Bringing yardwork to new heights
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
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.
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.