(Photo above) Edie planted perennials along the entire side of the couple’s townhouse, from the back deck to the front yard. “Over the past 20 years, they’ve reseeded each year and formed a thick cottage garden,” she says. She never cleans out the plot in winter, preferring to let the plants reseed and the seed heads feed wildlife in the colder months. In spring, three different-colored clematis vines drape the arbor.
Flowers, flowers and more flowers are the formula for joy in this garden
By Carol Brock
Photos by WeinrauchPhotography.com
Despite sciatica in both her legs from a lifetime of hunching over gardens, a single blossom still sends Edie Mandel over the moon. “Look at that echinacea,” she says, enthusiastically pointing to a pot on her patio. “It’s just unbelievable! Isn’t that flower wild?” she asks, as she lugs the plant indoors, limping a little from the effort. “I’ve never seen an echinacea like this, so I just had to get it! Isn’t it just the neatest thing?”
And it is, with spiky pink petals and a graceful stem. But to Edie, it’s a pot of pure happiness. Plants aren’t just a passion—she owned Garden of Edie, a commercial plant leasing and maintenance company with a 4,000-square-foot greenhouse, for many years in Austin, Texas. Plants are as necessary to her as air and water and food.
“I just love flowers, love ’em!” she says, in a thick Texas accent. In fact, she adores them so much that she and her husband, Theo, and their dog Dottie divide their time between two residences: a Boulder townhome and a condo in Scottsdale, Arizona. “I just want flowers all year long,” Edie explains. “That’s why I’m here and that’s why I go to Scottsdale. You can’t have flowers all the time unless you live where they can grow all the time.”
And boy, does she have flowers. Her Boulder cottage garden is awash in perennials and potted annuals of all shapes, sizes and colors. There’s crocosmia (her favorite), feverfew, yarrow, hosta, clematis, crocus, poppies, alyssum, tulips, impatiens, columbines, geraniums, penstemons, trumpet vine, bee balm—the list is endless. She’s tended the Boulder plot for almost 20 years, and her green thumb is evident in every square inch. But the garden wasn’t always as prolific and lush.
“This was all junipers when we moved in,” Edie recalls, and her HOA owns the land they were growing on. The junipers were so tall, “I was paying people to stand on the roof to trim them back.” The Mandels also paid people to bonsai them, but heavy snows kept snapping limbs, one of which broke an upstairs window in their house. “I just had to take them all out,” Edie says. She asked the HOA if she could grow flowers instead, but since the HOA’s land adjoins a public pedestrian path, the HOA said she wouldn’t have enough privacy. When Edie offered to pay for the tree removal, though, the HOA gave its approval.
The project took a toll on her physically, because the garden “soil” at that point consisted of thick, plastic weed barriers piled with a foot of gravel. “I just started throwing the dirt from my pots in there, just so some dirt would get in the rocks.” She started many things from seed, and got sage advice from a Sturtz & Copeland employee about which plants are hardiest here. “The first thing I asked her was, ‘What are the longest blooming things you have?’ Because I need things that bloom much longer than just three weeks. I need the longest blooming things you can get.”
She also needs color. If she has a garden philosophy, she says, it’s this: “First of all, so many people have this color thing, but I like a riot of color. I do not believe that everything needs to be purple and white, and then shades of purple. I just like a riot of color.”
Every Living Thing
Edie’s diligence paid off in what she calls an “eclectic garden” that gloriously blooms throughout the growing season. “Looking at flowers just makes me happy,” Edie says. “Even when I go to a place that has a lot of flowers, like a restaurant or whatever, I’m immediately happy.”
But that restaurant better take proper care of those flowers. “I have a hard time when I’m out and I see flowers and the soil’s dry,” Edie admits. “It’s hard for me not to put water on them. It drives me crazy to see things that need watering. I guess I think of them, not as human, but they’re living things and every living thing has to have water. When I see them without water, it makes me feel bad for them.”
So she sneaks in some care while “in a safe territory where people aren’t going to say, ‘What is she doing?’” Like at her tennis club, where she deadheads their petunias, but in the correct way. “You don’t just pull the bloom off, you have to pinch it off with a little bit of the green stem, or else it sets a seed and then it stops making flowers.”
The Mandels’ garden is always watered, weeded and tenderly cared for, even though Edie is at an age where it’s more difficult and had to hire a helper this summer. “I just have a real thing about wanting to watch over plants,” she says, adding that she also bought a book about accepting that you can’t garden like you used to.
But it doesn’t appear to have affected her garden. With perennials that have reseeded for 20 years, the staggering numbers of plants in her yard are blissful, beautiful and beaming. In truth, if her garden had a personality, Edie says it would be “happy and laughing and cheerful—very extroverted.”
Kind of like Edie herself.
“Maybe that’s it,” she says with a laugh. “Maybe it’s kind of like me.” It’s also a place to pay homage to the happy childhood she had in Houston, growing up with three siblings, loving parents and a feisty grandmother she called Ba-Ba, who sewed her clothes when she was a kid. She composes notes to her deceased parents and Ba-Ba about the dresses she remembers wearing, or family outings they took to the beach.
“I love writing them sweet notes, and then I bury them outside in the garden,” she says, nostalgia washing over her. “It’s regenerating.”
Just like the Boulder garden she returns to year after year after stints in Scottsdale. “Every year I come back, and it’s different,” she says. In fact, her favorite garden moments are discovering blooms she never planted, like a blanket flower here or a larkspur there.
“That makes me really happy.”