Shiloh oasis: A backyard waterfall, a shady garden ... and Irish Spring soap?

News-DemocratSeptember 1, 2013 

Carroll and Sandy Wheeldon are a gardening team.

"I am the one with all the ideas," said Sandy. "He's the labor."

It works.

The Wheeldons, both retired, moved into their Shiloh home in 2001. They bought the lot partly because of a towering white oak tree in the middle of the backyard.

"It puts the house in shade by 1 in the afternoon," said Sandy.

The white oak stood in the midst of dense woods. Before their five-bedroom brick home was built, they started reclaiming the backyard.

"It was a jungle," Sandy said.

"I pulled a 63-foot grape vine out of that tree," said Carroll. "I tugged and tugged. Another one, me and a guy bigger than me were swinging on. We couldn't get it out of the tree."

They won the battle.

The neat, deeply wooded garden along the back of their yard is a shady oasis with winding brick paths and shade-loving perennials. An arched wood bridge spans a usually dry rock creek bed. Statues add interest. Wind chimes made by Sandy's father, hang from a sassafras tree.

"We love the whole setting," said Carroll, "how peaceful and quiet it is back here."

"I love to come out from 8 to 10 in the morning," said Sandy. "Kids are in school. People are at work. All you hear is water running and birds."

The sound of water running comes from a waterfall and pond, located on the sunny side of the yard. Goldfish filled the pond until a blue heron spotted the action. In two days, he cleaned out 35 six-inch goldfish.

The water feature became part of their yard after Sandy spotted just the right one at a St. Louis home show. With their landscaping, the backyard waterfall and pond turned out nice enough that they were invited to be on the St. Louis Water Gardening Society's tour last year.

"The most frequently asked question on the tour was, 'What do you have hanging back there?' said Carroll, pointing out white blocks in the garden. "It's Irish Spring soap. If you put it out, deer won't bother plants."

The Wheeldons credit Skip Soule from Lagniappe (a Cajun term that means "a little something extra") of O'Fallon, with the landscaping around the house that includes rows of azalea bushes and rhododendron. They were put in the year they moved in. They invited him back to build their circular garden walk, and put in shade plants.

The most recent project was a pondless waterfall in the front yard.

"We just picked him out of the phone book," said Sandy, walking along a garden path. "He knows plants really well. He's good at picking plants that blossom at different times of year.

"These are bleeding hearts, which in the spring are gorgeous."

Skip, a landscaper for more than 30 years, tries out new plants on his own wooded lot before introducing them to clients' landscapes. The Wheeldons' yard has been an ongoing project for him.

The slope of the yard called for retaining walls.

"There are 13 tons of gravel in this one," said Carroll. "I know. I hauled it all in."

The garden with its ferns, hostas and variety of trees continues to evolve.

"We came up with ideas from here, there and elsewhere," said Sandy.

When grass doesn't grow in the deep shade, they try plants. There's not a weed in sight.

"What we do, we wait until the oak blossoms fall," said Carroll," then we put the mulch down. We put it down heavy and we don't have to pull weeds the rest of the summer."

Just beyond the pond is the Wheeldons' vegetable garden. It was a sea of red tomatoes last week. They also grow peppers and cucumbers.

"I probably will be canning this afternoon, 50 to 100 quarts," said Sandy. "I can whole tomatoes."

"We don't have to buy them for spaghetti or chili," said Carroll.

"Because my mother canned, she taught me to can," said Sandy. "I have never bought a can of tomatoes in my life. Now, my mother is 85. She's not able to, so I take her tomatoes."

Carroll is originally from Washington. Sandy is from Missouri.

"My dad grew up in central Missouri. around Fort Leonard Wood," she said.

Sandy met Carroll met when he was stationed there.

The Wheeldons moved to the metro-east in 1988. Carroll, a U.S. Army lieutenant-colonel, retired from the service two years later, then took a computer job with Mitre Corp.

"We liked Shiloh," said Sandy. "Everything was close that we need, but it was still country living. We liked the open area."

"The main reason we picked this lot, it gives you the privacy. It's gorgeous in the wintertime when you get snow."

Both retired three years ago in July.

"I was not allowed to relax until she did," said Carroll.

"When we're out here, we look at each other and wonder, 'How did we do al this and work at same time? We do not know."

They do know they've slowed down in the last five or six years. For the last four, they've talked about selling their house.

"He was ready," said Sandy. "It broke my heart."

Now, they're both ready to downsize, to move to a condo and let someone else inherit their oasis.

"We want to enjoy retirement," she said, "and do some traveling."

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