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.

Metal butterflies and dragonflies on a backyard shed flit above shade-loving hostas and foxglove, while a cat sculpture hosts a birdbath on an upstretched paw and a giant tortoise perches in the corner. The boulders help prevent Valerie’s sheepdogs, Henry and Maggie, from trampling the plants.

“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.

Valerie got the sheepdog welcome sign on her front porch at a dog-rescue auction. “He has different outfits for different seasons: a pilgrim suit, a bee, a strawberry, a swimsuit. So again, things that make me laugh,” she says. “I’m not serious. I’m on the Parks and Recreation advisory board, so it’s summer camps, bike paths, pools and parks.” A ceramic snail sits on the table below the sign. “The snail is for the mail. When I put mail out, I put it under the snail.”

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

Boulder tree sculptor Lueb Popoff carved a rotted silver maple in Valerie Yates’ front yard into a hiding/play space for wooden animals, including a fox, a raccoon, an owl, a bear and a squirrel.

1. A play space for animals

22 A blooming arbor

Valerie’s arbor vines have been slow to blossom. “What surprises me most is when something that’s barely been creeping along suddenly makes a dramatic appearance, like the clematis and the honeysuckle,” she says. “They’ve been in place for years, but only recently started to bloom.”

2. A blooming arbor

33 A croc in a mirror

A lifelike crocodile statue admires itself in a mirror. Landscapers used a Bobcat outfitted with a sturdy sling to set the croc in his shady rock-and-soil habitat.

3. A croc in a mirror

44 No formal curb

Valerie couldn’t stand the idea of a formal curb in front of her house, but seasonal water pouring down the street would flood her neighbor’s home because of its angled driveway. “I told her I would figure something out,” says Valerie, who added river rocks instead of a curb. “The rocks are like a riverbed. They keep the water flowing down where it should, so I didn’t have to add a permanent curb.”

4. No formal curb

55 A safe place for cats

Valerie built an enclosed shelter for her three cats, Sprout, Simon and Layla, so they could access the outdoors. “I love that they have a safe place, and for the most part, it keeps the birds safe,” she says. She added rocks around the perimeter so wild animals can’t dig their way inside. Shelves at various levels offer the cats places to lounge and soak up sunshine.

5. A safe place for cats

66 Fat ceramic birds

Boulder artist Brenda Garnett crafted the whimsical ceramic totem to the right of the porch. It features fat ceramic birds separated by ceramic rings that she glazed in vibrant colors.


6. Fat ceramic birds
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