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This four-square was built in 1912 in true American style.

By Sharron Johnson

The 2019 Cooper-Young Garden Walk has come and gone. I’m only at liberty to say, that it was a huge success. I won’t give statistics in this article; that’s Kim Halyak’s glory to bask in. All I will say is, fantastic job, Kim! Be looking for a recap from her soon in The LampLighter

Now, down to the business at hand. Our June yard of the month belongs to Matt and Beverly Tsacoylanis. They reside at a 1982 Walker. 

Their home is an olive-green four-square. What is a four square, you may ask? Well, four squares are not as plentiful as the arts and crafts, bungalows, or even Queen Anne cottages that I’ve mentioned in many past articles. A four-square is rightly named. These are boxy, two story houses. The front door can be front and center or offset to the side. Most have a front porch that runs the length of the house or embrace a simpler design with a small portico over the front door. Some have exposed rafter tails or boxed porch posts. Some have neither. 

During the housing boom in CY, roughly the late 1800’s-1929, some were built here to fill the needs of homeowners that needed more room. I can relate. 

According to Oldhouseonline.com: “Builders in the early 20th century referred to this type as ‘truly American … the square type of modern home,’ ‘massive’ and ‘conservative.’ Whether done plain or embellished with Prairie School, Arts and Crafts, or Colonial Revival details, the American Four Square (1895–1929) was an economical house to build — and suited to small lots, prefab parts, and the housing boom. Foursquares seemed to spring up almost overnight. There were none in 1890. By 1910, thousands had been built.”

This four-square was built in 1912 in true American style. It faces south, getting a direct shot of the sun in the front yard which is ideal for planting those colorful perennials and annuals that require the bright light. In the street-view garden a redbud tree has been planted to the west of the space, which over time will shade the yard. The redbud is native, so it will be very easy on the upkeep and will attract the pollinators needed for a healthy garden. A small kidney shaped bed defined by Arkansas field stone near the driveway is a home for a birdbath, several kinds of iris, and a milkweed plant to attract butterflies, mainly the monarch. There is also a black leaf crepe myrtle in the bed. 

Running the length of the front porch is a short hedge row of boxwoods. The smell of hybrid tea roses fills the air. The roses and achillea fill in the bed, which is enclosed with the same Arkansas field stone. Down the drive is a row of mature crepe myrtles that have grown into a screen of sorts between the neighbors. As soon as you pass through a rustic wooden gate on the left is a delightful hydrangea. Down to the right is another large crepe myrtle acting as a cornerstone with a green/white hosta at its feet like fuzzy slippers at the edge of the bed. There are two cedar grow boxes filled to the brim with veggies. Then at ground level bed is a plethora of herbs. At the back of this space is a one-car garage.

A wooden fence surrounds the yard with three equally-spaced gaps where vines growing on trellises. Along the back of the house is a large wood deck with a fabric shade gazebo creating a shady sanctuary in this treeless space. Attached to the deck is a deep growing box containing a strawberry patch spilling over the edges. What a fun and educational garden this must be. 

Beverly, tell the reader about you and your brood.

My husband and I are busy working parents in our mid- and late-30s with two children, Adam and Owen, who will turn four-years-old very soon. As (possibly?) identical twins and with no other siblings, Adam and Owen are best friends and enjoy many shenanigans with each other and their fur-brother, Barley, a 13-year-old beagle mix. They are happy Little Lukers at Grace-St. Luke’s where they love to play and learn. They miss their YiaYia and Papou (Grandma and Grandpa) who live in North Carolina, and their maternal grandparents who live in New York City.

Are you and Matt from Memphis, and if not, where? 

I’m from New York City and Matt is from just outside of Boston. When I was growing up my backyard was mostly concrete, but our neighbors on all sides (the next street over and both our neighbors on our street) had lots of lush yards with trees and tall plants. Matt’s parents had a small garden in their yard where they grew cucumbers and tomatoes mostly. We both wanted to take advantage of the lower cost of housing in the Mid-South to get a house with a fenced-in yard (for our dog, we had no kids back then) and a lot of green space where we could start learning more about gardening.

How long have you been in CY? 

We’ve lived here since May 2013. For the first year we rented in Cooper-Young to be close to the university and downtown, so we could take some time to find the right house to buy in the right neighborhood in Midtown. We wanted to live in an eclectic, diverse, and liberal area that was centrally located — about 10 minutes to downtown, and about 20 minutes to East Memphis. Cooper-Young was the perfect fit for us.

Besides being mommy and daddy full time, what are your professions? 

I am a tenure-track professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Memphis, and it was accepting that offer that brought us to Memphis from St. Louis, where I went to grad school for my PhD at Washington University in St. Louis. Matt has a JD from Northwestern Law School and completed an MBA here at the University of Memphis covered by FedEx, where he works now in digital marketing.

Any hobbies or passions you two pursue? 

I love singing karaoke and reading historical and speculative fiction, sci-fi, and fantasy, and Matt loves playing strategic board games like Dead of Winter and Pandemic (which I play sometimes because it’s collaborative instead of competitive, and when we play competitive ones like Agricola he beats me and I’m kind of a sore loser.) We both love gardening, and being a member of the Cooper-Young Garden Club and participating in the garden walk for the past 3 years has taught us a lot and given us lots of great ideas and inspiration. As part of that, we are also members of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, and have family membership also to the Children’s Museum of Memphis and the Memphis Zoo, since part of our hobbies and passions are making sure our kids have lots of fun experiences outdoors and meeting other kids around the city

What was your garden like when you moved into your home? 

When we first bought our house in Cooper-Young in 2014, the previous owners had a chicken coop in the yard. We have never raised chickens before and didn’t want to start at the same time that we started being homeowners, so we asked that they remove the coop. We loved that they had already built a raised bed in the backyard though, and we were quick to start learning about strawberries and companion planting from that first summer. There were already some azaleas, boxwoods, crepe myrtles and an Eastern redbud tree when we moved in, as well as a dying dogwood tree close to the house that we removed for safety.

How long have you’ve been gardening? 

Pretty much since Aug. 2014, so almost five years.

Are you the primary gardener or is this a group effort? 

This is definitely a group effort. I’d say Matt does about 90% of the heavy lifting (literally — he moved a ton of pebbles, stones, and pavers when I was third-trimester pregnant with our twins in 2015, and he is the one that carries the cedar mulch, pea pebbles, sand, topsoil, potting soil, and gravel bags). He also built the cedar raised bed boxes. I help dig, plant, water, and prune the plants, and I do all the talking and socializing during the garden walks.

I know this is your 2nd year on the garden walk, and you were a secret garden this year. Tell the reader what it was like to go from a front garden only on your first year to your whole garden in one year. 

This is actually our third year doing the Garden Walk. Our first year, Kim Halyak encouraged us to participate even though we had almost nothing going on beyond the redbud tree and boxwoods in the front yard, four crepe myrtles on the side, and a raised bed in the backyard. She called it a “blank slate garden” and had the lovely idea to put a big sheet in the front yard for garden walk participants to write down ideas for us. Last year the theme was native plants, so we played up the redbud tree and planted a wonderful milkweed (butterfly bush) that attracted a lot of lively monarch butterflies. We were also classified as an edible/pollinator garden, and we played to our strengths there by showcasing our strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, tomatoes, and cucumbers. This year we’ve kept that all going, but we’ve also been more conscious of what to plant where; for example, we put our tomatoes by carrots, and we put onion chives and marigolds by the strawberries. We’ve got some very fast-growing spaghetti squash and cucumbers that are starting to muscle in on our beets and cauliflower (which we found out recently are winter veggies, so whoops!) We learned that you can cook the leaves of brussels sprouts and don’t have to wait for the sprouts, which is lucky because it turns out those are winter veggies, too! We also have rosemary, lemon thyme, lemon balm, lemongrass, spearmint and chocolate mint (in box planters of course), oregano, and parsley. Since we opened up the front and backyard for both days, the garden club lent us a docent to help out both afternoons, and Opal has been so helpful and encouraging of us and our hard work trying to get the gardens growing even while we raise two rambunctious kids and work full time.

My bad. I forgot you had the “blank slate garden” your first year. If you had to describe your garden to a new acquaintance, what would you say?

We are a young garden with lots of edibles and pollinators. A compost is a must. We put in only fruit and veggie bits now that we’ve learned that eggshells were attracting rodents.

Have you incorporated pass along plants from a family or friends in your garden? 

We have some rain lilies in a pot that were a gift from my P.E.O. chapter in Alton, IL, back when I was a grad student in St. Louis, and they’ve come back every year since, even now in year six. We also have some lovely bearded iris plants in our front yard that were a gift from a friend of a friend who is a staffer at the Benjamin Hooks Central Library, and even though the iris flowers only last a few days, it brings me so much joy to see those long, strong, pale green leaves all year long. Especially in the winter, when our redbud and crepe myrtle trees are so bare and our boxwoods look so dead, it’s comforting to see those steady iris leaves standing up and being green. It’s like they are whispering to me, we can get through this winter and so can you. The spring will be here before you know it, so get busy with the winter gardening!

What are some of the plants you have in your space? 

In addition to all the edibles I’ve already mentioned, we also have a lovely purple hydrangea in the yard, and a very tall (over 8 feet!) cone hydrangea that would probably keep on going if I let it. We also have four trellises — one in the front yard by our porch that has star jasmine climbing up and around it, and three in the backyard by our back fence helping guide our baby wisteria, trumpet vine, and clematis.

Any future plans on your garden space? 

We’d love to grow some amaranth in our front yard between the redbud and our newly planted black diamond crepe myrtle tree. We are also hoping our English lavender and our lemon thyme in the front yard will take over a bit more, and the yarrow will keep on growing so we can make some herbal tea. We also had echinacea in our front yard that looked wonderful and was already well established when we bought our house, but they all died and didn’t come back, so we’re planning to plant more.

What do you two love most about Cooper-Young? 

We love that people’s houses and front yards are all so different and that diversity is so welcome here, and that there are so many exciting and different restaurants and stores nearby. We love Two Rivers Bookstore, Railgarten, Stone Soup, Beauty Shop, Mulan, Sweet Grass, and DWJ Korean BBQ 2, and I love that Java Cabana, Bluff City Coffee, Muddy’s, and Otherlands are close by in case I’d rather work from a coffee (or cupcake!) shop than my office at the university or at my home office. It’s also a short drive to Crosstown Concourse, which is a new favorite place of mine and the kids since there’s so much to do there. Cooper-Young and Overton Square have really blossomed in the last five years, and it’s such an exciting time to invest in our neighborhoods and our community.