Home profile: Hidden oasis

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The garden is the defining feature of the Stephenson family home on Oakland Terrace. (Courtesy Photo)
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By Missy Schrott | mschrott@alextimes.com

The time, energy and care that Betsy Stephenson puts into her garden is evident the moment you approach her home on Oakland Terrace. What’s not apparent is that the front landscape, which charmingly frames the cozy 1940s home, is just a taste of Stephenson’s garden.

The view from the street of the Stephensons’ home. (Photo/Missy Schrott)

Flowering bushes and carefully maintained beds of greenery line the stone walk to the front door of the house. From there, it winds around the sides of the house, weaving walkways all the way to the main event: the back yard.

“That is one of my favorite things about this house,” Stephenson said. “It’s a nice house and it’s got a nice façade and we’re very proud of it, but I love the effect of walking in and then going to the back and then going, ‘Oh wait, we had no idea.’”

Scenes of the garden captured by Betsy Stephenson. For more photos, go to her
Instagram page, @betshasagarden_. (Courtesy Photo)

The back yard is a massive, private oasis, fenced in by trees and more than doubling the size of the front yard on the 0.65-acre lot. The expansive, well-kept lawn is dotted with a koi pond, low stone walls and beds upon beds of lush landscaping. The patio, complete with an outdoor kitchen and story-tall fireplace, is decorated with curated pots of summer flowers. Ivy climbs a wooden arbor, creating a shady dining alcove.

“We bought this house eight years ago and when we bought it, it was really we were buying a garden, not just a house. This was the primary attraction,” Stephenson said.

While the garden drew the Stephensons to the house, when they moved in, it wasn’t close to the condition it’s in today.

The Stephensons’ back yard. (Photo/Missy Schrott)

“The previous owners really were quite gifted with what they established in this yard. I think they had put in about 20 years’ worth of master design,” Stephenson said. “When we moved in, though, they had been splitting their time between this house and [one] down in South Carolina … so the garden was very well maintained, but it wasn’t getting the daily attention that this type of space probably needs.”

Stephenson, daughter of two gardeners, put her green thumb to use immediately.

“I spent probably three years just learning my way around the yard and thinning out a lot of things. This space, it’s amazing how fast things grow,” Stephenson said.

Scenes of the garden captured by Betsy Stephenson. For more photos, go to her
Instagram page, @betshasagarden_. (Courtesy Photo)

Because the previous owners had invested in high quality foundational trees, shrubs and plants, a lot of Stephenson’s early work, in addition to trimming and pruning, involved recycling plants to different areas and adapting the garden to her preferences.

Now, Stephenson continues to tend the garden regularly, often up to four hours a day during the warmer months.

“Some of it’s really fun – putting flowers in pots and rearranging them – and other things [are less fun], like hacking down old limbs and combing through things that have kind of gone to seed, so it’s a combination. You take the good with the bad, but I enjoy it all.”

Azalea bushes and other carefully curated plants line the driveway. (Photo/Missy Schrott)

In addition to watering, pruning and tending to the various plants, Stephenson enjoys experimenting with new ones.

“I get a lot of ideas from other gardeners,” Stephenson said. “A lot of the stuff I’ve done in the last three years comes directly from what I’ve seen on Instagram, believe it or not, from gardeners. Particularly, they’ve just got a knack for it in Germany and Scandinavia. They do beautiful things. So you just research something you like and see if it’ll work here, and usually it does.”

A koi pond in the Stephensons’ back yard. (Photo/Missy Schrott)

Stephenson is part of the online gardening community herself, posting photos of scenes from her garden on an Instagram account called @betshasagarden_.

“I do it because I take a gazillion pictures of the garden and I just need a place to put them,” Stephenson laughed.

Beyond the garden itself, the yard has various quirky features that previous owners have installed, including a putting green and sports court hidden at the edge of the property.

“Most of those features are not things that we would have put in on our own,” Stephenson said, “but since they’re there, we try to make the most of them. I mean, my son plays basketball out there all the time, and there’s something about those fish. I just like to sit and watch the fish. It’s one of those situations where you say, ‘Well, I wouldn’t have done this, but I’m kind of glad that somebody else did.’”

The outdoor kitchen and covered patio is a highlight of the Stephensons’ home. (Photo/Missy Schrott)

Stephenson said the family spends the majority of their time on the back patio, which consists of the outdoor kitchen and fireplace, as well as a covered portion with cushioned furniture and a TV.

The outdoor space has become an unexpected haven for Stephenson, her husband and their three college-age children while they’re all quarantined together, she said.

“It’s been a great refuge for all of us while we’ve all been trying to stay close to home,” Stephenson said. “All of us have very different schedules and requirements regarding work and school, but it’s nice to have a lot of breathing room back there.”

When the world opens back up again, Stephenson said she looks forward to entertaining guests with cookouts. Until then, she and her family plan to continue enjoying their private back yard escape.

(Read more: Home Profile: (Re)Building Home)

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