How a Georgia couple keeps the legacy of an Athens landscape alive and blooming
The artist and photographer Rinne Allen riffles through a stack of light drawings on her studio worktable. These reverse images of ferns, oak leaves, and mimosa branches stand in stark white contrast against their cyan and sepia backgrounds. Allen lays the garden plants atop paper brushed with light-sensitive pigment and lets the midday sun take care of the rest. “Sometimes the plants move a bit, and that’s just fine,” she says, tracing a pale, evanescent swoosh with her finger where a fan-shaped ginkgo leaf had blown off one drawing. “It’s like a ghost.”
Allen and her husband, Lee Smith, know all about ghosts in their garden. The couple bought their Athens, Georgia, home fifteen years ago from the estate of John Linley, a longtime professor of landscape architecture at the University of Georgia who had spent the better part of three decades curating the sloping acre of land behind the house. Linley laid pathways with discarded cobblestones that once paved nearby College Avenue, terraced level clearings on the hillside, and planted all manner of ground cover, bushes, and trees. A cypress he placed in a creek bed fed from a runoff culvert now stands fifty feet tall and peeks over the tops of downtown buildings.
Linley’s students used to routinely roll up their sleeves and earn credit by hauling away wheelbarrows of dirt that once covered the strata of stone outcroppings that edge the garden. As Linley grew older, he often taught class on the grassy clearings.