I’m visiting the garden of Cathy and Bob Self on Old Bayou Trail in Destin. It is a joyful space, like looking into a kaleidoscope showing beautiful colors and ever-changing shapes with every turn of my head.
Bob was the owner of a commercial and residential construction business and when he moved his office from Niceville to Destin 12 years ago, he also built their current home here. Cathy worked 32 years as a mortgage banker, retiring from Synovus Mortgage Corp as branch manager and vice president.
Cathy said, “When we built our house I wanted a low maintenance and natural garden. We started with this look and very soon I felt like ‘oh my goodness, this is so boring.’ You know, the garden takes on a life of its own. Annuals look so good so then you plant blooming perennials like hydrangeas, redbuds, dogwoods and things look even better.
Today Cathy spends about six hours a day in the garden.
“First thing every morning I circle the house to see what’s going on in the garden,” Cathy explains. “What new blooms do I have, what needs my attention and there is always the weeds to pull. I work where my eyes and feet lead me. Also, this time of year I try to move with the shade.
I ask Cathy if she had always been this interested in gardening.
“When I was younger I piddled around with this one Satsuma bush that I babied for years,” she said. “The tree stayed at 2 ½ feet and never bore fruit. It was called ‘Queen of the Garden’ because it consumed so much of my time.”
“My fondest memories of early gardening were when I stayed several years with my grandmother. She loved to go to the nurseries and I thought that is so boring, but I loved her so much I would go anywhere with her. Maybe some of that stuck with me.”
“I think the turning point of my serious gardening came when I went to Dragon’s Mead Nursery to the daylily garden, having 1,500 different varieties,” she continued. “Daylilies are the major part of my garden today and I have 30 to 40 different ones. They are so spectacular, like a gift every day.”
Cathy’s collection contains big ones with blooms 6 to 8 inches across and dwarf varieties with blooms only two inches across. The daylily (Hemerocallis) comes in every color of the rainbow and over 20,000 different selections are registered by the American Hemerocallis Society. It is endless so don’t think of collecting one of each.
I comment on the hydrangeas that grace the side yard bearing blooms showing colors of pale blue, soft pink and deeper rose, light and dark purple. A grouping of three hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) all in a row with large rounded heads were almost all white last year so Cathy poured lime on them to produce various colors. The bluest color is produced in acid soil and can be kept blue by applying aluminum sulfate to the soil. To keep red or deep pink, apply superphosphate or lime the soil well ahead of the bloom time.
In the back yard, blooms seem to nestle down into the quiet shade of a garden looked over by an angel of some four feet. This small garden is surrounded by antique fencing, which is bordered by broken pieces of pottery — blue, red, yellow and patterned. In this section of the garden we find variegated ginger, deep wine coleus, Daniella grass, small hostas, light chartreuse creeping Jenny used as a ground cover, pentas, agapanthus and a dwarf pink hydrangea.
Cathy’s unique collection of yard art comes from years of being first at garage sales and many visits to antique and consignment shops. Containers of every size, shape and color are worked artistically into the beds. Antique fencing borders most of the beds.
Here and there are new large metal flowers, some bright orange, some bronze with shiny glass beads lighting up areas of her flower beds. You hardly know whether to look at the flowers, the bright Mexican containers or a yard full of every imaginable metal sculpture and a trio of brightly colored ducks, all going who knows where. Cathy has several gigantic elephant ears that are larger than she is.
I found the following a great idea. Cathy keeps all the ID tags from her plants in a bag. If she forgets the name of a plant in her yard, it might take awhile, but she can eventually find it by sorting through all the tags. After all, who could possibly remember all these names?
This carousel garden is continually spinning its joyous colors. It hums with the siren song of a dedicated gardener. It’s a delight for the eyes and stirs the soul with a cloud of floating colors that stays with me long after I have left the garden.
Laura Hall is a longtime gardener and Destin resident. She explores area gardens and other topics with her cavalier spaniel Annie. She would like to show off your garden. Contact her at email@example.com.