'Six years makes a lot of difference': Smithton backyard comes full circle

News-DemocratJune 29, 2014 

The Blasdels' backyard has come full circle -- literally and figuratively.

"When we first moved here (six years ago), it wasn't landscaped one little bit," said Phyllis, 61, of Smithton, the green thumb in the operation.

She stood alongside husband Don on the deck off the kitchen, overlooking their handiwork.

Thirteen large natural sandstone steps lead from the walkout level's wide patio to a spacious round flagstone area with seating and a center firepit. Flowering perennials and pots of annuals dress up the surrounding area. Tall trees shade the yard behind the firepit and fountain. There's a small lake beyond the trees.

The Blasdels sketch how they want things to look.

"I like to design things and I like curves," said Phyllis. "Everything has to be even."

"That causes me lots of trouble," said Don.

They began putting in the firepit area in fall 2012 and didn't finish landscaping till this year.

"We keep adding to it," said Phyllis.

"I keep thinking we are going to get to the end of the projects and we never do," said Don, 57, a computer programmer. "This is my second job."

"There's a lot of stuff I can't lift and do," said Phyllis, a retired garment worker. "He can do anything. Tell him what to do and he can do it. If he doesn't know how, he will find out how."

"I am the cog in the gear," said Don.

The cog figured it all out after looking online at photos of patios cut into hills.

"I wanted room enough to put chairs around," said Phylllis, who arranged the heavy flagstone pieces. "Sometimes, I would have to pitch three or four and find one that would just fit. It was kind of like a puzzle."

They used a polymeric sand called Gator Dust in between. The mortar-like medium maintains a firm, but flexible bond between pavers.

Fitting each 400- to 500-pound step into the sloped yard was another challenge. They hired someone with a backhoe to dig out the space. Family, neighbors and friends helped put the heavy pieces into place.

"We're lucky nobody got hurt," said Phyllis. "We had our bumps and bruises."

The Blasdels used 13 pallets of rock.

"We probably lowered the level of the ground a bit with rock," said Don. "I have a Dodge Ram pickup. It's had a lot of wear and tear the last six years. It's hauled a lot of loads."

Edging rock came from a cousin's farm.

"We took it out of the fields," said Phyllis.

But it's the variety of flowers and plants that catch your eye. Daylilies, knockout roses, spirea, irises and becky daisies keep the yard bright with color. Petunia pots and red bird pansies tumble from decorative pots. Hostas, some 6 feet wide, give it a lush feel.

"See the ones with the balloon hanging down," said Phyllis, pointing out delicate pale purple flowers. "If you take a start off them and put them in water, they will root and make more. Before they pop open, they look like a hot air balloon.

"You get so involved in it, time flies by, it's almost time for supper and you have missed lunch."

Yard ornaments also are part of the mix. Look for a ceramic bear hugging a fish, a yellow metal daisy made of old farm implements and an alligator peeking from beneath a giant hosta.

Coming soon? A big green frog her son Scott Baughn is working on.

"He has an automotive body shop in DuQuoin," she said of her only child. Don has two children. Together, they have six grandchildren.

"The grandkids like to pick up and play with them," said Phyllis. "Once they have been here, I come out and they are all rearranged somewhere else."

The Blasdels often take a break from their yard to go fishing. They have a camper in Pinckneyville. Or Don may head to Wayne City to help his mom.

He is also on a competitive barbecue team. Judging by trophies that fill a lower-level corner of their home, he knows what he's doing.

"I do Kansas City barbecue in four categories: ribs, brisket, pulled pork and chicken," he said. "I usually do best in pulled pork and ribs. This time I did best in brisket."

In a recent Smithton competition, his team's brisket was seventh in a field of 37. Last year, his ribs took third place.

"Everyone loves his barbecue sauce," said Phyllis. "He researches everything. He will look up how other people fix stuff and what they use."

The Blasdels share their barbecue, homemade ice cream and landscaping enthusiasm with neighbors, helping one with porch planters, putting annuals in front of a woodpile for another.

Occasionally, the two eat dinner on the covered patio close to the house or take a break with a cold drink.

"We were sitting here the other night," said Phyllis, "thinking, 'How did we do this?' Six years makes a lot of difference."

Phyllis Blasdel, originally from DuQuoin, has been gardening for 25 years. She learns as she goes. The design part comes natural to her.

"I can see it," she said. "As I go, I change things. If I had known I liked it as much as I do, I would have gone to school."

Here's what she's learned.

Gardening takes time. "Landscaping isn't for people who don't want to take time," said Phyllis. "It's time consuming and expensive -- especially if you do projects like this."

Plant heavy. "If something gets overrun, I dig it up and move it. Mom was good at that."

Water water water. She does it herself, and it sometimes takes two hours.

Plant for the future. "When you plant, try to see into the future. This is going to get how big?"

Accept hand-me-down plants. "Anybody giving away plants, I take them. I got a tuberose (a spiky night-blooming perennial) from my sister. I don't know what it will look like." A friend moving to Florida gave her irises.

Keep an eye out for yard ornaments. "I look around till I find the right price. I find them at Hobby Lobby, Garden Ridge (now At Home) and Old Time Pottery." On vacation, they check out specialty shops for something unique.

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