Salisbury resident, Clyde Harris, cultivates immaculate garden

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 24, 2011

SALISBURY — Clyde Harriss’ corner of the world off Briggs Road is perfect, even on a wilting July day.
A crushed-brick gravel driveway leads to his charming house, set in the woods. Harriss designed the home himself 25 years ago, and builder Lonnie Goodman added the perfect porch with its two skinny columns several years later.
Harriss likes visitors to notice the ancient, massive oak tree in front — which, for him, was one of the big attractions to this 2.5 acres.
Long ago, he fashioned a shade garden around his house, which thanks to the wooded backdrop, always seems to be protected from the sun.
But Harriss also has his place in the sun — a place where other flowers thrive.
“This is the perennial garden,” he says walking into a perfect world of color closer to the road.
In the 15 years since Harriss sold his Greendale Nursery and retired, he has stayed busy with the Rowan Rose Society and as a dedicated tutor-trainer for the Rowan Literacy Council. But retirement also has given him time to develop a perennial flower garden striking for its balance.
Everything seems to be where it should be.
Even today, old customers still walk up to Harriss in the grocery store and tell him they miss his nursery, which was located off Mooresville Highway near the Rolling Hills Golf Club. Little do they know that he has used retirement to keep his love for flowers alive — on his own turf.
“I thought I’d indulge myself,” he says, laughing.
He strolls by daylilies past their bloom and some Annabelle hydrangea, whose snow-white flowers are finished. “You should have been here,” Harriss laments.
But color explodes everywhere else — on the roses, butterfly bushes, goldenrod, blackberry lily, blue salvia, persicaria, black-eyed Susans, helianthus, crocosmia, melampodium, Chinese beautyberry, the crape myrtles and phlox. Don’t forget the phlox.
Harriss advises anyone with a flower garden to provide plenty of places for phlox of all colors — purple, pink, white and lavender, for example. They bloom for a good two months, he says.
Harriss likes the gracefulness of variegated grasses. He also finds room for ground cover such as liriope.
He says to look for contrasts. Evergreens such as pines and all manner of spruce provide the dark stage for his flowers, making their colors more vibrant.
“I think flowers show up pretty if there’s some kind of background,” Harriss says.
Other advice: Anything blue goes with roses, because there are no blue roses. Harriss has about 150 roses between his rose garden on one side of the driveway and the perennial garden on the other.
Another suggestion: “I think gardens benefit from a water feature,” Harriss says, “but they’re a lot of trouble, I tell you.”
In the central, open area to his perennial garden, Harriss has a small fountain and pond as one spoke to an axis. Directly opposite is a homemade gazebo/trellis, a handy framework for climbing plants.
He provides what he calls “intimate aisles” in other parts of his garden. The walking paths are well-tended grass, providing more balance. It’s a “cool” contrast, he says, to the “warm” color of his driveway.
Harriss tends to his gardens on each side of the driveway almost every day. Sometimes the maintenance takes two to three hours. Other times, he might be in the yard all day.
The work consists of dead-heading, pruning, trimming, fertilizing, watering, weeding and keeping plants upright and collected with rebar, wood stakes and string.
“There’s no end to it, but it’s a labor of love,” Harriss says. “It sure is fun to take a shower at the end of the day,”
At 82, Harris figures the manual labor is good for him.
“If being active helps,” he adds.
Harriss resists naming a favorite flower, other than to tip his hat to roses in general, because they come in so many varieties and sizes. He can name — and spell — the names for any of his flowers, but those for roses stand out:
Betty Boop. Sexy Rexy. Summer Fashion. Champagne. Eden. Ballerina. Graham Thomas. Doris Morgan. China Doll. The Dark Lady. Heritage. John Dixon.
Every January, it’s fun for Harriss to go through all the catalogs looking for new flowers. He will introduce new plants — “there’s always something you want to add to your collection,” he says — but he has to find an appropriate spot.
Starting a whole new garden is out of the question.
He describes it as a “no more room in the sun,” dilemma, and Harriss isn’t going to make space by cutting down trees.
Harriss often uses the word “pretty” or some variation of it as he talks about his flowers. Is this the prettiest his garden has ever been?
“Every year, I think it looks the prettiest,” he answers.
The butterflies, bees and birds seem to agree.
It’s perfect for them.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or