Therapeutic Escape

A colorful Japanese inspired garden sets a relaxed tone for a Taylor Mill home

Catmint flowers grow near a walkway and moss-covered retaining wall.

To enter Terri and Rick Nowak’s garden is to realize a sense of peace, harmony, and tranquility.

You truly feel like you’ve made an escape from the hectic world into another realm. The garden is constructed with simple, rustic materials like wood, stone and moss. Oriental ornaments such as lanterns and statues are tastefully tucked in here and there.

Many Japanese gardens center on a ceremonial teahouse. The Nowak garden is anchored by a pavilion that evokes that same feeling. The surrounding gardens are layered with shade-loving plants like ferns, hosta and azaleas. Moss grows happily alongside a naturalistic waterfall.

Although this garden seems well established, it hasn’t been here for long. Four years ago, trees carpeted a steep slope leading up to the back door. Terri, the gardener, wanted to transform this wooded back yard incline into useable space.

The first step was to clear away the encroaching forest, saving five of the best trees. Next, Terri arranged to have the concrete patio, steps and walkways poured.

Then the unthinkable happened. Terri and Rick were in a severe motorcycle accident involving a car and a deer. Terri was in the hospital the day the patio was poured—and for over a week after that.

As she healed from the trauma, Terri used gardening as her therapy.

She had a vision of what she wanted to do with the property, and the determination to make it happen.

Birds find plenty of reasons to linger in the garden.

While recuperating for nine weeks, Terri arranged for stonemason Ashley Moore to build the walls and fireplace. Later, she got to work herself—starting with about 600 bags of soil. “I kept ordering big pallets of soil and mulch from Lowe’s. Then I had to carry them down all the steps to reach the planting beds!” she says.

She also built the interlocking concrete block walls after carrying every block downhill. Then she began planting. The large willow tree and a couple of blue spruces were installed, creating a framework under which Terri added the many shrubs, ferns, and flowers.

On one side of the garden is a fern glade with birdhouses. Azaleas bloom while the ferns are low. By the time they stop blooming, the ferns have grown higher and continue the show. There is a bird that returns annually to nest in one of the houses.

Purple rhododendrons are followed by hydrangeas. Peonies add their amazing, oversize blooms to the mix. Red and yellow carpet roses supply a constant colorful accent throughout the summer. Evergreens, like a golden Chamaecyparis, keep things interesting in the winter.

Colorful foliage always looks great. Terry planted a variety of lively hosta and coral bells, along with a stunning gold-foliaged tiger-eye sumac and three kinds of Japanese maple.

The waterfall

The following summer, Dan Meyer of Meyer Aquascapes installed a pondless waterfall. Meyer specializes in designing natural looking waterfalls, streams and ponds. Terri and Rick met him at the Home and Garden Show and loved his work.

The natural slope of about ten feet over the 25-foot length of stream helps to make the waterfall realistic. Of course, every single stone had to be hand-carried down the steps to be placed into the landscape—a very labor-intensive project.

Moss ages the water feature and blends it seamlessly into the nearby plantings. This moss has grown like gangbusters, due to the ideal conditions of morning sun with afternoon shade and adequate moisture.

“The rock used in the water feature is a really rustic stone that comes from natural outcroppings in Missouri,” explains Meyer. “It has lichens, moss, and sometimes even trees growing on it when it is shipped. Once you put it in place, if it’s in the right location the moss just keeps on growing.”

Terri and Rick enjoy being on the Pondarama tour sponsored by Meyer Aquascapes, sharing their wonderful waterfall and garden with visitors. And there are plans to expand.

“I usually do a project every year in the back garden,” says Terri, “although this summer the project was my daughter’s wedding. Next year I plan to do a second stream next to the original one, extending further down to the bottom wall. I’ll also put blue flat rock on the patio and steps.”

A red foliaged plum and willow tree add color near the pavilion.

Added amenities

A privacy fence at the bottom of the hill has the sprinkler system, installed by Tepe Environmental Services, hidden from view on its backside. The sprinkler heads pop up to water the landscape. This leaves Terri free to dig anywhere in the garden without inadvertently damaging sprinkler parts.

Terri also worked with Tepe to design the unique, Japanese-inspired pavilion. There is a fan in the pavilion, and speakers with surround-sound, too.

The statuary is lighted, and lights on pillars have a dimmer for romantic evenings. “It looks like Disney World when you turn the lights all of the way up,” laughs Terri.

Family oasis

Terri and Rick’s daughter had an engagement party in the garden, and wedding pictures were taken there, too. Terri has visions of using the garden this way often.

“I have children and grandchildren. In the future, as my family is growing, we are going to use the gardens a lot. It is a place for us to get the family together. We can roast marshmallows in the fireplace.”

The dog, Harley, enjoys the garden, too. It’s his job to keep the squirrels and other small critters at bay. “He watches from the back windows, and when a squirrel comes by he’ll just fly down the basement steps and out the doggy door,” says Terri.

It’s hard to believe that petite Terri physically did this demanding landscaping herself, and that she has no special training in horticulture. Terri’s love of plants, her boundless determination and her vision are her guide.

“This is the most amazing landscape,” acknowledges Meyer. “In spring, there are azaleas. As soon as the weather warms up, she’s got flowers. Her combinations of colors and textures are better than most of the professionally designed gardens I’ve seen.”

“It’s my hobby,” says Terri. “When I get stressed, I go back and dig holes. It’s very good therapy, and good exercise, too.”


Waterfall: Meyer Aquascapes Inc.; Walls and fireplace: Ashley Moore Stone Masonry; Statuary: Jackson Florist and Garden Center, Covington; Patio furniture: Watson’s; Large tree installation: Natorp’s; Lighting, sprinkler system, pavilion: Tepe Environmental Services

To see this article as it appeared in the magazine, please visit our Digital Edition, pages 36-44.


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