Photography Cameron Flaisch
Just off Highway 53 in Calhoun, Georgia, I park my Ford Taurus at the very back of a parking lot of a Seventh Day Adventist Church. I look around, hoping I’ve arrived at the right spot. My sister, Lydia, sitting in the passenger seat, looks to me and shrugs, also unsure.
I reach for my cell phone, dialing the phone number I’ve been given. On the first ring, Mrs. Joyce Boyd answers. She is “at the Colosseum” and Old Dog is expecting us.
As we step out of the car, I’m sure of only two things: the August summer sun is already blazing at 10:50 a.m. and something special lies behind the foliage and a modest rock-turned-sign that reads “The Rock Garden.”
Upon rounding the corner of this foliage and sign, I unconsciously gasp and then smile. What is before me is millions upon millions of rocks and pebbles and stones and shells and pieces of glass artfully woven into miniature structures of towns and bridges and cathedrals and castles.
It is unlike anything I’ve seen before.
Lydia smiles too and points out a lady in a hat, directly to our left, working on a structure that can only be described as a miniature version of the Roman Colosseum. As we approach, she smiles and motions us toward her. She is Mrs. Boyd, known affectionately as Lady Joyce, and she is indeed the Lady of this garden. Her husband is Dewitt Boyd, better known as Old Dog and together they have spent over a decade imagining and creating this tiny fairy world.
As Old Dog begins to give us the grand tour of this special place, he explains, “In order to understand this, you have to understand that this is a place to play a game where everyone has money and everyone has something to sell.” The “Town Game” started as a game Old Dog created for his eight children and three step-children. The game allowed the children to explore their imaginations as different characters, represented by tiny clay people that Old Dog designed himself. The game also taught the participants important lessons from history to economics.
And from this “bohemian” game was born these miniature houses and structures and eventually cathedrals and castles, all acting as a gameboard of sorts for Old Dog’s Town Game.
For decades now, Old Dog has made and sold his clay people and animals, and now they also live among this garden of rocks. For instance, Cinderella and Prince Charming live in one of the castles built just for them. The characters of the Nativity can also be found living among the town of Bethlehem.
Old dog explains that unfortunately, sometimes “terrorists” like to come and ravage his clay people, intentionally breaking them. In the decade the Rock Garden has been open, he has learned to hide his clay people beneath his structures, within the safety of their arches and doorways.
Thankfully though, these cracks and crevices in which the clay people can hide are plentiful. Each rock structure and path is intentionally built to be sturdy and resilient to not only the weather elements of rain and floods (the entire land is a bog that is partially flooded each year), but also resilient to the children for who it was designed. Old Dog wants the children who come to visit to run through the narrow pathways and explore the individual structures without fear of their fragility. This is accomplished in the way that each structure is built.
As Old Dog explains, electric wiring is cut and bent to form the outline of walls. Then, mixed concrete is poured around it. Finally, individual pebbles are laid end-to-end within the concrete, layer upon layer, until entire roads and buildings are constructed. This could take years for a single structure to be completed.
As we continue along the concrete and rock road through the garden, we happen upon Ms. Reba Kirby and her grandchildren, having a picnic lunch in their claimed section of the garden. Ms. Kirby and her girls, Bug, Birdie and Cricket, have been working on their part of the garden for several years now. It is a special way that Ms. Kirby can bond with her granddaughters and also be a part of this community novelty. The three young girls delight to show me their personal contributions of stone concert halls, fairy houses and a clay mermaid named Luna. Five-year-old Cricket beams up at me with her wonder and childlike smile, and I can’t help but smile back, as she shows me her own little rock garden that she started when she was only three years old.
At this point of the tour, Old Dog takes us to the front of the garden where a very section known as the memory wall has been constructed. Taller than my five-feet-five-inches, and much longer, stretches a wall made of tiny rocks and pebbles with glass, shells, and memories encased in it. One of Old Dog’s favorite memories is a bullet and clay plaque commemorating his marriage to Lady Joyce in 2016.
As the story goes, Old Dog once told his brother, Brother Bear, that if “I ever talked about getting married, he should just pull out his gun and shoot me.” After that conversation, Brother Bear, as promised, put Old Dog’s name on a bullet to use for this occasion. However, after working for years on the rock garden together, Old Dog and Lady Joyce fell in love. And despite his previous declaration to his brother, Old Dog married his sweetheart, and Brother Bear gave the bullet to Lady Joyce at the wedding. And this bullet is now part of the Rock Garden’s memory wall.
Other important pieces of the memory wall include historical artifacts, such as a Roman coin from 168 A.D. And while I gasp, excited that such a piece of history is in Calhoun, Georgia, Old Dog tells me that in the garden are many other artifacts, such as a piece of the Berlin Wall and pieces from Pompeii, Italy and Normandy, France.
Other parts of the memory wall include plaques for every couple that has gotten married in the garden, as well as plaques commemorating the lives of people who have died, because as Old Dog says, “not every story has a happy ending.”
Although he is right, and not every story is happy, the garden itself is a place of joy and love. People like Old Dog and Lady Joyce, Ms. Reba, and countless other volunteer and visitors have made the Rock Garden a special place where one can find both magic and peace.
As we end the tour, Old Dog, Lydia, and I meet back with Lady Joyce, still working on the Roman Colosseum, just as we left her. At this point, Old Dog looks at us intently, and asks my sister and I if we want to help place some of the newest clay people he’s made around the garden. We immediately comply, and with true child-like joy, we choose hiding places in miniature Bethlehem for our miniature characters to live safely. For a moment I forget all else besides this tiny town. The magic has swept me away, and Old Dog puts it, I’ve begun to play the game.
The hours have passed quickly, I realize, and my sister and I decide we need to get going. We thank our hospitable hosts, and head back to the Taurus, baking in the now afternoon sun.
As we climb back into the car, we clutch our tiny clay sheep, gifts from Old Dog himself, his invitation to come back for the annual candle-lighting event on October 7 ringing in our ears. I feel as Alice or Lucy must have, coming back out of the rabbit hole or out of the wardrobe. Though the adventure of the day was over, the energy and joy I felt has been so impactful. And in my heart, I know the magic and beauty of the experience has really only just begun.
To schedule a tour of the Rock Garden find them on Facebook. Or, visit in the site at 1411 Rome Road in Calhoun, Georgia. You can also call ahead at 706-629-5470.