Judy Garry “Your Vase or Mine”

By: Janet Parkerson


“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” ~Henry David Thoreau


In the mid-1980s, Judy Garry was working at the University of Delaware and studying for her Master’s Degree. Ed Doll, a retired chemical engineer from Dupont, was living on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The two met through mutual friends, and their first date was a sailboat race on the Chesapeake Bay. It was Judy’s maiden voyage, but Ed was an expert sailor, and very competitive. To Judy’s amazement, they were in first place! Judy says she had nothing to do with winning. “I just went along for the ride.” What a great start for the couple!


Anchors Aweigh!

A few years and many sailing dates later, they devised a plan to fulfill Ed’s dream of sailing year-round. They refurbished a 46-foot sloop, appropriately named Sloopy, and set sail from the Chesapeake Bay to the Caribbean in May 1989. After going through weeks of red tape, they became qualified members of the Virgin Island Charter Yacht League and offered their boat for charter. Captain Ed and First Mate/Chef Judy were the crew.


Sailing conditions in the Caribbean were perfect. They soon developed an active charter business, making their dream vacation in paradise a reality. They became expert guides in the United States and British Virgin Islands, discovering secluded beaches, quiet harbors, the best snorkeling sites, the best island bars for local rum, and great reggae bands!


Despite their busy schedule, the lifestyle they were living offered little opportunity to develop deep friendships or a sense of community.


This was before e-mail and Skype. Phone calls home were few and far between, and Judy looked forward to each September when they returned to the United States to visit family and friends.


After five years of living and working on their boat, Judy and Ed could no longer deny their longing to return to land and find a place to call home. They needed grounding!


Land Ho!

With no regrets, they sailed back to the Chesapeake Bay and began searching for a place to put down roots. They traveled from Florida to Maine, from the Rockies to the Alleghenies.


After a winter in Florida fixing up Sloopy to sell, they drove into Asheville on their way back to Maryland where they still owned a house.


It was mid-March, the temperature was perfect, the mountains were beautiful and the skies were Carolina blue. Judy recalls that they stopped along the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Folk Art Center for a picnic lunch when the Tour Dupont bike race flew by. They decided to spend one night in their camper at Lake Powhatan, but stayed a week! They knew they had found a very special place. Asheville met all their criteria for a great retirement city. They vowed to visit again.


Shortly after their return, Judy’s 88-year old mother passed away. As they turned to the task of preparing their Maryland property for sale, Judy decided she needed to replace a few scraggly shrubs in front of the house to create more curb appeal. Something amazing happened. Judy explains that when she picked up a shovel for the first time, she became possessed! “All I wanted to do was dig.” She knew it was not logical since they planned to sell the house soon. But she kept digging and buying and planting! “I was obsessed,” claims Judy. “I just couldn’t stop myself!” She couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and get out into the yard. She devoured books on gardening and landscaping, read seed catalogs, learned the botanical names of flowers, and went to every nursery within a 25-mile radius. At night, she dreamed about her fantasy garden.


Judy’s mother had been an avid gardener all her life. “I truly believe it was Mom’s spirit inhabiting and guiding me.” Creating a garden helped relieve some of her grief. “It made me feel close to her. She was so precious. I miss her terribly.”


By the time the Maryland house was ready to sell, Judy had planted flowers everywhere! There was no way she could leave them behind. Even as she planted, Judy knew that she would dig them up and take them with her.


“The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives.” ~Gertrude Jekyll


After two more visits to Asheville that spring and summer, Judy and Ed met with a realtor and found a house they loved in a great neighborhood with lots of room for a garden. Their house in Maryland sold quickly, and they moved to the Land of the Sky in late October 1995, plants and all!


Putting Down Roots

Next, they worked to fulfill Judy’s dream of a cottage style flower garden.


Judy was eager to become active in her new community. She applied to the Master Gardener volunteer program, a 13-week course offered through Cooperative Extension. Because she was such a novice gardener, she never expected to be admitted. She thinks her enthusiasm for her newfound passion and desire to be part of a volunteer organization were the reasons she was accepted.


In addition to her Master Gardener activities, Judy volunteered at the Botanical Gardens where she helped coordinate special events, served as newsletter editor and board member. She volunteered at the North Carolina Arboretum and served on the board of MAGIC Community Gardens and Quality Forward (now Asheville Greenworks). “I jumped in on all fours,” says Judy. She was particularly happy when UNC-Asheville’s Center for Creative Retirement asked her to coordinate study trips similar to those she had done at the University of Delaware’s Academy of Lifelong Learning.


Grow Where You’re Planted.

Ed tackled many projects around their new home. With Judy’s design input, he built arbors, planters, and an entirely new front porch surrounded by garden beds. He, too, became quite involved, serving as president of their homeowner’s association, and continuing his love of singing as a member of the Land of the Sky Barbershop Chorus and president of that organization.


All the while, they continued developing plans for their dream garden. They defined a large area of lawn to be transformed into flower beds and spent the next 18 months creating them. The first spring, they brought in 40 tons of dirt from a lot near their development. “We had a humongous mountain of dirt right in the middle of our lawn! I’m sure our neighbors thought we were crazy!” They spent their first summer amending the soil with truckloads of composted leaves, cow and horse manure, mushroom compost, peat moss, and soil amendments—the ingredients to make good dirt for their plants. Judy’s training as a Master Gardener was indispensable for this task. Bit-by-bit, plant-by-plant, their garden grew.


Sadly, after four years in Asheville, Ed was diagnosed with cancer. He fought his illness courageously. After his death in 2001, Judy threw herself even more into her community activities and—again at a time of great loss—she found solace in her garden. Today, Judy gives Ed much of the credit for making her beautiful garden a reality.


Eventually, Judy had so many flowers, that she began thinking about selling some to support her habit. Early every Saturday morning, she loaded her car with buckets of flowers, cut the night before, to sell at the Black Mountain tailgate market.


She loved having shoppers enjoy the fruits of her labor. She soon had a following of regular customers arriving early to see what goodies she had brought from her garden. People were amazed at the quantity, quality, and variety of her flowers. Had she grown them all herself? Yes. How big was her farm? Judy laughed and told them there was no farm, just her home garden on less than a half-acre in East Asheville. She invited them to visit. And as she welcomed guests to her garden, she began to consider the concept of pick-your-own flowers. Her visitors select their flowers which Judy then cuts. It was much easier to have folks come to her garden for flowers than taking her flowers to market. Your Vase or Mine was born.


Reap What You’ve Sown.

“Show me your garden, and I shall tell you what you are.” ~Alfred Austin


The last seven years have been a tremendous learning experience for Judy. She knows which flowers are best for cutting and plants a variety of seeds and flowers so she will have plenty of blossoms throughout the growing season. Roses bloom from mid-April to mid-November, peonies in the spring. Daisies are almost always in bloom, while sunflowers and zinnias are abundant in the summer. Her dahlias are a big fall favorite.


Today, about 90% of Judy’s business is weddings and rehearsal dinners. It may be the do-it-yourself bride who comes for buckets of cut flowers or the bride who wants Judy to make everything from decorations for the arbor to hair wreaths for the flower girls.


Judy is not a florist; she’s a gardener, but she loves creating arrangements and bouquets, claiming that there is no way to mess up a beautiful bunch of freshly picked flowers! “It’s such a delight knowing my “home-grown” flowers will grace the biggest day in a couple’s life.”


“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust


What could be better? Nature, beauty, love! “I feel so lucky to be doing what I do. And if my Mom is watching, she’s thrilled with joy.”


Judy Garry, gardener and owner of Your Vase or Mine in Asheville, can be reached at 828-299-4394 or yourvaseormine@charter.net.


Janet Parkerson is a neighbor who walks by and admires Judy’s garden.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker