Dead Ends Garden is anything but dead

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 9, 2011

By Sue Davis
Master Gardener Volunteer
KANNAPOLIS — Driving through the residential neighborhoods in Kannapolis on the way to Dead Ends Conifer Garden gives you the feeling you are lost. Then suddenly, you know you are on the right road, a dead end with a landscape of oddly shaped conifers, flowers and rocks.
There is so much color and so many textures in the landscape that you just want to look and walk. Dead Ends Conifer Garden is like a Japanese dry landscape garden. It uses neither ponds nor streams but makes symbolic representations of natural landscapes using stones, found objects, mulch, grass and pruned trees.
The gardens are the work of certified plant professionals Melissa and Brandon Sleigh. In creating a landscape that lives in harmony with its location, the Sleighs had to cope with a lot that slopes down and away from the road. The rock creek beds that Brandon created from rocks, found objects and used concrete carry storm waters down and away from the house during summer’s heavy storms. This solution to a natural problem illustrates the couple’s desire to create environmentally conscious solutions to landscape problems.
In front of the home is an array of multi-level areas with textures, art work and whimsy. Everywhere you look is intriguing. On the day of the Rowan County Master Gardeners’ second visit to the gardens, the plein aire painters from Salisbury had spent the morning painting as the light changed over the landscape. Several of them set up their easels at the front of the house to paint the façade of greens and textures.
A colorful area of heirloom, native petunias invites guests to walk and discover a heavily shaded area. Dealing with how to create a garden in an area with a shade canopy, thick with roots and dry ground is the problem that brought the Master Gardeners to the Sleighs for help. As part of the Pocket Garden Project, the Master Gardeners are working to reconstruct the heavily shaded and root filled Carl Sloop Garden at the Rowan County Extension Office on Old Concord Road.
Dead Ends Garden is a landscape of many small gardens. Construction began in 2001 and continues. The primary purpose for the gardens is to give a place for the Sleighs to plant and enjoy their collection of rarities, threatened natives and topiaries.
This collection provides a natural workshop to evaluate plants that will do well in unusual conditions and provide worthiness for planting in our area. Each new project adds features and plantings that can be evaluated for display effect, palette and hardiness.
When plants are successful at Dead Ends Garden, they are propagated in small batches so the evaluation can be expanded. The landscape company the couple operates focuses on fulfilling clients’ needs using many of the varieties that have been successful in Dead Ends Garden.
Learning is one of the largest benefits customers get when they work with the Sleighs. Both Melissa and Brandon are natural teachers. They want their visitors to the garden and their clients to take some of the enthusiasm and knowledge about managing a landscape with conifers.
Melissa and Brandon each bring unique capabilities to their projects and business. Melissa, who calls both the common name and the scientific name of a plant like they are her children, gained her experience by working in nurseries and landscaping firms. She advises customers on how to plan and handle their landscape. She has a wealth of knowledge in plant production and maintenance. Brandon’s expertise and experience is related to plant health, landscape design and installation. He is a certified landscape contractor in North Carolina.
To visit the gardens or to contact them for consultation, call them at 704-932-4256. Their website has many more photographs of Dead Ends Garden.
Sue Davis is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Rowan County.