Free spirit’s personality planted firmly in Cooper-Young yard

By Sharon Johnson

If you’ve driven down on south Cox Street, just past Walker Avenue, you couldn’t help but notice a “plant-topia” bursting at its seams. This space, officially 1041 S. Cox, has belonged to Heidi Knochenhauer, originally from Placerville, California.

This home is a light brown house with tan and sky blue accents that sits very close to the street. Let me put it like this: If you were to draw a hopscotch on the front sidewalk entry, you would get to the #4 square. It is cozy, as most of the South East Quadrant of Cooper Young is.

When you walk up the front stoop there is a stacked Arkansas field stone encompassing the entire sidewalk edge topped with Blue Rug Juniper and creeping phlox that is dwarfed by the explosion of the blooms of the perennial cosmos. Heidi says they are self-seeders that she shares freely with the neighbors, as she does with the crepe myrtle sapling from her 3 mature specimens.

The entire yard, to the right and left and even down the sides, is planted with perennials, annuals, trees and shrubs except a tiny footpath through the top of the bed along the porch. They include: canna, ginger, black-eyed Susans, elephant ears, pink encore azaleas, mums, lantana, hostas , Lemon Tree with a lemon on it, Ornamental Peppers, Hydrangea, Bamboo, fig and pomegranate trees, not to mention the large bottle tree! Oh, and I don’t want to forget the Banana trees!!

We asked Heidi to give us a tour:

What brought you to Memphis and then to CY?

I stumbled upon the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas in my 1980 VW Westfalia in 1999 by helping a dear friend who traveled from festival-to-festival selling items. This was the first time I experienced the blues, specifically the Delta blues. Approximately two weeks later, I moved to Memphis to soak up all the blues I could and be as close enough to Helena, so I would never miss the King Biscuit Blues Festival. I immediately fell in love with the trees and the Midtown architecture: the churches, houses, Mid-South Coliseum, and was specifically drawn to Cooper-Young because of the Media Co-op (a digital cooperative no longer in existence), the people, numerous restaurants, stores, and it felt like home.

I remember seeing on a sidebar on a Facebook page or some other site that stated you are the owner/ founder of 38104 Gear, a grant writer, and a rocket scientist, maybe not in that order?

I am a teacher at heart and taught for Memphis City Schools for only a year. After leaving teaching, I joined the corporate world by teaching CRM to pilots and re-writing pilot checklists for the C130J for the [United States Marine Corp] and [United States Coast Guard]. I had an exit strategy nine years ago to leave the corporate world by writing grant proposals. I took the leap of faith and am now a successful master grant writer working for numerous non-profit organizations in Memphis and across the country, as well as the owner/founder of 38104 Gear (, a life drawing model, garlic queen, transcriptionist, and a tubist. I like to call myself a “Jane of all trades, master of many.

What was your yard and house like when you moved in?

The front yard was just grass; no flowers, no trees, and no walkway or stairs from the sidewalk to the porch. My fabulous ex-father in-law, who also grows the incredible organic garlic, poured the concrete to create another walkway with stairs from the sidewalk to the porch and inserted broken plates and marbles on each side of the walkway.” The house is a two story, 4 gabled, composite cottage built in 1922 and is well appointed with flora and fauna and kitsch.

I know you have many plants packed into a small yard to keep out weeds, but you told me the reason was advice from whom?

I had a conversation with Pat Anderson from Bella Notte (a boutique in Cooper-Young, no longer open which was located next to Loudeans) many years ago and told her that I was constantly weeding my front yard. She said, in her sweet southern accent, ‘The way to combat weeds is to plant more flowers. Mother Earth wants to be covered.’ I took her advice, and planted so many flowers that I’ve almost run out of room in my front yard. Now I’m working on my backyard.

Your crepes are what colors?

The first crepe myrtle I planted in 2003 was called firecracker from Dabneys Nursery. A year later, the firecracker crossbred with a white crepe myrtle down the street and numerous crepe myrtle seedlings grew everywhere in my yard and are still growing well. I’ve shared my additional crepe myrtle seedlings each year with various CY neighbors, or I plant them in my neighbors yards. The colors are pink, purple, and white. I’m willing to share any of my crepe myrtle seedlings in the fall or spring with neighbors. I gave my postal worker one the other day.

How do you describe you garden style?

My gardening style is free and wild, similar to guerrilla gardening. I tend to choose hot colors of flowers. I have over 50 different varieties of flowers in my yard. I’ve been planting 500 to 700 bulbs a year since 2003. I share the bulbs with my neighbors, too, as well as my seedling crepe myrtles. I try to make South Cox, the South East Quadrant of Cooper-Young — or “Down on Cox” as my neighbors would say — an oasis of flowers, similar to Kauai, Hawaii where I once lived. I believe in the beautification of a neighborhood can enhance the value of homes, improve the reputation of a neighborhood, and studies have shown an attractive neighborhood can lead to better behaviors.

I listed a rather long list of shrubs, perennials, but those banana trees! I counted 16 of them. How do you treat them in the winter and when do you cut them back?

The first year I had my banana trees, I would cut the trunks down by the end of November to about 3 feet above the ground and place a bale of hay around the trunks and cover with plastic. However, about six years ago, I forgot the plastic and only placed hay around the trunks, and the banana trees still grew in March and continue to multiply year after year. I buy two bales of hay to cover all the banana trunks.

The porch is teaming with potted plants, gnomes, and a semi-life sized stuffed court jester in full Mardi Gras regalia of beads and galoshes that reminds me of New Orleans.

Yes, I love New Orleans. It’s my sister city. I would love to paint my house three or five awesome colors like a house in New Orleans. My foyer is actually called the French Quarter. I found the jester and bottle tree on the side of the road in Cooper-Young. Memphis has the best sidewalk finds for FREE. I love gnomes because they protect the yard, and my friends keep giving them to me as gifts.

There is a gorgeous wooden front door with a stained glass window and the transom over the door is the house number also done in stained glass. The casework on the door has been stripped and left to its own devices with bits of its past life peaking through its aged crevices. Tell me about these pieces.

The 1041 stained glass transom above my door was already in the house when I purchased in 2003. I heard the woman who owned the stained glass place in Cooper-Young many years ago created it. My stained glass white oak door was purchased last year from South Front Antiques. I have other stained glass in my windows throughout my house that were specifically designed and created for me by Suzie Hendrix at Rainbow Studios.

Looking up at the top of the porch is a beautiful five-globed light pendant, Turkish I believe. Were you inspired by (mutual friend and Cooper-Young resident) Haynes Knight’s Turkish pendent lights, and where did you get them?

I’ve always been inspired by mosaic designs because I have an artist friend, Mary Jo Karimnia, who created a mosaic hula girl in my shower. Then I saw Haynes’ Turkish pendent lights at his house,and thought I MUST find and buy those lights for my porch. I purchased my mosaic porch lights last March directly from a dealer from Turkey on eBay. It took about six weeks to ship; well worth the wait because the lights are absolutely incredible at night, especially with the stained glass door.

Are there any plants that have an interesting story or are dear to you?

A friend of mine bought three hardy banana trees for me as a house-warming gift because I was inspired by the banana trees along Nelson. I have white ginger that was given to me from a neighbor on Nelson. I can’t remember his name — the guy who organizes the booths are CY fest), The white ginger is incredible in my front yard, blooms in August, and I share the roots with others. I’ve been given cannas by two different neighbors, and an ex-boyfriend planted a fig and a pomegranate tree in my yard. Both fruit very well. My neighbor is a hobbyist florist, and I share my flowers with her to create centerpieces. Most of my bulbs come from a Dutch company, and many of my plants are from Gardens Oy Vey and Dabneys Nursery.

Didn’t you tell me that future plans for the back yard are waiting on trees to be taken down? You have chickens, right?

I have a few trees needing to be cut down before I design the plan for my backyard. Also, I have two chickens, Priscilla and Jonna, who free-range in my backyard, and hop into their wagon train coop at night. The girls will be getting a new coop soon that was built by my neighbors Billy and Jeff. I plan on adding solar lights and painting it pink and white.

I’m sure all of Heidi’s neighbors would agree that she has created a delightful ever-changing garden for all to enjoy where there was once only grass. Thanks for picking Memphis as your home!