Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sandra Theall's Fairy Tale Garden

There are many fairy tales in which a character steps through a doorway and suddenly travels into a new world. Surreal elements like vibrantly colored singing birds, unusual trees and mystical beings makes the visitor wonder if he or she is dreaming.

For many, the images from picture books and movies are the only way to experience such magical places. But for Sandra Theall of Abbeville, all she has to do is walk outside of her home into her five-acre garden.

“I feel like I’m transported from the chaos of the real world into a fantasy every time I step into the yard,” says Theall. “I couldn’t live in a place where I couldn’t be outside every day.”

Trees and bamboo surround the property to provide both privacy and intimacy. Red-tipped Photena shield the yard from the noise of street traffic, Oak, Elm and Cypress create canopies of shade, and Japanese Magnolias, Crepe Myrtles and Red Buds decorate the scenery with bursts of color.

“I’m a big tree person,” says Theall. “Nothing else bothers me like the loss of my trees.”

A bubbling half-acre pond surrounded by Greek statues like Zeus and Persephone provides a refreshing swimming oasis for white geese and Muscovy and Peeking ducks. Multi-colored peacocks named Limpy, Peabody, Thelma and Louise dance around the property singing about the beauty surrounding them.

“My pets follow me all over the yard,” says Theall. “I’m never alone because there is always a cat, dog or bird peeking around the corner at me.”

Although Theall loves all the living things in her garden, her pride and joy are her many Hibiscus. She is president of the Acadiana Hibiscus club, and has seventy-five different varieties of the flower. Many of them, she hybridized herself.

“There is no greater thrill for me than having a seedling bloom for the first time,” says Theall. “You never know what you’re going to get.”

According to Theall, Hibiscus prefer morning sun and evening shade. Her many varieties have names like black dragon, godiva, silver memories, red snapper, sweet cheeks, Atlantis, elephant ears, nanette peach, pagan fire and Creole bell.

“A gardening secret is to keep mulch around your Hibiscus and trees,” says Theall. “To have a successful garden, you have to be committed and love working in the yard. There are days when nobody wants to go outside.”

A gravel road led me from the high-paced traffic of Highway 14 to the serene beauty and peacefulness of Theall’s garden. Thelma and Louise ran in front of my car to announce my arrival to Zeus and Persephone.

“I was a high school teacher and love ancient history,” said Theall. “That’s what inspired the statues around the pond.”

It had rained earlier that morning and the garden was thick with humidity, mist and drops of water slowly falling to the ground. Dark clouds occasionally blocked the sun, casting shadows on the Greeks, while one of the peacocks sang like the fat lady at an opera.

Limpy captivated me with his beauty while he posed for pictures on a small pasture of green grass. I was excited about his cooperation during the photo shoot, but became concerned as he got closer and closer to me. It made me wonder if his earlier song had been war music.

Luckily, Mrs. Theall’s gardener, Robert Castro was nearby cutting bushes. I asked him if Limpy had a history of violence, and if I should stand still or run for my car.

Castro laughed and said, “He’s attacked me a couple of times. But I think you’re safe.”

Castro comes to Theall’s garden once a week to help with the maintenance of the property. I’m glad he was there that day because Thelma and Louise snuck up behind Limpy and there were now three birds coming in my direction. Although a picture of a flock of peacocks pecking me to death seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity, I cut my photo shoot short, and slowly backed away from the beautiful, yet fickle feathered gang.

Theall gave me a tour of the property in a small off-road vehicle that resembled a golf cart, but which she referred to as, “The Gator.” We rode through tunnels of rain soaked foliage to discover ju-ju be fruit trees and bamboo fields laced with orange trumpet vines.

The beauty of the scenery made me wonder if I was a character who had stepped through a doorway into an enchanted forest. Music, vibrant colors and exotic plants all supported the existence of the fantasy world before me. But the real magic of Theall’s garden, is the fairy Godmother who dreamed it to life.

The Hibiscus club meets every first Tuesday of the month. If interested in attending, call Sandra Theall at 337-893-0064 for details.

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