Turning a House Into a Home, One Flower at a Time

By Nicole Irving, Publisher and Editor-In-Chief
Backyard Garden

Two years ago, Elise Matthes moved to Gainesville having to leave behind her beloved 10-acre ranch and animal sanctuary in Sarasota to begin a new chapter closer to family, especially her daughter Ashley Banks.

To begin their new adventure, Banks kept her eye out for the perfect home for her and Matthes to call their own. As luck would have it, the house was out there and calling their name in southwest Gainesville. Today, they share the home, which sits on two acres, with rescue dogs Titan, Tic Tac and Rita, a former race dog. While the house was a perfect fit for Banks and Matthes, there was something missing. So, over the last two years, Matthes, a widower of 10 years and at 83 years young, embraced her green thumb and put her master gardener talents to work turning their backyard into a tropical garden oasis.

“She is out here three to four hours a day… she has free reign and a much better eye” says Banks of her mom’s talent and diligent work efforts to keep the garden meticulously pruned, watered and full of life. In addition, her love of plants and animals comes as no surprise because Matthes hasbeen a vegetarian for over 50 years andonce owned a nursery in Sarasota in the 70s-80s called Key Nursery.

Matthes has an eye for beauty. Colorful impatiens, succulents, knock out roses, bleeding hearts, wisteria and lush green elephant ears are only some of the beautiful plants that circle their newly finished pool. During the construction, Matthes made note to have the installer save the rocks. She had a vision. Now, those rocks are a gorgeous focal point in the backyard, covered ever so artfully with the perfect combination of plants and blooming flowers. “I have friends ask me to come help them design their rocks,” says Matthes.

Just beyond the rock garden is a tall bird feeder atop one of Matthes’ beloved totem poles. While she is now on a small hiatus from adding any more, you can find them nestled in between native plants and blooming flowers, calling for attention with their beautifully carved faces and details.

Each day you can find Matthes trimming, pruning and mulching her garden. If something isn’t thriving where she put it, she moves it. She is always learning what is best for her plants. After living in Sarasota, a much more tropical climate than Gainesville, she is getting to know the native plants of her new home town. “I planted various flowers and earned what survives in Gainesville. Because it is colder here, I lost a few,” Matthes said. But, that hasn’t deterred her from continuing on. “It is good to learn, just like anything else [gardening] is healthy physically and emotionally.”

When she sets off on a new project, she enlists the help of Joe, her friend and gardener. Together they venture off in her truck to pick up mulch, flowers and otherassorted materials. He helps Matthes keep the garden beautiful. Nestled under an overhang and located by her succulent garden is a sign Joe made for her that says Geese’s Garden. “Kelley [my granddaughter] couldn’t pronounce ‘Grandma Elise’ and called me ‘Geese.’ Joe made the sign for me and I appreciate his assistance.”

Today the garden is in full bloom. Butterflies, hummingbirds and blue birds all share the space with Banks and Matthes. On weekends the backyard is bustling with laughter as the space draws friends and family for special gatherings, the garden a picture perfect setting.When asked if the garden is complete, Matthes says“ a garden is never complete, there is always something to add or take away.”

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