By Lucia Holloway
When a talented woodworker joined forces with an avid gardener, they created an explosion of color in their landscape, along with spots to sit and enjoy the view. Their latest project, a deck that cantilevers over a 15-foot embankment, evolved as they built. Feeling that the deck did not measure up to their vision, they connected the deck to a garden path by extending the floor and adding an arbor.
“We’d been talking about building another deck for years. This was the perfect time to do it,” said Bill Forsyth, referring to the use of the site for their son, Scott’s, marriage to Angie Cook on July 12. Bill, a Baptist preacher, performed the ceremony as well.
Now, 13 years after their first project in the yard, they have completed two decks, two wagons, seven arbors, two bridges, two water features, including a water driven grist mill, and at least two dozen bird houses—to name a few.
Gardening became Mary Lou’s passion about 13 years ago, soon after she opened her beauty shop. “I had always wanted to go to beauty school, so at 48 years old I decided that I’d better do it if I was ever going to,” she said. “The Hair Shop” opened next to their home in 1996. “One of my customers, Mrs. Millie Ferguson, asked me to come see her hostas and offered to share some of them with me,” she said.
“At that time, there was nothing in our yard but little shrubs and trees,” she added. Now, she grows over 50 hostas and many measure over two feet tall. Later, other customers brought cuttings from their yards. Looking around her garden, she comments, “Well Miss Virginia is blooming,” remembering another who gave her pass-along plants. After her mother (Ohelia Fly) died, Margie Green brought her ferns, some over 25 years old, to Mary Lou.
“Some customers walk around the garden every time they come for an appointment,” she said.
Initially, she worked in her beauty shop six days a week. Before long, being a beautician began interfering with her garden chores, so she closed Monday and Tuesdays. “She works from daylight until after dark,” Bill said. Mary Lou considers gardening to be a “good nerve pill” because when she is outside she focuses completely on the plants and loses stressful feelings. A wooden deck around the massive tree in their backyard was the beginning of their landscape design. Now, flower beds and shrubs cover over one and one-half acres on the hill where their home is located.
In the past, she moved furniture around so much that Bill didn’t know where their bed would be. Now, instead, she transplants shrubs and flowers. “I like to see how plants look in different settings,” she said.
Flowers are Mary Lou’s forte, whereas, Bill grows vegetables. In winter, she stores tropical plants in the 12’x18’ greenhouse. Using regular tomato seed, rather than the greenhouse varieties grown commercially, he produces home-grown-tasting tomatoes out of season. He learned to pollinate blooms by a method that he read about, which uses an electric tooth brush. “Although the regular tomato seed takes much longer to grow, a tomato sandwich in winter sure tastes good,” he said. “Now we’ve got to figure a way to heat the greenhouse economically.”
Bill took up woodworking after their home burned in 1975. “We needed a coffee table and end tables so I took scrap lumber left from the new house construction and made them,” he explained. Not only can he build tables and chairs, he designed an acorn embellished mantle as well as other household items. He uses patterns that he sees on the internet and in catalogs, but gets some ideas “out of his head”. “I can look at something and make it,” he said. Most of his handiwork now is devoted to enhancing the garden. “I’ve got the easy job. I just build the stuff. She’s got the shovel,” he said. “In fact, she won’t even let me cut the grass around her flowers.”
Although he makes and sells Adirondack chairs, pergolas, arbors, garden benches, and waterwheels, his principal career for the past 27 years has been as pastor of Friendship Baptist Church. “I was sitting in church one night and felt the call to preach,” he explained. His mentors were Bro. James Fondon and Bro. J. W. Carpenter.
Near his home is his paint and body shop where he has worked on cars and trucks for 35 years. “I’ve tinkered with cars and trucks since I was 15 years old when my Daddy bought me a 1949 red Ford convertible that wouldn’t run for $15. Being a tightwad, Daddy said he’d buy me a battery if I ever got it to run,” he said. “Working outside in the snow, I got it running in about a month,” He borrowed his Daddy’s battery to see if his convertible would run. Only then did his Father buy him a new battery. Recalling the first time he actually drove the car, he said he went to see Mary Lou (Baggett). “The convertible had no mufflers, no tag, no nothing, and I had even left my drivers license at home,” exclaimed Bill. When he spotted Billy Houpt, a highway patrolman, he turned off the ignition to “try to get by but that didn’t work.” Patrolman Houpt stopped him and gave him a ticket. “I was afraid to tell Daddy because back in those days, parents were strict and I knew he’d take my car away from me, so I went and told my Aunt Mae (Mathis) about the ticket and she paid it,” he remembered.
Two of the Forsyth children and their families, Melissa Stewart, Husband Kevin, Hunter and Logan, and Scott, Wife Angie, and Nathan, live on either side of Mary Lou and Bill on 86 acres of land that Bill’s parents bought in 1960. Scott’s other daughter, Shelbi, lives in Oxford. The Forsyth’s other son, Jimmy, his wife, Denise, children, Keith, Jackson, and Kelly, live in Olive Branch.
Glancing over the backyard, Bill said, “My next goal is to build a gazebo.”