This lush country garden was once a blank slate

Story by M.J. Van Deventer, Photos by John and Pam Turnbull

When Pam and John Turnbull bought their country home in Muskogee in the fall of 2006, there was no garden. “The yard was a blank slate,” Pam remembers. “There was some grass and a few trees, all planted too close together. White gravel surrounded the flowerbeds. It wasn’t a pretty picture.”

A stream meanders through the garden, catching runoff from neighboring rural residences. A small rustic bridge is another “John Turnbull” feature in this garden.

The couple decided to create a master plan for the garden, making improvements season after season. It’s taken 11 years, but now they have a garden worthy of being called a “showplace.”

This path, leading from the family room, is accented with symmetrically placed brick pavers.
An old white iron bed – a great flea market find – is now home to tall summer-blooming plants. The red flowers are contrasted by a low border of white flowers. Pam Turnbull says it’s a great “conversation piece” in the garden.

They began by making a 5-foot-wide rose bed. Then Pam began ordering “tiny stuff” from catalogues. They are fortunate enough to own horses stabled on their property, so manure is plentiful. That same year they dug out all the white gravel and planted perennials such as Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, which Pam says, “loves it here in northeastern Oklahoma.” The Turnbulls also invested in containers and John built raised beds for flowers. 

A trio of old window frames anchors this garden vignette. Colorful chairs and potted plants add a whimsical note to this garden seating area.

The greatest obstacle to overcome, however, was the annoying abundance of Bermudagrass. “I grew up near Boise, Idaho, and had never encountered this kind of very invasive grass,” Pam notes. They rented a backhoe and excavated all the Bermudagrass, which was “no small feat,” Pam recalls. They edged all the flowerbeds with pea gravel and landscaping rocks. Pam and John are both “rock hounds,” so they always search for unusual specimens native to Oklahoma on their travels. One recent adventure took them to Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville, Tennessee. Closer to home, they often visit and shop at Bustani Gardens, an unusual garden center in Stillwater that specializes in exotic plants.   

This is the first glimpse from the driveway of the visual treat visitors will have as they tour this country garden. John built all of the wooden structures in the garden that serve as visual accents, defining the garden’s specific and special areas.
The Turnbulls have mastered the garden art of blending a variety of heights, a mix of colors, and surprising features to draw visitors’ attention to each garden setting. Here, flagstone surrounds a tiny water feature, including an old-fashioned water pump.

Gardening is not a new endeavor for Pam, who is a certified master gardener. “My mother nurtured beautiful gardens and flowerbeds. My dad was a vegetable and fruit gardener and we always had an abundance of raspberries, apples, and cherries, well as fresh vegetables,” she says. Pam passed her love for gardening on to one of their daughters and hopes to pass on this tradition to some or all of the couple’s nine grandchildren. 

Raspberry hues of crapemyrtles serve as a contrast to the lower-blooming plants in this area of the garden. Crapemyrtles are favored by Oklahomans as stable, dependable garden features. Against all odds, they seem to survive the state’s erratic, unpredictable weather patterns.

As the garden became more beautiful and more established, the couple began adding special features to enhance the garden’s visual appeal. “If I dream it, John will build it,” Pam says. He has built window boxes, arbors, converted old windows and rustic iron bed frames to eye-catching, occasionally humorous, garden accents. 

A contemporary “Sun God,” at right, is yet, another conversation piece the Turnbulls acquired on their travels to accent their garden.

An arched bridge was built across a dry streambed that runs through the property and often catches overflow from the runoff created by heavy rains. The untimely death in 2016 of a ‘Bradford’ pear tree (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’), which was leveled by a windstorm, inspired John to build a tall arbor that is now a focal point. An old tree stump – another casualty of bad weather and old age – is now home to a large, colorful flower-filled pot. 

John built a simple trellis to accent the summer vegetable garden. The mix of high- and low-blooming plants adds another visual dimension to the garden’s appeal.

“John recently built me a small potting bench for a shed with an angled roof that sheds water easily. I love it but I’m having to share the bench with John for his woodworking projects,” Pam laughs. “I hadn’t counted on sharing my potting bench.” Other enhancements include a sunken fire pit and a European-style herb spiral inspired by their interest in European-style gardens. That is now filled with various herbs, including comfrey (Symphytum spp.), which Pam says is perfect for tea. A trellis accents the shade garden near the front of the home, where Pam enjoys sharing her whimsical fairy garden with her grandchildren. 

A healthy crop of sunflowers live happily together with a large plot of colorful zinnias. Pam likes to mix a range of colors and types of summer flowers in this large garden area.

Pam enjoys every area of her garden and says, “I love being outside and listening to the music of the birds and our bubbling fountain. It’s so peaceful. I also love the miracle of bringing plant seeds to life.”

Scroll to Top