Discovering Eureka

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Homestead gardener drives nature up the wall

The rocks that were used to build the walls were probably throw-aways, unearthed during excavation for homes built more than a century ago. Each is different. Each was put into place by hand. The rock walls have seep holes for drainage, preventing pressure from bringing the wall, and the garden, down.

"Somebody had a plan," Patricia Levine said.

Levine is the manager of 66 Center Street, a bed and breakfast built in 1886 by the Perkins family, who owned of the lumber mill across the street. Levine also keeps the garden that climbs the slope next to the house. She doesn't know who built the rock walls that hold the garden to the hillside, but she can read the signs -- the walls were the work of masons who knew what they were doing.

"Any wall you can stand on is a good wall," she says.

The retaining wall at the back of the slope is limestone, probably built at the time of the house, Levine said. The walls that hold the raised beds are made of what she calls rubble rock -- the kind she finds under the ground when working in her own garden. Some are geodes -- when you break them open, there are crystals inside. Some look like pieces of petrified wood.

"None are stackable," she said.

Levine has worked at the house for six years, and was the planner and planter, along with a former co-worker, of the garden as it is today. Five yeas ago, it was covered with vinca vines.

"We removed the vinca, put in the bushes and started planting," she said.

The wall builders incorporated metal garden art into the walls -- old wagon wheels, a motor part, a bed frame. The branching petunias are also recycles: being single, not hybrids, they resow themselves from seed. Levine, who has greenhouses, started all the flowers from seed, including the carpet zinnias, the dwarf dahlias, the coxcomb and the salvia.

"It's the cheapest way, if you have the time," she said. "And it's second nature. I've been doing it for 30 years."

To keep the garden in shape through the summer, Levine arrived at the house at 6 a.m. and worked a couple of hours, pulling weeds, mulching and watering. She doesn't use chemical fertilizers, putting down mulch to keep the weeds in check. Mulch also builds up the soil and keeps it moist.

"Raised beds are great, but they dry out fast," she said.

The level area around the house was originally used as a drying yard for the lumber mill, Levine said. The dining room of the house was a showroom where women came to choose wood trim for their houses. Center Street was very commercial at the turn of the century, she said, with a hardware store, feed store, Liberty Stables and other businesses that Spring Street didn't have space for. Now the lumber mill is an antique store.

"Some of the old mill equipment is still stored there," she said.

Other vicissitudes of gardening in Eureka Springs: The deer come through and wipe out the garden two or three times a year, she said. The resident ground hog, known as Junior, inflicts further damage. He lives in the garden house, deroofed in an ice storm.

"Every year is a struggle," Levine said. "Nothing is easy in the Ozarks."

That Eureka Springs has a long growing season means that local gardeners tend to look forward to the first frost, she said. Frost signals the end of gardening season, but not an end to the work.

"When the garden goes to bed, you have to clean it all up," she said. "That's when I start thinking about what I'm going to do next year.

"Every spring I plant something."

And even in winter when the flowers are gone, the garden, she said, still looks good.

The homestead at 66 Center St. is in the National Register of Historic Places. For more information, go to or call 479-981-0991.

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Jennifer Jackson is features writer for the Lovely County Citizen. She can be reached at

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