RONAN – Walk up the Spanish Steps, through the Arch of Hadrian, past the old metal school bell that once called the kids of Pablo to school, up a set of rock steps hand-built by Lloyd Ingraham, and finally, you come to Camelot.
“If a man brings his lady friend here, I ask him to kneel and kiss her hand,” says Ingraham, standing at the entrance to the place he calls Camelot Garden.
Take a few more steps – pass the stone sign that reads “Behold heed ye chivalry” – and you’re at King Arthur’s roundtable. The top of the giant stone table was set in place by a wrecker and is just one piece of the 1,000 tons of rock Ingraham has brought from a nearby quarry to adorn his property.
“It sits 18 people,” said Ingraham, taking a seat at King Arthur’s table, then gesturing to the smaller garden area full of medieval-themed memorabilia. There’s a brass jousting shoe and a host of axes a king might have once used in battle.
Camelot is just one of the exotic places you’ll find while touring Ingraham’s property.
During his four decades of tending the land, Ingraham, 86, has constructed colorful labyrinth of themed gardens and a private five-hole golf course on his land tucked up near the Mission Mountains east of Ronan.
Shake a branch of a tree in the Chime Garden and a host of wind chimes sing merrily back at you. Under the Chime Garden’s trees sits rock marker where Ingraham engraved his theory about the tinkling charm: “Frolicking chime bells are but angels’ voices, reverberating from the spirit world.”
Most gardens are connected by a system of rock paths Ingraham built as he constructed the gardens. Rock walls and raised gardens separate the many different areas. All the vegetation and trees planted by Ingraham weren’t selected for any particular reason, but are full of both perennials and annuals, flowers of all kinds and many trees.
Ingraham, his wife, Peggy, and their six children moved to Montana from Los Angeles in 1968. They landed on 37 acres just outside Ronan on Terrace Lake Road.
“It was home,” Ingraham said of his return. “I always loved this country, the mountains.”
Ingraham left his hometown of Pablo just after graduating from Ronan High School in 1942. He was 15, and headed west to Spokane. Soon, he found himself in the South Pacific, a member of the Air Transport Command in the Air Force’s Merchant Marines.
“The general in charge decided to become head of the Peruvian International airline. Fifteen of us from the Air Transport Command decided to go with the general,” Ingraham said.
His time in South America inspired many of the gardens he has constructed. Out of the 37 acres, 17 hold the golf course and gardens.
Just below his house is the Mira Flores Garden, modeled after the Miraflores District in Lima, Peru, where the Ingrahams once lived.
“The mayor of Lima, Peru, had a garden just like this in backyard,” said Ingraham, standing in the Mira Flores Garden that is guarded by an archway and surrounded by another of his rock walls.
After his time in South America, Lloyd enrolled in law school at the age of 38. He raised a family while attending school and eventually practiced law in Ronan for many years before retiring in 1990.
The first rock project was an entry wall, about three feet high, that runs down the middle of Ingraham’s property.
“It took a whole summer to build. My son and I (built it),” Ingraham said while walking along the wall last week. “I was quitting smoking. Whenever I wanted a cigarette I would come out and work on this wall.”
That was around 1978.
In all, Ingraham has hauled 1,000 tons of rock onto his property.
“I used to have interest in a rock quarry at a ranch off Whiskey Trail (in Ronan). When we sold it, I reserved the right to get rock from it,” Ingraham said.
When he wasn’t working on his gardens, Ingraham traveled with Peggy extensively around the world, gathering ideas for more gardens.
The Arch of Hadrian Garden is guarded by Ingraham’s hand-built arch, which resembles the ancient marble one built by the Romans that the Ingrahams saw in Athens, Greece.
“It’s a hundred times bigger,” Ingraham said of the real Hadrian. “But I copied it.”
Ingraham has also built his own Tivoli Garden, complete with plenty of plants and a birdbath to represent a trip to the real gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark.
You have to step back to appreciate the size of the lovely willow tree that shades the Relief Garden – named for what it offers Ingraham.
“I think the Relief Garden is my favorite garden because I can go in there if I’ve got a problem, I can think it out. If I’m sad, I can cry. If I’m happy, I can laugh. You know how it goes,” Ingraham said.
The willow that shades the circular area of the Relief Garden has a trunk the size of a card table. Inside the garden are many places to sit, including a cushioned porch swing where Ingraham can rock back and forth in the shade of the willow.
Ingraham “got lucky” and found the old school bell used at a Pablo school at an auction. He built a wishing well to hang the bell in and placed it in his gardens. During all his time rummaging for rock in the quarry, he found three triangle-shaped rocks to pose as the pyramids in Egypt. Those have also taken up home in the gardens.
For entertainment, Ingraham built a five-hole golf course on his property called Puddle Beach. There’s “golf course grass” planted on the golf course area. It’s a nine-hole course, Ingraham said. There’s five holes, four that you play twice. Each has its own putting green and flag to mark the hole.
“It used to be extremely popular. But then they put the golf course in out of town here. Then they all went there,” Ingraham said.
Ingraham’s family and friends still use the course on occasion. While Ingraham considers himself “too old and stiff” to golf any more, he still does most of the gardening himself. In all, 17 acres of grass to mow. Ingraham says he’s got the right mowers and equipment so he can get it all done in eight hours.
Pictures of Ingraham’s property prior to the 1970s show an empty field running almost straight into the Mission Mountains.
Ingraham’s hobby has changed all that.
Forty years later, the windows in the Ingraham’s living room look onto a well-kept, vibrant jungle of plants and rocks. The view of the snowy mountains includes the gardens and golf course, but otherwise remains spectacularly intact.