The Times West Virginian

June 27, 2012

A tranquil escape

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

WHITE HALL — Kimberly Wilson’s yard is much more than a garden.

With its terraced slopes, shade trees and bright flowers, it’s a tranquil escape from the pressures of the world.

You don’t even have to go to the patio with the park bench overlooking the front of the property.

The view from the screened-in back porch of the barn high up on the hill, and those slopes and trees is enough to make the most harried person sigh, “Ahhhhhhhhh.”

When she and her husband Rusty bought the five-acre property 18 years ago, it looked nothing like it does now.

“It was like a forest,” she said. “Rusty looked at all the trees and said, ‘A dozer works wonders.’”

And it did. All those trees but two large poplars were cleared out. The landscaping project that continues today began.

“Everything else but those two trees I planted myself,” she said. The Bradford pear trees were first. River birch. Maples. Plum trees. Native dogwood. Pin oak. Blue spruce. Ornamental peach. And countless shrubs and flowers.

“It’s like being in the country. We have plenty of privacy and our neighbors are very friendly,” she said.

Aside from consulting gardening books and magazines, she did all the landscaping herself, she said.

“I have moved so many things in these 18 years. I planted them wherever I liked and if they grew, I let them be. If not, I moved them. I had no professional help at all.

“This all stems from when I was a little girl,” she said. “My maternal grandmother gave me a cutting from a rose bush. She said to put it in the ground and cover it with a quart mayonnaise jar to keep the moisture in. I did and a rose bush grew from that.”

She lived with her grandmother on Fairmont’s East Side. When she married Rusty, they continued to live in town. But he’d grown up in the country, so they bought this property.

“He cleared it and I put the gardens in out of my passion for gardening — and I wanted to cut down on mowing. But little did I realize there is more work in gardening than mowing!” she laughed.

Many of the shrubs she purchased. But a lot were start-ups from dividing mature plants, or from seeds or dropped branches that took root.

It takes a lot of time, effort and money to achieve an oasis like this.

And none of it is thanks to her four-legged enemies: deer and groundhogs.

The deer love hostas. So she stopped planting them. A walk around the garden reveals many plants that have been deadheaded by munchies-driven deer.

“I’ve put up a liquid fence. It’s a fighting battle. They’re not even afraid anymore,” she said.

She keeps an electric fence around her vegetable garden. This year, she’s growing tomatoes, cukes, zucchini and peppers.

“Last year I had 120 tomato plants! Believe me, I canned and canned and canned.”

She’s considered going into the nursery business. Or maybe photography. But she’s not sure just exactly what her passion is.

“I have so many,” she said. “I did hair for 33 years and gave that up.”

Even today, the yard is a work in progress, with weekends usually dedicated to planting this, pruning that or adding something else. Like the patio she and Rusty put in one Memorial Day weekend.

“We work well as a team. He had great ideas,” she said.

Some things are not what they seem to be.

“Those steps in the terrace? Not all of them are stone. I made forms and wanted to make them look like stones. Rusty and I mixed the concrete and we stained it. We pulled the forms off and I picked away at them to look like stone.”

It’s relaxing to come home at night to work in the garden, she said.

“There’s always something to do. It’s home. We love it here.”

Most people would have stopped at some point.

“But I guess it’s an obsessive compulsion with me,” Wilson said. “I love to see things grow.

“I think a lot of what I do, I do for my mother (Mary Allessio). She loved gardening. It seems like when she passed away, my passion (for gardening) left. I didn’t seem to have it as much as I did.”

In the front lawn stands a tri-colored beech, which she planted in her mother’s honor.

“A couple of months ago, it was hot pink and green,” she said. “It was beautiful.”

Having lush gardens seems to run in her family.

“My sisters, their gardens are the same. Maybe not as big, but they’re still beautiful.”

She doesn’t have a favorite spot. Maybe the patio with the bench, where she and Rusty might sit in the evening, sipping a drink or two. Or maybe beneath the large umbrella just off the driveway. Or maybe just sitting on the terraced stones.

They even designed the colonial-style house.

“I knew what I wanted,” she said.

The screened-in back porch was originally a little stoop.

“We put a screen in because at the time we had two cats. They could come out and I wouldn’t have to worry about them,” she said.

She has no idea how many shrubs, flowers or trees she’s planted, she said.

“Believe me, I used to wake up and wonder if I should move this plant to there.”

Because she took things one plant at a time, she watched what she spent.

“If something was on sale, I’d buy maybe three of them. I knew I had such a large area. And dividing plants and planting from seed has helped, too.”

That’s her tip: Start small.

“Look through gardening books and magazines and the Internet. Get ideas and write down the things you like.”

Every Wednesday through September, Take 5 wants you to take us on a picnic. Submit your summertime recipes to Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or dwilson@timeswv.com.

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.