When Ruth and Hurst Mauldin downsized to Sedgefield in 1999, there was little but red dirt in their small back yard.
But the veteran gardeners looked past the red dirt and envisioned a lush, green sanctuary. In fact, Ruth says her garden has become a place she goes “to contemplate, to celebrate and to praise.”
The Mauldins, both retired educators, raised two daughters in a Tudor home in Myers Park – one with a big backyard and a garden that Ruth describes as “down yonder.” When they decided to move to a one-story house 15 years ago, Ruth told her Realtor, “I just need a place with a front and back yard so I can dig.”
And as hard as it was to leave their mature garden behind, the couple love having their plants and flowers within easy reach. It’s all just out the back door and visible from every window in the house.
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And it’s not as if they left the old Myers Park garden entirely. Much of it came with them – hostas, Lenten roses, azaleas, primrose, King Alfred daffodils and some liriope (commonly known as monkey grass) their old friends, Jean and Joe Vance, had given the young newlyweds in Birmingham in 1965.
Ruth says the garden is still a work in progress. The Mauldins have taken on the task little by little, and their garden continues to evolve each year and with each season.
Working in the garden is therapeutic and almost spiritual for the Mauldins, who love their church (St. Andrew’s United Methodist), take care of the earth and try not to harm any of its creatures.
They occasionally put out moth balls (the smell is supposed to be a repellent) for the critters that feast on their plants, but mostly they peacefully coexist with bunnies and chipmunks. Slugs are the one pest they won’t abide.
Siberian iris caper
The couple has been known to go to extreme lengths for a plant they covet. Hurst confesses to a caper that involved digging up a Siberian iris in an abandoned area and transplanting it in their yard. “It was just so gorgeous,” says Ruth.
Two days after the plant-napping, Ruth had a bad case of poison ivy, and the couple’s days as outlaw gardeners were over. But that iris is certainly better cared for at the Mauldin home.
Gardening has been a lifelong love for both Mauldins. “I was born on a Wilkes County farm, so I’ve loved gardens since the day I was born,” Ruth says. As a child, Hurst sold flower seeds to raise money for his elementary school PTA and ended up planting some radishes in his side yard. He’s been hooked ever since.
It doesn’t matter whether they have a big or small yard; Ruth needs to dig. “Our old yard was really shaded,” Ruth says. “So we planted woodland things. Now we have a greater variety of sun and shade, which means we’ve been able to add more color to our yard.” Lots of color. They have peonies and petunias, yarrow and yucca, begonias and black-eyed Susans.
They do most of the work themselves, although the Mauldins say their friend, Kenn Bullock, has been indispensable with both his design know-how and the physical labor he’s put in. Bullock, a good friend and professional landscape architect, can tell them exactly what he thinks without offending.
“Kenn doesn’t like my square patio, and he tells me that every time he’s over,” Ruth laughs. Circles and serpentine lines, it happens, are more pleasing to Bullock.
Birth and rebirth
Trusting that something planted in the fall will bloom in the spring is part of gardening. Trusting in your landscape architect is important, too. Kenn has cautioned Ruth many times: “Have patience.”
Patience is a must for any gardener, says Ruth. Shade-loving Spigelia marilandica (“Indian pink”), one of her favorite plants, blooms in vivid color for just two or three weeks each May or June. She enjoys the blooms while they’re here but then must patiently wait another year for it to flower again.
A garden is a place of birth and rebirth, but it’s also a graveyard of sorts. Not all plants – even in the hands of experts – survive. Ruth says she’s never been able to grow galax, and she’s had trouble with trillium. While there isn’t a body buried in the garden, there is a tombstone. Hurst’s grandfather, Civil War veteran Benjamin Mauldin (1844-1931) is memorialized there. “I told Hurst: ‘No tombstones in the house,’ ” Ruth laughs.
They use their green thumbs on vegetables, too – tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant and strawberries, although Hurst says the rabbits have enjoyed more berries than the gardeners themselves have.
There are also bonsai – 18 at last count. The temperamental plants have to be gently watered daily, pruned and even root-pruned often. “It’s worse than a baby,” Hurst says. “When we go out of town, we have to have someone come over every day to give them a sprinkle. They are fun – but trouble.”