Gardener creates serene spot

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 20, 2011

KANNAPOLIS — Marge Payne had two garden parties this week because, well, she has that kind of garden.
Kids in formal attire often come to Marge’s place for their pre-prom photographs.
Marge also likes to invite members of her garden club, the Kneeling Gardeners, over to talk about flowers, as well as other friends, neighbors and members of Trinity United Methodist Church.
“She has the prettiest yard in Kannapolis,” says Nancy Rutledge, a fellow member of the Kneeling Gardeners, “and she’s gracious enough to share it with everyone.”
The landscape around Payne’s handsome brick home off Willow Drive is filled with blossoming trees, flowers and bushes; old and new statues; trellises; birdhouses; water features; Mondo grass and moss; and hardscape features such as a backyard gazebo, slate walks, a rock-lined creek bed and hump-backed bridge.
She had her own irrigation well installed several years ago so her city water bills wouldn’t be so high.
Payne’s favorite flower is a spectacular climbing hydrangea that partly frames her garage door. This Moonglow hydrangea, growing for seven years now, is at its peak blossom time, drawing oohs and aahs from all visitors.
“I want to share it,” Payne explains. “I’m not trying to show off. I want to share it with everyone because it’s so unusual.”
Likewise, the Henryi clematis by Payne’s back door is a show-stopper with all of its white flowers. But Marge’s garden seems to hold beauty around every corner.
“You look out there, and you know there is a God,” she says from her sunroom. “I couldn’t have achieved this myself.”
Help needed
A bad fall last July on a Salisbury sidewalk — she says the downtown must make the streetscape more accessible — has sharply cut back her physical activity. She has been relying on a walker and is preparing for another round of therapy.
“I’m only a supervisor,” she says. “It hurts my heart, not even being able to pull a weed.”
She now relies on her longtime assistant, Mary Cowan of Salisbury, and David Lee for their landscaping and gardening skills. Before he died, Fred Geter of Salisbury also was a tremendous help in the yard.
“I wouldn’t have all this without Mary’s help,” Payne adds as they walk together around the premises.
A Davie County native, Marge Canupp Payne left home at 17 to attend cadet nursing school in Charlotte. But before she finished the program, she married Red Wetmore, and the couple moved onto a small farm of horses and beef cattle in Woodleaf.
As a young mother, Payne first started planting flowers around the farm.
Wetmore also was a brakeman for Southern Railway Co. The couple had a son, Charlie, who lives in Rowan County, and three daughters, Susan, Cindy and Eva. The girls live in Wisconsin, Florida and Charlotte, respectively.
Red Wetmore died in 1975, and Payne went the next 19 years as a single woman. She eventually returned to Rowan Technical College to earn her nursing degree, working at Rowan Memorial Hospital and the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salisbury.
She later returned to school to become a cardio-pulmonary technician and retired from the VA in 1981.
Payne lived in various places before moving in 1984 to a Club House Drive address in Salisbury. With Geter’s help, her garden in Salisbury grew bigger and better, but her life took a dramatic turn in 1992 when she met Brandon Payne, who had been a vice president at Cannon Mills in Kannapolis.
Fateful relationship
They married in 1994 and moved to the Willow Drive residence.
“He was the greatest thing in my life,” says Marge, also known as Margie to some of her friends.
They took a two-week honeymoon in Hawaii and through their seven-and-a-half years of marriage traveled extensively across the country.
Brandon Payne died in 2001, losing a lengthy battle with diabetes.
As Marge transformed the landscape around their house, she traveled often to Godley’s Garden Center in Salisbury for plants and other materials. She hauled things back to Kannapolis in an old Buick Regal that Brandon pretty much designated as her garden car.
Once, because of all the red clay Marge was dealing with, Brandon had a load of top soil delivered and dumped in the yard. “He said he bought that for me to play in,” Marge recalls.
For four years, Marge kept telling Brandon she wanted a gazebo in the backyard, but how they would manage to move one into the tight quarters was always a stumbling block. Someone suggested that she drop in a gazebo by helicopter.
Cowan finally mentioned that maybe they could take down the fence and come into the yard over a neighbor’s property. Brandon (and the neighbor) accepted that idea, and Marge’s favorite gazebo was delivered. It took four hours to maneuver around trees and put it in place.
“I fell in love with it when I saw it,” Marge says.
Payne honed her gardening skills by enrolling in Rowan County’s Master Gardeners program in 1998. But she missed out on the association’s scheduled trip to England when Brandon became sick.
She says she wishes Darrell Blackwelder could see her garden now.
As Payne walks slowly through her garden today, she speaks of her favorite hostas; the best times to trim bushes; how alkaline and acid in the soil changes the color of flowers; the antique bell that has traveled with her to Woodleaf, Charlotte, Gastonia, Salisbury and Kannapolis; the basin that was Grandmother Wetmore’s chicken trough; the birdhouse her 90-year-old brother, John Canupp, built for her; and the always hungry koi in her small pond.
“It’s such a joy,” Marge says, taking it all in.
It’s that kind of garden.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or