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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”