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Mosaics, Gophers and Gardens, Oh My

Luna Brewer • Updated Jun 6, 2017 at 8:57 AM

The real gardens of Johnson City aren’t in the ETSU Arboretum. They’re hidden behind normal houses owned by normal people.

Just in time for National Garden Week, the Shady Oaks Garden Club will host a self-guided garden tour Saturday, June 10, to let people discover the hidden, real garden gems of the city. The club has been hosting garden tours like this since 1998, with the tour alternating each year with a flower show. This year’s tour will feature seven “Special Gardens of Johnson City.”

According to the club, creating gardens requires a special combination of commitment and attention, not just to the land or the plants, but to the meanings as they connect the gardener to memories of family and friends.

“We’ve had some very massive gardens on tour before, but most of these gardens are secluded,” Shady Oaks Garden Tour Chairwoman Loretta Arbogast said. “They are behind the house and you’d never know they’re there, but they are also worked on by the owners. Rather than having a gardener come in and plant stuff, each of them has something that makes it special, whether that be yard art or the story behind the garden.”

Some of the gardens on the tour have been growing and developing for decades, whereas others are new. Some highlight landscaping uses, garden art or even organic vegetables, but all of them feature unique aspects visitors can learn from.

Home gardener Gale Atkins will be adding her garden to the tour for the first time. To Atkins, however, gardening started out as a way to help her grandmother that then transformed into a hobby.

“I helped my grandmother when I was young,” Atkins said. “Then when my husband was in the military we moved a lot and everywhere we went I was planting. My grandmother always said I was getting yards ready for the next person who would move in. But I’ve always planted and done stuff like this everywhere I’ve lived. It’s just natural, everyone has a hobby and this one is mine.”

However, Atkins’ backstory, or recent run-in with a gopher, aren’t the only things that make her garden special. Through her experiences with gardens, she has discovered a love for creating beautiful garden art.

“Frankly, I just don’t know (what inspired me). I saw these mosaics and thought they were great, but I didn’t want to do them on a flat surface and hang them up all over the house. But I had been collecting watering cans, for whatever reason, so I tried one on there and liked it.”

Atkins mostly makes decorative plates and watering can mosaics for herself and her family, but she has been known to sell her artwork to those who are interested. She hopes visitors will see the artwork so she could sell a few.

The tour not only will be a chance for Atkins to sell her art and for members and gardeners to see different plants and gardenscapes, but it will serve as the garden club’s only fundraiser. The money received from the tour is used to finance the club’s flower show, which are always free and open to the public. The excess funds from the tour also goes into the projects the club does for the city.

“One year we contributed to landscaping a median that went down to Jonesborough, we’ve also helped with the Jonesborough and ETSU’s Botanical Gardens,” Arbogast said. “So there’s a lot of growing related projects that people don’t have money for that we can help with.”

Despite the possibility of rainy weather, Loretta and Gale expect a great turnout.

“I always like people to come, but now I hear there's going to be a lot of people coming,” Atkins said. “I’ve even heard people talking about it that aren’t in the club, so I think it’ll be a good turnout.”

“Real gardeners will get out regardless because real gardeners don’t care if it's raining or not,” Atkins said.

In addition to the variety of gardens, the garden club will also have a plant sale, refreshments and information about membership and joining the garden club will be available in select gardens on the tour.

Tickets for the garden tour, which will be held from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., are available for $10 and can be bought from any club member. While the exact locations of the homes remains private to the public, driving instructions will be available on the ticket. For more information, visit shadyoaksgardenclub.org.

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