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Artistic treasures unfold in one womans backyard garden
A gourd painted to look like a cat sits in Becky Mensinger’s garden May 12. There are a variety of gourds around Mensinger’s garden, some painted as cats and one painted as a snake. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Looking at her front yard, you could never tell Master Gardener Becky Mensinger pays more attention to her backyard. But once you walk around her Gainesville home you realize her backyard is her sanctuary.

“I’m a plant nerd,” Mensinger said pointing toward her three-tiered raised garden with its blueberry bushes, fox gloves, epimediums, Love-In-A-Mist and many more.

Mensinger also has a seasonal vegetable garden with tomatoes and squash ripening on the vine.

Her philosophy in selecting the plants she cultivates in her garden is simple: Plant whatever deer will not eat; and if a deer wants a taste, put a wire fence over it.

Despite all of this evidence of a massive garden, it’s not the plants that stand out. It is the art within it. Mensinger has an array of scarecrows, manmade mushrooms and gourds transformed into all kinds of critters, making it a sight to see.

“It really tells a story in the garden,” Mensinger’s friend, Sarah Galshack, said.

Galshack said she enjoys walking through her friend’s garden, observing not only the flowers, but the artistic treasures as well.

Mensinger’s creativity was born about 10 years ago when she made a scarecrow out of painters cloth. But the yard mannequin soon turned into “shovel lady.”

“She has clothes and actually has hair now,” Mensinger said. “Before, she just had a big hat.”

Standing in her side yard, Shovel Lady holds a pair of trimmers and “trims away” at the bushes.

On the other side of the garden is another scarecrow. He is made out of landscaping cloth, old gloves, pants and hat. Mensinger calls him the preacher.

“He blesses our garden,” she said.

Even though both scarecrows are almost the first thing to be seen in her garden because of their heights, the garden oasis holds even more treasures.

On the first tier of her garden beds are three huge mushrooms clearly made out of cement, but the remaining contents are hard to identify.

“The stem is made from a (polyvinyl chloride) pipe, and the top is a salad bowl with concrete covering it,” Mensinger said. “You lay the salad bowl on top of the pipe and you have a mushroom.”

For her grandchildrens’ garden area, Mensinger used smaller bowls covered with concrete to create smaller mushrooms. She then found sticks sturdy enough to hold the bowls.

Countless gourds are painted to resemble snakes and cats, but the creative gardener did not stop there — literally. She made a stop signal out of a wooden pole and three coffee cans, painting them red,
yellow and green.

To add enchantment, Mensinger designed a fairy garden, which holds the children’s old small toys along with a small cement house. Other fairy homes are sprinkled throughout the garden and are composed of leftover debris from the winter.

“They were made during the ice storm,” Mensinger said. “I used small sticks and bark off of fallen trees, glueing them together to make a small house.”

The master gardener even has a troll lurking under the moss and in the leaves. He watches and guards the premises.

A character on a Disney show gave Mensinger the idea to create the troll, which is made out of hypha toofa, play sand and leftover wire from cages designed to protect certain plants from deer.

“The head started with a tree pot,” Mensinger said. “I sat a tree pot down and started putting chicken wire around it and then I added sand and I formed an ear a out of wet sand and poured cement in.”

Mensinger has used old glass plates to make flowers and potting containers to make a pot man who sits on a bench near the troll. She even has painter-cloth coyotes that “roam” the garden.

And if that wasn’t enough, her garden has several bird houses made from used wood that houses speakers so she can play music throughout her garden.

Her garden, she said, entertains her and her grandchildren all year long.