published Saturday, July 30th, 2011

Put your personality on display in the garden

Go down any street in Chattanooga, and you will see an array of gardens and gardening styles. Most front-yard gardens are cookie cutter with the standard mix of green shrubs such as boxwood and holly. A few gardens glow with color from well-placed beds of annuals and flowering perennials.

Look closer, and you also may see gardens with chimes, birdhouses and art. These are the gardens I like to discover. Some are show-stoppers. Others are floppers. There is a fine line between tasteful and tacky. Growing wild native plants doesn't mean letting the natives go wild.

Express yourself

The personality of the homeowner often comes alive out back. This is where creativity, innovation and adaptation often blend together in a horticultural cornucopia. Some gardens have focal points like a treehouse, tea house or pergola. I have seen trees turned into giant, sharpened pencils. Sometimes huge hardy banana trees and palms dominate a small yard to make it look like a tropical paradise in the Tennessee Valley.

Collections of things remembered and things coveted are common themes. Whirligigs and windmills add movement to a garden. Chimes provide a relaxing gong or a mad clanging. Shrines to pets are almost commonplace these days. Birdhouse collections can look attractive but I wonder if some birds are quite confused when too many holes are available.

There is whimsy and humor in many gardens. Recycled household items such as old red wagons, copper kettles and metal bedposts have gained acceptance as garden structures. I don't see as many bathtub grottos to the Virgin Mary as in the past. Hallelujah!

Toilet bowl planters and rusty truck beds turned into raised gardens have been pushed to the backyard by local ordinances. Will we lose all rights to garden as we please?

Some people post philosophical signs in their gardens. "Old gardeners never die, they just lose their bloomers" is one of my favorites. Others post pictures of world leaders as scarecrows. Garden paths add structure or lead to secret places in the garden. Mazes are built to confuse while labyrinths lead directly to inner peace. Outlandish topiary and extraordinary bonsai also are showing up in many landscapes.

A common garden can evolve into a dynamic garden with the addition of a few statues or ceramic pieces for the garden. The gardens don't have to be huge. The smallest of gardens can hold unusual interest. Search the family attic. Browse in antiques stores. They're full of old items that have character. Shop at craft shows. They're good sources of weather vanes and handmade birdhouses.

Tasteful Vs. tacky

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Flower gardens are meant to be fun. Artistic, colorful and creative are several diplomatic words to use while visiting an unusual garden. Quirky, tacky and bizarre may be more honest words, best spoken on the ride home from the visit.

Some people label these as cottage gardens; others call them redneck gardens. Either choice is probably correct. It's a matter of individuality, and either garden is acceptable. A garden should reflect your personality and your tastes, but don't be afraid to try something crazy once in a while ... just as long as it is not next to my house.

Sweet Trip

Is it too hot and humid to be in your garden?? Take a trip to the Honey Harvest this weekend at the Creative Discovery Museum, 321 Chestnut St. The Tennessee Valley Beekeepers will be there to volunteer their knowledge.

There are several stations of interest. One is "meet the beekeeper." Ask questions about what it would take for you to become a beekeeper.

A second demonstration takes you to the rooftop to see how a beekeeper works the hives at the museum. A beekeeper then shows visitors how to extract honey from the comb.

Finally, visitors get to sample different honey varieties. Other activities during the Honey Harvest include making lip balm, candles and soap using honey.

For beekeeping information, see Tennessee Valley Beekeepers Association at www.tennvalleybeekeepers.org.

For Honey Harvest info, go to the Children's Discover Museum at www.cdmfun.org.

Contact Tom Stebbins at 423-855-6113 or tstebbins@utk.edu.

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