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A green thumb & hard work pay off

Story by Vicki Hunkler Photography by Ellen O'Nan

For some homeowners, yards are places for relaxation and entertaining, or for puttering and enjoying nature. They have a local landscape company in their list of contacts or they have a paid helper. At the very least, a teenager in the neighborhood mows the site.

And then there is Karen Heisner, who resides with her husband, Monty, on five acres tucked off the beaten path in Reidland. She is an exceptionally hard worker with exceptional results.

"I am not a horticulturist or even a trained gardener. I plant what I love and I do it all myself, including the mowing usually twice a week. I have two mowers and have mowed until 10 at night before. Normally, I'm out every day working from about 9:30 a.m. until sundown," the vivacious Karen explained.

The stone plaque in one of the gardens that reads "I sleep in the house, but I live in the gardens" is absolutely appropriate.

Welcome to the Heisners' backyard ... a beautiful retreat!

Guests on the back deck of the house have the pleasure of observing the fruits of the owners' labor from the upper level. The yard descends from the house to the well-landscaped above ground pool and eventually to a two-acre lake at the bottom of the hill. Catfish and bass splash and a few geese graze nearby.

The lush vista is punctuated with two structures that always bring comments from the guests: the hand-made replica of an old outhouse and a wonderful playhouse built in 1984. Although Dr. Heisner is a chiropractor by profession, he is obviously a skilled carpenter and has a creative side as well.

"I told my husband how much I really wanted him to build a wooden outhouse. I wanted to center a big flower bed around it like my grandmother used to have, so Monty built it," Karen said.

A variety of garden art made of materials the Heisners find when they go "antiquing" are nestled throughout the flower beds. Two "old crows" fashioned from scrap iron, for example, add a touch of humor near the outhouse. The structure, complete with a cut-out moon on the door, is flanked by layers of colorful day lilies, iris, purple cone flowers, clematis and peonies. (Did you know that irises come in 52 colors? They are all represented in this yard in the spring.)

The temptation to open the outhouse door is great, so Karen provided a surprise for those who can't resist. Just peek inside and a man in a hat and overalls may wink at you from his seat! The comforting words on the sign above his head read "What happens in the outhouse stays in the outhouse."

The other structure seen from the deck is affectionately referred to as "My Old Kentucky Home," which is actually a large playhouse. "My daughter's playhouse was made in 1984 by her father when she was 10. It had running water and a ceiling fan before our house even had one!" Karen chuckled. A glance inside reveals a fully furnished place that would entertain any little girl for hours.

A tiny swing still hangs on the small porch where a rocker and two giant ferns in pots are welcoming. Karen admits even after 30 years, "I just can't bear to get rid of it."

Another interesting focal point of the yard is the lotus pond. "I have belonged to The Lotus Pond Society of Paducah for 20 years. We meet monthly and I hosted in May when the cicadas were uninvited guests!" This year's noisy intrusion of the insects is a source of stress, interrupting an otherwise quiet place, Karen noted.

Koi fish, regular goldfish, and "calico" shubunkins inhabit the pond. Stacked rock forms a backdrop for a sprinkling of painted iron yard art and a variety of well-chosen plants.

"The koi are very destructive fish, although they add a splash of bright color to the water. They root and tear up and even spilt my lotus out of the pot one time, so it is now attached to the bottom of the pond. I had 50 blooms last year and it was gorgeous. Lotus will bloom all summer long," according to Karen.

Pickle rush, day lilies, zinnias, black torro, firecracker, hostas, and geraniums dot the landscape, while mounds of honeysuckle add fragrance to the side yard. Pink primrose is a Posh favorite with its ethereal pastel blooms floating in the breeze.

Karen appreciates the traditional, more common plants, but the yard is home to some unique ones as well, like the tomato red Hawaiian cactus and a goldfish plant.

"My friend Randa and I go to Chattanooga to the Signal Mountain Nursery to find unusual plants that we can't locate around this area. In the spring, we bring back a van (with the seats taken out) just full of unique plants," she said.

Near the pool and lower level of the house are a brightly painted red copula and a swing custom made by the Amish. It serves as a place to stop and rest. It looks unused.

Life outdoors at the Heisners' isn't always a bed or roses. "Maple leaves are the worst problem I have to deal with except the year of the ice storm. During the fall, I don't really rest until the leaves are gone around Thanksgiving. At that point, I start on Christmas décor and devote my time to that."

During the ice storm, the Heisners lost all their Bradford pears and many other large trees like everyone else in this area. They have planted additional trees every year since.

Although most of the yard features beds of carefully selected flowers, plants, crepe myrtles and other trees, containers also play a part in the setting.

"At the Dallas (Texas) Arboretum recently, I heard someone say that every container needs a 'thriller, a filler, and a spiller!'" Karen agrees that it's a good policy to follow when one is creating container gardens. She doesn't shy away from anything that requires more work or more of her time.

Many homeowners dream of having a beautiful backyard retreat like the Heisners', but oftentimes the energy, expertise, time and hard work required prevent them from pursuing it. Karen Heisner would not understand - her yard is a living testament to that.

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