The Times West Virginian

June 6, 2012

Teetotal sanctuary

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — A couple of years ago, Anita Stevens probably couldn’t tell a rose from a rhododendron.

That changed when a friend suggested putting in a little flower bed.

“And that’s all it took,” Stevens said. “One thing led to another and I went out of control. Now Shawn (her husband) says if I make another flower bed, he’s gonna disown me!” she laughed.

“Now I can tell you what flowers are what, where they’re supposed to go and all that,” she said proudly.

Her gardens are more than dirt and flowers.

“They’re my getaway. I never thought I’d be saying that!”

And she doesn’t have a patch of petunias here and bed of begonias there. Her gardens are eye-catching statements of space and form.

Like the elegant garden transformed from an “eyesore of weeds and trees and everything” partly on a neighbor’s property. She asked permission to work with it and turned it into a restful spot with flowers and Adirondack chairs.

“It’s amazing what I’ve learned,” she said. She now knows where plants grow best, which need more sun or water, what kind of food they need. Garden-y things like that.

“Not all plants are treated alike,” she said. “I had a hydrangea on one side of the house. It had the most beautiful green foliage, but it never bloomed. I moved it to the other side, where it got more sun, and it finally bloomed.

“Your garden is your personality. Every rock in my flower beds I’ve dug up in my yard. Every stone, big or small.”

She designs her gardens herself, she said, getting ideas from magazines or sometimes just moving things around a little.

“It’s fun,” she said.

“The long garden with the stacking pots was teetotally just trees, woods, poison ivy and everything. My husband and I just started to clean it up, and one thing led to another.”

She tried a wildflower garden once.

“I wasn’t into that at all. You couldn’t see anything. I like each plant to be by itself so you can see it.”

Neighbors would use a path to walk to the park. She saw a beautiful garden waiting to be born. She asked the neighbor permission to cut down the growth and planted some bushes.

As she likes to say, one thing led to another, and soon she’d put in an old bench, some leftover landscape timbers and flower bed rocks.

“It was hard work but satisfaction,” she said. Toss in some chairs and it’s the perfect place to drink her coffee and listen to the birds.

“You can’t even imagine I live in city limits. It’s really so quiet,” she said.

The stacking pots “are the neatest thing,” she said. “My husband cut down a tree, and I got tired of looking at the stump. I got a drill bit, cut a hole in the trunk, put in a bamboo stake and stacked my pots.

“It makes a very nice focal point for people to see,” she said.

She gets her stuff where she can: rocks from Marion County Parks and Recreation Commission’s nearby East Marion Park, landscape lumber from wherever, rocks from her own yard.

One garden is graced by an arbor, Adirondack chairs and a burning bush “that started out so little and now it’s big as all get out.”

Some people have gardens that cling to fences or houses. Stevens’ gardens boldly sit out in the middle of her yard, creating little spots to sit and drink in the sights and sounds of the outdoor life surrounding her.

“My gardens are my sanctuary,” she said. “It’s the gratification of seeing something you’ve planted growing from one year to the next.

“The most enjoyable thing is when you divide and give a plant out of your garden to somebody.”

If she gives you a flower, don’t say “thank you.”

“You’re supposed to say, ‘I’ll take care of it.’ It’s an old wives’ tale. I think because the flower is a gift to you and hopefully it will come back from year to year.”

That’s what she wants to hear when she gives flowers away.

“It’s the gratification of seeing how beautiful your gardens are.”

She’s always looking for something different for the garden.

“My son and husband get mad at me when I’m not here because they have to water the flowers. And the pots. That takes a lot of time. There are pots galore all over the place.

“Some people like to run or do aerobics. That’s their time. This is my time. I like to sit and watch the birds and the deer walking through the yard. If you see my dog, Sadiegirl, outside, you know I’m working in the garden.”

This allows her to move things around from year to year.

“I’ll look at pictures and decide what I need to get rid of or give to somebody,” she said.

 Shawn complimented her raised annual garden the other day, she said.

“We’d bought mulch for it, and he looked at it and said it really looks nice. I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’

“I’m hoping I’m done for the year,” she said, laughing.

Every Wednesday through June, Take 5 will be strolling through our readers’ lush gardens. To have yours featured, contact Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or

Email Debra Minor Wilson at