Shade, color, water and sound create sanctuary on Amherst Garden Walk

looking into 'secret garden' in Amherst NY
This is the view people have peeking into Kathleen Pratt’s “secret garden” in Amherst. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

“This is my sanctuary,” said Kathleen Pratt of Amherst. “The waterfall, the fish, the birds — it all brings me such peace.”

I visited the home she shares with her husband John during last year’s Town of Amherst Garden Walk.

This year, the Town of Amherst Garden Walk will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 6. You can see the dates for all of the garden walks here.

Even though her yard is beautiful from the street, people are amazed at how much there is to see once they walk in.

“My neighbors call it my secret garden,” Pratt said.

A shady spot is a wonderful place for a hammock. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Embracing shade

As you can see from the first picture, the Pratts have a lot of trees. Kathleen wanted to get rid of some, but her husband said, “Don’t touch the trees.”

Shade can be a challenge for gardeners, but as I entered the yard during the Amherst Garden Walk, I heard another visitor exclaim, “You have so much shade, but so much color!” Here’s how Pratt does it.

Pratt uses perennials for shade, such as astilbe, ligularia and hostas, that add some color with flowers. Solomon’s seal blooms earlier in spring.

More colorful plants for shade are coming onto the market, she noted, so look for new varieties.

And look for plants with interesting foliage. Hostas come in many shades of green and white and yellow, so their leaves as well as their flowers can add color. She has Japanese fleece flower, which starts out with bright pink leaves. Later in the summer the leaves are  green with splashes of white.

She also uses annual flowers to add color. And in deep shade, she uses tchotchkes such as her pink flamingos and glass flowers. The colorful paint on the shed helps, too.

John Pratt built the shed. The Pratts were going to put up a fence, but people who walked by asked them not to because they enjoy looking at the garden. The Pratts collect driftwood and use it here and there in their landscape. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Years in the making

Kathleen now does landscaping work during the summer, but she made a lot of mistakes when she began to garden.

“I didn’t realize those plastic tags that come with plants really meant something,” she said.

The Pratts started on their landscape 15 years ago with the pond. They put a deck on the back of the house, and as soon as that was finished, Kathleen insisted they also have a seating area in the yard.

“I said ‘trust me.’ He said, ‘You were right.'”

A small glass table and chairs is where they enjoy coffee in the morning and dinner in the evening.

“When we moved here, this is exactly what I had in my head,” Kathleen said.

pond with fish in Amherst NY
The pond area gets some sun in the afternoon. The string around the pond is to prevent the heron from eating the fish. There is a deep end and the fish stay in the pond all winter. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

No such thing as perfection

Having a landscape as large as this is “a lot of work, but you do what you can, and do the rest later,” she said. “Nobody is going to say, ‘Oh, there’s a weed.”

I didn’t even notice several small trees that were dead until she pointed them out to me! She keeps the trees there for birds to perch on.

“I gave up on perfection,” she said. “I’m probably the only one who sees the flaws.”

paths in landscape in Amherst NY
Paths and a footbridge add interest to the landscape. The pink flamingos in the background add color. The red ribbon in the foreground is for drug prevention awareness. Kathleen Pratt has been HIV positive for 37 years and during the winter is a motivational speaker. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Enjoying the garden

dry creek bed in Amherst NY
The dry creek beds are not just decorative; the Pratts had trouble with flooding in the yard. The couple noticed where the water settled and placed stones to direct the flow of the water. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

“Gardening is my therapy,” Kathleen said. “I can pick weeds for hours. It’s mindless. I don’t have to think.”

She enjoys the chickadees that make their homes in some of the bird houses in the yard. And flying squirrels also made use of their bird houses! Kathleen said she is sure they were flying squirrels because a baby fell to the ground and she could see it was indeed a flying squirrel.

Her son suggested she get ear buds so she can listen to music while she gardens, but “I have my waterfall and birds and wind chimes. I don’t need artificial sound.

“I don’t need to travel or go anywhere in the summer. This is what I look forward to all year.

“I’d rather be in nature. This is my passion.”

table made from tree trunk in Amherst NY
When a neighbor was taking down a tree, Kathleen Pratt asked him for a slice of the tree and part of the trunk. She used the pieces to make this table. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

7 Comments on “Shade, color, water and sound create sanctuary on Amherst Garden Walk

  1. Thank you to ALL, for your thoughts on my post and wishes of sympathy for our son. My faith in our Heavenly Father, Jehovah, and the beauty of His creations, our variety of plant life, truly helped me get through a horrible time. Now, as I look outdoors at all of our work done with lots of tears, a smile of contentment appears in my heart, remembering how and why our yard looks this way…because of a 19 year old young man, who, we had the joy and heartache of raising and loosing. ONE of my regrets is that my daughter and I lifted all those rocks, for bordering each garden, which led to back surgery, and has kept me from doing anything…..EXCEPT enjoying all the results of our work – even from my scooter!

  2. Cindy, i am so sorry that you lost your son Rick. I cannot even imagine how hard that was and must still be. Thank you so much for sharing this part of your life here

  3. Thank you for sharing your garden pictures! It inspires me to take a look at my garden space and improve. I look forward to visiting you this summer!

  4. Cindy, thank you so much for sharing. I am so sorry to hear of the death of your son. It’s wonderful that plowing your sorrow and anger into your landscape helped you deal with your pain. Gardening can be so therapeutic! I wish you and your family well.

  5. Connie, Thank you so much for showing pictures and writing articles, about different people’s garden areas! I love them ALL and can appreciate the work and care that go into them. My husband started out 33 years ago, when we bought our home in the North Boston area, by sprinkling a can of a “Butterfly garden” seed by the boys swing set area by the pool. The boys grew, we added a daughter, the pool was taken down, and our oldest son Rick, died, 23 years ago. I took my frustration, anger and sorrow out on that butterfly garden, by pulling EVERYTHING out, roots and all! We started out small, then went for it.. we now have gardens throughout our acre of land, along with a water feature and a small pond, where the pool was! Solar lights, trellises and small figures can be found among all the perennials, all surrounded by small rock border. Having had back surgery in 2007, I am done and my husband is in charge!

  6. Linda, the photos don’t do justice to this garden! The way it works with nature is probably what helps to make it so peaceful.

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