“Thank you so much for my perennial beds. I just can’t stop staring at them.”
When we met Yvonne, a PFC Army veteran at the 2019 Bear, Delaware Library Veterans Fair, we quickly learned she is a plant lover.
“Plants and books are my friends. I can live without just about anything, but I must have my plants and I must have my books,” Yvonne says firmly.
Yvonne has many house plants, however, significant breathing problems kept her from creating the backyard haven she dreamed of for her New Castle home.
"I could do it, but it would take me a decade,” she said, with a laugh.
She wanted to tame the overgrowth, replacing weeds with colorful, but easy-to-care-for perennials.
By the end of 2020, Yvonne could relax on her patio, surrounded by a wide border of perennials, new trees and shrubs, and a soft line of tall ornamental grass along the back fence.
Read how the project evolved...
This maple was wonderful at one time. Yvonne loved the shade. Unfortunately, our friend and consulting arborist Peg Schofield said the tree had to to go.
It was dying, because a previous homeowner “fixed” a damaged trunk with concrete.
When damage to the tree turned to decay, someone poured concrete into the gap.
The bed at the base also had poison ivy, weeds - and enough river rocks to pave a driveway!
Yvonne had no place to sit, nor little appealing to look at. The beds along the back fence was filled with poison ivy and weeds.
Time to reclaim and rebuild.
High temperatures, and humidity to match didn't slow volunteers, though board member Dawn paused a moment to show off the new Heroic Gardens banner.
The first goal was to clear weeds and overgrowth. Board member Heidi did an incredible job pruning Yvonne's roses, azaleas and rhododendrons. And, she brought watermelon and Gatorade! Thanks, Heidi!
Among the items found in the back yard were these dog and deer figures. We said goodbye to the dog, but Yvonne decided Bambi could stay - after we suggested a coat of spray paint in her favorite color - red.
Drove over from New Jersey to help us! Thank you, Tony, for your service, and for your help in clearing weeds along the fence.
Jason, the Marine veteran who conquered the bamboo at HAVEN, dug into the back bed, discovering pavers, daylilies and more amongst weeds. The pavers would be put to better use elsewhere.
Later, he pruned a rambling holly to perfection. Thank you, Jason.
it was a summer of wicked storms, and each time, we worried the tree would break or fall, bringing down utility lines or damaging Yvonne's house.
But we didn't have someone to tackle it.
Our paths always seem to be filled with people wanting to give back .
Joe Romello and his family, raised their hands for Yvonne's tree. Here was that tree at the end of Day 1.
That's Joe behind that big limb and spray of sawdust, dismantling the tree. Joe, thank you for making it happen! But there's more ahead...
Downpours don't faze our determined volunteers. Joe Romello and his sons returned to remove the tree stump and prep the area for our volunteers.
Our volunteers were all smiles, despite a long to-do list.
Who knew there would be so much football trash talk? Turns out advisory board member Teresa is a big fan of the Dallas Cowboys, who had demolished the Philadelphia Eagles 2 weeks earlier.
Thank you Olivia, Michael, board embers Jason and Dawn, advisory board members Teresa and Heidi for your hard work!
We can't thank our Army veteran (and Cowboys fan) Teresa enough for all of her support for Heroic Gardens. Thank you for continuing your work serving veterans.
After Kristen and advisory board member Pete cut out the foundation, board member Jason levels the gravel base, sets the borders, and lays the pavers, using those great construction skills every Marine learns.
Our projects often turn into a little "urban archeology." This time, Dawn, Teresa and Olivia dug up everything imaginable under the tree Joe and his family took down, including horseshoes, cement and even more river rocks.
When we salvaged that deer from behind one of the sheds, we asked our veteran if she'd like to hold on to it and what her favorite color was...nice job, Heidi!
Planting season is over, but the backyard still has bright colors, with this planter donated by Enliven Planters. And ornamental maiden grass donated by Enliven made the back fence worth looking at.
The patio is in, the dying tree is gone, bulbs are planted and we're laying plans to move daylilies and other perennials to better spots.
We can't wait for 2020!
Just as we geared up for spring planting, COVID-19 quarantines put on the brakes.
But we knew the clock was ticking to get trees in the ground.
When restrictions eased, a few board members got the job done, with masks and lots of social distancing!
Board member Heidi assembled the new patio furniture in no time flat, despite a confusing direction sheet!
To keep our distance, each volunteer had a project. Board member Dawn planted a white crape myrtle donated by Sam Brown's Wholesale Nursery in Malvern, PA., and delivered by advisory board member Joe.
Sam Brown's also donated an Eastern Redbud, the perfect small but showy tree for Yvonne's yard.
The location of an unwanted clothesline post was the PERFECT spot for that Eastern Redbud.
But who knew that post was anchored in 2 feet of concrete!
That's when this volunteer family poured on the muscle power to get the post out.
As board member Heidi tends a flower bed, Yvonne gave the patio set its first official use.
It's the perfect place for a break from the blazing sun.
The beautiful ornamental grasses from our friends at Enliven Planters got a layer of mulch to protect them from the weather and give them some visual pop.
After a long battle, Dawn finally conquered the roots left over from the now-gone Norway maple. In it's place, a white crape myrtle donated by Sam Brown's Wholesale Nursery.
By next spring, the graceful branches of the Eastern redbud should be covered in tiny bright fuschia blossoms.
Heart-shaped leaves will provide a nice screen for the utility pole in the corner of the yard.
Two families - and a lot of power tools - came together to tear down what appeared to be a dog house behind Yvonne's garden shed.
It took 3 hours with sledgehammers and saws to cut through corners reinforced with 4X4 lumber.
After finally cutting through walls, the team decided not to cut the roof, but to roll it to a dumpster to haul away.
Thanks to Board member Heidi and Advisory Board member Joe for recruiting their families!
Joe and Heidi prep the bag for pick up.
Heidi's handcart has the massive cement footer for the clothesline!
This dog house is history!
With the eyesore dog house gone, volunteer Tricia sifts through the remaining debris, preparing the land for grass seed and a Deodar cedar tree.
The new tree will anchor this corner of the yard.
The cedar donated by Enliven Planters is small now, but will grow quickly, becoming a habitat for birds.
Deodar cedars are often used as focal points in parks.
Wind blowing through the branches creates a soft, soothing sound.
A sweeping perennial bed will make the patio an outdoor room with colorful blooms and foliage from spring through the last days of fall.
Dawn worked with Yvonne on the layout, while Heidi prepared the soil with a rototiller.
The perennials loved the sun and soil of Yvonne's yard. In no time, they were rooted and blooming.
Our project was also having a ripple effect in her community.
“In my little neighborhood, I’m the talk of the town,” Yvonne says, smiling.
“Since we’ve been working in my yard, I’ve noticed some neighbors have put in plants. And that’s wonderful, the more the merrier.”
The redbud in the foreground was green through summer, but turned to a soft yellow in fall.
The crape myrtle was full of white blossoms for most of summer.
And the planter's new home anchoring the patio bed was ideal.
Autumn Joy sedum are a summer/fall favorite. Greenish blooms gradually become a strong pink even as temperatures drop.
They are an important source of food for pollinators when other flowers are gone.
It's October, the project is done, and Yvonne has the perfect place to rest at the start and end of her day. The sun is still warm on the south-facing patio.
“Even though it’s open, it’s a private space – more mine,” she says.
“I just sit there in the peace and quiet – ta da!”
Every dollar you contribute goes directly into a veteran's project. If you can't donate your time, consider donating below.