Skip to main content

Hands in the Dirt, Heart with Nature

The Forest at Duke has been honored with many awards and recognition.

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.” — Alfred Austin

 

An assortment of lovely, resident-maintained gardens can be found in cottage yards around The Forest, but one particularly striking corner of the campus lies between residents Carol McFadyen and John Duvall’s garage and patio. The garden, which the couple readily admits is a constant “work in progress,” features a host of eye-catching plants and blooms, including hostas, day lilies, Rudbeckia (commonly known as black-eyed Susans), and coral bells.

Indeed, the border is heaving with splashes of color, texture, and other aesthetic aspects important to its appeal. In addition to plant life galore – red coleus, coneflowers, million bells, and Angelonia, for example – the garden is home to a number of decorative items. Among the beautiful and fragrant blossoms are a soothing fountain feature feeding into a small pool, a perimeter of grey slate edging, a copper-topped birdhouse, and a smiling concrete statue from Carol’s parents’ home that sat under a river birch in their backyard for almost 55 years.

Alluding to her family’s penchant for saving all sorts of things, Carol reflects, “I must admit, I follow in their footsteps and couldn’t imagine not bringing that statue with us. So many memories flood back as I look at that garden elf.”

The garden statue, originally from Carol’s parents’ backyard, sits next to the water feature. Look closely and you’ll spot a few tree frogs (two on the pool’s edge, one in the water among the greenery) enjoying the shade.

More fun together

Carol and John, sharing life’s adventures together for two decades and counting, have lived in the Forest community for four years. Their mutual love of gardening initially brought them together, and they’ve enjoyed bouncing ideas off of each other ever since, particularly when it comes to their gardens and landscaping. “It’s more fun to garden with somebody,” Carol smiles, looking at her husband.

The two came to The Forest from Fayetteville, North Carolina, where they maintained a very large garden, measuring at least 120 feet long. “We both inherited our love of gardens, but our skills and enthusiasm have truly flourished in the 20 years we have been together!”

Hostas make a nice complement to the garden
John’s green thumb is evident in this monstrous 50″ wide hosta.

Their insatiable desire to work the earth and create distinct palettes and natural layers comes honestly to Carol and John. Carol’s grandmother loved gardening and handed her passion down with great enthusiasm. John’s mother loved irises and ordered them from breeders on the West Coast. She brought them to Baltimore for the family to enjoy.

Now retirees and happy members of the Forest family, Carol and John share responsibility for their garden’s care. In the hot North Carolina sun, it best suits the couple to labor in the garden during times when the heat isn’t overly oppressive. For Carol, that means rising early and tending the plants before the sun fully rises. She keeps lots of color in the large flower pots speckling the front yard, while John showcases his passion for day lilies and especially hostas, maintaining some 50” wide monsters that traveled here with the couple from Fayetteville. In John’s case, gardening later in the day, before the sun fully sets, is favorable.

A successful garden, against all odds

One of the many flower pots around the cottage, brimming with color and lovingly maintained by Carol’s talented hands.

Moving to Durham has presented the happy gardeners with a few challenges. Thankfully, these hurdles are easily overcome with a bit of creativity and good cheer. In Fayetteville, for example, the ground is very sandy and provides a much easier base for gardening. The transition to the red and sometimes white clay of Durham has been a doozy; clay is very difficult to turn over for plants, but the couple makes do.

Rabbits have also proven to be real pests and tend to snack on the Rudbeckia blossoms. Carol and John have tried a number of ways to repel the fuzzy creatures from their part of the property. Rabbit spray and Irish Spring shavings do little to turn the animals away. “I tried to be Mr. McGregor, but I’m missing a pitchfork!” John laughs.

A blooming habitat for many

Wildlife indeed helps itself to the benefits of the garden, like goldfinches plucking the blooming black-eyed Susans for seeds. Plenty of animals call the border and its surrounding landscape home, if not just a temporary sanctuary.

Creatures spotted in the yard include dragonflies, hummingbirds, butterflies, toads, five-lined skinks, praying mantises, and a four-foot black snake. Four grey tree frogs enjoy wading in the small pool beneath the fountain. A cluster of tiny tadpoles have taken up residence in the cool water. If the tadpoles survive the Southern summer, Carol and John assume they will grow into tree frogs, too.

A picture perfect view

Lovely flowers in a garden
The day lilies are dressed to impress!

The garden environment lends itself to a relaxing and picturesque setting. In addition to the croaking frogs and trickling water fountain, the patio is graced with the sound of melodious bird calls.

The area is great for bird watching. The tree line separating the yard from a popular road is a place of refuge for avian species traveling on a migration route. Along this “bird highway,” Carol and John have seen a number of feathered friends over the years: red-shouldered hawks, brown thrushes, American crows, robins, cardinals, a gorgeous barred owl, and plenty more.

A side view of the garden belonging to John and Carol
A side view of the garden, showcasing the bright, golden glory of the Rudbeckia.

The sliding glass door leading to the couple’s patio – an extension of their living room – perfectly frames the garden in such a way that no view of the road or any other buildings may be seen.

The garage wall and part of the yard are all that is visible from the living room vantage point, along with 10-foot junipers lining the back end of the lawn.This gorgeous scene allows Carol and John to feel as though they live in their own private and secluded oasis.

The quiet nature of their cul-de-sac and the lovely window framework looking out onto their yard were major tipping points leading to the couple’s decision to move to the community. The sun rises right outside the patio door; when the light touches the dew on the grass each morning, Carol notes, “It is spectacular.”

Brightening The Forest beyond the garden

The couple’s love for gardening extends well beyond their cottage yard. Three years ago, the Residents’ Association was concerned with how to improve the interiors of the Health & Wellness Center, seeking to spruce it up and add color and joy to the atmosphere. Members sent a list of ideas to the Forest administration, and soon the Interior Gardens Committee was born!

The Gardens Committee is a subset of the Grounds Committee. This intrepid group of gardeners, comprised of 14 volunteers in 2019, has grown in membership since its inception. The volunteers plant pots and beds in the spring and water them through September. John is the committee chair; he has held this position for two of the three years the committee has been at work.

Whether tending to gardens at home or out in the Forest community, Carol and John have a knack for enhancing the beauty of their surroundings. Their inherent green thumbs – coupled with their natural gift of painting dazzling landscapes with greenery and flowers – nurture flora, fauna, and appreciative humans all around the neighborhood!

Lauren Young, Marketing Specialist

Explore the blog