Audrey Hepburn once said,
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”
The Malanuk family benefits daily from those who believed as Audrey did, and they now pay the gift forward to future generations. Well before they renovated and moved into their Forest Lake home 15 years ago, their garden was already planted.
They converted the three-bedroom house to a five-bedroom one for their family of six and added on a back porch. Old blends seamlessly with new, thanks to the expertise of Landscape Architect Elizabeth Rice and Architect Tim Hance, who combined new brick hardscape with the existing garden. Amanda Malanuk feels blessed that they inherited a very well-established garden from the home’s previous owner, Joann Campbell. “I still see her from time to time,” says Amanda. “She asks me about this tree or that azalea. It’s neat that someone else built what we now enjoy.”
Amanda did not consider herself a gardener before moving to the house. She has enjoyed learning about new species, creating her own flower pots, and discovering a love of nature within herself. To established azalea beds, Amanda added blue hydrangeas. She also added ‘Debutante’ camellias to existing camellia beds and planted a bed of Knock Out roses outside the kitchen window. “They bloom bright pink all year long.”
The Malanuks’ driveway meanders past runs of azaleas grouped by color, interspersed with camellias and hydrangeas and several kinds of magnolias, all topped off by towering pine trees. To the left is the spot where a large oak stood when the family first moved in. Amanda recalls with fondness the double swing that hung from one of the ancient tree’s limbs and could hold all four of her children at once. At one corner of the driveway is a seedling magnolia that was 3-feet tall when they moved in, exactly the same height their oldest daughter, Abby, was then. “The tree is a marker of time for us,” says Amanda. Now Abby is 18, and the tree is 25-feet tall. Just across the drive, a much older magnolia towers above the house, its limbs perfectly spaced for climbing from ground to tip. This tree gave Amanda her first indication of her yard’s appeal. “My kids were little when we’d just moved in, and I spied a little neighborhood boy way up in the top of that magnolia. It scared me.” Time and experience eased her anxiety. “It really is the perfect climbing tree,” she says. “We added a ladder to help our kids get up into it.”
An obvious longtime companion to the magnolia is the large oak tree to its right. It contributes more shade to that side of the yard and frames the Corinthian-columned front porch, where a quaint joggling board and rocking chairs entice. The scene overlooks the site where Amanda waged one of her first gardening campaigns. “Because the grass was so hard to grow in the shade of the oak, I decided to try Asiatic jasmine.” Known as a vigorous ground cover, it seemed a solid choice. Unfortunately for Amanda, the rabbits that call her yard home approved of it as well. “They ate it all up.”
The next year, she tried again, erecting a rabbit fence so that the jasmine could establish itself, but her furry neighbors foiled the plan once more. “They got in anyway,” says Amanda. “I would pull into the yard at night, and there they’d be, right in the middle of it, eating away.” She did successfully create a beautiful bed on the opposite side of the front walkway, just to the right of an immense camellia bush. Anchoring the bed with four tall Natchez crape myrtle trees, Amanda then layered it with Fatsia japonica, holly fern, hostas, and tractor seat. The ensemble is framed by a thick Japanese boxwood hedge.
Theft notwithstanding, the Malanuks enjoy sharing their yard with rabbits. “A garden is an important natural habitat,” says Amanda. “We see them all the time.” The yard is also a haven for many species of birds, both permanent residents and those who stop by for a visit when migrating to other locales. Bluebirds, cardinals, chickadees, goldfinches, mourning doves, woodpeckers, and Baltimore orioles all make appearances. “The doves and woodpeckers are too heavy for the bird feeders, so they feed from what the other birds spill on the ground.”
Ernie Childs from Wild Birds Unlimited keeps Amanda supplied with enough birdseed to entertain all her hungry guests. “Amanda uses the No-Mess Blend, which is good because it comes unshelled,” says Ernie. “Any that falls on the ground gets eaten.”
Also on the property are two nests of Belted kingfishers, one at each corner of the backyard. “They’re very territorial and have been here a long time,” says Amanda. “They like to burrow nesting holes into the ground, and fortunately we have space for them to do that.” The two gangs do not get along, however. Occasionally, the Malanuks will see them out in the lake engaging in a raucous avian rumble.
Red-headed woodpeckers nested in the giant water oak that shaded the entire backyard when the Malanuks first arrived. The oak started to lose limbs as it neared the end of its life span and eventually had to come down. The event forced Amanda to rethink the yard. “Losing the shade meant plants died or had to be moved.” This was one of many lessons nature taught her about change. “Change has been my biggest lesson,” she says. “It can be dramatic or subtle.” Five water oaks were replaced with two cathedral oaks. Fortunately, the woodpeckers still live in the yard.
Subtlety also comes in the form of fragrance. The Malanuks’ garden boasts a full menu of scents, from tea olives to gardenias to magnolias and more. “It’s nice to have that surprise whiff of fragrance when you turn a corner,” Amanda says. Fragrant plants can have more than one purpose. “We use Carolina jessamine — you have to have that — to conceal the HVAC unit.”
Another gift the Malanuk family inherited was a fish and lily pond. “The little kids next door are captivated by it. They like to wander over to look at the fish,” says Amanda. Laid in a hexagon shape, the pond was home to a 25-cent goldfish for seven years. “It was about 10 inches long when it finally died. It looked like it belonged in the ocean.” They tried koi next, but the pond proved to be too small, so the fish were relocated to the pond at Woodley’s Garden Center. In addition to Woodley’s, Cooper’s Nursery and Forest Lake Gardens are Amanda’s favorites. Goldfish are back in the pond today, peeking out from under the lily pads. The hexagonal shape of the pond is framed by likewise hexagonal brick hardscape, surrounded by a hedge of Japanese boxwood.
The formal garden is topped at one end by potted Iceberg rose bushes and on the other end by an antique garden gate. From the gate, the walkway leads down to a patio where the Malanuks enjoy grilling and gathering around a fire pit in cool weather. From there, the walkway continues down to the lake. “There used to be the most wonderful tunnel of hawthorn here,” says Amanda as she stands on the lower path. “It was my favorite thing, but it got diseased and we had to remove it. I can’t replace it; it would take 15 years to grow back the way it was.” She has not decided what to do with the space, but the answer will come. “That’s one thing about gardening you have to realize: you’re not meant to do it all at once. You have to work on one section at a time.”
Of all their feathered friends, the Malanuks are best known for their ducks. Neighborhood children, and some adults, come by to see them on a regular basis. It started years ago when Amanda and her husband, Rob, took their children — Abby, Anna, May, and Robert — out to Mr. Bunky’s Market in Eastover to pick out ducks. “We kept them penned for about six months until they were old enough to go out on the lake,” Amanda says. While they may go for a swim, they always come back for dinner. “Once you start feeding them, they rely on you. You have to feed them for good.” Since then, the Malanuks have had a series of ducks, including two white ones that Amanda found stranded nearby. It can be said that the white ducks are famous. “When the flood happened, they got washed away,” says Amanda. One was found through Facebook at a nearby apartment complex. The other was spotted on a news report swimming behind a reporter on Forest Drive. The ducks’ favorite place to be is in the rose garden, which works well because they eat bugs, thereby contributing to the garden’s health.
Ducks helped Amanda learn another important lesson about nature: it always wins. Several times the ducks have laid nests in her gardenia bushes. The first year, the Malanuks thought they could protect the ducks from their natural enemies. “We installed a fence to protect them from snakes and raccoons,” Amanda says. “One night, I heard the mother duck screeching. I came downstairs and a snake was in her nest.” It had eaten two eggs and was still in the nest, but the mother duck wouldn’t leave her other eggs. Rob came down and got the snake out of the pen with kitchen tongs. “We killed the snake, got the eggs out, and put them back in the nest. Twelve of 24 eggs hatched, and eight ducklings reached adulthood. The second time one of the ducks laid eggs, we realized we couldn’t fight nature so we stopped trying to intervene.”
Amanda heard the mother duck screeching again. She looked out to see a scattering of white feathers and a red fox running away with the duck in its mouth. Wendell, Tucker, and Oliver, the Malanuks’ three giant golden retrievers, were sent out to chase the fox, but the mother duck was gone. Although Amanda tried to take care of the eggs, only one hatched. “It’s common for ducks to lay a lot of eggs because nature is against them,” she says. “We must let nature take its course. Interference is not reality; it’s not meant to be.”
Of all the lessons Amanda’s garden teaches her, the most significant are those she passes on to her children. “I am passionate about teaching children the importance of gardening and nature. I quiz them on the names of flowers and trees, and they laugh at me.” The family has expanded their efforts to beekeeping, with hives they keep outside town. “Our bees make the best honey,” says Amanda. “We harvest it once a year.” Two of her daughters are certified beekeepers. The children have also learned that while the garden is always in transition, loss means an opening for something new. Lightning hit the oak tree where the four once played on the swing. Now the tree is gone. In its place is the perfect neighborhood football field, and Robert plays coach to the little neighborhood players. Recently, a group of kids were playing in the field when Abby arrived home with several high school football players. “Kindergarteners, third graders, fifth graders, eighth graders, and seniors were all out playing football together,” says Amanda. “It was so special.”
Amanda and Rob love that their yard is not just for their kids. Neighborhood children often climb the magnolia or count the stones in the path underneath it. They come to look at the fish in the fish pond. A fence down at the lake allows the little girl next door to safely walk along beside it, looking at the fish, the frogs, and the ducks as she enjoys the peace of nature.