Mirth Makes Merry
By Carol Brock
Photos by weinrauchphotography.com
Someday Valerie Yates might like to garden herself. But for now she’s content with just having a garden, especially one brimming with mirth.
“My garden is playful; it makes me laugh,” Yates says of her Mapleton Hill landscape. Indeed, few gardens boast surprises like life-size statues of a crocodile, a rhinoceros and a tortoise, not to mention countless butterflies, bunnies, frogs and dragonflies, and likenesses of dogs, cats and wildlife.
Unlike the formal landscapes in the neighborhood, it’s OK to be a little wild, a little unshorn in Yates’ yard.
“I don’t want manicured; that’s not my style,” Yates says. She may have gotten her untamed aesthetic from her father, Charles, whom she spent hours tagging after as a child while he tended their Edgewater Park, N.J., landscape that was awash in azaleas, rhododendrons, tulips and tremendous trees. “It was just magic, his garden. He was a very, very happy guy,” Yates says. At the Martha’s Vineyard home he owned years later, Charles added statues to the landscape. “He had cranes at the water’s edge of his property, an elephant that greeted visitors out front and a pair of horses standing in the field.”
When her father passed away in 2000, Yates inherited his crocodile and rhino, but when they landed in her Boulder yard in 2007, their habitats were bleak. So Yates enlisted L.I.D. Landscapes to revamp the austere landscape. Their landscaper, J.P., put in the stonework, French lilacs and honeysuckle, and a trellised arbor with clematis, wisteria and mock orange. L.I.D.’s Becky Hammond later added feminine flourishes with exquisite flowerpots and rosebushes.
Then Anne Hartshorn of Boulder’s High Desert Designs took the reins in 2014. She solved several challenges by installing boulders to protect sensitive planting beds from Yates’ exuberant sheepdogs. She also replaced mulch with ground cover to keep the dogs from tracking it around, and brought some irrigation aboveground for more efficient management. And she figured out which plants would thrive in the yard’s challenging microclimates and sun and shade dilemmas. She planted hundreds of bulbs, including mini crocuses, jumbo tulips and alliums, which bloom sequentially over a period of weeks. “It was like slow-motion fireworks when they bloomed this spring,” Yates says.
But Hartshorn wasn’t too keen on the garden’s kitsch at first. “Now she creates habitats for my creatures,” Yates says. Hartshorn has even embraced the aesthetic for herself. “I now have [kitsch] in my own garden and I’m like, ‘Who am I?’” she says with a laugh.
The diligent Hartshorn also made Yates’ vision of a colorful and fragrant garden bloom. “I wanted my house and yard to look like a very charming bed and breakfast,” Yates says. “Like if you came up to a B and B that looked like this, you would be very excited for the waffles.”
After 11 years of “seeing what wants to live here” and precious tending, Yates says her garden is finally “softened and loosened and where it needs to be.”
In a recent excursion in her yard, “I saw the most gigantic bumblebee I’ve ever seen,” she says, “and that gave me a lot of hope.”
11 A play space for animals
22 A blooming arbor
33 A croc in a mirror
44 No formal curb
55 A safe place for cats
66 Fat ceramic birds