Bring­ing yard­work to new heights

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE -

When you ap­proach Donna and Lis­ton Ta­tum’s home in the quaint vil­lage of Or­leans, Ver­mont, it is the deep and del­i­cate notes of the six foot long chimes that hang gra­ciously by the en­trance that first beckon you to their unique and beau­ti­ful

gar­den.

Once about ¾ of an acre of flat grass that needed con­stant mow­ing in the sum­mer, Donna, with some help from Lis­ton, slowly trans­formed her yard into a very ‘Zen-like’ out­door liv­ing space that just ex­udes tran­quil­ity. There are many peace­ful sitting ar­eas scat­tered around her now mul­ti­levelled yard, con­nected by a net­work of wind­ing peb­ble, stone and even re­cy­cled pal­let path­ways, and flower gar­dens. Also planted around the yard are six cherry trees, three pear trees, three ap­ple trees, nine blue­berry bushes, nine grape vines and four plum trees. “I get my fruit trees from a nurs­ery in El­more that grafts their own fruit trees, so they’re hardy for our area which is zone three and four,” men­tioned Donna. One back cor­ner is fenced off and ded­i­cated to a thriv­ing veg­etable gar­den.

“I bought this house in ’98 and started the yard work in 2000. I first built a re­tain­ing wall of brick and then cre­ated a raised area in the front,” said Donna who does all of her own land­scap­ing work. “I had a plan for the brick wall and the stairs, but ev­ery­thing else has just been evolv­ing, like life, chang­ing day to day,” she added.

The bulk of the yard trans­for­ma­tion ac­tu­ally took place in the sum­mer of 2009, when Donna was par­tic­u­larly mo­ti­vated: she wanted to hold her mar­raige to Lis­ton and the wed­ding re­cep­tion out­doors in their gar­den in Septem­ber.

“I was in heaven pre­par­ing for the wed­ding, work­ing day and night in the gar­den. It was also a great way to de­com­press from my rig­or­ous school year,” ex­plained Donna who had re­turned to school for a Nurs­ing de­gree, adding to her de­grees in Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Psy­chol­ogy.

What re­ally adds to the charm of Mrs. Ta­tum’s yard are some of the in­ter­est­ing ma­te­ri­als that she in­cor­po­rates into the gar­dens, like old lanterns, metal bed frames and head­boards, pieces of wrought iron fence, and beau­ti­ful pieces of drift­wood. “I find things in yard sales and get ‘junk’ from neigh­bours. I’ve got three bed frames out here in the gar­den. One was a com­plete bed that a friend gave me; I de­cided it would look bet­ter in the yard. An­other friend who re­cently passed away gave me a bro­ken plate to re­cy­cle. I painted the plate and at­tached it to a bed frame and now it’s a tribute to her mem­ory. I got these bro­ken tiles (be­ing used in a walk­way) from the hard­ware store, re­ally cheap, and these chunks of gran­ite (short col­umns of Stanstead grey, now hold­ing plants) were just ly­ing out­side the Nurs­ing Home where I work for days so I asked about them and no­body wanted them.” A small cof­fee ta­ble in one of her sitting ar­eas was made by glu­ing a round piece of glass to an old metal chan­de­lier placed up­side down; it looked great. A low wall edg­ing a flower gar­den was made from bro­ken paving stones when a neigh­bour had her path­way re­done.

Donna also used un­usual ma­te­ri­als to get rid of her grassy lawn as she re­claimed that nat­u­ral green car­pet. “I use rolls of black plas­tic or con­struc­tion grade drainage fab­ric to kill the grass where I put path­ways or pa­tios. Where I have ed­i­bles I use card­board and mulch to kill the grass.”

Huge rocks are also in abun­dance around the gar­den and I asked Donna where they came from. “One morn­ing I heard dy­na­mite go off at a neigh­bours. She was build­ing a garage so I asked what they were do­ing with all that rock. She was go­ing to pay to have it hauled away so I said to just drop it off in my yard!” That ex­plained the rocks but how on earth did she move them around? “I have a strong up­per body. It’s a bless­ing al­though it’s some­times hard to find clothes. And I use a ful­crum when mov­ing big rocks, a crow­bar to get lever­age. I traded some peren­ni­als with a man to get him to move these big rocks,” said Donna, point­ing to a few huge ones.

It’s not just hu­mans who are im­pressed with Donna’s gar­den­ing skills: an­i­mals also like the yard. “At times I’ll have five lo­cal cats and a dog hang­ing out in the gar­den. And birds love the yard, too.”

Nat­u­rally, Donna is pas­sion­ate about the art of gar­den­ing. I like the phys­i­cal ex­er­cise, the stretch­ing and the move­ment, the med­i­ta­tion and the quiet­ness. Your senses re­ally come to life when you’re sub­merged in na­ture. But it’s im­por­tant not to get frus­trated about what has to be done - but just to fo­cus on chang­ing one spot at a time.”

When asked what gar­den pro­ject she was presently work­ing on, Donna showed me a gi­ant urn that she was con­vert­ing into a fountain for a new sec­tion of re­claimed lawn. “I’ve also dis­cov­ered that some­times less is more, so I’ve taken out some flow­ers and plants and now it’s more peace­ful. Gar­den­ing is a ‘work­ing med­i­ta­tion’. I was ir­ri­tated about some­thing a few weeks ago so I came out to work in the gar­den. Na­ture brought me back to the mo­ment and a hum­ming­bird al­most landed on my nose!”

Mrs. Ta­tum is open­ing a small pal­lia­tive care fa­cil­ity, called “Sum­mer House”, in Or­leans in the near fu­ture and is plan­ning to con­duct gar­den tours as fundrais­ers for the fa­cil­ity.

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Gar­dener ex­traor­di­naire Donna Ta­tum re­laxes in a chair she saved from a neigh­bour’s fire pit, in front of a dec­o­ra­tive bed frame adorned with her ‘moon face’ bro­ken plate.

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