There had been whispers about it for months, but few in Murfreesboro dared talk about it openly. Among those in the know, it was called the Secret Garden Caper. On Saturday, your crack GaspChoke investigative team blew the lid off these under leafy cover activities, as several avid gardeners in town showed off their passion for everyone who stopped by.  You can comment at the bottom of this article.  All comments and my replies also appear on our community forum page at http://wp.me/P5ZA8p-7h  Join the conversation.

Lane-Agri Park

We began our progressive visual feast at one of our favorite hangouts — Lane Agri Park on John Rice Blvd., the home of a twice weekly farmers market. There we met Linda Lindquist, a University of Tennessee master gardener, who says the secret garden tour sparked her initial interest in gardening. When not tending her own garden, she works as a volunteer with the university’s Cooperative Extension Program.  A lot of her time is spent teaching, doing demonstrations and showing what any homeowner can do in his or her backyard. Frankly, in our uneducated opinion, the little garden at Lane Agri gave us a great start but is an easy act to follow.

A pleasant break from the farmer's market
A pleasant break from the farmer’s market

Along the way we asked Linda and hosts at other locations about the Secret Garden Tour and its origins. Apparently, the tour’s history is shrouded in local myth and legend. Some said the event is “at least 15 years old”; others placed its beginnings as far back as 30 or 50 years. It apparently was begun as an informal thing by a local garden club, but it has expanded under the city’s Discovery Center, which uses the event as a fundraiser.  The money goes for scholarships and to bring school kids and other people to the Discovery Center.

A Trip Down Sassafras Drive

Our personal blue ribbon winner (but what do we know?) was behind the home of Dorothy and Bob Fladung on Sassafras Dr. As soon as you rounded the corner of the home, you were struck by the beauty of the place and the love and care that went into making it that way. It is an out-of-the-way world in the middle of Murfreesboro that calls out to you to forget everything for a moment and simply reflect.

An old-fashioned gazebo dominates the scene.
An old-fashioned gazebo dominates the scene.

You can sense all the careful planning that went into this garden; yet it seems so natural and informal.

A splash of colors beside a stone walk and a fork up ahed
A splash of colors beside a stone walk and a fork up ahead

A lifelong love affair with birds and plants

Our next stop was at the home Dr. Joe Little and his wife, Billie, on Burton Road. The doctor, a local pediatrician, was such an interesting person to talk to that the pictures I took don’t do his backyard justice. Here is a man who probably doesn’t own a mover. He says the place was all grass when he arrived. I didn’t see a blade anywhere. His whole front yard is a mass of plants. He specializes in native plants. When we arrived, he was seated at a table to the right of his pool in the back yard.

“I’ve been here 33 years,” he says. “It’s been a great run.”

Dr. Little’s grandmother was an ornithologist, and he recalls going out with her on field trips to band birds. His interest in nature and gardening grew out of his relationship with his grandmother. And his garden is a stopping place for birds of every type. For exercise, he swims lap at the Y, but he uses his pool for an early morning dip to start his day.

A small waterfall at one end of the pool never freezes and provides water for birds in winter.
A small waterfall at one end of the pool never freezes and provides water for birds in winter.

The best lemonade this side of Bell Buckle

We didn’t finish all the gardens on the list. That’s because we had so much fun talking to the young girls at the home of Dr. Jeffery and Kristen Bell on Shagbark Trail.  The garden itself is grassy in spots but has a deep woods flavor in others. Dr. Bell admits he was a little overwhelmed when he moved into the home about four years ago. There were a lot of perennials in the backyard, but the yard was really overrun. He placed an emergency call to Trish Gibson, the owner of Weed ‘Em and Reap, who has been managing shrubs and flowers for people for 35 years. She said you could see a good skeletal structure to the back yard; it just needed a lot of work. She’s been at it for four years.

The rock display provides an attractive backdrop for the ferns
The rock display provides an attractive backdrop for the ferns
Profits from the lemonade stand (left) will be split between the Discovery Center and a trip to Disneyworld
Profits from the lemonade stand (left) will be split between the Discovery Center and a trip to Disney World
Rabalsue Bell travels down a zip line her dad built for her in the back yard.
Rabalsue Bell travels down a zip line her dad built for her in the back yard.

A tree in the middle of things

Our next garden was also on Shagbark, which is good because we were only about an hour away from closing time for the tour. Dr. Tom Peltier did all the carpentry work on their backyard, and his wife, Cynthia, handled most of the planting. Dr. Peltier built an unusual wooden gate to his pool area and a lovely deck at the back of the house with a tree growing up through the middle.

The pine is striking, but Dr. Peltier says the downside is picking needles out of his gutter.
The tree is striking, but Dr. Peltier says the downside is picking debris out of his gutter.
Tall pines dominate Dr. Peltier's backyard garden
Tall pines dominate Dr. Peltier’s backyard garden

Romantic nights under the stars

From here we dashed across town to a luxurious home in a new development on Rolling Creek Drive. The home of Rodger and Amber Eldridge isn’t likely to excite the other gardeners we met on the tour, but who cares. As our tour hostess put it: “This is the designated party house of the neighborhood.”

This pretty much sums up the garden part of this entry in the Secret Garden spectacular.
This pretty much sums up the garden part of this entry in the Secret Garden spectacular.

But visions of enjoyable nights under Murfreesboro’s clear, starlit nights ran through my head as I gazed at the rest of the back yard.

Your friendly neighborhood bar
Your friendly neighborhood bar and grill
A romantic conversation area
A romantic conversation area
An unusual pool
An unusual pool

 

By this time, it was nearly 4 p.m., and the curtain was coming down on this year’s Secret Garden Tour. Full of enthusiasm for the visual display I had just enjoyed, I rushed home to water the four solitary grape bushes along my back fence.

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