Dragons, gardens, and my third-grade teacher

When you tell me the theme of your garden is Game of Thrones, you had better believe I am coming to visit. More on that in a moment.

At the top of the driveway is a yellow birdhouse, a sign that all are welcome in this home. I parked by sweet foundation plantings of ferns and impatiens, and Kathy and Steve greeted me with friendly smiles and a cold drink. The hydrangea tree was full of white blooms, and a cherry tree was growing tall in a hollowed-out willow tree stump.

The large orange azalea planted in memory of Kathy’s father and the clematis vines climbing an iron arch showed signs of past spring blooms. With hostas protected from deer by a rope pulled tight every evening, this front garden is gentile and delicate. Canna lilies, one of Steve’s favorites, are blooming everywhere.

Off to the side, the garden memories continue. There are morning glories for Kathy’s mom and gladiolas planted as an ode to Steve’s dad, who sold glad bulbs to have cash during the Depression. A bench surrounded by clumps of irises that were gifts from co-workers and friends sits on this gentle slope.

We planned my visit in the evening so I could enjoy the garden aglow with lights. This was worth staying out late on a school night. The garden draws you in. The walkways are lite, the trees twinkle and it was delightful.

Following along the path, I heard the story of the large pine tree that fell on the house seven years ago, crashing through the roof and almost canceling Thanksgiving Day dinner. The house had significant roof damage, but luckily, no one was hurt, and there was a silver lining. Because of one tree falling, five more pine trees were removed, creating a sunny spot and a new garden opportunity.

You guessed it, a Game of Thrones garden. I love a theme, and dragons is a good one. Placed in front of a princess spirea and a huge blooming butterfly bush was the centerpiece of the new garden-a rock waterfall topped by a dragon. Not just any dragon, this one has his wings spread and water, not fire, spewing from his snout. So cool!

Purple lights cascade behind the fountain dragon, and just as you realize that yes, there is a flying dragon topping the waterfall, your eye wanders and finds not one but two more dragons near the water. Each with uplighting and each nestled on the perfect perch. What fun.

All tales of dragons need a warrior, and of course, this garden has one. He keeps a watchful eye on the dragons by being slightly hidden among shrubs and ferns under a mature holly tree.

It’s here, across from the dragons, on a deck filled with potted dated palms and elephant ears, overlooking a hillside with a Harlequin Glorybower shrub and a tall tulip tree that Earl the Squirrel braves the dragons and comes to beg for his breakfast peanuts every morning. Chester the Chipmunk is also a regular; as I mentioned, everyone feels welcome here.

With music, lights, comfy chairs, and wicker baskets filled with blooms, this is the spot where friends gather. I am lucky — tonight Kathy has made her award-winning cherry pineapple parfaits topped with whipped cream.
Over dessert, we begin to trade stories.

First, I hear about parties and wedding receptions held around the fountain, then travel adventures and even a few garden adventures. Steve found a handful of old photos, we laugh, and I tried to remember who is who in these long-ago photographs.

Did I mention that I first met Steve Knighton, Mr. Knighton, when I was in third grade, at Piedmont Elementary School? He was a young hotshot student teacher assigned to my class. His career weaved through Kanawha County, bringing him back to Piedmont as a full-time teacher, then as principal. It is here he would create his legacy. Over the years, our paths crossed. I met and instantly loved Kathy and eventually went back to read weekly for Piedmont third graders, who were impressed that I could sing the school song.

As this special evening was ending and we were saying goodbyes in the driveway, I thought how perfect it was that the driveway was a circle. Connecting with a teacher in elementary school, becoming friends as an adult, and knowing his family, well — I am sure there is something poetic to say about decades of friendship and a circle driveway.

On the way home, I smiled and thought of gardens, dragons, and old friends.