Made in the shade: Swansea backyard is a perfect refuge

News DemocratJune 29, 2014 

When looking for a house 10 years ago, Bill Mayer was adamant about buying one that faced west.

"That way the back would be shady for happy hours and grilling in late afternoon," said his wife, Linda. "This proved to be very wise. He, more than I, foresaw the potential of the porch when we bought the house."

The Mayers, both retired, live in Polo Run, a quiet Swansea subdivision off Old Caseyville Road. Their ranch home is meticulously landscaped. They spend a lot of time on the covered back porch that looks out on a peaceful yard full of trees and blooming flowers.

"Our back porch is the refuge from which we enjoy the beauty of our yard," said Linda, who taught reading at Wolf Branch School. "Gardening is my passion and having plants bloom from March crocus till the last fading fall aster draws many birds and butterflies."

Birds like it, too.

"We have goldfinch, cardinals, hummingbirds and ubiquitous sparrows," said Bill, who worked for McDonnell Douglas. "I had had a wren house five or six years, it's the first year we got a family in the maple tree. Our cat goes around and the little ones fuss."

Linda has a variety of houseplants and annuals in matching containers along the edge of the porch. Ferns hang from above. A decorative coating on the concrete floor gives the space a finished look.

Their classic wrought-iron furniture has been around for 40 years. New paint now and then keeps it fresh.

"Though nothing extravagant, our porch is simply perfect for relaxing in leisure time," said Linda, who is usually up and out into the garden early to deadhead flowers and pick up sticks.

In the morning, trees that include a wild cherry and bald cypress, shade much of the yard. Dew hangs on flowers, including purple larkspur and Asian lilies, a couple of Linda's favorites.

"When we moved here, there were ordinary day lilies," said Linda. "I took out the day liles and put in Asian lilies. The oakleaf hydrangea, I got a little start from friend years ago. ... Something that doesn't thrive in one place gets moved."

Bill takes care of the wood fence bordering the yard. "This year, I power-washed and stained it. It's only the second time since we've been here.

"You just couldn't have a yard like this if you were still working."

Linda is the one who keeps the garden pristine.

"In the spring, there's a big workload, clearing away winter debris, trimming, mulching, planting," she said. "After that, a lot of deadheading."

She carries a basket for spent blooms and sticks that drop from trees. Then, it's time to sit and enjoy.

"I love eating breakfast on the porch every morning, weather permitting. We often read the morning papers as well as books in our cushioned chairs. Our cat, Lucy, laps water from the small fountain."

Which she did on cue that morning.

"Eating alfresco is one of summer's great pleasures," said Linda. "Serving brunch to friends and relatives is our favorite way to entertain."

The Mayers have two children who live in the St. Louis area and five grandchildren. When the kids visit, games of badminton and washers are on the menu.

Linda and Bill are avid readers, and big fans of the library system.

"Even though we don't live in the city of Belleville, we pay the lilttle bit of fee: $64 (a year for people who live outside city limits.)," said Bill. "It's the best bargain in Belleville."

Weather permtting, they read out there for hours in the afternoon. (Linda recommends "Americanah," by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.) She entertains her book club on the porch, and keeps her hand in education.

"I tutor on Wednesday afternoons (during the school year) at West Junior High," she said, "so I haven't completely lost contact with it."

Bill, who exercises at Memorial Hospital Health Club, invites fellow gardeners to see the yard. They've also had the yard waste guy come back for a look.

The Mayers reserve traveling for fall and winter.

"When it gets hot, it would be nice to go somewhere cool," said Linda.

But they need to be there to water.

"So we go to the movies."

Tips:

After you plant, water freely for a good two weeks, once it's started.

"We go to all the nurseries. There isn't a nursery around we haven't been to."

Consider planting close. "I like to plant close tohether so weeds don't germinate," said Linda.

Buy the best. "Every year, we get the Missouri Botanical Garden-endorsed compost from St. Louis Compost Company. I use it as mulch. I don't fertilize anything in the ground."

"We were blessed with good soil to start with," said Bill, "from the people who built the house."

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