By Thea Steinmetz
Approaching this Westlake home, even on a raw March day, it right away becomes clear that true gardeners live here. The planting beds at the home of Dr. John and Lee Ann Eyre are giving testimony that spring cannot be held at bay forever.
The first impression suggests that deer have already moved through and feasted on the first succulent tulip leaves. There are all manner of spring blooming bulbs peeking through the earth, ready to burst into bloom.
My belief was that Lee Ann was the gardener, and John and the children enjoyed the fruits of her passion for gardening. Multiple family albums quickly gave testimony that for John, the tradition to garden goes back to his grandfather in Tallmadge, Ohio. John, at a young age, was indoctrinated in what it means to honor the land. Although farming was not the grandfather’s main occupation, he took great pride in growing a variety of vegetables, huge sunflowers and monster pumpkins. To find their weight, individual ones were hung in flower sacks and suspended from spring weights to get an accurate pound count.
When the Eyres moved to their home in Westlake in 1996, they started a garden before they even furnished their house. It has been an ongoing project ever since.
This spring, it will be a first for the various garden beds to be planted. Lee Ann wants to try her hand at starting plants from seed. When their daughter, Meredith, came home for spring break, Lee Ann got her involved in her new – as she calls it – experiment. Meredith attends the College of Wooster and has always embraced Mother Nature with various projects. It has been a few years since she proudly wheeled a 98-pound pumpkin to Bassett school for “show and tell.”
The two of them jumped in full throttle on this mother-and-daughter project. The kitchen and dining room have been converted into peat pot central. A good-size plastic container bears the label, “sew seeds late March or early April.” Multiple trays are filled with peat pots and seed planting mix that await the selection of various plants to be started. For a first attempt, Lee Ann filled the small pots with dry soil, but felt it was not the right way to go about it. So she transferred the soil to a large bucket, added water and started mixing it until the planting mix became moist. Now she was ready to add a range of seeds. She made labels for each pot so the emerging plants can be properly identified.
The variety of seeds would suggest that she had fun buying them. The familiar ones are lettuce, beans, dill, arugula, basil, cilantro, sunflowers and zinnias, and are all awaiting their start. There were a few, lesser-known ones that she wanted to try. One of them is pumpkin on a stick, and from the picture on the seed packet, it looks like nothing we have seen before. There, also, was a package of lemon grass, and Lee Ann was not sure what this one would be used for. It is one of the lemon-flavored herbs and is used in Asian cooking. Also, when paired with other herbs it makes a fine tea.
The family’s plants in past years always came from John’s mother. Every spring her home-grown plants appeared at their doorstep. As a result, the family never bought a single tomato, bean or pepper plant. “It very much has been a family affair,” says Lee Ann, “and now I want to see if I can grow my own seeds.” As a secondary thought, she added that she was not yet sure of what she and Meredith were doing. She is very much aware that one learns the most by doing it. As a schoolteacher, she believes in that sentiment.
Always having been more aware of growing flowers, she is changing directions. She has completely immersed herself in the CSA (Community Sustained Agriculture) program at Dean’s Greenhouse. It is hard work, and she thrives on it. Seeing the produce do so well last year has strengthened her desire to work in this field for the next several months.
John now is not quite as involved in the day-to-day gardening, as his demanding medical practice makes a greater claim on him. His past handiwork can be seen all over the garden. On a family outing he spotted a grape arbor he liked, and so he built one. It is on the end of their deck, and the grapes now provide welcome shade in the otherwise mostly sunny backyard.
The various beds get moved around, and the produce is not left in the same place forever. There is a berry patch with a generous number of strawberries and raspberries. The family also feasts from their own cherry tree. It will be a fun trip to go back this summer and see how the garden has evolved. In March one can only guess and imagine how it all will mature.
A few years back, John decided he wanted a railroad garden, so he laid out a track to accomplish that. He built a series of charming houses and Lee Ann gave them personality with her painting of them.
Unfortunately, this idyllic experience came to an abrupt halt when the family added a dog. He was not friendly toward train set up.
The two boys, Pete and Jack, both attending Westlake High School, do not share their sister’s passion for growing things. In this family of five, only three are on the same page.