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East End is friending over backyards

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Frank and Genene Gourley welcome visitors to their Oriental-influenced garden as they have for the past four years as participants in the East End Garden Showcase.

The urban gardens of nearly 30 residences on Charleston's East End will be considered open for self-guided tours June 15-30. Signs and maps in the front yards designate which houses are gardens are on the tour.

When the Gourleys spot visitors in their gardens, they like to wander outside to chat or answer questions. "It's a great way to meet people," Frank said. "We've had people come through from Parkersburg and Beckley."

Each garden shows unique influences. The Gourleys' appreciation of Oriental design principles is evident in the wooden sculptures and fences that Frank, a retired engineer, designed and built, and the curved beds filled with the carefully placed plants and sculptures as envisioned by Genene's artist's eye.

She's a retired school principal who paints watercolors in the top floor of a studio the couple constructed on the back of their city lot. The first floor holds an impressive amount of woodworking equipment he uses to build furniture and artistic pieces of his own design. He also paints in watercolors.

When they moved into the house 13 years ago, the backyard contained overgrown shrubs and trees contained with a chain-link fence. He designed and built a tall wooden fence with open slats across the top half so neighbors wouldn't consider the fence an unfriendly gesture.

The Gourleys have enjoyed the welcoming nature of most East End residents and think that neighborliness is one of the area's greatest assets.

A distinctive Asian-inspired wooden sculpture bordering part of the front yard, also designed and built by Frank, hints at the gardens beyond. The Gourleys incorporated feng shui principles in their garden designs.

They used rock to represent water and mountains on a corner of their front yard. They call a jagged-edged, upright rock formation "Craggy Mountains" and an alligator-shaped design of smooth rocks "Alligator Creek."

Genene included metal sculptures in a bed on the northwest side of the house. According to feng shui, metal placed in the northwest part of a garden is thought to bring balance and harmony in friendships.

"We put out fliers about feng shui and on grow boxes in case they have questions," said Frank.

Lush vegetable plants thrive in the tidy, raised grow boxes, which are irrigated by rain collected in a barrel. The barrel also supplies water for the rest of the gardens. The Gourleys grow more lettuce, spinach, chard, sugar snap peas, onions, tomatoes, peppers and herbs than they can eat in the grow boxes' rich soil.

A large, sturdy potting bench -- designed and built by Frank, of course -- provided a back-friendly spot for Genene to plant annuals in her containers. It recently doubled as a drink station when the Gourleys hosted one of the potluck dinners held monthly on the East End.

The guests dined in the backyard and on the back porch, as Frank and Genene do nearly every day. They enjoy their time in their gardens so much that they're pleased to share it with others.

"We hope people come and maybe get some inspiration. That's what we do. We always visit all the gardens and try to recruit other people to participate in the showcase," Genene said.

The East End Garden Showcase began 10 years ago as a contest, said Charleston East End Main Street Executive Director Ric Cavender.

"It's one of our oldest events. It's a great way to get people down into our district," he said.

Maps are available at Contemporary Galleries, Tricky Fish, Red Carpet Lounge and Zegeer Hardware, as well in tubes in front of each house on the tour. The showcase is sponsored by The Masters Law Firm LC.

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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