Tammy Lewis is proof it doesn’t take a master gardener to cultivate a backyard sanctuary. More than 50 plant varieties grow in her yard, but Lewis said she has never had a plan for her garden.

Tammy Lewis is proof it doesn’t take a master gardener to cultivate a backyard sanctuary.

More than 50 plant varieties grow in her yard, but Lewis said she has never had a plan for her garden.

“It’s all either what color I wanted or something that would spread out wide,” Lewis said. “Lilies spread so quickly — there’s always double the number there was the year before.”

The first lilies of hundreds — Lewis’ garden includes trumpet, salmon, Stella d’Oro, Casablanca, Madonna and Elodie lilies, among other varieties — have started to bloom. They dot the lawn with color, providing inspiration for the full-color floral photographs that line the walls of her home.

Lewis snaps photos of the most brilliant blossoms, but she doesn’t keep a seed journal or even a planting log. While sipping iced tea on her sun porch, looking out over sun-dappled hydrangeas and nearly wild roses, she muses that she should start.

But that would fly in the face of how she’s done it for decades.

Lewis’ interest in gardening began with houseplants 30 years ago. She’s lived in her current home for 12 years and let the backyard grow up from colors that struck her fancy and plants given as gifts.

“There was nothing here when I moved in, not even the fence,” Lewis said. “It looked like a tractor had come through. There were barely sprigs of grass.”

Lewis’ adult son, Dave Lewis of Springfield, helped with the tilling. She put in a fence for the dogs and started planting grass seed “like crazy.”

Her son-in-law, Jim Hobbs of Springfield, built three large flowerbeds, in which she originally grew roses, daises and a forsythia bush. The planters lasted eight years until termites finished them off. That was Lewis’ cue to rearrange her garden.

“Nothing is where it started,” Lewis said.

And nothing in her garden stays the same way for long. She said she plans to change things up again later this year.

She’ll start by removing the maple tree, the one that she took a chance on 12 years ago.

“On the day I moved in I saw this tiny, tiny sprouting sapling — just two leaves,” Lewis said. “So I let it grow. Now I’m ready for it to come down.”

As it has grown, the maple has become a nuisance, scattering seeds that Lewis said she has to pluck out of her yard as consistently as clover.

She’s much fonder of the ginkgo tree she planted six years ago, and the Cleveland Pear she describes as “sturdier” than its Bradford cousin.

But Lewis’ pride and joy is a black lace elderberry bush that she bought after seeing an article in Fine Gardening.

“This is exactly what I wanted,” Lewis said, fingering a delicate bloom. “It’s dark against the light house, just beautiful. If you have trouble growing Japanese maple, this bush is for you. It has fine cut leaves and these gorgeous little flowers.”

Lewis, of course, hasn’t had too much trouble growing Japanese maples. Hers is burgundy, but sun-scorched. Lewis’ backyard faces west, affording some of her plants — but not others — the optimal amount of sunlight each day.

Twin oak leaf hydrangeas dot the far corners of Lewis’ yard. While one is thriving, the other is “pitiful,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t get enough sun to get big.”

Along her house’s north side are hostas, plants Lewis selected because they prefer shade to scorching sun. Her favorite is the bright, fragrant guacamole variety.

Her advice to aspiring gardeners? Don’t let anyone tell them how their yard “should” look.

“Just plant exactly what you want,” Lewis said. “Go through gardening magazines. Research what works well in this area. Some things aren’t going to work. But a lot of them will.”

BEAT THE BEETLES

If there’s one thing Tammy Lewis knows how to deal with, it’s Japanese beetles.

Her pest problem was once so out-of-control that an exterminator called it “the worst infestation in town.”

So Lewis eliminated everything the beetles liked to eat — including a favorite porcelain vine — so she could focus on keeping her roses insect-free.

“You can check them three times a day and thin them empty only to go back out and find they’re back again,” Lewis said. “A rosebud can be the most beautiful in the world, but if you move the petals, there could be four or five right there.”

But the beetles are a fact of life in Springfield, and Lewis has learned to deal with them.
If there are only a handful of beetles, she recommends flicking them from the plant into a bowl of soapy water.

If you have more of the crawlers, apply insecticide — Lewis uses Sevin.

But Lewis cautions against setting traps.

“It will fill with hundreds of bugs in one day, and it draws them to your house. Unless you can stick it in your neighbor’s yard, it’s a bad idea.”

Elle Moxley can be reached at (217) 788-1532 or elle.moxley@sj-r.com.