By Sharron Johnson
What does it mean to be a great neighbor? Is it that person who waves to you as you pass in your car? Speaks to you and calls you by name while pushing your garbage can to the curb, or, better yet, pulls your trash can to the curb for you if they know you are under the weather?
There are a million and one ways to be “that” great neighbor. My favorite are the ones that keep their part of the neighborhood tidy. By tidy I mean, keeping the curbside clean of leaves, trash, sticks, and especially the rolling garbage and recycling carts. In case neighbors are uncertain what is required by the city, here’s a quick look at the city’s code requirements:
Carts shall be placed on the neutral strip immediately adjacent to the curb or, in the absence of a neutral strip, immediately adjacent to and just behind the sidewalk, if possible. If, because of a retaining wall or other impediment, carts must be placed on the sidewalk, they shall be placed immediately adjacent to the curb in such a manner that pedestrian traffic on such sidewalk is minimally obstructed. In the absence of curbs, carts shall be placed immediately adjacent to the surfaced roadbed. Where alley collection is provided, carts shall be placed immediately adjacent to the rear property line in such a manner so as to provide open access from the alley. Nothing is to be placed in the alley right-of-way.
Leaves, limbs have additional directions:
Leaves, grass cuttings and garden trimmings, weeds and roots from which all dirt has been removed shall be deposited in disposable containers or carts and placed adjacent to the front property line or at the back property line where alley collection is provided or, when exempted from cart participation, in the regular can-type container, provided that it does not create an amount of solid refuse substantially greater than normal so as to require the collector to make an extra trip to remove such solid waste, provided further, that such solid waste is loose in such regular container and not tightly compacted so as to cause difficulty to the collector in removing the same from the container. The director of solid waste may grant waivers of this section in cases of hardship. Disposable containers for such solid waste shall be cardboard cartons or plastic bags or moisture resistant paper bags and such containers shall have tops, ties or other means of preventing spillage, scattering or blowing away of the solid waste and be moisture proof or kept dry and be of sufficient strength to contain the solid waste without spillage during handling. They shall not exceed in size the approximate capacity of a 30-gallon regulation solid waste container which is considered the maximum size for manual lifting by a collector.
With all this said, a great neighbor to me, maintains the sidewalks to not only keep them clean and safe but aesthetically pleasing. There are also some parts of most urban settings that developers allowed a strip of dirt between the common sidewalk and the paved street. This space is called many things but mainly a hellstrip. How could such a horrid name be attached to a strip of land that is yet another gardening opportunity for creating a welcome mat for your property and nature. Do yourself a favor and check out the website of the Ecological Landscaping Alliance (ecolandscaping.org”. Type in “hellstrip plantings.” There is a plethora of ideas on this site to help develop the welcome mat that you desire.
Can you imagine if every strip in Cooper-Young was developed? I can. Many of our neighbors already maintain their strip. One in particular is the first Yard of the Month for 2020 located at 2230 Evelyn at Cox. Diane Sable is the homeowner of this sweet, one-of-a-kind corner lot. The house is small and made of red brick with white trim. The door is set in the center, creating a grand entrance on a small structure. Atop the door is a plaster medallion painted white with a gray background. The porch has four square posts set one behind the other that support a doghouse roof cover. A wooden porch painted light blue leads visitors to the door and a cozy open-air sitting area. A dirt berm sways to the porch, and it’s topped with a carpet of rosemary. A lattice fence visible from Cox, creates an intimate back garden with just enough light and air flow to eliminate a claustrophobic feel. There are many lovely plants here such as hybrid hibiscus that has returned for 10 years, Japanese cherry blossom, two huge pink crepe myrtle, gardenia, rosemary, lavender, angel’s trumpets, shooting star hydrangea, and a Formosa, but I’ll leave most of the description of the garden to Diane.
Diane, what brought you to Memphis?
I must have been around 4 or 5 the first time I heard the name Memphis. Our Uncle Tim had come to pick up mom, grandmother, and the three kids (two more to follow in years to come) to take us to dad’s family for Christmas. Late model 50’s cars have plenty of space for kids to hunker down in the back floor boards with feather pillows from our chicken flocks and homemade quilts for the long drive through the night from Joy Mountain, Arkansas to Nashville. It was when we reached Memphis, that mom woke me up to witness our crossing the Mississippi River into Memphis, Tennessee — a city and river with history, she said, whatever that meant to a 5-year-old at that time. I didn’t see the river or Memphis, just blurs in the night. I just knew that mom was excited, I liked her enthusiasm and knew that that “history” must be something very important. Little did I know.
When did you land in Cooper-Young, and why did you choose this house in particular?
Half a century later, and here I am in the river city of Memphis in the neighborhood of Cooper-Young where I have lived for the past 16 years in the corner house located at Cox and Evelyn — a city, neighborhood, and home rich with history. I was the first person of record to actually “purchase” the home since it was built. The original owners of the home left the house to their daughter, who lived here her entire life. She in turn left the house to her best friend who spent the last 12 years of her life in the home. After her passing, the house sat empty for over two years, waiting for me to come have a look which I didn’t do for over three months. I mean, really, how could you live in Midtown in a house without a front porch? At the encouragement of a friend, I came to walk through the “mound house,” never suspecting that it would become my forever home.
Sitting on a corner lot, the landscaping was simple and efficient. According to my neighbors who have lived on the cross streets for 43-55 years, the kids called my house the “mound house” because of the mounds of earth rounding the front steps. My daughter and her friends rolled and played on the front step mounds just like the neighbors’ kids of 50 years ago! The hospitality of those longtime residents of the street was most appreciated. Mrs. Patterson, then in her late 80’s, testified that once you move onto this street, you don’t leave. Certainly, that has proven true as second and third generations continue to grace family homes in this neighborhood.
Have you acquired your planting from pass-alongs, family, or saw them and just had to have them? Have you had chickens long?
The first owners honored the lay of the land. The east side of the yard is low, holding moisture. Ferns were planted and they return each spring to border the house walls through the heat of summer into fall. Wild flowers filled in the open spaces. What was referred to as an upside-down weeping willow tree sat in the north east corner, an evergreen right on the property line with the pig wire fence and a dogwood tree also sat to the east. Due to disease, I lost all three of those trees. Unfortunately, disease did not kill the mulberry bush that was never content to be a bush, but an invading monster disrupting my foundation. I purposely removed it. The east and northeast corners are now home to a fenced in area housing a chicken coop and six hens that share their eggs with friends and neighbors. The chickens were part of my daughter’s independent education project 5 years ago. Of the original chickens, one is left, and she is the queen of the back yard! I’m of the belief that every family with kids should have chickens because each and every cliché said about chickens proves true and leads to insight in how humans treat one another. The wagon wheel gate facing south was my dad’s first try at artistic welding using resourced materials. That gate is at least 50 years old. He went on to be quite creative and made the horse shoe cowboys watching over my back yard.
Tell the readers about your space.
Crepe myrtle trees stand on the west side. Those trees have now reached heights higher than my roof top. When in full pink blossom, they are magnificent to behold in their splendor. Every child I have ever loved has climbed and played in those crepe myrtle trees. They breathe life and joy. Of course, they can also wreak havoc as last summer’s straight-line winds carried the top limbs low and then swung them up, under and high with such force that they knocked the top of the chimney off! Hosing off their drippings from the outdoor furniture is a daily ritual. But I LOVE those trees!
Modern day life being a bit different than 90 years, the property needed a fence to ensure my daughter had a safe place to play. Miss Edna Mae next door was all for my having a fence so long as it didn’t block her view of the stop sign. As not to offend a 53-year resident, I took my time in putting up a fence. I bought metal fence posts, lattice work sheets, plastic ties and put up a make shift fence that I could move at my pleasure until I could come up with a solution other than metal chain link or solid wood fencing. Desperate for fencing that would be in keeping with the openness of the corner, I made the choice of lattice work. It kept the space open to honor its 78-year history and also ensured us boundaries and softened the eye. From there, the adding of flower beds began with the help of a neighbor, Paul, who had lived in CY his whole life. An avid gardener, Paul was always ready with information which I dearly needed as I had no gardening skills. After16 years, I continue to find out how little I know.
Any fur or feather babies?
The first bed is next to the fence facing South. It’s filled with irises and day lilies. It’s also the grave site of our cat, Puss, and a tiny chicken called Scruffy. She was a little black fizzle chickie that got respiratory disease. I learned to give her shots, nursed her back to health only to find that the rest of the flock then resented her and stomped her to death. I was traumatized and buried her next to Puss. No other chickens have received such ceremony or honor. Just little Scruffy. The northwest corner bed has changed many times over the years and now host iris, comfrey and black-eyed Susan and returning gladiolas. The running rose bush is a challenge – the flowers are so lovely to look upon and smell, but the pruning. Oh, my!
The front entrance to the south was quite bare. Mr. Paul helped plant the hybrid hibiscus at the walk way, rosemary, and lavender. The hibiscus were vibrant pink and reds! The red ones were so vibrant and huge that Mrs. Patterson wanted to know why I had Christmas bows tied on my green bushes in August! The pink is still thriving 12 years later. Friends and neighbors know where to find rosemary year-round! I have always wanted a white night garden and planted white moon vines on the lattice work for years. Velvet to the touch with a divine fragrance meant to be savored. A lovely gift from a neighbor on Nelson graced the yard with angels trumpets that embrace the front deck and the white shooting star hydrangeas were a birthday gift nine years ago from a dear friend. The forsythia bush is from a cutting from the massive 15-foot one that was originally at the northwest corner of the drive/yard. Thank you, Kim Halyak, for the two ever greens standing on either side of the deck entrance! The Japanese cherry blossom tree was a dream of my youngest daughter. We dug, dug, and dug thinking we were getting to China only to have mom drive up, take a look, and say, “You’ve got a long ways to go.” Indeed, we dug and dug to get that tree into the ground! The pink blossoms are such a delight against the blue sky. It wasn’t until it was about 5-years -old when we put brick liners around that most of the neighbors even noticed the tree.
The stop sign corner flower beds are something I’ve dreamed of for many years. In particular, doing something around the fire hydrant and stop sign. Being so close to Tiger Lane, parkers for events were prone to ignore the hydrant and one out of five drivers on a daily basis either roll through or drive right through our stop sign. Two summers ago, I built a small circular bed around the stop sign. The neighbors were so kind with the compliments I really wanted to do more. It was with a Cooper-Young Garden Club beautification grant that I took it two steps further! Expanding upon the stop sign garden, girl friends from Our Tribe Goddess Circle stepped up to help! Digging out and planting was in full force last spring and by mid-summer the corner was vibrant with red begonia and native wild flowers! Digging out earth, lining and adding lime stone, the “faerie garden” began to materialize!
Again, fate stepped in and just this last month the sidewalks were made ADA compliant. The crew working on the sidewalks did their best to dig out plants and save gravel. I’ve begun the reconstruction and will replant those saved natives as soon as weather allows. The faerie garden is back!
Tell us about your back yard.
There are so many rooms/spaces within the fenced yard, it ebbs and flows along with life. Open spaces for running and playing. The trampoline was great fun for all, but with changing life it became a great place to dry sweaters and lay pillows out in the sunshine. It is now with a new family with small children. The above ground pool was fun for a couple of years but as kids grew it was time for a bigger pool and we went to Rhodes College for the summer season. The hot tub was wonderful year-round for so many years but has since moved on to another home.
What remains is the important stuff — the people that continue to grace Diane’s corner of the world with their presence. From maypole gatherings for the children and birthday parties with pony rides to a sacred stone circle made possible by the beautiful beings of Our Tribe’s Circle and community events with friends and neighbors, the energy continues to flourish. Nilia, the family cat of seven years, loves to stand guard. She’s often seen walking the top of the fence or the top of the garage. The back yard is also a fabulous place to “play Tai Chi”. (I hope to have a free community class of tai chi this spring in our Spanish Memorial Park. Thanks, Judi, for seeing this project through!)
The stones from the old stone factory were donated to Our Circle by Tammy Jo O’Neal. The Arkansas rocks were donated by another goddess of the circle, Diane Rix. We share Arkansas roots, and each time she made a trip there, she would load up a few rocks to bring to Memphis. Plants and flowers were added around the stone circle; however, chickens being chickens, what they leave alone for months suddenly becomes devoured within a few hours. Looking up into that magnificent crepe myrtle tree you will find sacred geometry. There are “rooms” throughout the back yard, each with a unique energy and view of the yard/street/neighborhood.
What is your profession?
Keeping the front deck welcoming is a full-time challenge. The northeast and southwest winds love blowing patio furniture and plants off my porch/deck. I’ve been a holistic Airbnb short term rental host for 5 years. Being a “holistic host” means I am owner occupied and interact with my guests. Becoming a host has brought the world to my front steps and 98 percent of all my guests have been lovely people. I can also tell you tales about the 2% but won’t go into that here! Because my space is so group friendly, guests have had their friends over to use the fire pit and entertain. A group of gals referring to themselves as the Closet Collaborative have rented the space to offer up styled fashions from their personal collections. Currently eight gals are already planning for the next event in March!
Professionally, I have been at the University Club of Memphis for 25 years. “Playing” Tai Chi has been a huge part of my life since my days at the Massage Institute as a student. Seeing teacher Jean Sullivan play Tai Chi the first time took my breath away. I knew I had to learn to do that, whatever it was, because the beautiful movement of the energy was just intoxicating. If any of you would like to learn Tai Chi, please reach out! Like I said above, I’d love to see a community class in the Spanish Park.
What are your future plans for your space?
The plans for this spring are to get the stop sign corner re-planted and continue adding to the faerie garden. I’m going to plant clover within the stone circle, create a green wall by planting in the claw foot tub, and, of course, get that front deck spruced up to meeting guests coming to our neighborhood – a neighborhood and city full of history.
As a side note, I’d like to pay tribute to Mr. Paul. No longer in the neighborhood, he played a vital role in getting the foundation of flower beds and plants placed in my yard. Thank you, Mr. Paul, wherever you are.