Once upon a time in America, a child’s day in the summertime wasn’t complete unless his or her knees were green with grass stains, hair tousled by the wind and sun, and dirt caked under the fingernails.
Those kids knew how to live.
They knew that the greatest world they would ever find was right outside in their own backyard, or perhaps the yard of the kid down the street, or even the front porch of the kindly neighbor who always seemed to have a fresh pitcher of lemonade in the ice box.
Today’s kids have never heard of an ice box and are better acquainted with texting than playing “telephone” with a couple of tin cans and string. As described by Richard Louv in his national best seller, “Last Child in the Woods,” too many of today’s kids suffer from “Nature-Deficit Disorder.”
The great outdoors is foreign territory to the generation Louv describes. But a few Boone families are blazing the trail back outside and creating outdoor spaces that drive children to the yard for fun.
In their yard on a busy Linn Street corner, Joel and Tracy Waltz have created a family dream come true for children Jonah and Tatum.
The family moved in to the home seven years ago and have been busy putting their own personal flair on the stately old Victorian.
Surprisingly, while the home has been around for years, Jonah and Tatum are actually the first children to grow up on the property as none of the previous owners had young kids, according to Tracy Waltz. Fittingly enough, the outdoor space is now a children’s paradise.
After all, what kid wouldn’t love to have a pirate ship in his or her yard?
Jonah tells the story best in his own words: “A few years ago my dad had a tiny tree house between these two trees,” he begins. “But we had to take it down, but the next year I really wanted to build it up again. I love ‘Star Wars,’ so I wanted to build a Jawa ship, and then my dad said, ‘How about if we build a ship that’s floating in the air?’ ”
And so it came to be that a floating pirate ship now sails between two trees. Pirate mates can access the ship by ladder or rope ladder, and there’s room for a ton of friends to come aboard.
As if the main “ship” weren’t enough, dad Joel later added a “crow’s nest.”
“Every pirate ship has the thing where you can climb up and look around,” young Jonah explains further, and so appeared the crow’s nest.
While there’s plenty of room for fun-loving adults on the pirate ship, the family outdoor space also has an expansive deck with lounging chairs and bar height tables for relaxing. (Even parents need a space of their own!) A moderate-size fence surrounding the property creates a cozy feel.
“I like the fact that people can see you, but yet you have an enclosed space,” says mom Tracy Waltz. It’s just really nice.”
Tracy, who has her own “junk” refurbishing business, “Once Was,” also has many of her own creations scattered throughout the yard to give it a shabby chic feel that is both rustic and modern.
Across the street, C.J. and Laura Van Roekel have perhaps discovered the secret to a beautifully landscaped lawn: buy a home inhabited by a Master Gardener.
The couple, along with their three children, Grace, Jonathan and Anna, moved in to their Tudor style home on Linn Street five years ago, but they still give most of the credit for the home’s landscaping to former owners Dan and Dori Austin.
“Dori is a Master Gardener, and we have to give her the credit for most of this,” says C.J. Van Roekel.
The first few years in the home was a bit like Christmas all year long, as they were often discovering new gifts of beauty blooming here and there with the changing seasons.
“We have all these peonies here, and then I thought all these weeds were coming up inside the peonies so I started pulling them all. It turned out they were phlox,” he recalls.
The surprise plantings were nothing less than serendipity, but after a few growing seasons Van Roekel pretty much knows the lay of the land and has even started adding the family’s own touches to the landscape.
“We’ve planted a ton of tulips,” he notes.
With the house sited on the back corner of the property, the family has very little back yard, but a huge side and front yard. A treated pine fence topped with copper posts gives the home a regal touch. Van Roekel has added small lilacs near the fence line as a way to give the yard a more private feel on a very busy corner.
Van Roekel used his handyman skills to create other amenities that a young family will enjoy. Where a hammock used to sway in the breeze, a couple of children’s swings now get a workout from the kids.
Likewise, a new playhouse went up in the small side yard. Mom Laura Van Roekel says it’s the perfect place for kids to call their own.
“They like to go out in rainstorms and read books in there and just sit inside and play,” she says.
Daughter Grace says the style of the quaint, little house suits her well.
“I like that the playhouse is yellow,” Grace says.
Van Roekel made the playhouse just big enough to fit a queen-size air mattress.
“That way Dad can have a sleep-out with the kids in the playhouse,” he says with a grin.
Nearby, son Jonathan enjoys watching the wren that recently moved into the birdhouse they hung next to a stunning Clematis.
“There’s a nest in there,” Jonathan says as he points out the budding bird family home.
This is one family that can never be accused of being just a bunch of sofa spuds in the summertime. With an outdoor space like this, they find it a natural gathering space.
“We do spend a lot of time outside,” Van Roekel says. “The kids always want to be outside, and the dog likes to be outside, so we’re just out here a lot.”
Across town, Nan Sloan moved in to her home on Timberlane Drive only two years ago, so it’s apparent that she hasn’t really sat down and stopped working yet. No one could have accomplished this much in such a short time without a real devotion to enjoying the great outdoors.
Sloan has literally transformed her front and back yards into a lush oasis, filled with inviting places to explore all year long. She doesn’t mind the work it took to create the unique niches in every part of the property.
“It’s very calming, very relaxing. It helps me unwind and just relaxes me,” Sloan says. “I love to see new things grow.”
Landscaping is also a built-in fitness program that keeps the body fit and gives the mind an opportunity to stretch its creative side.
The front yard, with manicured plantings, some fun blue and green flamingos, and a white shabby chic chair, gives only a taste of what is found out back at Sloan’s. Here the yard seems to stretch on forever, providing ample space for both a “fairy house” and “kitty castle.”
The fairy house is about the size of an old two-hole outhouse — for those of a certain generation — but is far more appealing inside. Sloan purchased the tiny house at a fundraising auction for Festival of Hope. Like the nearby tool shed, it was built by high school students in Boone as a teaching project.
Peek inside the fairy house and one will find a small family of Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, along with all their own furnishings. It’s the delight of every child and child-at-heart.
The tool shed on the other side of the lawn offers spacious storage for tools, and her furry friends made it their own.
“I use the shed to store my tools, but my kitties really like it so I call it the Kitty Castle,” she explains.
Sloan has been gardening for some 40 years and seems to have come by her green thumb naturally.
“I had a granddaddy who liked to garden. We planted vegetables together a lot,” she recalls.
To succeed in gardening, Sloan says one simply has to get to know plants almost as if they were people.
“Basically, things in a garden are just living things. You have to find out what they like. Do they like sun? Do they like shade? Do they like their feet wet, or do they like their feet dry?” she explains.
Getting to know your plants is the best way to bring out their natural beauty in any landscape.
The desire to get outside knows no age. Perhaps green knees are a great way to stay young after all.