Cooper-Younger transforms modest yard into whimsical oasis

By Sharron Johnson

Connie Arduini, a native Memphian, moved to Dallas, Texas where she met and married Chris and brought him to her hometown after a nine year absence. In October of 1991 they bought the sturdy, nondescript bungalow located at 2053 Nelson. All the yard possessed was an enormous willow oak tree on the northwest corner of the property that is still there and grass. Connie says, “blah is the only way to describe it.” After Chris passed away in 2004, Connie was ready for the garden to make a transformation, a metamorphosis if you will.

As you approach this cheery home with all of its charm, you’ll see a sunny yellow door flanked by matching stationary shutters. It beckons all that pass to enter the garden. The first step into the front yard is defined by two mature hostas and beds edged with Arkansas fieldstone leading up to the front walk. On the west side, the same fieldstone creates a circular bed that wraps around the enormous willow oak that looks to be as old as the 1923 house. There is the sweetest birdhouse attached to the side of the tree that is fashioned out of old tin ceiling with a doorknob and plate. Under the tree, the bed is scattered with more hostsas, various ferns, potted caladiums, and impatiens. Water for wildlife is provided in a birdbath made with a concrete base, a terra cotta pot, and broken pottery with a blue and white motif. The opposite side of the yard is a small patch of grass that is a nice rest for the eyes. The porch is bordered on the east with azaleas, cast iron plant, and burning bush. On the west is all hydrangeas, which came from her mothers home.

This typical masculine bungalow has tapered, squared off porch posts. Connie and her long time friend Jimmy, who is in the construction business, transformed these posts into shelves that hold the many potted house plants that are brought indoors during the cold months. The porch is also an extension of the home, with three separate seating vignettes. Very inviting with corbels, stained glass windows, figurehead planters, and clever uses of repurposed architectural pieces. The turquoise distressed paint job on the screen doors and accent pieces tone down the manly feel.

Meander down the driveway on the east of the property on a 12”x12” block path that is trimmed in used brick, and it takes you to a scene out of a fairy tale book. You’ll encounter an antique double louvered door equipped with cool fixtures and peeling turquoise paint with old white porch posts on either side topped with an interior door header trim. Its base is planted with more ferns in this shady oasis and is the icing on the cake of what is yet to come.

Upon passing through the doors, there is storage on the east. To the west, a plant potting alcove is constructed of all types of construction cast offs such as louvered doors, tin ceiling, corrugated tin, corbels, and windows, and it also includes an old single basin sink that looks to be from the 1930s, complete with a mirror. The windows to the house above the potting area have the most wonderful wrought iron planters painted a stunning dark rose with, yet again, old shutters with the greatest patina I’ve ever laid eyes on. I now have patina envy.

Then you enter a sunny wonderland of a back garden where no nook has been neglected. With Jimmy’s endless supply of cast offs and curb finds, it is refreshing that what would have been landfill is now art, such as the planter made with old turned legs and a tin box, shutters painted red, and a teal painted window. Sheer delight. The board fence with a lattice topper painted a smoky blue surrounds the back yard. The east and west corners are turned into grotto style alters with an old pedestal sink filled with begonias on the east and a potted bird of paradise on the west. There are five boxwoods that file along the back fence connecting the grottos. There is a Bermuda grass lawn in the center of the garden that is a gateway to an iron arbor, flanked with loropetalum that offer year round color and a pink floribundas rose bush that was salvaged from the neighbors’ home that burned down. Next is the largest cluster of crystals I’ve seen in my life. It belonged to Chris, and now it has a place of honor here in the garden. From there, a brick path leads to an arbor-covered deck that attaches to the screened in back porch. The deck is fully equipped with Connie’s mother’s red glider, and the yard has forsythias that were from her mom and grandmother’s gardens. There are also tomato plants and peonies on the sunny west side. The finish of this garden tour is the dense, shady area just west of the covered deck that has a huge crepe myrtle as a centerpiece. There is a cool seating area that has a fieldstone floor and a bit of whimsy. There are Volkswagen hubcaps at the base of the tree and, of course, more cozy seating. The only plant that has survived this deep shady area is a Toad lily in a pot that is stretched to the side looking for a little more sun.

This is a gardener’s delight of pass along plants and construction cast-offs that is worthy of admission.