From the Orlando Sentinel, August 26, 2007


Great Gardens

Cultivating a personal Eden

What once was concrete, grass and weeds is now a lush retreat.

Relaxing by the pond
David, Alex 3, and Laura Lee Hynds, relax in front of the pond in the garden behind their home. (DENNIS WALL, ORLANDO SENTINEL / August 7, 2007)

When David Hynds became a father three years ago, he had misgivings about having turned his back on the option of a lush lawn.

"I hate grass," says Hynds, as he surveys the expansive deck and brick patio of his Thornton Park home on a recent morning. But would the lack of St. Augustine deprive his son, Alex, of barefoot romps and rough-and-tumble play?

Now that he's old enough to roam the yard, it's plain Alex doesn't miss having grass underfoot. Instead, the yard and its nooks and crannies have become his base of discovery. "This is an adventureland back here," Hynds says. "He loves it."

Hynds, a Disney engineering manager, purchased the house 14 years ago, long before Thornton Park became one of downtown Orlando's most desirable locations. The structure, built in 1930, most recently had served as a boarding house, and its backyard was little more than a concrete parking pad. What ground that wasn't paved had little appeal.

"It was grass, weeds and broken bottles," he recalls.

Hynds knew he wanted a casual feel, but he didn't have a real plan when he started working on the yard. In fact, a former neighbor was the impetus of the project. When Hynds found the fellow washing a pickup truck in the Hynds' yard with their water, he erected a privacy fence.

During the next decade, the fence was followed by the deck, a roomy brick patio, an elaborate pond and a smorgasbord of plants, trees and bushes.

Visitors now step out the home's kitchen door and into a garden that teases the senses with texture, color and sound. "I always wanted a getaway, something that said Florida," Hynds says.

He did that by designing a landscape that would become a casual courtyard of three "rooms" that bring to mind a tropical paradise, a wooded wonderland and a cottage garden. Besides using inspiration from the Sunshine State, he also drew from his travels to such places as Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, and artist Claude Monet's Giverny garden in France.

The wood deck spreads from the foot of the house toward the lip of the aboveground pond and its trickling waterfalls. Hynds has christened them "Laura Lee Falls" for his wife.

"It's going to be there forever," he says with a laugh. The structure's stout concrete block walls are hidden by smooth river rock, upon which grows climbing fig. A large arbor laced with wisteria vines shades the pond and a table and chairs on the deck.

The water feature is a family favorite. While the couple enjoy sipping their morning coffee beside it, "Alex loves throwing things in there, watching leaves float away, and changing the flow of water" by building obstacles in the falls, Hynds says.

Beside the pond, the deck gives way to the tropical room. Old Chicago brick hides the eyesore parking pad, which Hynds cut away in several places so that trees could be planted. Along the yard's boundary, elevated beds are rimmed by curving river-rock walls. In the beds are plants such as bamboo, fan palms, crotons and ferns. Some, such as a heritage caladium that looks as if it is spattered with paint, were given to the couple by neighbors, family members and friends.

Punctuating the patio and beds are Laura Lee Hynds' potted annuals and perennials, which include butterfly host plants such as milkweed and Dutchman's pipe vine. At one end of the bed is a sign marking Alex's garden, where he works his own tiny patch of land.

About a third of the yard is occupied by the cottage and woodlands rooms, which spread out beyond a large storage bin that corrals Alex's toys. Here the couple have carved a cubbyhole for their young son, complete with a pint-size picnic table at which he can fingerpaint or enjoy a peanut butter sandwich. A pot of lush ferns hangs from a tree, and Mexican petunias draw butterflies.

A pine bark path lined with river rocks leads from the hide-out to the pond's latticed flank. Here, a waxy-leaved camellia bush grows lush in the shade of a young oak. Hynds also has added East Palatka holly and maple trees to the woodlands mix, along with an understory of shrimp plants, bush daisies and coleus.

Hynds' trial-and-error green thumb has given him an education on what plants thrive in Florida. For better success, he has drifted toward beauties that are natives or derived from them. That, along with the lack of grass, has dramatically reduced his garden's water needs. And that leaves more money in the couple's pockets. For plants, of course.

Related link:  Garden Photos