If someone is looking for Nell Walters, they need go no farther than the yard, the porch, the garden … somewhere outside. It is evident with one walk up the brick pathway, where no piece of yard has gone untouched by her loving hand, that gardening is where Nell is happiest and most at peace. She has lived in her Shandon home for 50 years. When she moved there, the yard was unadorned with plants or flowers. Nell has spent the past 50 years turning almost every inch of her yard into a showpiece and a peaceful getaway, and she has done it all on her own. “There were two dogwoods when I moved here, and they are still living! I do all of my own yardwork,” says Nell. “I even cut my grass.” By the way, Nell is 84 years young.
For Nell, gardening and yardwork are more than hobbies; they are almost a way of life. She grew up on a plantation and knows how to work and toil, not giving up until the full day’s work is done. “I was taught to work hard, and that’s how I learned all of my gardening skills — through time and dedication,” says Nell. While she does work hard on her yard, she is careful not to disturb her plants if they are thriving. “I have shovels that I use to turn over the soil occasionally, but if they are doing well, I don’t bother them,” she adds. However, if they aren’t succeeding, Nell won’t think twice about removing them and putting in some type of cow manure to cultivate the soil. She is careful not to use hard fertilizers so that every spring the new soil is ready to welcome the dormant plants back from the previous season. “It seems like my plants come up year after year, so I don’t add a lot to the soil unless I need to,” says Nell, further proof that her thumb is, indeed, green.
While many Shandon yards aren’t that large, the varied areas of Nell’s yard give it a grand appearance, with ample room to entertain and beautiful nooks to hide away. The diverse compartments of the yard enable Nell to create small vignettes that set each area apart — from a tranquil getaway to a perfect alcove for conversations or cocktails.
Nell doesn’t believe her yard is any more beautiful than the next person’s, but she does think that hard work is what sets some yards and gardens apart from others. “You have to give plants love like you give a child,” she says. “Sometimes you think, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ I have flowers grouped together, but I am always pulling up weeds or doing something to make it look better. I keep them very clean, just like you keep a child clean. You have to nurture your yard and your flowers to let them grow.”
That attention and devotion are evident with the first step through the front gate of Nell’s yard, which opens into a lush greenway replete with plants, flowers and memorable focal pieces, including her welcome sign on the porch that reads, “Today is a good day. Everyday should be a holiday.” For Nell, every day in the yard is a good day. With ivy covered steps and potted plants, Nell’s front porch beckons guests to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea. The greenery in the front plant beds are interestingly juxtaposed by the unique sculptures that are placed throughout the front of the home. The statues, round bowling-ball like sculptures and water fountains are proof that different design features can beautifully complement each other.
While the majority of Nell’s yard is green, she still has a great deal of flowers which she cuts and puts into vases to enjoy in the home while dining. Nothing brightens a room like a beautiful vase filled with glorious hydrangeas. Around the bend toward the backyard is a welcoming sitting area with a bench that sits among more statues and busts, again framed by ferns, hostas and other rich greenery. Among the free-growing plants, Nell has strategically placed potted plants to add a pop of color and interest to the area. She has also creatively positioned art work on the fence, including a peaceful picture of the Virgin Mary.
Featured on the path to the backyard is a convenient work station with a sink, ample counter space, cabinets, tools and even a stained glass window. When Nell works in the yard, she means business, and she wants the beauty to surround her wherever she is. A beautiful mirror leans against the fence in the side yard, once again nestled among flower beds, sculptures and garden accessories. “This is where I look at myself each day,” Nell jokes.
The backyard of Nell’s home is an oasis. With a pool, most might think that is the focal point. But the yard and garden deliver tough competition. The attention to detail and unique features found throughout the backyard almost make the pool simply a supporting element, hardly the center of attention. Stately palm trees frame the area, giving shade to those fortunate enough to be invited to relax by the pool. Unique wooden chairs flank an antique table, while more modern sculptural pieces add eclectic character. Antique painted louvered doors serve as a backdrop and feature piece in the area of the yard that extends behind the umbrella-sheltered seating area. More comfortable seating can be found around the pool with bright, colorful accessories adorning them. The pool house under the deck is an ideal place for friends to spend time together. “We can sit there for hours,” says Nell. But if it were up to Nell, there would be no pool. Instead, a yard full of plants.
Farther back is where one might find Nell when she is looking to relax and take a break from her work. Two benches are almost hidden among the trees and plants, providing complete shade from the day’s hot sun and offering a secluded area for reading, resting or just getting away. A rock garden around the area offers a peaceful seclusion from the busyness of the day. This area is bedecked with more colorful accessories and cheerful pillows, while a lone birdhouse adds even more charm to the seating area.
On the other side of the home is a secret pathway that leads to a storage place for more of Nell’s tools. While some may overlook this area, not Nell, as the out-of-the-way path is still marked by her personal touch. Flowers, plants and wall clocks provide interest for every area of the secluded brick path.
It’s that interest and continued focus that keep Nell young. “I think working in the yard is what keeps me going,” says Nell. “It’s what keeps me living. I just love it. I don’t think it’s gorgeous; I just keep it right. Some people love to stay in the house and just sit. I can’t do it. It makes me feel so wonderful to be outside.”
That’s why, week in and week out, the garden is where she can be found — from 7:30 a.m. until 7:30 or 8:30 p.m. “There are days I don’t even come in to eat,” says Nell. “My daughter said one day she is going to come home, and I am going to be heels up in the yard. My response to that … well, that just might be how I want to go!” With this garden, who can blame her?