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Area home's backyard deemed a hidden jewel
Jim and Mary Beth Tharps ’ side yard includes shaded flower beds. The Tharps won the Greater Hall County Chamber of Commerce Spring Residential Beautification Award. - photo by NAT GURLEY

From the road, Jim and Mary Beth Tharp’s home is a pleasant sight with a green, manicured lawn and garden. A small sign by the road hints more artistry may be involved than one would notice on first glance.

The Tharps were recently awarded the Greater Hall County Chamber of Commerce Spring Residential Beautification Award. Gainesville and Hall County residents are nominated to the chamber’s selection committee through friends and neighbors. The honor is recognized with a sign in the front yard.

While the front of the house is certainly well-tended, the backyard earned the recognition.

Robin Halstead, Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce vice president of community development, said she enjoys finding “hidden jewels” like the Tharp home.

“When you drive up, you know their house is pretty and their yard is nice,” Halstead said. “But you’re just dumbfounded when you turn the corner and you see what they have done. It’s like a private sanctuary.”

Stepping out onto the home’s second story deck provides a view into a large koi pond with a waterfall. Jim scooped up a handful of food for the fish and threw it into the water and immediately, yellow, orange and red koi came to the surface.

When the Tharps moved from Downers Grove, Ill., to Gainesvile in 2007 to be closer to family, they brought the fish and a 16-foot trailer full of plants along with them. Mary Beth said it was just too hard to part with the fish and plants. Many of the plants had been growing on the property for 40 years. Many of the plants were hostas, which Mary Beth has planted along the backyard’s shady slope.

The Tharps flipped through a photo album of their backyard’s transformation. Mary Beth stopped on a photo of the hostas after they made the long trip to Gainesville. She laughed at how much the plants have grown over the years.

“We were amazed at how fast stuff would grow down here instead of Illinois ...” Jim said.

“ ... and how much heartier it gets. It’s bigger, it blooms earlier. Of course, some of the plants we would grow in Illinois would get to 18-20 inches. They’ll get 4 or 5 feet here,” Mary Beth said.

The backyard is a certified wildlife refuge and was a featured garden in the 2011 Hall County Master Gardeners Garden Walk.

She said it’s been a learning experience but as a self-professed “plant geek” with a “plant addiction” she’s pleased with her garden.

The Tharps said they felt honored and shocked to have all their hard work recognized.