Delores Beery always had an aversion to mowers, but never more so than “when I mowed the end of my second toe off.” That accident was the catalyst for a total landscape makeover in which she yanked all the grass out of the front and back yards at her East Ridge home and replaced it with pea gravel, river pebbles, river rock, mountain stone, flagstone and pavers. It is manual labor in which she and husband, Dr. L.W. “Buddy” Nichols, have invested over four years.
“We’ve eliminated almost every bit of grass,” she says. “We don’t have a lawn mower and we don’t want another. We have one tiny patch of grass on one side of the house where we’re going to put in a putting/chipping green.
“He’s got it all planned that he’s going to paint Augusta’s Amen Corner on the fence behind it,” she laughs.
Nichols estimates that the two of them hauled in 60 tons of rock, mulch and topsoil to complete the DIY project. The “lawn” is white river pebbles mixed with a small amount of pea gravel. Islands of raised flower beds are outlined in stacked rock with flagstone trails winding throughout.
It’s a clean, manicured look that the couple says is easy maintenance.
“It looks good if you’ve got snow on the ground. It looks good if it’s raining. Prior to this, when it rained the yard was a bog and took a long time to dry out. You couldn’t use that back yard after a heavy rain for two or three weeks. Now if we get a heavy rain, we can get right back out there as soon as the water goes away,” Nichols says.
Beery says she had already begun the landscape makeover before meeting Nichols five years ago. He began helping with the project four years ago and the couple married two years ago.
“When we met Delores in 2006, she had a pretty, grassy yard,” says Charlyne Fry. She and her husband, Vance, introduced Beery to Nichols.
“With Leldon’s assistance, the yard really began to take on a unique look. They brought in beautiful rocks and large boulders and made a beautiful design with fountains, trails, bridges and places for seating and entertaining. It ultimately became the perfect place for their garden wedding in 2012,” Fry recalls.
She adds that some of Beery’s craggy rocks came from the wooded portion of the Fry’s property in Harrison.
Beery says she had dug and installed the pond before she met Nichols.
“Then I put a little path between the deck and pond and it was hard to do; I was using a pick and could hardly get rid of the grass,” she describes.
Using a sod cutter, she and Nichols cut out all the backyard grass, then rolled out weed-blocking landscape mesh to cover the ground. The couple made their own designs for their flower beds and rock paths.
Beery says they brought in rocks from all around town, from bags of small rocks at Ace Hardware and Lowe’s to large rock from a quarry near Chester Frost Park. They also included vacation mementos.
“We brought a few rocks back from New Brunswick (Canada) last summer. We have one circle out front we call Prince Edward Island (also Canada) because it has all red rock from there,” she explains.
The couple hauled their finds home in the back of Nichols’ Chevrolet Uplander.
“I took the seat out and made a hauling vehicle out of it. We could haul 1,000 to 1,500 pounds at a time. We made 20 to 30 trips doing that,” says Nichols.
Once home, the couple loaded a wheelbarrow to roll rocks to their intended spots, then they would lift the stones out of the wheelbarrow and handset them.
“We hauled 40-pound bags of small rock that we’d lift and carry. Once, when we were at the grocery, I picked up a 12-can pack of Cokes and it felt so light I didn’t think they were all in there,” Beery laughs.
Nichols says the men’s group at his church, Tyner United Methodist, holds an annual sale of mulch and topsoil to raise funds for its ministry. He and Beery supported that effort over several years, he says, buying topsoil and mulch as new plants were added in their landscape.
Since both are university educators, they would work weekends during the academic year, with the majority of their sweat equity invested in May and June. Beery says neighbors watched with unabashed curiosity.
“People walk around our street’s circle for daily exercise, so they’d stop and ask what we were doing; what was next. People were excited and couldn’t wait to see what our next step was,” recalls Beery. “People we don’t even know will drive by slowly and holler out, ‘We love the yard!’”
“I thought it was a very big undertaking, but it turned out beautiful,” says Jill Generazio. She and husband, Frank, live in the home facing Beery’s across the street.
“It may not be the look for everybody, but it’s great for us,” says Nichols. “I love to see grass — but on the golf course. We can celebrate grass, but in somebody’s else yard who has to cut it and maintain it.”
Contact Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...