Originally created 09/17/00

Art of the possible



When Richard and Dianne Short bought their home eight years ago, the back yard was no more than a pile of dirt. And dirt can be convincing.

"That's why we bought this house," said Mrs. Short. "I just loved the yard and the possibilities."

Once they discovered that railroad ties and a perimeter of azaleas would keep the yard from sliding down the large hill the home sits on, the Shorts put their creativity to work. That creativity has become an obsession.

"When you're lying in bed at night and can't go to sleep because you're thinking of what you're going to do in the garden, that's an obsession," Mrs. Short said.

Eight years of work has resulted in many large flower beds, a huge pond with a relaxing waterfall and many resting places to enjoy the view at the home on Burlington Drive in Evans. A pergola supports grape vines, and begonias, day lilies, hibiscus, marigolds, sunflowers and other flowering plants fill beds and containers.

No pesticides are used in the garden, and fungicides are sprayed sparingly on a few rose bushes. Roses, though beautiful, require fungicide to avoid destruction.

"When you read the label, you realize you really don't want to be spraying it," said Mrs. Short. "That's why my goal is really (to) get rid of the roses. Knowing what I know now, I never would have put them in."

The Shorts are protective of wildlife in the area. Nearby construction drives a lot of critters into their yard, and most of their plants are meant to be food sources for birds, butterflies, rabbits, frogs and other wildlife.

The Shorts welcome the many birds and butterflies their gardens attract. A large butterfly garden consists of bee bomb, black-eyed Susan, turtle's head, butterfly weed, salvia and lots of butterfly bush. Different types of swallowtails, fritillaries and even some monarchs frequent the garden.

Some critters wear out their welcome, the Shorts say. Deer, for example, have become pests.

Deer don't always eat the plants they destroy. Many times, they attack plants such as zinnia, which they don't like. They just bite off the blooms and leave them lying on the ground beside unoccupied stalks.

"Every night they munch. I just can't fight it anymore," said Mrs. Short. "I figure it's fall, everything is going to go anyway. So, every day I just come out and see what they did. It's really frustrating."

The Shorts have tried many techniques to keep the deer from eating plants, including chicken wire and strings around beds. Since the garden was designed with wildlife in mind, they won't resort to more drastic measures. "I don't believe in making a garden, then chasing everything out," Mrs. Short said.

There are four places to sit in the garden, each offering a different perspective on the landscape. Their favorite is a swing covered by a mass of Lady Banks roses, which is not a true rose. The plant's white spring blooms resemble tiny roses. According to Mr. Short, it is about 10 degrees cooler under the canopy of foliage.

A large pond full of lotus, water lily, water-canna lily and swamp hibiscus plants is Mrs. Short's favorite garden feature. It is stocked with pond comets, a kind of goldfish. Something is always happening in the pond.

"It's like a story to me," said Mrs. Short. "I wish I had been writing a diary of it every year."

Nearby construction drives many snakes and frogs to the water haven. Herons from a nearby lake enjoy feasting on the pond comets.

Water plants are the easy part of having a pond: As long as they are in water they will do just fine. But the water garden requires regular maintenance, such as cleaning filters, resetting plants when animals mess them up and clearing the excess of invasive water plants. The Shorts keep plants in containers in the pond to keep the plants from taking over.

"There's always something to do with the pond," Mrs. Short said. "It's a fair amount of work, but it's worth it. It's just really worth it."

The many bird feeders and houses invite all kinds of birds to visit. Hummingbirds, chickadees, tit mice, cardinals, wrens, nut-hatches and blackbirds haunt the garden and surrounding trees. A service berry tree and the many seed-producing plants provide spring feasts for them.

The past eight years have given the couple valuable gardening experience, they said. So many things they would do again, but many choices would be different.

"I've really learned a lot out here," Mrs. Short said. "It's been a real learning experience."

Reach Valerie M. Rowell at 823-3351 or newsroom@augustachronicle.com