AN ARTIST’S TOUCH
A Texas gardener uses landscape-painting techniques to make her small backyard live large.
Despite the heat of San Antonio summers, a nonagenarian applies a trained painter’s eye to create depth and beauty in a small yard.
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“There are all kinds of tricks you can do to make a garden look larger,” says Country Gardens¨ award winner Eva Templeton. “My backyard isn’t that big. It’s what I did to it that makes it look big.” Eva, a retired art teacher, started putting her classical training and artist’s eye to work on her blank-slate backyard 40 years ago. Using visual tricks and ample elbow grease, she coaxed her suburban rectangle of lawn into a lush haven for birds and conjured the illusion of a more expansive landscape.
As a young art student in Germany, Eva studied the Old Masters. From their atmospheric landscapes she learned to use perspective, color, and balance. After immigrating to the United States and moving into a new home in San Antonio in 1978, she translated these techniques from the canvas to her landscape. Playing with perspective gives her shallow garden a greater sense of depth. “In a landscape painting, a dark shape in the foreground makes the brighter landscape in the distance seem endless,” she says. “That works in your garden too. Put a dark shrub or a big dark pot in the foreground to make the other side of your garden look farther away.”
Eva is generous with color in her garden beds, adding dashes of red,
pink, and purple flowers, but she wields her paintbrush with restraint when choosing accessories, opting for dark pots and gray-green paint for her custom garden shed. “It’s not fair to the flowers to compete with brightly colored pots,” she says. “It’s the flowers I want to see.” Symmetrical elements, such as a focal-point trio of shapely tuteurs and a large birdcage flanked by matching boxwoods, help her achieve a pleasing balance. “Everything has to be orderly,” Eva says with a smile. “I think that’s the German in me.”
Still a vigorous gardener at 96, Eva has found ways to make physical tasks easier. “To move pots around, I use a dolly, not a wagon. And move pots before you water them,” she says. The right tool also helps. Eva has more than 30 boxwoods, which require trimming twice a year. When her electric trimmer became too heavy for her, she switched to manual boxwood shears and kept on clipping. “To me, gardening is the best exercise you can do,” she says. “Without my garden, I don’t think I’d be here. It’s my paradise.”
TOP Eva Templeton trims boxwoods with English boxwood shears, which she finds easier to handle than her old electric hedge trimmers. ABOVE A sinuous bed along the fence is deep enough for clusters of Eva’s boxwoods as well as a colorful assortment of annuals and perennials, including red wax begonias, Knock Out roses, lily of the Nile (Agapanthus africanus), and a border of dwarf Mexican petunia (Ruellia brittoniana).
ABOVE One of 16 bird feeders in Eva’s garden, this elegant gazebo-shape feeder anchors a shady corner with symmetrically arrayed boxwoods and metal tuteurs. A flagstone path gives access for feeder refilling. “I love birds, and that’s why I never use pesticides,” Eva says. “The birds feed bugs to their babies.” BELOW Eva’s summer garden stalwarts, left to right: ‘Katie’ Mexican petunia (Ruellia brittoniana ‘Katie’), Phlox paniculata ‘Bright Eyes’, sunflower (Helianthus annuus), and moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora ‘Mojave Pink’).