Garden of Love

By staff February 1, 2003

The garden that Sally and Richard Myers call a work in progress surrounds their small downtown home with color, creativity, sculpture and a persistent sense of curiosity and wonder. It's a metaphor for their marriage-a surprise union that neither was expecting but that keeps blossoming in felicitous ways.

Sally, a watercolor artist and the owner of an entertainment agency, was 55 and a first-time bride when she married Dick, a 60-year-old divorced accountant she met through a mutual friend. They wed five years ago at a ceremony at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens near an ancient banyan tree. The garden setting was prophetic, since when the couple bought a home, the first thing they thought about was creating a garden. Selby Gardens was their inspiration.

"The home had been built in 1990 by an architect and his interior designer wife," explains Sally. "It had clean, modern lines and an open floor plan with high ceilings and a number of glass walls. But there wasn't much of a garden, just some oaks and nicely positioned palms. While we were making some adjustments to the inside of the house, we decided to create a little garden of our romantic fantasies. It would be a place to entertain, sit and have morning coffee, watch the birds, and a spot for me to paint outdoors. Gradually, one project led to another; and we've ended up with a series of small garden spaces including a swimming pool, deck, and special places to display outdoor sculpture we brought back from Mexico, where we honeymooned."

Dick retired from his Fort Myers accounting practice nearly three years ago. Then his new Sarasota career began. Never considering himself handy, he was suddenly composing mosaic glass tile designs, laying paving stones, installing an outdoor lighting system, constructing an arbor, building a deck, planting a butterfly garden and plenty more.

He says he owes his transformation from businessman to builder-botanist to the patient experts at Home Depot and Selby Gardens. He's a graduate of many hand-on seminars at both places. Sally is the colorist. Using her artist's eye, she picked out shrubs and vines on trellises for the backbone of the garden and then added some perennials as borders. She planted others in terra cotta pots so that she could cluster color and move the containers around the deck to create different looks. Most of the couple's plants were purchased at the Selby Garden plant fair and Farm & Garden.

Outdoor furniture came next, as the garden took on the look of Provence with bright blue and yellow hues. A large oak tree provides a canopy for one area, just right for sheltering Dick's collection of ferns. The butterfly garden occupies a sunny part of the yard. And near the swimming pool the ashes of their departed dog Muffin rest under a memorial stone. Dick included a potting bench in another part of the yard and an outdoor shower; and he planted sweet-smelling jasmine near the screened porch off the dining room. Orange and grapefruit trees provide fruit for breakfasts on the patio.

The front entrance to the couple's yellow-and-white house became a welcoming streetside garden of palms, ferns and flowering bushes, which soften the sharp architectural angles of the residence. When you enter through the clear glass front door, you look all the way out to the swimming pool and gardens. "I guess it precludes skinny dipping," says Sally, "but we love the way the indoor and the outdoor spaces merge."

Sally's special garden space is a long, narrow alley to the side of the house bordered by flowers on one side and on the other, a covered with bleeding heart vines. The area is crowned by a rustic arbor. "I had always wanted just such an arbor and Dick made it for me," she says. "I take my paints out there and set them up on a table he constructed and I listen to the birds and the sound of the water while I paint. It's just wonderful."

The couple decided against installing a sprinkler system in favor of watering by hand. That is Dick's job, and he says the very act of walking through the small garden areas with a hose provides a satisfying-and practical-connection with the planted areas. " I can see my mistakes," he says with a laugh, "like the ferns that are overtaking the crotons. I need to remember to prune. I can see what needs attention and what specimens might do better in a different location. I watch birds, butterflies and squirrels at play out there and once in while I spy a black snake or a possum. This garden has taken on a life of its own." 

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