If you've ever watched a tiny ant pick up something twice its size and carry it away with patient determination, you'll have an idea of Jane Smith's gardening style.
Her steep back yard rises more than 10 feet from the level of her shady patio, supported by a retaining wall as tall as six feet high at one end. The lawn not only rises steadily to the back fence, it slopes downhill to one side.
But after only eight years since she and her husband Pete bought the home, Jane's backyard is a masterpiece of imagination and detail, with a a tumbling waterfall, busy birds at the feeders and winding stone paths meandering through it all, punctuated by inviting places to rest at pretty little "garden rooms"?with seating.
The oversized, covered patio convinced the couple to choose this home when they relocated from Louisiana. One suspects that Pete, Jane's husband, would have been content to enjoy the shady comfort there - the garden is Jane's joy. But it was Pete who mailed pictures of Jane's creation to this magazine with a sweet note that said, "I am very proud of what she has accomplished."
When you mentally add up the tonnage of natural stone in the landscape, one might also suspect that Pete and their grandson Chase may love Jane an awful lot. It was all carried in by hand.
Jane, a tiny, slim and visibly energetic woman, waves away any suggestion that her landscaping must have been a backbreaking accomplishment, or that it is anything special.
"I just love doing it,"?she explained. "I like doing something with my hands. I?have my morning coffee and weed the beds."
She learned a lot about gardening from an aunt, Jane said, and loves to read garden books and magazines for visual ideas. She didn't feel pressured to have her whole plan at one time, instead dividing and conquering different areas.
She gave the garden a visual unity by using Victorian iron fencing given to her from her aunt's yard in Arkadelphia. It stands across the top of the retaining wall and helps to define the upper level of the back yard's slope.
Several wrought-iron gates and garden structures complement the fence.
At the patio level, Jane chose to lay a flagstone surface that eliminated most of the grass and connects the patio to the the stone steps and stone paths on up and throughout the hill.
Up high, mulch and a wide variety of low groundcover plantings reduce the amount of grass. It's practical - it would take a mountain goat to mow it - and the ground covers create a beautiful mosaic of textures and pallete of a million shades of green.
Many flowering shrubs and plants add color, including exuberent hydrangeas and blooming vines. Jane also has potted, flowering plants stationed everywhere, allowing her to place each plant where it can catch the right amount of sun in the heavily shaded environment.
Throughout the landscape she points out plants and flowers that she brought from the yards of family members and friends. They're sentimental to her and, she said, she couldn't stand the idea of a beautiful plant being lost or going to waste.
As a lover of antique furnishings (their home is full of lovely things) she also liked an idea she found in a garden book and has made two "garden totems" of found objects, repurposed to become garden ornaments. One is a bird feeder made of a glass light fixture domed over a feeding platform made of a pizza pan, all affixed to the iron foot of an old gumball machine.
For the other, Jane used a daisy-style light fixture they had replaced in their own kitchen, topped with an ceramic powerline insulator knob and held up by an overturned, painted bowl atop a concrete column.
The slope at one side of the yard was just the fit for a recirculating waterfall feature.
The back yard is their sanctuary, where Jane, Pete and their rescue pug, Dixie spend as much time as possible. Grandson Chase pops home from Fayetteville, where he is soon to graduate, and is glad to help his grandmother outside.
Jane had the help of Sharum's Garden Center for some stonework in the front yard, which is also steeply sloped. Having met owner Frank Sharum socially, she accepted his invitation to work at the Garden Center about a year and a half ago and enjoys it. That makes both Jane and Pete be not quite as retired as they intended. He retired from J.?Pauley Toyota but is back after being asked to help out temporarily.
"People think I'm crazy to do this yard and work at Sharums, too," she laughed. But I get to meet people who like what I love to do."