Green. Built in the ‘40s, it was used by the family for croquet and bocce ball.

Close by is a white Chinese bridge that crosses a stream and pool with colorful koi.

A walkway led us to one of the garden’s highlights, Mount Cox.

While painting a portrait of Ohio Gov. James Cox, Chandor spoke of his intention to build a mountain with a cascading waterfall. Cox subsequently gifted the artist with a check to enable him to fulfill his dream.

Chandor visited local ranches seeking boulders, some weighing as much as 15 tons, to construct a massive geologic feature. Chandor died before the project was finished, but the Bradfords brought his vision, complete with a 40-foot waterfall, to fruition.

The gardens boast eight water features.

One of my favorites is the Chi-Ling fountain, which originally featured two fired and glazed, ceramic Chi-Lings. The Chi-Ling is a traditional Chinese guardian animal — the combination of a dragon, lion and horse.

The original figures are now in the house, protected from the elements, and have been replaced by bronze replicas.

The fountain, designed by Douglas Chandor, incorporates Seven-Up, Coke bottles and marbles in the base. Sounds tacky, but it is really quite attractive.

A labyrinth surrounds another garden feature: the Stone of the Immortals. This large construction, roughly in the shape of a Fu dog, was made by Chandor from porous, native rock, mortar and sea shells and is decorated with figures of Kuan Yin.

Another homage to Chinese culture is a beautiful Moon Gate, again built by the portraitist.

The keyhole-shaped opening leads into a mini-grotto, where visitors can see a diorama of a Chinese fishing village built into the wall by the artist. Glazed figures atop the gate also are original Chandor creations.

These formal garden rooms offer a lot to see packed into three and a half acres. The Chandor property, however, also includes another 13 acres.

Part of the remainder hosts a nature trail that takes visitors through two distinct sub-areas of the Western Cross Timbers ecosystem.

The upper part of the eight-tenths of a mile trail goes through small trees, shrubs and grasses in a caliche clay and sandy area. The lower portion features loamy soil and larger trees.

A biological inventory is ongoing, but visitors will see a variety of plants and animals from stubby prickly pear to fragrant Western White Honeysuckle and, with luck, may spot a fox or coyote.

Access to the nature trail is free when the main gate to the gardens is open. Admission to the formal gardens is $5 for guests age 13 and up; 12 and younger are admitted free with an adult.

Docent-led tours, which include the house, can be arranged in advance. There’s a minimum charge of $100 for fewer than 10 guests; larger groups are $10 per person. Check out weathrfordtx.gov/170/Chandor-Gardens for days and hours.

Our detour was definitely worth while. Freeways are fine, but side roads are often more fun.

Trending Video