Roanoke Island Garden Club announces seasonal garden winners

Published 10:58 am Thursday, June 27, 2024

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By Barbara E. St. Amand

Roanoke Island Garden Club has announced the Business and Resident winners of the 2024 Gardens of the Spring/Summer Season. Happily, nominations from Garden Club members were plentiful. The group is hopeful that all RIGC members will have the opportunity to look around in September and again submit nominations for the next fall competition.

The unanimous Spring/Summer winner in the Business Garden category is Outer Banks Pest Control (OBPC) located at 925 Hwy. 64, Manteo. Owner Bob Hancock and general manager Jessie Hancock Midgett are thrilled with the award. Bob started the entry garden several years ago and Jessie has been pleased to join her father’s effort to build their business and make their headquarters entrance a refreshing asset that welcomes staff and clients. Some members of the staff say they find the garden relaxing whether they are volunteering to help with the planting or weeding during short breaks in their work hours or just taking a brief walk-through break from their deskwork.

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The artistic interlocking, asymmetrical design of the garden from the driveway to the active creek on its southern bank enhances and exaggerates the gentle contours of the narrow strip of land and defines the individual beds of colorful, diverse flowers, grasses and plants. Pathways lead visitors through on an ever-changing visual feast of floral texture, color and scent. As weeks end and others begin, the flowers in one bed fade and slowly fall while another rises in a seemingly effortless awakening of new flowers, pleasurable color and scent. Most recently, this was a combination of bright knockout roses and daisies, backed by a tall Carolina jasmine in full bloom. But a very recent seeding of the edges of the driveway promise an explosion of colorful zinnias in the very near future. Overlooking the evolving garden transformations, next to the bridge that takes walkers over the creek, is a large metal sculpture of a happy butterfly that was a treasured gift from father to daughter. This garden definitely displays a slice of local natural beauty to all and informs potential OBPC clients of the skill and attention to detail they might expect from the business.

For the Residence Garden, the RIGC committee had a most unusual tie vote that resulted in two winners being named Residence Gardens. The winning Residence Gardens are:

­– 307 Sir Walter Raleigh St., Manteo – owners Randy and Laura Fenninger

– 504 Lord Essex Ave., Manteo – owners Mark and Sherry Wickstrom.

Both sets of homeowners are thrilled to be chosen and will happily share the honor during the next several weeks. Like so many neighbors on Roanoke Island, they know each other well and agreed to move the RIGC winners’ sign from one property to the other during the next two months. While the gardens of these homes are quite different, both structures are in the designated Manteo Historic District and adhere to the Historic Preservation requirements of the advisory document known as The Manteo Way of Building. It is hoped you will take a slow drive (or walk) by both and enjoy the design, color and beauty of their gardens as seen from the street. (Parking is very limited in that area but they are not far apart so the short walk through this lovely section of Historic Manteo will not be a challenge for most folks.)

The garden of Randy and Laura Fenninger at 307 Sir Walter Raleigh Street is whimsical, colorful and delightfully full of dreams. Randy recently retired and happily does most of the gardening where his goals are (1) lots of diverse bright colors and (2) whimsy. Along the front edge, he has created narrow cultivated beds on both sides of the white picket fence and generally plants a variety of pollinator flowers in each. According to a happy neighbor, he replants his front border at least seasonally so there’s an ongoing change in colors and textures. Randy recalls planting at various times tulips, day lilies, dianthus, pansies and snapdragons. At last look the border contained zinnias, pansies and a variety of other colorful blooms, so you can definitely expect to see ongoing change as we move forward into summer.

On the historic front porch of the house, the Fenningers left in place hidden hooks that earlier owners installed to display a variety of patriotic buntings and/or Christmas decorations, a Manteo tradition that they continue. Between holidays they use the hooks for hanging pots of flowers that complement whatever plants are currently in the beds below. Along the sides of the house, Randy is gradually removing some of the older large shrubbery to make room for more colorful, whimsical flowers. Most currently, lilies in full bloom were breathtaking.

Randy and Laura desired more privacy in the back yard once they moved in and, with agreement of their neighbors, continued the high picket fencing around the back of their property. While it can’t be seen from the street, the utility shed is hiding a “historic treasure” in the left corner that the Fenningers are truly enjoying. It’s a healthy stand of muscadine vines that were planted from three cuttings from the historic Mother Vine on Mother Vineyard Road. (Randy has confirmed its origin with the previous owner and with John Wilson, former mayor of Manteo and current owner of the Mother Vine.) Randy also created a rectangular raised garden on the left side in front of the utility shed for growing herbs and vegetables for their personal use. Still in the early phase of retirement, he is fully enjoying his garden work, especially his dreams of what it might become. While the Fenningers currently have just one grandchild, he has fenced and dug four small plots with a dream of using each with a different grandchild when he/she comes to visit and “garden with Grandpa.”

The garden of Mark and Sherry Wickstrom at 504 Lord Essex Avenue is the epitome of classic beauty in design, structure and plant selection. Using Mark’s extraordinary artistic skills as a European-trained master stone carver, they have brought “old world” beauty together with “modern” style to create an inviting oasis that draws visitors into their home. Presenting itself as a peaceful retreat, the house was designed by Eric Moser, a well-known architect, and locally, John Wilson provided advice. Together they have created a timeless beauty that offers a strong positive lesson in the benefits of real collaboration.

Following Manteo tradition, the front yard is surrounded with white picket fencing, this one softened by greenery. There are two entry paths in front, both paved with bricks, red or tan. The main entry accented with 3.5-foot hand-cut limestone piers. The Wickstroms shipped 13,000 lbs. of Ashlar limestone from Minnesota, their former home, to ensure an adequate supply to build their new home. The center front walkway leads straight to the large porch and the front door, while the second walkway brings visitors onto a grassy lawn with a flowing central fountain. Throughout the front garden, several treasured white hydrangeas (so hard to find now) are in full bloom. These are complemented with Asian shrubs, sky pencils, and above with window boxes containing smaller seasonal white flowers.

As one passes to the left of the house, a red checkered tablecloth at the end of the drive catches the eye. The cloth dresses a small wrought iron table with two chairs that sit under a large healthy fig tree that leans out from behind the home inviting exploration or just relaxation. Local legend states that the fig tree is about 130 years old. With Mark and Sherry’s commitment to preservation, it has flourished again and grown to reach out to the south, providing shade for after-work hours and to give them an abundant crop of figs for their annual preserves.

Roanoke Island Garden Club is pleased to provide the friendly competition for Garden of the Season for the residents and businesses in our small area of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It is a fun activity that highlights the beauty, history and culture that we all enjoy. The group has heard that one business has already indicated they plan to double their ongoing effort to win. The next competition will be Fall/Winter 2024 and club members will again be looking around for potential nominations in September. Meanwhile, “Happy Summer!” here in this beautiful place.