A Nurturing Nature

Retired nurse finds peace in a panoply of gardens.
Cartney prunes a perennial

As an intensive care nurse at one of the area’s busiest hospitals for decades, Glenda Cartney spent her days tending to the sickest patients, those souls who often teetered precariously between life and death. Her days were filled with the constant cacophony of whirring, beeping, buzzing machines, and the emotional toll of nonstop nurturing.

Maybe that’s why Cartney, once her shift ended and she changed out of her scrubs, made a beeline to the garden, to the smell of the earth and the feel of her hands in the cool soil. Her garden—actually, several gardens—became a sanctuary, a refuge, from the demands of a very rewarding but difficult job.

“Gardening gives me peace and relaxation,” says Cartney. “I can go out there and work all day and I’m just in another world. I don’t worry about anything; I don’t think about anything. It’s all just very satisfying.”

So pull up a seat, perhaps a garden bench, and learn about Cartney’s outdoor wonderland.

Fairy Fantasy

Whimsy can be found in the fairy garden, located at the rear and side of Cartney’s lot. This patch of delight boasts everything from diminutive perennials such as dwarf bee balm, lilies, hostas, ferns, moss and annuals, to a dazzling display of fairy houses of all shapes and sizes—including the castle, which was the genesis of the garden some seven years ago.

Cartney scours local garden centers for deals on the adorable abodes, and even takes to painting them and adding glitter if the mood strikes and the situation necessitates. “I love the creative aspect of all of it,” says Cartney, revealing she even found a ceramic house and fashioned it after a Frank Lloyd Wright home.

And what would a fairy garden be without fairies? Not surprisingly, Cartney has the delicate sprites everywhere: there are fairies cavorting on moss glens, fairies in swings, fairies frolicking from branches, fairies in tiny doorways and fairies sharing a meal at tiny tables.

Three neighbors bring over their young grandchildren, who are completely enamored by the wonder of it all. A visit from the tots a few years ago was a memorable event, recalls Cartney. “I say, ‘Well, now you have to be kind of quiet because the fairies are really busy working now,’ ” she says. “The little boy says, ‘I see them! I see them!’ And the little girl says, ‘Shhh … quiet. Remember what she said; we don’t want them to go away.’ They are just mesmerized,” says Cartney with a laugh. “It’s a magical little world.”


Asian Oasis

If Cartney’s fairy garden is full of whimsy and fun, the Asian garden is, conversely, a lesson in Zen. Started four years ago because she was having a class reunion at her house, this garden is a mixture of tried-and-true Asian elements. “I tried to incorporate both Chinese and Japanese aspects,” says Cartney.

The stunning torii gate, a Japanese garden feature that is commonly found at the entrance of a Shinto shrine and is symbolic of a transition of sorts from the common world to the sacred world, sets the meditative tone for the garden.

Cartney also made sure to include rocks, a water feature and pagoda with fire, all of which are important elements in an Asian garden. A bright red bridge marks a contemplative crossing, and a large stone, placed as a memorial to her mother, is decorated with a single piece of her mother’s jewelry.

Hydrangeas, whose origins trace back to Asia, nestle with perennials of varying greens, and the red and white hibiscuses add the perfect pop of color. There are a plethora of statues, which, as it turns out, have prompted Cartney to label the bases of the statues because so many people ask about them and she often forgets what they are, she says with a laugh. A newly added bamboo backdrop accentuates the reflective mood and creates a visual boundary, while lanterns of varying heights and sizes cast the perfect glow.

Perfectly Prairie

A neighbor’s brother started using prairie plants in his garden and gave some to Cartney, so what else would a gardener do but start a prairie garden? Located at the front of the house and either side of the driveway, Cartney’s native garden boasts bee balm, coneflower, ornamental grasses, peony trees and more. Joe Pye weed, with its statuesque height, is used to create dimension, while irises, tulips and lilies brighten with outstanding color. And, speaking of color, for fall interest, Cartney plants mums in yellow, orange and purple.

With a love for birds, Cartney uses the gardens to highlight bird feeders, birdhouses and bird baths—perfect spots for her winged friends.

Backyard Retreat

Just outside the back patio door, where a large swimming pool once was, is now the perfect spot to sip a glass of chardonnay, take in a hearty meal or visit with a friend. Cartney installed a circular patio that is now home to several chairs, loveseats and tables, as well as a chiminea, which is perfect for chilly summer evenings or fall parties, and a two-tiered water feature. Around the periphery of the patio are plants, trees and a variety of perennials, which add to the natural wonderland.