Turning an ordinary landscape into a novel garden filled with art and inspiration

By Hilary Dartt

Tomie Sue Goulet became hooked on gardening when she was nine. Her father gave her an eight-foot-by-eight-foot plot in which to grow her own plants, and her mother was a self-taught horticulturist.

Creativity runs in her veins, too: her father was a stone mason and builder (and his father was one of the stone masons on the famous Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina), and her mother was a seamstress.

“I look at the yard as my canvas, a palette of colors,” she said. And, thanks to her upbringing, “I can look at something and figure out what to do with it.”

Over the past five years, Tomie Sue has combined her passions for art and gardening with her own vision to turn an ordinary back yard into something truly special: a peaceful courtyard filled with color and imagination.

Turning Treasures Into Art

Soon after Tomie Sue and her husband, Bill, first moved into their Prescott home, she ruptured a disc in her back. From that misfortune, an idea began to take root.

Although, as an experienced yard sale and thrift store shopper, she’d long been collecting rusty historical pieces to display in the yard—an antique flower-filled wheelbarrow among them—she had to have greenery.

“I had nothing to do but look at that block wall,” she said. “And I thought, ‘What am I going to do with that wall? I’ve got to get some green up there.”

She hired a then-local artist to build her some organically-designed birdhouse trellises out of metal and rebar, and she planted some climbing roses to add a splash of color. The same artist built complementary towering sunflowers, strategically placed with Granite Mountain as their backdrop.

A great deal of the iron work in the Goulets’ yard came from the Iron King Mine in Humboldt. The collection includes a screw jack that held the mine shaft ceiling in place, a hand-wrought stone separator, and a section of smelter pipe. The top of a boiler lid creates a delightful rustic planter, which is covered with a custom-made barbed-wire cage.

Other pieces include a gold pan, an antique rusty brake drum from one of the City of Prescott’s trucks, shovels, a Model T gas can, and a pump (which Tomie Sue bought in her home state, Indiana, in 1971). There are also a number of iron tractor wheels hanging on the walls with movable, custom-wrought hangers created by the same artist who designed the trellises and sunflowers.

One of Tomie Sue’s favorite highlights: a rusted, repurposed bed springs she decorated with old yard elements, bird figurines, and cobalt blue tiles that spell out “GARDEN.”  She used the same cobalt tiles to label the many varieties of roses in the garden, too—and added a collection of cobalt pots to continue the theme to the front yard.

The space also features several birdhouses, some of them constructed by friends and family members. One is a replica of the Jerome High School building, and one is a replica of the Wickenburg Depot.

Growing Color

The Goulets’ yard is rich with color and texture. An Arizona Ash, a Sunburst Locust, and an Eastern Redbud shade the area during the warmer months, and a variety of raised beds and creative planters are home to dozens of different types of flowers and plants, including perennials, annuals, and evergreens. Nineteen rose bushes, Tomie Sue’s favorite, add even more color.

A collection of plants—Snowball Bush, Pomegranate Bush, Hall’s Honeysuckle, Larkspur, Autumn Sage, Coreopsis, Chrysanthemums, Salvia, Iris, and Lilies—grace the space, offering a delightful combination of vibrant color and texture.

Turning a Lifetime Vision Into a New Hobby

As health issues have limited Tomie Sue’s mobility, she’s developed a new passion: photography and greeting-card-making.

That hobby “just evolved,” she said, and it has recently evolved further. Tomie Sue created her own greeting card business, Because I Care. Each card features a photo from her garden, and she creates and photographs seasonal and themed scenes.

Tomie Sue and Bill, who have been married for 52 years, both retired in 1998. They lived in the Prescott Country Club for 15 years before moving into Prescott. They enjoy hosting church breakfasts and garden parties in their yard.

A Gardening Tip from a Pro

Tomie Sue’s favorite gardening tip is to drive around neighborhoods with camera in hand.

“Don’t be afraid to stop, get out, and ask questions,” she said. “This will afford you an opportunity to see what you might or might not like, and to see how big a plant or tree might grow in the years to come.”