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D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    May 2008



A Tour des Fleurs

The Evergreen Garden Club's June 1 tour offers a personal peek at five creations close to downtown Silver City.



The American painter Robert Dash, author of Notes from Madoo: Making a Garden in the Hamptons, calls a garden "a form of autobiography." The Evergreen Garden Club's 2008 Tour on June l offers ticket holders a chance to speak to the creators and cultivators of five sites near downtown Silver City and ponder Dash's remark.

Southwestern Garden
The flowerings in the Godfrey garden. (Photo by Ron Cole)

The Godfrey Garden, one of the tour's featured attractions, reflects the essence of "small is beautiful." It captivated me one sunny day before I had decided to move to Silver City. I remember hitting the car brakes, a reflex of awe and delight, over those audacious agaves growing on the street edge and the serene plantings in the courtyard.

Emboldened by this fine garden, I parked my car and approached Elvira Godfrey, who was sitting on the patio enjoying sliced watermelon. She graciously showed me around, crediting her husband, Larry, as keeper of the grounds.

When invited inside, I experienced the Zen tranquility that exists throughout the 1901 brick residence. Although sited on a corner lot with views to the street and a Victorian veranda, the house felt secluded. Amid the low-key rooms, floor-to-ceiling books and paintings revealed Larry's ardor for the English language and Elvira's artistic gifts.

Good people, good vibes: ultimately this encounter affected my decision to reside here.

Larry Godfrey emphasizes that he and Elvira "love beautiful spaces and the garden is an adjunct to decorating our home since we live and entertain outdoors." His vision, he continues, "was to see flowerings year-round. The only annual plant that I use is impatiens, the perennials bloom until frost, and the violets don't die down entirely."

In contrast to the colorful plantings, which include oriental poppies and hybrid iris, the garden ornaments are subdued. They include a sensuously gnarled tree root and a small, flat-stone bird bath whose waterspout holds a magnetic attraction for sparrows.

I have observed that a gardening "gene" may inhabit DNA structure. Larry watched his mother garden on the family ranch in northern Wyoming. Later, at Washington University in St. Louis, he taught English on a doctoral fellowship and met Elvira. While Larry served with the Peace Corps in India, Elvira traveled the world.

Eventually the couple and their young son settled in Wisconsin. "We were very poor," says Larry, "and Elvira designed these beautiful vegetable beds where we harvested produce that we froze and canned.

"I loved teaching in this hidden, culturally deprived area," he goes on. "There were some really great students who still remain in our lives."

Twenty-five years later, the Godfreys moved to Silver City, where Larry became keenly interested in area history. He recently edited Cows and Columns, a book that spans 27 years of selected writing by New Mexican ranching journalist Gene Simon (see the December 2005 Desert Exposure). And Elvira's paintings of the garden, along with those of Dorothy McCray, will be exhibited the day of the garden tour.



In the interim, Larry continues as part-time gardener at "Tierra Alta," Joe and Linda Hutto's spread a short walk up the street, also featured on the June 1 tour. Tierra Alta boasts a commanding, always evolving garden set among white stucco structures typical of Mexico's romance with modern French architecture. The complex is laid out around a series of patios, which serve as corridors between the structures. In this way, it reminds me of the Museo Frida Kahlo (originally Kahlo's family home) in Coyoacan, a Mexico City suburb.

Dotted with an array of charming ornamentation — urns, tiles, fountains and ironwork — Tierra Alta provides a distinctive highlight to our town. According to Joe Hutto, the original 1881 edifice, a sister structure to the present Silver City Museum, was "moved in pieces to Tierra Alta in 1905, then reassembled. Purchased in 1994, the property is envisioned to become a bed and breakfast someday."

Over the years Joe has collected and commissioned an array of iron ornaments, some designed by ironsmiths Jim Pepperl and OxyBill. An iron schoolhouse bell that Joe's father gave him now hangs and tolls above a patio entryway. It resembles an "espadana," the wall belfry of a Mexican church. Other elements also unfold as one winds through the garden's various elevations.

Arborvitae, Italian cypress and apricot trees count among the most mature landscape plantings. A simple plank, nestled within the trunk of a septuagenarian almond tree. seemingly bids you to sit, repose and write poetry. Other delights include a 40-inch-high boxwood hedge, a lone magnolia tree wisely protected by walls on the facade and two koi ponds.

Linda Hutto, whom Joe calls his "creative consultant and financier," found the patterned concrete blocks that brilliantly enliven a pathway within the property's oldest section. Fun to walk on and to observe from an upper terrace, the blocks were salvaged from a tear-down in Las Cruces.

From a gardening standpoint, Joe enjoys pruning and also likes "to touch and eat plants" as he tromps around the grounds. He acknowledges taking a long time "to think about my projects." And he worries about the almond tree dying. Joe's DNA "hook" may be the stamina he inherited from his father, a union organizer. Growing up in Arizona, Joe chauffeured his dad throughout the region's mining communities, including Silver City.

At Tierra Alta, where the proprietor calls himself "a trial-and-error gardener on land that spans three growing zones," endurance is a critical trait.



Several other gardens on the tour surround historic homes. Patty Clayton Leff's garden focuses on entertaining and includes a hot tub, dancing area and grape arbor. Patty says the original part of her residence served as cooking quarters for the 1883 Stine-Fleming House located next door.

Patty and her late husband, sculptor Leonard Leff, comprised an earlier generation of Silver City artists. Yello on Yankie currently exhibits her collages and prints.

The Horvath Garden showcases the green skills of two talented Europeans. Concert pianist Julie Horvath and her husband Harry, a piano builder and restorationist, moved to Silver City from Berlin via Manhattan.



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