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A chance to tour a ‘mountainous’ Charlotte backyard

dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Fancy a trip to the mountains but have time only to dash down Carmel Road?

You’re in luck: The Gardeners’ Garden Tour May 9-10 has just the place for you.

Sponsored by Wing Haven Garden & Bird Sanctuary, the annual tour promises to transport visitors to five lovely urban oases, plus the nonprofit’s own two properties on Ridgewood Avenue – Wing Haven itself and Elizabeth Lawrence House and Garden.

One of the gardens in particular, never before on this tour, is likely to impress even the most veteran gardener. One would swear Boone or Banner Elk were just over the horizon.

Patrick Reames, now retired from a radiology practice, bought the hilly, 4-acre lot from Realtor Allen Tate in 1966 and began building a house. By 1968 he was able to move in and start tackling development of the rest of the land.

Bordering McMullen Creek in the Kingswood subdivision off Carmel Road, the wooded property is divided by a creek creating a valley. Over the years Reames has planted over 500 azaleas, as well as camellias, rhododendron bushes and a magnolia tree whose height now rivals its neighboring white oaks, elms and other native deciduous trees.

There’s almost no grass to mow. “Having a lawn would probably be much easier (to maintain),” he observes. “On the other hand, here you don’t have to go to the mountains to feel like you’re in the mountains.”

Following their marriage in 2002, Patrick and Patsy Reames began to renovate the lower portion of the yard further to enhance the view from the house and deck. They added boulders to support the creek banks, built a cedar bridge, and planted a variety of bulbs, including 500 daffodils.

A light show every night

It was Patsy’s idea to create a water feature near the deck. “Pat wanted me to be able to put my stamp on the garden,” she says. Designer Scott DeBoer implemented her vision in 2013, joining the lower and upper gardens with a series of waterfalls leading to a koi pond. The effect appears as if Mother Nature herself had installed them, with hostas, irises and ferns rooted there for good measure.

“We entertain a lot, and the deck is where we all naturally gravitate,” says Patsy Reames as she gestures from that vantage point. She had subtle ground lighting installed throughout the garden to add more drama at night, plus ample seating and a fire table for both heat and atmosphere.

“It’s just magical when the lights automatically switch on at sunset,” she says.

A home for wildlife

In addition to the aesthetics of the garden, Pat has always been concerned about controlling erosion, explaining the prevalence of English ivy and his extensive plantings of hardy shrubs. He notes that the many tiny springs on the property have never dried up and have never caused any flooding.

Deer are prevalent, as are woodpeckers, chickadees, wrens, bluebirds and numerous other species. A particularly bold family of phoebes built a nest on the blade of a fan mounted on the covered part of the deck, apparently feeling so comfy they’ve returned four years in a row.

With all its flowering perennials, including dogwoods, the garden puts on perhaps its most dramatic show in spring, but its autumn color is also spectacular, the couple says.

The main house was eventually enlarged, a separate two-story “man-cave” added and the deck expanded. But the key feature of the Reames property remains – the wooded valley that appears completely natural, despite the loving nudges given by its owners.

Detached from the sounds of a city, and breathing the fresh “mountain” air, in the Reames garden one hears only birdsong, gently rushing water and the rustle of leaves.

Want to go?

Wing Haven’s annual Gardeners’ Garden Tour will be 10 a.m.-4 p.m. May 9 and 1-5 p.m. May 10. Proceeds benefit Wing Haven Garden & Bird Sanctuary, 248 Ridgewood Ave., where tickets may be obtained in advance 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Tickets also sold at Blackhawk Garden Center. All tickets $30, and include performances by young musicians from Community School of the Arts at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. (Saturday only) at Wing Haven. In addition to Wing Haven and Elizabeth Lawrence House & Garden, 348 Ridgewood Ave., five private gardens in Eastover and south Charlotte are featured on the tour. More details at www.winghavengardens.org.

A note to visitors with mobility challenges: The driveway, though very steep, is wheelchair-accessible, as is the deck with its panoramic view. However, the steps leading down to the bottom of the garden are not disability-friendly. Use caution, or simply stay on the deck to enjoy the scenery. The view is still well worth the visit.

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