Couple’s passion grows secret garden
by Rory Doyle
May 23, 2013 | 3181 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cleveland couple, Francis and Ralph Tyler (above), has created a beautifully decorated garden over the past 51 years that is full of fascinating plants, flowers and handcrafted birdhouses.
Cleveland couple, Francis and Ralph Tyler (above), has created a beautifully decorated garden over the past 51 years that is full of fascinating plants, flowers and handcrafted birdhouses.
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Hidden behind a quaint fence in the backyard of Francis and Ralph Tyler's Cleveland home lays a secret garden treasure.

One would never imagine the blooming beauty behind the fence when passing by their house on Leflore Avenue.

Over the last 51 years, the Tylers have been building a garden full of fascinating plants, flowers and handcrafted birdhouses.

"There was nothing in the backyard when we moved here after getting married," said Francis. "I grew up on a farm so that made me want to get into gardening."

Soon after settling in their new home, Francis absorbed as much information as she could about gardening from television programs, magazines and books.

Today, the entire backyard fills with all sorts of life each spring and summer — roses, daylilies, cannas, daffodils, narcissus, palmettos, tomatoes, agave plants and more.

The space is also equipped with a greenhouse, fountain and lily pad pool, building station, patio, shed, giant tree swing and plenty of decorations, including copper sculptures crafted by their son.

"It's so peaceful and brings me joy to work in my garden," said Francis, who worked for a decade at Greenskeeper nursery. "It's therapy for me — to come out here and just forget about everything else."

She typically plants with a rooting approach by taking the roots from fellow gardeners and introducing them to her collection. In turn, she also shares roots with anyone who comes to visit.

"Everything is shared by other people," said Francis. "Every time I look at a plant I think of the person that gave it to me. A lot of good memories are passed through here."

"People call me a sticker — when I get a new plant I find a spot to stick it. I'm about to run out of space," joked Francis.

Ralph said her unique ability to care for the plants is what makes her a successful gardener.

"She doesn't lose any of the plants. She has that special touch," he said.

But it would be unfair to describe the Tyler garden without noting Ralph's dozens of handmade birdhouses that cover the trees and fences.

Ralph, who cared for the Cleveland Cemetery for 22 years, also enjoys their vibrant garden and began contributing to its character about 17 years ago through his hobby.

"Making the birdhouses has become a passion of mine," he said. "I try to make a different one every time, which is hard to do."

Many of them are built like miniature homes, barns and cabins, each designed with intricate detail.

Over the years, he has constructed nearly 400 birdhouses, most of which he's given away.

"Most of them I donate," said Ralph. "It gives me more pleasure than selling them and it feels like I'm doing more good."

His craft has not gone unrecognized and his birdhouses have been auctioned and sold at multiple local fundraisers.

"Now if I could just get the birds to live in the houses," joked Ralph. "Hardly any of the birds live in them."

While sparrows and wrens are the most common tenants, orioles, robins and jays fill the garden with plenty of beautiful songs.

The duo has created a true masterpiece by combining their interests for the past five decades, and they show no signs of slowing down — as long as they aren't outdone by the squirrels.

"They eat everything out here," said Francis. "But really, it's about enjoying our hobbies and not about business. Everybody says how shocked they are when they come back here for the first time!"