Fire destroyed the home of a Colleyville family, but not the love of gardening

Posted Saturday, Jul. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Clearly, Donna Detzel has heart. When a fire destroyed her Colleyville home in 2003, she found herself evaluating what was important.

“Basically, we escaped with the dogs and us in our pajamas. And that was it,” Detzel recalled of the lightning strike that destroyed her family’s home and garden. Her husband and children were safe and the house was rebuilt, “but I didn’t have the heart to reacquire things.”

“I’d always been passionate about gardening. I grew up in England, and gardening was a big deal to me. Slowly but surely over the years, the passion took hold again and there was a desire to bring things back to pretty.”

Outside the kitchen door, a colorful butterfly and hummingbird garden grows. The soothing sound of water from a small fountain helps attract the creatures that enjoy the ‘Gold Sun’ lantana, Turk’s cap, asters, firebush, hardy dwarf bottlebrush, and zinnias. Dill encourages black swallowtail caterpillars.

At another corner of the house, where two Chinese pistaches survived the fire, their fine-textured, spreading canopy dapples the sunlight and creates a serene alcove. A flagstone path invites quiet contemplation among the red and green Japanese maples, spreading yew, willowy podocarpus, spirea, and dwarf mondo grass. Annuals like ‘Fireworks’ gomphrena and burgundy Joseph’s coat provide pops of color nearby.

The backyard garden was designed to be a focal point from within the house. “The first thing you see is that blue [Vitex bush], and it takes your eye down there so you see the full extent of the yard,” Detzel said.

Within the vista, garden beds surround the pool. The most stunning contain a multi-trunked river birch with its papery, peeling white bark. At its foot, a collection of river rocks is deposited. Color bursts from coral drift roses, cigar plant, salvias, Mexican sage, blackfoot daisies, summer phlox, gaura, and plumbago tucked among cypress and ‘Gulf Stream’ nandinas.

Detzel enjoys container gardens, too. The front flagstone patio features tall vessels of blue scaevola and duranta, copper plant, rusty gaillardia, zinnias, and the gold of sweet flag and Dahlberg daisies. The kitchen patio hosts clay pots of succulents and purslane. The back door welcomes with dark pots of purple and chartreuse sweet potato vines and deep pink periwinkles.

Detzel has secrets she’s willing to share.

She mulches her pots. “Otherwise, soil dries out immediately and you water too much.” She fills the bottom half of her containers with empty plastic bottles to provide air circulation for roots and save potting soil.

She admires possumhaw, a deciduous holly. “Texas gardeners need to look at other things that are not necessarily green all year but have other features — bark, berries, branching — that give a plant beauty, even in the winter. Possumhaw will be covered with bright orange berries, and birds love it!”

She adores chinquapin oaks. “If you buy a $30-$45 tree, 8 foot tall, good structure, good leaders; plant it in late summer, early fall, it will, in three years, grow bigger than a $1,000 tree. Starting a small tree, it gets established and grows faster, bigger, stronger than a big tree.”

Detzel’s $30 chinquapin is now 30 feet tall.

Finally, she must have ‘Sweet Autumn’ clematis. “About the second week in August when you think you cannot make it through the summer another day, the ‘Sweet Autumn’ clematis blooms, and it’s covered with fragrant, tiny white blossoms. You go, ‘OK, fall is going to come, if I can just hang on.’”

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