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Blooming with Abandon

Landscape designer Rick Shelton has a colorful garden filled with roses, lilies, hostas and daylilies.

Rick Shelton is passionate about roses, crazy for lilies, hostas and daylilies, and likes almost any other flower in between.

The landscape designer mixes his passion with his training to grow a lush, colorful garden at Laurel Terrace Apartments in Knoxville, Tenn. He's been a tenant there since he was a 1980s University of Tennessee graduate student.

For 20 years, he's designed, planted, expanded, replanted and planted some more on the property that takes up half a city block. Well-tended roses, lilies, azaleas, ferns, bellflowers, camellias, coreopsis, columbine, cannas and calla lilies are among the hundreds of varieties filling multiple garden beds.

The thickly planted gardens accent the four-story 1893 house and 1930 carriage house that includes Shelton's apartment. The deep-red, brick Victorian house was converted to apartments in 1916.

The gardens benefit both owner and tenant. Shelton, who owns Shelton Landscape Design, oversees the garden and gets to plant "whatever I want to." His decisions have made the property a showcase.

The work began on a small scale, with shrubs around the house and impatiens under the back yard's now 109-year-old magnolia trees. The first beds were planned. "Since then, it's like, 'This would look nice there. Let's try it,' " Shelton says. "I want one of everything.

"I like lush, I like color. I want a 'wow.' I like hot colors, I like to shock people with color combinations. Everything goes with a green background."

So roses grow with perennials and annuals; daylilies line borders; various evergreens are the gardens' backbone. The roses are, he admits, "just a sickness. It's taken me 20 years to get them right." After 300 varieties, Shelton's lost count of the roses that bloom in shades from red to white to pink to lavender to yellow to orange.

Nancy Reagan roses in the gardens at Laurel Terrace apartments in Knoxville, Tenn. (SHNS photo by Michael Patrick / Knoxville News Sentinel)

Shrub roses, climbers, English and French varieties, floribundas and miniatures grow in beds, on walls, around supports. Antique climbers ramble on a side of the main house's porch; more climbers wind on the black iron fence or the carriage house entrance columns. Care-intensive tree roses and hybrid teas fill a carriage house garden Shelton calls "my folly."

While his passion is roses, Shelton gets seasonal cravings. One year he planted 27 varieties of salvias. Another year, hostas caught his eye. The garden now holds 30 to 35 varieties. About 70 kinds of daylilies grow here and there. "You can't have too many hostas; you can't have too many daylilies," he said.

If he counts the different roses as one, Shelton estimates the garden holds 300 plant varieties. Spiderwort, cora bells, irises, Carolina jasmine, clematis, Persian shield, variegated ginger, ferns, spirea, dahlias, star magnolia, peonies, foxgloves, veronicas and asters are among the hundreds of plants adding texture and color to the ever-changing garden.

The front entrance to the home is accented by the only truly symmetrical garden. Towering blue ice cypress, Alberta spruces and gold mop chamaecyparis bookend the wide front steps.

While Shelton began the garden alone, he gets help from fellow tenant Devin Chandler. Tenant Justin Murray, who owns Green Wood Lawn Care, and employee Matt Buentiempo are responsible for the property's lawn and also help with bigger garden chores.

For Shelton, gardening is "trial and error" combined with lots of watering, attention and regular fertilizing. But he can't grow everything. "A lot of roses, a lot of varieties can't grow here. I've had a lot of heartbreak and disappointment here. I can kill a cactus. I can't grow Lenten roses, I can't grow houseplants."

Most plants come from local nurseries. Shelton knows their delivery days but tries to visit just once a week. "If I see something I like, I'll try it," he says. "There's always room. If push comes to shove, we'll push up some sod and make another bed."

(Contact Amy McRary of The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee at www.knoxnews.com.)

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