Story and photos by DANA KIMPTON
I found Sally Fulweiler when I was driving around the Old Southwest neighborhood one hot Saturday afternoon.
I noticed her garden first.
Beneath the dappled shade of various blooming trees are lilies, tulips, daffodils, and hundreds of other flowers and shrubs with names I don’t know. The entire property is lined with flowers and leafy plants, not in beds and rows, but in a more organic, native-looking fashion.
Sally was sitting on the steps in front of her house in full sun looking out at the garden. Her middle-aged golden retriever, Sydney, greets me with a bark.
Sally Fulweiler, 79, and her husband, Howard, have lived in their house at 601 S. Greenwood Ave. for almost five decades. The house itself is 101 years old. She says there was no garden when they moved into the house, but there were elm trees that all died of disease.
“The yard, in a way, was sort of planned, but over 46 years, things changed,” she says. “Things come and go. Stuff evolves. This whole garden has evolved.”
Sally has evolved, too. In her youth, Sally was not interested in gardening, she says, despite the beautiful flower gardens her mother kept.
“When I got married and grew up, I thought, ‘This is something I want to do,’” she says matter-of-factly.
Sally’s husband was a professor of literature who taught in the MU English department from 1960 until his retirement in 2000. Sally has never had a job. For decades, her work has been tending to the gardens.
Recently, she discovered she had developed skin cancer on her nose. When her doctor asked if it was work-related, she joked that yes, it was.
The experience hasn’t changed her habits much. Sally talks dismissively about her skin cancer. “That’s what 64 years working out in the sun will get you,” she warns.
Sally said she favors the act of gardening more than she likes actually enjoying her hard work.
“I like (working in the yard) more than being sociable. Like playing bridge and going out to lunch. And I’m intensely interested in everything that’s going on out here,” she said. “I guess I’m kind of a loner.”
Walking around her garden, Sally points out plants that had not yet bloomed and explains when they will bloom and what colors they will be. When asked if she has a favorite flower, her response is glib: “Depends on what day you ask.”
The garden used to have vegetables, but she says she has since stopped growing them. These days, Sally sticks to flowers, mostly, and some herbs. Fresh rosemary and sweet basil are used in her cooking year round. She tells me of her plans to make pesto for dinner that night using basil from the garden.
She motions toward the side of the house, where deer like to nose their way into her garden. There are a variety of birdhouses and bird feeders hanging from trees. Sally says she welcomes all kinds of animals in her yard, except moles, which make little mounds all over the yard.
“If I were younger and I was starting over, I wouldn’t plant grass,” Sally says. “The moles drive me nuts because of the grass.”
She explains that she would replace the grass with wood chips and bark and then plant flowers.
“The wilder, the more natural things look, the more I like it,” she says. “I don’t like tidy gardens.”