I’ve just been loaned the most fascinating book about a woman who lives in Northestern Oklahoma who built a home and garden, basically from scratch.
The book is titled “Jerry Ann’s Place — Built From the Land By Her Own Hand — The Footprint Of a Dream.” The color portraits by noted Grove photographer R.C. Livesay, are as compelling as Jerry Ann’s story.
She was 40 years old and lived in “a shoddy two-room shack in the midst of rocky, overgrown fields in Northeastern Oklahoma. I bathed in the creek, cut sprouts, picked up walnuts,” she recalls. “My children were gone, my work ended, my possessions turned to ashes. I lived next to the Cherokees and survived by hunting and fishing, trapping and gardening — the forging of a footprint that is uniquely mine.”
Life eventually turned around for her and today she lives in a large two-story rustic country home, with a large barn that was originally two log cabins. It is now her spacious art studio. A nearby stream is perfect for fishing. Abundant trees line the secluded property.
As she began to build the home and create the garden, friends and neighbors came to help. So did some Cherokees and neighboring Amish. Always independent, she writes, “I wanted to be able to say I laid every stone in my home without help.”
The home and garden are treasure troves of her collections. Each item — from heirloom rugs to paintings given to her by friends — has a story to tell. She also has brought nature inside her home to help share her country life. A sturdy Catalpa tree anchors the handmade metal brackets and rough-hewn walnut stairs of the spiral staircase. In a little kitchen, a tree appears to be growing out of the floor and spreading over the kitchen ceiling. In the main living area, another tree thrives under a skylight.
Jerry Ann is past 80, but to this day she continues to garden “no matter what else is happening in my life,” she writes.”Birds and butterflies flock to the property. Perhaps it is the wildness that attracts them.”
The garden and grounds are beautiful in a rustic way. She maintains a natural environment that blends indigenous plants with rare, exotic and heirloom varieties The flowers in her garden are gifts from friends when she began gardening. She especially loves a peony tree given to her by her son. Every time a flower blooms, it reminds her of friends she has known and loved. Pots line the garden walkways. She has enhanced the garden with some organically placed statues that fit well in this rural environment. Her original bamboo plant, a friend’s gift, is now a bamboo field.
For Jerry Ann, her home and garden are a perfect country paradise.
Micki J. Shelton is a Muskogee native and master gardener.