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This garden grows from one generation to the next

07/11/2013 2:49 PM

06/13/2013 1:12 PM

When Charley Cope explains what he likes best about Weatherford — “its old traditions, old people, old houses” — it makes perfect sense. His large corner lot just south of the courthouse transports visitors to another time.

It was purchased by Cope’s great-grandfather in the late 1800s, and four generations have lived on the property. Post oaks under-planted with other oaks, catalpas and shrubs by Cope’s father in the 1960s provide a rustling, cooling shade.

Behind the house and detached garage lies a sun-drenched open parcel that showcases Cope’s appreciation for the beauty and bounty of the natural world. A pathway scattered with vintage bricks picked up “here and there” leads to an elliptical garden enclosed within a stacked-stone knee wall. Inside, brick paths bisect large swaths of roses and other old-fashioned favorites, like larkspur, poppies, phlox, narcissus, obedient plant, lilies, coneflowers, daisies and black-eyed Susans.

“My great-grandfather used to grow a vegetable garden here, and after him, it did nothing for a long time. My father did a vegetable garden for a short time. For a long time, it was just Johnson grass,” Cope says.

The garden design itself is organic, as Cope doesn’t follow a plan. “I’m always changing my mind,” he says in his soft, melodic Texas drawl. “I never use mortar for my walks. I don’t have a color scheme because all colors are beautiful to me.”

This year, he didn’t cut down the grass outside the garden wall because it was rife with sunflower, larkspur and poppy volunteers. “I couldn’t bring myself to mow it,” he says.

Although the poppies are finished now, the verdigris patina of their bulbous seedpods is artfully stunning. “The seeds pour out of there like a pepper shaker,” Cope says. “You’ll get thousands out of one pod.” He collects and packages the seeds to give away and scatter in the fall for next year.

“My dad taught me to love plants, to appreciate them. He’d go dig ’em up wherever he found them. We trade with people. I don’t want to just buy a garden and stick it in. I stick to perennials. You have something to give away and it’s back every year.”

One habit Cope and his wife, Martha, have propagated is taking a vase of cut flowers from their garden wherever they’re headed for the day and leaving it on the counter. “It gives us a lot of pleasure and other people, too, I hope,” Cope says.

Like his predecessors, Cope maintains a vegetable garden. Fig, apple, plum and pear trees stand sentinel behind the stone wall. Within, onions are ripe for the picking, and potatoes, watermelon, squash, black-eyed peas, asparagus and wheat will follow.

“I saw in a garden magazine, they suggested if you have a little corner, buy you some hard winter wheat. Plant it in October,” Cope says. “In the spring, I cut the heads off, work the little berries out. I’ve got a hand grinder and I make our traditional harvest biscuit every year and save enough seed for next year.”

He and his grandson constructed an arbor, adorned with Virginia creeper, edible grapes, crossvine and climbing roses. “I’m going to let whoever wins win. ’Course, I’d like to have grapes,” Cope says.

The outhouse-cum-potting shed he built and the ligustrum hedge he pruned to resemble bobbing heads peeking over the bushes are further testament to the joy this patch of land rouses. Cope doesn’t even mind the fire ant bites that blight his hands.

It’s gratifying “to see so much come out of nothing,” he says.

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