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Published: Sunday, 10/18/2009

At home in their gardens

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

There's more living space outside of the Albrights' snug home than inside.

Purchased at auction and extensively renovated, the cottage has one bedroom and a cozy family room that had been a garage.

Nestled at the edge of Maumee State Forest, their favorite living areas are outside the house. Five themed garden “rooms” are defined by green picket fencing, and a freestanding pole barn is a play pen for retirees Barbara and Gene Albright. Their seven acres are just across the Lucas County line in Henry County's Liberty Center.

The Albrights both grew up in the country. In the early 1970s, they built on 15 wooded acres in Monclova and raised a daughter and son before Mr. Albright found this place in 1995.

“Ugh. Ick,” was Mrs. Albright's initial reaction when she first laid eyes on the outdated little 50-year-old house on a slab. But as creative do-it-yourselfers then in their 50s, they were up to the challenge of a rural beautification project.

They installed new windows, roof, wood flooring, plumbing, and electric, and redid the exterior with shakes above board-and-batten siding. They scrubbed years of tobacco smoke off walls and ceilings and brushed on white and green paint. And they artfully arranged antiques, hung stained-glass panels in windows, and covered furniture with fine fabrics she sewed. The sum total: a beautifully inviting home.

The kitchen wears three shades of white on woodwork, walls, and ceilings.

“They're just different enough that it doesn't look hospital white,” says Mrs. Albright. Cupboards and a nifty 1930s Hoosier cabinet are a sage green. Serving as a work island is a slab of birch on an old store display case with sliding glass doors.

Adjacent to the kitchen is a dining table and a seating area with a couch and chair clad in tailored slipcovers she changes out in fall and spring.

The steps of an open stairway to the second floor are a slightly deeper sage. A white hand railing — simple two-by-fours — was retained to emphasize the rustic feel. On permanent exhibit in the stairwell are 25 framed needlepoint pieces, many bearing antique-style designs she's stitched and framed.

The Albrights' cozy home has one bedroom. The Albrights' cozy home has one bedroom.
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The sole bedroom is on the second floor; pale apple green with white trim, smartly accented by a red-and-white quilt folded on an old trunk.

The gardens

But it's outside where the Albrights — she is a retired dental hygienist; he worked in construction — spend much of their waking hours.

After a year of getting the house squared away, Mrs. Albright was ready to play in the dirt, and having been a woods-dweller, was eager to carve up patches that got full sun.

On this tabula rasa she designed a cottage garden, 48-by-100-feet, bordered by the picket fence, “just enough to separate the rooms,” and dug out weedy grass one shovel full at a time.

“I'm sort of an English garden person. They're [the gardens] very neat. They don't use a lot of trim, and the edges are spaded in a trench.”

All told, there are 60 perennials, 44 roses (mostly English), and 13 different trees and shrubs. Among her faves are the skinny sky-pencil holly shrub, arrowroot viburnum with dark blue berries, Miss Kim lilac, purple plum, service berry, and a small magnolia.

It's a garden that sings all year.

“I really have good bones,” she says, referring to semi-permanent vertical lines: six-foot-tall triangular tudor trellises, arches, a pergola, trees and shrubs, pebble paths, and a cedar-sided potting shed with salvaged French doors.

Starting at dawn and continuing until mosquitoes attack — about 2 or 3 p.m. — she plants, weeds, trims, and tends. Hummingbirds graze her pink hat. She's counted 43 types of birds visiting the many home-crafted bird houses, and seen the hummingbird moth. Three dogs and a cat meander.

“I just love to make things grow. I love the way it looks, and what it produces.”

An herb garden bears an abundance of lavender that flourishes in this sandy soil (to get a second bloom, dead head to the bottom of the stem during the growing season, she advises, but don't cut it back in the fall). There are thymes, ornamental oregano, yarrow, basil, sages, acanthus, baby's breath, anise hissop, summer savory, bergamot, and lemon and bee balm.

A circular celestial garden was established in 1999, behind a pair of ornamental iron gates she found at a flea market, and a low wall of sandstone chunks assembled after she took a sledge hammer to old sidewalks Mr. Albright salvaged. Golden and silver thyme surrounds the sundial. Eight pie-shaped beds, edged with brick, are packed with gray and green santolina, hissop, thyme, dwarf sage, and lavender.

In 2004, she made the fairy garden emphasizing white flowers: milkweed, rose, hydrangea, echinacea, daylily, balloon flower, foxglove, salvia, daisies, and gaura (whirling butterfly). A large concrete fairy stands sentry.

In 2007, she dug the cutting garden and included several raised beds to contain topsoil and to achieve better drainage. The land has a high water table, she says, noting it's part of the Black Swamp. Here are sunflowers, celosia, roses, peonies, cosmos, cleome, the fall-blooming Montauk daisy, and the feathery Sweet Annie she fashions into wreaths and swags.

She's crafted bouquets, nosegays, and corsages for three weddings, including for a nephew who thanked her by building a pair of tudor trellises.

A short walk away, the pole barn provides his-and-hers workshops. This is where she culls seeds, dries and presses flowers, sews, and frames. With dried lavender she makes sachets, potpourris, and even cookies.

Her magnificent work table is a 4-by-4-foot sandstone sidewalk on a sturdy wooden frame, built by Mr. Albright. He does woodwork in the other half of the pole barn, tinkers with vehicles in a garage, and plants a substantial vegetable garden.

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com or 419-724-6075.



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