Over the past seven years Mark Porter and Chris Harman have transformed the once neglected landscape that surrounds their Southern colonial style home in Midtown into a beautifully manicured traditional Southern garden.
The home — which once featured little beyond a couple camellias, some mature oak trees, a sandy front yard and a backyard piled with leaves — is now surrounded by neatly designed garden rooms, filled with a range of classic Southern plants and bordered by more than 600 well-groomed boxwood, each of them planted by Porter and Harman.
Porter and Harman are both avid gardeners but they’ve been working overtime in the garden this spring to prepare for the Keep Columbus Beautiful 2009 Tour of Gardens, which this year features 11 gardens in Midtown. The tour is June 12-13.
Beverly Kinner, co-chair for the 2009 Tour of Gardens, said Porter and Harman have built a stunning garden in a relatively short period of time.
“They started off basically with a blank canvas and just created this exquisite Southern garden,” Kinner said. “It’s wonderful.”
Kinner said each garden on this year’s tour features some sort of “wow factor.”
“There is something very special about each garden,” she said. “There are no huge gardens. The sizes run from small to medium-large. So individuals can walk away saying, ‘I can do that at home.’ It’s important for the visitor to be entertained, but also to be inspired.”
One of the highlights of Porter and Harman’s garden is a large antique iron fountain, which once adorned the Fort Benning Officers Club. Harman bartered for the fountain, which was sitting in disrepair in the back yard of an antique dealer and retired colonel who lives down the street. Harman sodded the retired colonel’s lawn in exchange for the fountain, and then used a tow truck and about five friends to move it to their yard.
Harman and Porter invested a small fortune to have the fountain sandblasted, powder coated and resurrected in the back corner of their own garden.
The garden also features a few plants that almost qualify as horticultural antiques – including a boxwood transplanted from Harman’s 89-year-old grandmother’s garden and a large spirea bush that they believe was planted around the time the house was built, in 1939.
That bush was nearly destroyed by the tornado that tore through midtown April 19. The tornado took out part of a 50-year-old pittosporum at the rear of their yard, along with four trees just beyond their back fence.
They spent some time removing limbs and restoring the back corner of their garden, but they were largely spared by the storm, whose destructive path forced a few of their backyard neighbors to reroof their houses. Even in a tornado-free year, Porter and Harman take time to revive battered plants. Porter has rescued many plants, including some nice sago palms in the front yard, from the trash piles of his neighbors. He nurses them back to life with water and attention.
And the rich soil that surrounds the home may help too. Porter and Harman have found horseshoes while digging in their garden so they suspect that their lot may have once been the site of the stable for the Hilton House, which Porter said was built in the 1820s on the wooded lot that sits across from their house. Now they suspect that some centuries-old horse manure, along with layers of naturally composted leaf litter, may be helping their hostas, ferns, hydrangeas, native azaleas, forsythia, viburnum and scores of other plants to thrive. They’ve never amended the soil.
And their garden is truly evolving. This year they terraced off one section of the garden to create a sitting area edged by low stacked stone walls. And they planted 20 little gem magnolias, which will eventually form a solid green wall on the east side of their garden.
Last year they planted two crape myrtles in giant decorative pots to create a shaded area over some wooden garden furniture after a neighbor’s oak tree fell down and left the area exposed to sun. Porter says he never prunes crape myrtles and he enjoys their beautiful natural canopies.
The garden, which is anchored by sitting areas, brick and pebbled pathways, and well defined planting beds, is artfully designed. In fact both Porter, a banker, and Harman, a flooring salesman, have done some work on the side doing garden design for friends and acquaintances.
But Porter said they never had a master blueprint for their garden.
“The design of it just kind of evolved,” he said. “There was never a master plan.”
As the garden evolves, the plants get shifted around.
“We reuse,” Harman said. “Some of these plants in this yard have been moved around 30 times I bet. We don’t throw things away.”
Harman also credits Porter with much of the garden’s design.
“I’m the demolition man, and he’s the brains,” he said.
Both Porter and Harman plan to stay busy in the garden long after the garden tour is over.
“I absolutely do love it,” Porter said of gardening. “Part of it’s kind of a quality of life. I just think your life is better when your surroundings are taken care of.”
Kinner, the tour co-chair, said she hopes tour-goers will be inspired by the gardens on the tour.
“There’s just something for everyone,” Kinner said. “We have some very creative and talented gardeners.”