Robert and Betty Howe purchased their home at 2206 College Ave. in 2005. The house resembles model #165 from the 1908 Sears house catalog, the year it was built, with transitional Craftsman features, including an off-center covered porch that was hosting several napping cats during of our visit – none of them belonging to the Howe’s. At the time the Howe’s bought it, the home had been unoccupied since 2000. They undertook ambitious renovations to the structure, including an attic conversion to add bedrooms on the second floor.
Around 2005, while renovating the house, they also undertook a major landscaping project. It was designed by Elizabeth Anna’s Old World Garden, and included adding a sprinkler system, four inches of new dirt, and perennials. There was not much in the garden when they purchased the house, only two pecan trees in the back yard; they were retained to provide welcome shade for the deck, where potted plants and burbling fountains provide an opportune habitat for Fairmount’s winged residents. The side yards and the driveway are planted with multiple examples of a few types of plant for maximum visual impact: here mondo grass and wandering Jew (tradescantia). Since 2005, Betty Howe has added “friendship plants,” many from her departing neighbor Mrs. Gomez, as well as annuals she buys at Archie’s or Calloway’s for added seasonal color. Mrs. Gomez’s plants, including mondo grass, fill in the driveway. Of those gifted plants, Betty says the Mexican petunias (ruellia brittoniana) were “the biggest mistake I ever made in the garden”; nearly a decade later, the Howes still fight to keep them from taking over the front yard. Betty reports that she gets the most compliments on her pink mounding phlox, which offers a lovely contrast to the grey-green of the house; the phlox “makes a great showing in the winter and spring when there is little else to look at.” In the heat of the summer, the stars of the garden are Betty’s heat- and drought-tolerant plants: Texas native Turk’s Cap, (Malvaviscus drummondii), purple cone flower, (Echinacea purpurea), creeping rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus'). The front yard also features drought-tolerant trees, including two white crepe myrtle trees, and a pink weeping crepe myrtle, all currently in bloom.
More recently, within the last two years, the Howes added raised vegetable beds to their in-ground plantings; like so many of us, their motive was to produce home-grown tomatoes. The back yard, shaded by the old pecan trees, would not support vegetable gardening, so they opted for the front yard, with some worry that the raised vegetable beds might provoke disagreement among neighbors. Vegetable beds in front yards have been banned in communities from Tulsa, OK to Des Moines, Iowa, but in Fairmount, many folks are proving that front yard raised-bed gardening can be beautiful as well as useful. (Particularly attractive examples of front-yard vegetable beds can be found in the 1600 block of Hurley Ave.; for more on the fight to keep vegetable beds legal, visit patriot-gardens.com). Though it has been a mixed bag -- insects took most of the first year’s crop -- this year the heavy rains have improved yields, and all, Betty says “without dirty knees or a sore back.” Their commitment to an attractive and productive garden of low-water plants makes the Howes our pick for July yard of the month. They have our thanks, and a $35 gift certificate to C. C.’s Touch of Nature.
Yard of the Month selection committee: Steve Cocanower, Susan Harper and Bonnie Blackwell.