Down-to-earth gardener

Lee Hall, the wife of Austin Peay State University president Tim Hall, has a gardener’s hands, the nails short and naked. The otherwise glamourous blonde held out her hands recently during a sunny afternoon by her koi pond.

“I have sunspots all over my hands,” Hall said.

She came to Clarksville in 2007 with her husband. A mother of two APSU students, Hall is known for her down-to-earth warmth and her mastery of cocktail conversation. She also is known for old-school style when planning the parties at Archwood, the 1878 Italianate mansion on College Street where she and her husband live. For these events, Hall pulls out treasured recipes from a big box, lending ideas to the chef.

But most of all Hall is at home in the dirt of Archwood’s two acres, where she has carved out multiple gardens.

“It feels like home,” she said of transforming Archwood’s landscape. “It is fun. Especially the vegetable gardening. I walk into a nursery and start hyperventilating.”

On a recent day, Hall sat in a wicker chair under Archwood’s covered back patio sipping ice tea flavored with fresh mint from her herb garden. But she soon clipped toward the nearby vegetable garden, trailed by Chessie, her Jack Russell terrier.

“Tim’s an indoor person; he likes his library,” she explained of the APSU president. “I love to be outside.”

Hall started her vegetable garden two years ago on 12 straw bales, taking photos of her first green beans and posting them on the Internet.

“You know how people pull out pictures of their grandbabies?” she said. “Gardeners do that.”

She also canned 72 jars of pickles and gathered 32 peppers from two plants.

“I make a hot pepper relish that my family loves,” Hall said, adding that she serves it on chicken, burgers and sandwiches.

This year Hall planted vegetables into tilled soil, including watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber, sugar snap peas and green beans.

“I also planted sunflowers,” she said, pointing to a tall row against the back fence that separates Archwood from a student parking lot. “I thought they would be cheery for the students on the way to class.”

A separate perennial bed sits next to the vegetable garden, lining the fence with hollyhocks, dianthus and peonies.

“Here I used basically any perennials I could find, especially on the dollar rack at Lowe’s, the ones that were almost dead,” Hall said.

She then crossed the driveway to a garden planted against the back of the mansion.

“This garden was completely overgrown by juniper and bamboo,” Hall said, “It looked like a bank or a McDonald’s, so institutional.”

To fix the issue, she had most of the plants removed, leaving a holly bush and some Japanese maple. She then chose plants to pick up the red in the maple, planting a lilac bush, Japanese fern, caladium, ivy, Encore azaleas with red blooms, a hydrangea and a rhododendron. The addition of garden ornaments completed the landscape, and included a bird bath, a stone bench and a bronze planter (a gift from Tim). Hostas are scattered about, gifts from her housekeeper, Yewelleine King.

“I absolutely couldn’t do this role without her,” Hall said of King, who helps with the upkeep. “Let me emphasize, we have some wonderful gardeners here and I am a rank beginner.”

Passing by the covered porch, Hall stopped next to the visual treat that is the koi pond. The bright orange fish are surrounded by clematis, ground cover, caladium and ferns.

Next to Archwood’s back door is Hall’s herb garden, filled with coneflower, dill, basil, parsley, sage, marjoram, chiles and thyme. The bed was the first Hall started planting. She said it took her a while to “take ownership” of the imposing Archwood property.

Walking to the front of the mansion, Hall passes a full-sun bed filled with tall zinnias. The front of the house has a bed of white vincas, Knockout roses and ivy.

The most intimate garden at Archwood is a shade pocket at the back of the house. Here is a set of chairs surrounded by a screen, a gift Hall and her husband gave themselves. Nearby sits a statue of St. Francis.

While noting that she is not Catholic, she said, “St. Francis is very important to me. Tim proposed to me in front of a St. Francis statue.”

They have been married 34 years.

Some yards away is a tree Hall has been growing since it was an acorn.

“It has been transplanted several times,” she said, adding that she wants to give acorns from it to her children so that they may plant them one day.

“It is about growing old, but staying fresh.” Hall said.

Karen Parr-Moody is a freelance writer for The Leaf-Chronicle. Her editor can be reached at 245-0282.

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