After a busy day leading musicians, Jim Greasby enjoys hearing the soothing sounds of rustling leaves, buzzing bees and a waterfall.
“I teach privately, work with volunteer choirs and with clergy — all ‘kid gloves’ kinds of activities. When I’m gardening, my mind goes into neutral, and what sanity I have, I have because of gardening,” said Dr. Greasby, the founder of the Chattanooga Bach Choir and a church organist and choir director at Grace Episcopal.
Dr. Greasy, who has a doctorate in choral music, began conducting his Red Bank garden a quarter-century ago.
When he arrived, he faced two great gullies in the backyard, a scattering of maple and hackberry trees, a climbing rose and two crape myrtles.
Today, a series of garden rooms wraps the house. A shade garden of hosta, fern, coleus, caladium and lenten rose slowly expands to replace grass in the deeply shaded front yard.
A white garden with impatiens, azaleas and lacecap hydrangeas leads through a shady narrow side yard.
A pergola, pond and terraced garden surround a lush lawn area. A dramatic metal abstract sculpture blends with concrete statuary, plants in colorful containers and block-edged beds to add definition and accent.
The sunny side yard features bee-friendly coneflowers mixed with native bee balm and a prairie heirloom, liatris.
An intricate symphony of tropicals, Southern favorites and native plants weaves through all the gardens.
Lending a South-of-the-border flair are a Bengal Tiger canna, with its striped variegated leaves, and mango-orange blossoms, fiery crocosmia, pale yellow Peruvian lily and angel trumpet (datura) in a container.
Purple phlox, cleome, daylilies and hydrangeas suggest steamy Southern nights.
Among the many Southeast natives, a purple beautyberry shrub stretches long arms of deep purple berries, and crested iris, partridge berry and stonecrop create groundcover in the shady front yard.
“It’s a trial-and-error garden,” Dr. Greasy said. “I go to the nursery and see something I like and have no earthly idea where I’m going to put it. I set plants down, look at them from afar, and next week I move it.”
Q: I see you have a bare spot in your front yard. New construction?
A: Yes, I’m trying to get rid of grass under trees. It’s hard to get grass to grow. Here, I’m creating a new hosta garden. I love hosta. I’ve got eight or 10 different kinds. I like the texture of the grass and ivy contrasting with the large leaves of hosta.
Q: Tell me about the hillside garden.
A: One of the first things I did after I moved in was terrace the hillside with landscape timbers. I created a natural path. The area was covered with hackberries, maples, ivy and vinca. I just gave up trying to remove them. It’s too hard. When I first moved here, people gave me a whole bunch of the orange “ditch lilies.” It was great to cover it with something. But now I’m in the process of getting rid of them so I can plant more interesting things.
Q: How do you fertilize, and are you organic?
A: Herbicides and pesticides are OK with me, but I use as little herbicide as possible, so I’m close to organic. I add a lot of compost, and I mulch with pine bark. I use both liquid and slow-release fertilizers.
Q: I see you have a garden ornament of St. Fiacre. Who is he?
A: The patron saint of gardens! I don’t know why he’s not made a bigger deal of. The story is that St. Fiacre hounded a bishop over and over to make a garden. Finally, the bishop told him he could have all the land he could clear in a day. So St. Fiacre set out into the forest. As he walked, the forest just opened up for him.
Q: A gardener’s fantasy, for sure, but it would also be a forest lover’s global-warming nightmare.
A: (Laughs) Well, yes.