Jim and Charlotte’s garden was conceived in the Fall of 2008 as a result of Charlotte’s vision and a passing conversation. Charlotte imagined a pleasant flower and vegetable garden that would be located in the space between our recently renovated mountain house (built in 1974) and an old one-car garage and storage shed (built before 1938). It would need to be something that resembled a Southern Living garden, you know, those beautiful and tranquil places highlighted in the monthly magazine where average people really don’t live.
So while I thought the idea to be a good one, I had significant reservations about taking on such a major effort and wasn’t nearly as sold on it as was Charlotte. I knew that it would require a major physical effort on our part and a lot of time to transform that space into Charlotte’s vision. I was still working in my consulting business and was often out-of-town for extended periods of time. So I discouraged her by not jumping on the idea. She was patient and pointed out that gardening was something that both of us really enjoyed and something that we could do together.
We had both taken up golf in our latter years and enjoyed playing together at our local course, Lil’ Mole Run, in Mentone, Alabama. But we knew that back-aches and other physical ailments might keep us from playing golf as we got older. That argument softened me and I began to think more positively toward the project.
In Charlotte’s working career she was a natural and college trained interior decorator and owned her own business. She had and still has the natural gift of knowing how to put things together and being able to envision how things will look when they are completed. Had HGTV (Home and Garden Television) been around when she was in the business, I surmise that she would have had her own show similar to those she now enjoys watching as a pass-time. Over time I thought more about her vision for the garden. I realized that she had never been wrong before on our Mountain House projects and I gradually signed on to the concept as well.
Digressing for a moment … when we moved into our first house in 1966 we had a really nice garden site. I raised and sold prize tomatoes that helped pay for my undergraduate and graduate textbooks and even some of the tuition. We also raised a lot of fresh vegetables that helped us with our grocery expense. I already knew how to grow veggies. My father made sure of that when I was a little fellow. I was helping him in his backyard garden when I was big enough to pick up a shovel. I can remember it like yesterday when the first sign of spring approached and my Dad would tell me as he was leaving for work, “Jimmy, when you get home from school today, get the shovel and start turning over the garden.” At first it was fun, but over the years it became real work that kept me from playing with my friends. My dad worked long hours across town. He really needed my help in getting the garden started. We didn’t have a roto-tiller in the early 1950’s. We used basic tools … shovels, picks, mattocks … at our small brick home on Ellington Street in the suburban Decatur, Georgia community near the intersection of Candler Road and Glenwood Road.
For Charlotte and I, the projected area that would become the garden presented quite a challenge. It was somewhat of a wasteland full of small rocks, and weeds. It was even difficult to grow crabgrass on the plot. We kept it cut with the lawn mower, but that was about all that the space was good for. The lawn mower would sometimes pick up a rock and hurl it like a missile at anything in its path. We tried to play badminton and croquet with our grandchildren (when they were still young enough to think it was cool), but it just wasn’t suitable for much of anything.
And there were still a lot of questions to answer. The plot is on top of Lookout Mountain which is full of huge rocks both visible and invisible. The woods surrounding the garden were full of hungry animals such as herds of deer, families of racoons and skunks, groundhogs, rabbits galore, field mice, musk rats, squirrels, chipmunks, opossums, destructive crows, red and gray foxes, coyotes, poisonous and non-poisonous snakes, domestic and wild dogs and cats, moles and voles, etc. All of these animals would have to be taken into account in planning for a garden. That would mean a high fence that was sufficient to keep the deer out and lower protection to keep out the smaller animals that couldn’t climb. We also knew that we would need professional help in constructing the garden and began to look for someone who would be interested in assisting us and help us develop our concept into a reality.
The project was now well past the concept stage. Charlotte would concentrate on the flowers and I on the veggies. The fact that I would soon be retiring added excitement to the project for me. After all, I had worked hard most of his life traveling to most of the Unites States and to a significant number of foreign countries. I never had time nor a suitable place to plant a vegetable garden for a period of more than forty years. Soon I would have just that!
Planning accelerated as we both did research on raised bed gardens. We decided that our version of a raised bed garden would have to be suitable for us in our latter years … a garden that would require little maintenance, no plowing, would be easily accessible … even handicap accessible … and would not require us to get down on our hands and knees.
Once we agreed on the general concepts for the garden, I set out to do a the basic design on my computer. Here’s a visual of the high-level design I did using an Excel spreadsheet.
Click on the link to view a larger version of the original plan: Raised Bed Garden Plan
One thing we both agreed upon early in the process … if were going to do it, then we would do it right. We wanted to be good stewards of our resources, but neither of us had expensive hobbies. So we agreed that the garden would be “our bass boat” … well maybe I was the one who said that. I think Charlotte just went along with me knowing that over time we would both get what we wanted. Charlotte thought her beds could be just above ground level and I wanted mine to be about knee-high with benches on top so you could sit down to plant, work and pick. We decided that I would initially have eight 2’x4’x8′ raised beds with benches, and that Charlotte would plant her flowers in beds around the edges of the garden and in two circular beds made from landscaping stone 1′ high with a diameter of 8′ placed centrally on each side of the garden. The raised beds would all have access to water and drip hoses. We would also have water available for a garden bench that would be located outside of the garden to do potting and pre-clean veggies before taking them into the house.
While it was not an original goal to build the garden in honor of our ancestors, there was certainly some family History Behind The Garden Plot (click the previous link to read more) that we have since recognized as important to the on-going purpose of the garden. The empty space where the garden was to be built had sentimental value for me. This was the location of the ancestral home of George Washington Crowe (1854 – 1944), my great grandfather, who was a descendant of one of the original families that settled in what would become Mentone through land grants in the early 1800’s.
- Fall view of the garden. The color contrasts are striking!!
- Wintertime view of garden.
You can click on the following links to navigate to more information about Jim & Charlotte’s Garden: