An arborist friend once told Lance Littlefield that she had a beautiful garden, but in it, too, “the worst trees you could have” grew. She laughs at the memory and admits that maybe he was right
But after half a century of living in this tidy Brainerd neighborhood, she’s made peace with the unwanted trees in her backyard. Yes, the mulberry plant attracts woolly aphids, and the oak’s large, thick leaves defy decomposition.
However, these same trees are the main reason she loves her garden. What is her favorite feature? “Shadow,” she joked.
The garden is lined in multiple shades of green—darks, lights, and everything in between—from plants draped in shade or shining in streaks of sunlight. Within this green landscape of hostas and ferns come bursts of color from showy plants: begonias, petunias, and hydrangeas.
Laness began gardening seriously in 1992 after her two sons and her husband, Ron, were grown and gone.
“You can’t have kids and a garden,” she says.
In fact, the tree swing in the middle of the backyard is located where the boys once jumped and fell on a trampoline.
Little by little, her vision became a reality.
“It has evolved one area after another,” she says.
With the backyard garden taking shape, another project was pending: converting a potting shed from a small outbuilding that Littlefields says originally served as a maid’s quarters when the house was built in 1900.
“We knew we didn’t need her for that,” says Ron, whose political career spanned 30 years and included two terms as mayor of Chattanooga, from 2005 to 2013.
“During my political years, we practically allowed it to fall,” he says.
Lanis was biding her time, while at the same time refining her vision of the place.
“I collected pictures. I had a file. I had a lot of pictures of planter canopies and how I thought they should be,” she says.
Once he left office, Ron busied himself with repairs and built some furniture, including a table containing a small sink and a wooden cart for long-handled tools.
Lanis says she executed her vision without putting anything down on paper.
“I didn’t paint a picture,” she says. “I didn’t have a plan.”
The green of the sun-drenched garden is reflected inside the shed, with its light walls and pale green and yellow floors. Ron suggested mesh panels on the ceiling.
The centerpiece is an open cabinet, painted dark, containing antiques salvaged from her grandparents’ farm before it was sold in the 1970s. On her shelves and along the walls are boxes, crockery, reels and enamel pots that evoke memories of her childhood.
Sometimes, especially when the air is humid after rain, she says she can walk in and remember the smell of her grandfather’s workshop where many of these prized possessions once lived.