Dedicated gardeners grow together
As Carol Ford makes her coffee in the quiet of early morning, she never fails to take in the view out her kitchen window — of a metal, neighborhood mailbox framed, these days, by draping trumpet vines and blooming roses along a weathered wood fence.
"I love to look at the flowers when I look at the mailbox," she says. "It inspires me. ... And Larry's always out there, looking and pulling out the weeds."
Larry Davis, 77, is always out there, snipping spent branches and blooms with his pocketknife and clearing away offending trespassers. So, too — but later in the day (Larry is the early riser) — is his wife, Deanna, 73, sitting on her stool, digging in the dirt, minding the beds with motherly care.
Come spring, just like the crocuses bursting through the ground after a season of hibernation, Larry and Deanna emerge to tend to their garden, a visual delight that has, over the years, persuaded some driving by to stop and roll down their windows to express appreciation.
"Oh," Larry tells them, "if you like the front, you must see the back."
And you must.
But before you step under the trellis that Larry built and past the small stone frog that says, "Welcome to our garden," you should remember once there was nothing on this corner plot of land in the middle of tract-home suburbia.
"It just evolved. We just kept adding ...," Deanna says. "I don't think either of us could do it alone." She smiles. "We're getting to the point we're not going to be able to do it together."
Larry and Deanna moved into their Highlands Ranch home in 1994. Their first planting: three locust trees.
"We wanted shade," Deanna says.
Larry built the six-foot fence around the yard, a few times parking his car in the street at night and turning on the headlights so he could finish.
They both worked at the time, she as a Realtor, he as a tool design engineer for Lockheed Martin, so they hired someone to plan the yard. And in 1995, the basic layout was planted.
They married, each for the second time, in 1996, in their back yard, with 100 guests. The pond for the goldfish and water lilies happened in 1999, the year they retired. Larry later built the spacious, graceful deck next to the pond and the oval bed in the front.
And, slowly but surely, the garden kept growing, reflecting not only the shared passion of creating something beautiful, but also their individual personalities. She likes neat and orderly. He likes unusual and a little messy.
Deanna, originally from the San Francisco area, brought the Japanese maples, dwarf evergreens and Asian-inspired contributions. "All the Japanese stuff," she says, "is kind of my heart."
Larry, from Iowa, brought the strange, unique plants like the rare-for-America hocksweed, and the full-bodied peonies, which in the Midwest are frequently planted in cemeteries. "They bloom around Memorial Day," he says. "A lot of people plant peonies so there are flowers on the graves."
Today, the gardens contain hundreds of varieties of plants. Deanna and Larry each spend about 20 hours a week caring for them.
Now, step under the trellis. This is some of what you'll see:
Raspberries, blackberries and grapes tumble along the back. Succulents root in lava rocks by the pond, inhabited by about 50 goldfish and several kinds of delicate water lilies. A weeping cherry droops over a small path. Red and green Japanese maples. Graceful purple clematis. Pink penstemons. Purple salvia. Delicate coral bells.
A congregation of herbs — basil, fennel, parsley, rosemary, oregano, mint — grows in containers near the kitchen window. A water fountain that was a wedding gift. A bird bath that belonged to Deanna's mother. A twisted Harry Lauder's walking stick bush.
"This one is like peppermint candy," Larry says, cupping a red-and-white-striped bloom in his hand.
The iron bench under the crabapple, where the yard bends, is one of Deanna's and Larry's favorite spots. The corner always seems to collect a breeze, and it's good for enjoying the sights.
"It's kind of a peaceful oasis," Larry says of the back yard. "The birds like it." He points up to a branch in a locust tree. "That little blue house has a family of wrens in it."
The front, too, has its charm.
Blue delphiniums — a neighborhood favorite — stand guard near the trellis. A rock garden holds origanum — nicknamed the wormy plant by Larry — and yellow Missouri evening primrose, whose blooms last just one day, trail along its border. Snapdragons in every color reseed every year.
There's the fuzzy lamb's ear the preschool children used to file down the street to feel. Larry's new, small cactus garden next to the stairs. Deanna's nine pots of coleus - with striking green and red leaves - on the stoop. And the ornamental pear tree by the driveway that blooms white, leafs out green, and, finally, turns a yellow-orange in the fall until the first storm strips the limbs bare.
"One year, for fun, we planted ... the plant you like to eat?" Larry turns to Deanna.
Larry nods and smiles. "People would say, 'What in the world is that?'"
"People still ask us about that one," Deanna says.
"We just did it for fun," Larry says. "Just once."
The garden, essentially, contains many of life's basic ingredients. Change. Transformation. Anticipation. Joy. Death. Rebirth. This particular one is a work of love that seems to assure a certain order in the universe.
"When you're finished growing your kids," Deanna says, "there is a nurturing quality to growing plants."
"I enjoy just seeing it every day," Larry says. "It seems like something new is in bloom every day ... when the first little crocus comes up, just to see this come to life in the spring, and then all summer blooming."
And even though the garden belongs to Larry and Deanna, it has been a gift shared - sometimes unknowingly, other times directly - with the neighborhood.
Suzi Miller, a gardener herself who lives down the street, has taken home cuttings of water lilies and fennel for her yard. She can spend hours talking plants with Larry and Deanna.
"For someone like me, there's so much to look at," she says. "It gives me inspiration. ..."
Joan McGill has lived across the street for 18 years.
"It's just a joy to look at their beautiful garden," she says. "If we could all slow down enough to enjoy the beauty."
Because if we did, Larry and Deanna would be sure to invite us in.
Ann Macari Healey's column about people, places and issues of everyday life appears every other week. Her column earned first place in the 2013 Colorado Press Association Better Newspaper contest. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-566-4110.