By Jeff Keeling
A train whistle blows quaintly from the lower corner of Dick and Betsy Beavers’ sanctuary – their expansive back yard in Johnson City’s Gump Addition. Here, under the canopy of numerous trees including a gigantic tulip poplar, is where decades of Betsy’s dedicated planting and care of perennials has resulted in an annual display of color that lasts from early spring to fall.
With a manmade brook and pond for company, grandchildren play where their parents once did, while squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons and all manner of birds make regular appearances. And recently, in that lower corner, Dick Beaver has built his own little slice of Switzerland, an ever-evolving rail wonderland to which the orthopedic surgeon can dedicate increasing amounts of time as he eases into semi-retirement.
At one of the miniature trestle bridges on the G-gauge line, a volunteer rose Beaver decided to leave in place drapes the span. By the time blossoms begin splashing new color next spring, the created route probably will be populated with at least three more buildings – “they’re in the basement right now,” Dick said.
The train is a replica of Switzerland’s Rhatische Bahn, which runs the narrow gauge Rhaetian Railway in the Alps. “I love this little railroad in Switzerland,” said Dick, who has visited there numerous times with family.
While Dick cultivates his corner of the expansive back yard, Betsy is the true mistress of the grounds. After the Beavers bought the home from Louie and Lucy Gump in 1975, Betsy began a decades-long labor of love while the couple raised their three daughters and one son, the youngest now 35.
Rooms were added on, flagstones laid here and there near the house, and meanwhile, her mix of selected perennials and opportunistic native plants evolved. “I had that little garden, and then I had a little garden here,” she said, pointing to various beds and areas within the largish, gently sloping back yard.
“It’s just huge,” Betsy said when asked what the hours of gardening do for her. “You solve all the problems of the world,” she added, her eyes twinkling. “I mean, there’s nothing that can’t be solved by pulling up a weed. Nothing. I love it.”
In addition to the grown children and the grandkids, the couple shares the beauty of their back yard and gardens with many friends. It’s been a stop on the Shady Oaks Garden Club tour as well. Visitors see a mix of the cultivated and the wild, and some plants may be here one year, there the next as, Betsy said, “sometimes, my plants move all around until they find a place where they want to be.
“I leave some goldenrod, I leave Queen Anne’s lace and some other things some gardeners would take out,” Betsy said. “This garden would not pass muster for most people.”
So why does it pass muster for her? “It’s God’s creation. I love it all.”