A style all her own by Diane Morey Sitton
When it comes to garden décor, Grace Evans likes to keep things simple.
“If I like it, it’s perfect,” states the spry 84-year-old, explaining the serendipitous mix of collectibles, repurposed items, and one-of-a-kind curiosities that decorate her colorful Nacogdoches landscape.
Once past the side yard rose garden and through the backyard gate, mailboxes serve as tool boxes, vintage wheelbarrows double as planters, and a round, reddish, basketball-sized rock – dug up in East Texas by a grave-digging friend – is as likely to serve as a focal point as an antique wagon overflowing with purple-heart or a statue of a child purchased at a furniture store some 45 years ago.
But that’s just the beginning. Here, under the canopy of a large oak tree, amid the color show of azaleas and hydrangeas, matching chairs — painted turquoise and outfitted with tubs — offer a place for seasonal color and fragrance. Wood trellises, extending upward from flower beds to fences, provide pathways for vines, including the far-roaming coral vine, known for its cascades of pink flowers.
“I saw the chairs at an antique store,” says Grace. “I added the tubs and made planters. The trellises were banisters on a friend’s porch. When they remodeled, they gave them to me. I use them as trellises.”
The teakwood “shelf” attached to the back of the house was once a garden bench. “The bench was getting weatherworn, so a friend trimmed the legs off, and helped me hang it on the wall,” explains Grace. “I have friends that love doing things for friends!”
Graces uses the shelf to hold four birdhouses, a mere sampling of the birdhouses scattered throughout the garden. Over the years, she has purchased several from a hobby builder who designs birdhouses, then brings them in to the family medical clinic where she works as office manager.
“I got the title by default,” says Grace. “When I started working for the doctor 48 years ago, there wasn’t anyone in the front office but me.”
Grace’s birdhouse collection, along with the numerous bird feeders, bird baths, and animal statuary that decorate her garden, attest to her love of wildlife. Besides the cardinals, woodpeckers, hummingbirds and other bird species that regularly visit the garden, she once welcomed a pair of fox: they came to sneak cat food. Currently, she has four “rescue” cats and a dog. “Ivory”, her large, snow-white kitty companion, likes to pad along with her when she is tending her garden; he also likes to nap there.
“If it’s got four legs or wings, it’s welcome here,” she says.
Like most gardens, Grace’s landscape is a work in progress. “I always wanted a pretty yard,” she reflects.
As happenstance would have it, she began that quest in earnest about 22 years ago when she moved into one of several houses that she and her late husband had built in the tree-studded neighborhood.
“When I moved here, the only plants in the yard were holly bushes,” she says.
Gradually, she established a backdrop of azaleas (all colors). She scattered mophead, lacecap and oakleaf hydrangeas in beds and borders. She planted redbud trees, set out iris, and established a bed of John Fanick phlox from six tiny plants given to her by a friend.
This year, one of several coral vines grew so large it “climbed into a neighbor’s tree.”
Like the plants that thrive here, Grace’s plans reach far and wide. Among other projects, she wants to re-do the sunny bed by her entrance. She’d like to make a large pool, maybe plant a border of mondo grass…or plant the bed with miniature azaleas for even more vibrant spring color.
“Spring is my favorite time of year,” she says. “The azaleas are in bloom then, and it’s a new beginning.”