The Idylwood Garden Club’s Yard of the Month for September goes to Doug and Amy Lawson at 6632 Merry Lane. (Please note: This article contains a number of informative web page links.)
Before moving to Idylwood just three years ago, Amy and Doug were living in an apartment in Paris (France… not Texas) where their only outdoor space consisted of a terrace and a large potted rosemary. When it came time to move back to the U.S. and they were considering which neighborhood to live in, Amy remembered Idylwood from childhood drives through the neighborhood with her parents after dining at Fiesta Loma Linda. As you might suspect from her family’s dining preferences, Amy is a 4th generation Houstonian who grew up in the Heights. Although Doug was born in Illinois, he moved with his family to Spring at the start of middle school.
Amy was a history professor at USL (University of Southwestern Louisiana) while they lived in Lafayette, Louisiana. Doug is retired from Schlumberger which, over the years, posted them to Ciudad Ojeda, Venezuela (outside Maracaibo), as well as Caracas in the late 90’s. They spent 11 years in the Heights prior to being transferred to assignments in Stonehouse, England and Paris, France for seven years.
Doug says he and Amy “were so delighted to find our new home on Merry Lane. We enjoy living here, participating in the active community, and we have made some lovely new friends. Also, we were lucky to have been adopted by three neighborhood cats.” The two returning expats had to wait a bit to formerly acquire their new home as the original closing date was set to be Aug. 25th, 2017, which, as we all know too well, was the day Hurricane Harvey began its terrible onslaught on our city. Doug was flying back from Paris for the closing and was diverted to Atlanta mid-flight when the Houston airports were closed. He was later able to get to Austin and then finally back to Houston ten days later and closed shortly thereafter. Doug says the closing delay didn’t make much of a difference as the insurance companies certainly were not going to underwrite any properties in Houston during a hurricane. He says the previous owner was a bit stressed during those days, however.
As ‘new’ residents of Idylwood (just three years almost exactly) Doug and Amy have not created a lot of new landscaping features but rather spent a lot of time and effort restoring and rescuing the elements that were already in place. Instead, Doug went on a mini-Mayan jungle adventure wielding his trusty weed eater and hand clippers and eventually uncovered a lost green oasis lined with hidden pavers and edging stones buried under a mound of Asian Jasmine that “just needed a serious haircut.” Now, that same space adjacent to the drive has become their favorite tranquil spot for coffee and a good book. They both claim that neither one of them would consider themselves “gardeners.” But they do enjoy being outdoors and spending time in the yard. Besides restoring their inherited basic landscaping, they have done their best to maintain a healthy, pesticide-free yard which means “lots of picking weeds by hand.”
Doug is on a “one-man mission” to rid the St. Augustine of weeds without resorting to chemicals, while Amy is focused on keeping a sufficient stock of milkweed for the monarch butterflies when they migrate through town. This year, choosing to avoid the crowds at the garden centers, Amy and Doug decided to mulch the front flower beds with their own combination of grass thatch and pine needles which created a remarkably effective mulch alternative.
Other plants found in their garden are Boxwoods, Agapanthus, Liriope, Foxtail ferns, Holly Ferns, Sprengeri Ferns, Sego Palms, Caladiums (whose bulbs were kindly redistributed by the squirrels and possums!), and a “secret row of Azaleas hidden down the side” of the house.
However, the Lawsons consider the “real ‘stars of the show’ are the many mature trees which provide a shady canopy over their yard. On the property they have a Water Oak, an Ash, two Magnolias, a towering Pine, and a truly ancient Overcup Oak. This Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrate), at the side of their driveway, is a battle scared yet still magnificent tree that is definitely a majestic sight. (See the photo.)
Doug has done a bit of research and verifies that the oak measures 145 inches around which is equal to a diameter of 46 inches. The International Society of Arboriculture provides a guide for calculating the age of oak trees, which multiplies the tree diameter times a ‘growth factor’ based on variety. The Overcup variety is part of the white oak variety group and is attributed a growth factor = 5. Therefore, the age of Doug and Amy’s Over Cup Oak tree would be estimated to be around 230 years old. This is obviously well before Anglo settlers arrived in the Houston area and during the time the area was still roamed by the Karankawa Indians. Doug says “Please stop by to hug this oak anytime. No… really, come hug this tree!” The Garden Club would like to point out that you will certainly need to recruit a few extra family members to come along to fully hug this tree.