“Welcome to our Mexican fiesta – lights, decorations and plenty of margaritas,” Larry Dodson says with a smile. He and Becky, his wife, are veterans of throwing themed parties and have transformed their garden into a scene from Cabo. A sombrero greets guests as they walk under an archway into the festive space. Lights strung across the yard throw jaunty rays, tables set with handmade paper flowers and Mexican trinkets provide places to eat, and a Mexican banner, complete with tissue flowers, provides the finishing touch.
“The best part about having a garden is entertaining,” says Larry. “We love to do themed parties and have had so many different ones: beach, Hawaiian, redneck. The redneck one was fun because everyone had to dress up.”
Each party brings a new transformation to the Dodsons’ elaborate garden. A giant sail was carried in for the beach party, and for the redneck party an old bathtub was filled with ice and beer, and a bar was built from metal. “We’ve done some weird stuff – wacky kinds of stuff,” says Larry.
When building their home 30 years ago, Becky and Larry had one goal: build it for the kids. When their children left them with an empty nest years later, the couple began transforming their backyard into a manicured garden. The picture-perfect space, ideal for hosting parties, was Larry’s deliberate plan and was produced by many hours of hard work.
“Earth Graphics came in and drew a plan for me. Although I used it as a starting point, I still made many changes – just kept tinkering with it,” says Larry.
His visionary thinking allowed him to tweak the original design into one he could call his own, including the irregularly shaped pool. “The pool builder asked me how I wanted the pool, so I sat down and drew the design I wanted,” he says. Larry was deliberate about concealing the pool equipment. “I hid the pumps and the hot tub around the side of the house. The pathway is lit so we can access the hot tub at night. I am particular about certain things, and there is nothing worse than having a pool and seeing the pumps.”
Before construction began, the Dodsons’ backyard was one long open area for the kids to play football. “When we made plans to change it, we decided we wanted a grass area for the grandkids to play on, and we wanted them to have a pool area,” Larry explains. This is possible due to Larry’s idea of dividing the yard into sections. On one end of the yard with the pool, lush vegetation and potted plants provide a border around the concrete. Palm trees tower in one corner, providing a backdrop that blocks the sight of other houses or telephone poles. Pots, filled with pink mandevilla and bursting with hibiscuses, sit among numerous other plants, hanging baskets and red salvia that add color to the green backdrop of shrubs and azaleas.
“I designed all of the potted plants, most of them back in April,” Larry says. “I buy a wide variety of annuals and go to town trying to figure out what colors I want. This year I did a lot of pinks.”
On the edge of the concrete, a wooden pergola covers an outdoor table set that overlooks the pool. The structure is adorned with lanterns and a music system with speakers. “We have cable out here. I ran it so we could watch ballgames, listen to Pandora on the sound system or anything we want,” Larry says.
A large area of manicured grass next to the pool provides a space where the grandkids are free to run and play, while also providing a break from the stretch of concrete encircling the pool. To Larry, the striped grass is the most important part of the garden. “I’ve always loved pretty grass in a yard. If it doesn’t look good, nothing else will,” he says. “I actually drove to Atlanta to buy a custom made mower to cut my new zoysia grass; this lawnmower is the only way I can get my stripes.”
The grass merges into the “nature” section that serves as a natural contrast to the pool area. This part of the yard is home to a wooden boardwalk and a swing set. “When you sit in the swing, you don’t notice the pool, only the garden. It is peaceful,” Larry says.
A split-rail fence is covered by a mandevilla vine, Larry’s favorite flower. “They are wonderful. The plant is very hardy and produces continues blooms, without the need to deadhead the old ones. You’ll see them everywhere in my yard.”
Every aspect of the garden – each bush, plant, pine needle and grass blade – was planted and is maintained by Larry. “Everyone tells me that I must love doing yard work. Well, no,” he says with a laugh. “I enjoy the planning and the creative process. I also enjoy the beautiful product, but the stuff in the middle — the grunt work — not so much! However, I don’t let anyone work in my yard. I’ve done it all and can’t let go of that. So if I’m going to do it, it’s going to be done immaculately.”
Becky and Larry spend about an hour each evening in the yard and several hours on the weekend. And this tireless gardener does not stop with just maintenance work. He also constantly searches for ways to change things up. Four years ago, Larry got bored and decided to start over, gutting the entire front and back. “We wiped everything out. I redesigned everything and even laid new grass,” he says.
Most recently, Larry replanted some Indian Hawthorns that were struggling and planted some Hosta and other knockout roses. He says, “My next change is to take out the bed of azaleas. They are the oldest thing here, and I am tired of them, but I have a new design in mind. I love to keep adding to it and working on new projects.”
Reese’s Plants, located in Blythewood, supplies Larry with plants for his ever-evolving garden, allowing him to take on new projects by providing the necessary materials. “Because many areas of Larry’s garden receive full sun, we recommend a variety of plants suited for that environment, including Helleri Holly, Variegated Pittosporum and King Sago,” says Philip Reese, owner of Reese’s Plants. “The important thing to remember is that every garden is personal and should reflect who you are. Start with your foundation and let it evolve like a work of art.”
Larry heeds this advice by structuring his garden into a space reflecting his love of throwing parties and continually changing the dynamics. “Primarily, our garden serves the purpose of entertaining our family, neighbors and friends,” he says. “It is a nice oasis for Becky and me to escape to, and we want our guests to feel comfortable and enjoy themselves.”