Many years ago, my two sons gave me a special gift for Father’s Day that I am still using now, all the time, 365 days out of the year. The gift was a fabricated flat, natural-looking stone that is engraved with the sentence: GARDENING COMES SECOND ONLY TO READING. It was the perfect present because, for me at least, that declaration is quite true. I would argue that my family actually comes first (I hope they would agree!), and I could certainly make the case for several more seconds and thirds, with music taking a prominent place near the top of the list. Both of my boys knew then, as they still recognize now, that gardening is a passion for me — something on which I am willing to spend plenty of hard-earned dollars. I have lived in three different locations since they presented me with that engraved stone, and it is still part of the hardscape of my gardens today.
I became interested in landscaping and ornamental gardening in 1987, shortly after my sons’ mother and I bought our first house. I had started working in a public library two years earlier, and I was fascinated by gardening magazines and books that I was cataloging. I wanted to have a yard with more than just an expanse of grass and a few foundation shrubs around the house. I wanted to create a little oasis! I started building my own personal library of gardening books, learning as much as possible about soil condition, hardiness zones, watering, fertilizing, and plant identification. I didn’t have much disposable income in those years, so I started out small and concentrated on a few specific areas, such as the side entrance to our house that we used most often. A few years later we started a family and moved into a larger house on a steeply sloping lot. It was a challenging yard, but over the years I began to mold it into something that I could work with and make attractive. One of the most successful projects was the creation of a lush entry-way garden leading from the parking area to the front door, which is pictured in the photograph above. Before moving away from that house, I also created two azalea islands under oak and sweet gum trees in the front yard, a pathway leading through ornamental trees and shrubs in the backyard, and my first small pond with a waterfall. (See my post from May 17, 2016 to learn more about the waterfalls and ponds I have designed through the years.)
When I met my second wife, she was living on a lake in central Georgia. When we married, I moved in with her. The previous owners of this lake house had invested considerably in the landscape, but my wife had made several improvements before we were married including upgrading the irrigation system, replacing an old patio, removing pine trees, and installing ornamental shrubs and trees. We decided to have our wedding ceremony on the patio overlooking the lake and a small pond and waterfall that I finished just a few days before the big day. Over the next two years I added plants and landscape lights around the pond to make the area into a separate garden spot, complete with a bird feeder and a bench.
The new and expanded patio was a perfect place to add a container garden, so we began looking for interesting pots, such as the sculpted face pot and stand that we affectionately named Annabel — the face on the pot looks melancholy and reminds us of the subject of the poem by Edgar Allan Poe, “Annabel Lee.” The patio container garden was framed by a beautiful stand of Loropetalum shrubs that my wife had planted shortly after she moved into the house. This garden was completed by a chiminea and a hot tub, which is just out of view at the lower left corner of the photo above. The gently sloping grass of the yard and the view of the large cove beyond were a perfect backdrop to this little slice of paradise just outside the sliding glass doors leading from our master bedroom.
In 2013 we moved to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in northeast Georgia. This part of the state is in a different plant zone than our previous location. As such there are some semi-tropical species that we can no longer have in our yard, but other ornamentals that need cooler temperatures are perfectly at home here. Our growing season is a week or two shorter also, but climate change is bringing earlier springs and extended autumns as the years go by. The previous owners of this house did a fine job of building the “bones” of this property, with a large planting island in the front yard and a fairly deep shrub bed in front of the house. We have made a few changes, such as adding some annual planting beds and thinning some of the dwarf Nandina on the side of the house. We have also added to the plants in the front island (pictured above) and covered it all with a healthy layer of wood chips. The greatest addition we have made to the property is the installation of an in-ground swimming pool with a waterfall, providing us with yet another opportunity to create a new garden oasis. Although I did not build this “pond,” my wife and I did help with the design. We have worked very hard over the last two years on the landscaping around the pool by installing a river rock border, bringing in new plants, and arranging container plantings around the decking. The sound of running water is such a pleasant feature of this space, which of course, is also a perfect area for enjoying my first passion . . . reading.