A lot of life happens in Jerry and Carol Brunner’s backyard on Nora Street, Washington.
“If we’re not in the backyard, we’re sitting in the sunroom and it’s like being outside,” said Carol, smiling.
In the 50 years since the Brunners built their home, the backyard has served as a backdrop to playtime with their now-grown son, conversation over shared meals, gatherings with friends and, of course, countless hours of gardening.
Carol and Jerry typically spend two hours a day maintaining a colorful array of more than 100 types of flowers in their backyard. It is not unusual, however, for the two to spend much more of their day outdoors, appreciating their handiwork and each other’s company.
“That’s the nice thing about being retired,” said Jerry. “How we kept up our gardening when we were working, we have no idea.”
Jerry retired in 2003 after 43 years of work with Jefferson Products. His wife joined him in retirement five years later, ending her 30-year reign as office manager of the Washington Chamber of Commerce.
Not ones for idle time, the Brunners immersed themselves further into gardening since their retirement. Following a color scheme of pinks, blues, whites and “splashes of yellow,” they have strategically intermingled perennials and annuals to maintain color all year, even in the winter.
They also keep a thriving herb garden, which not only supplies Carol’s cooking, but the kitchens of Café Mosaic and John G’s Taproom where their son Dean is a chef.
“It’s almost a year-round job,” Jerry said. “Although we really enjoy doing it, so it really isn’t a job.”
Their garden demands a lot of labor, but the couple regularly take time to stop and smell the roses—all 35 types of them.
Longtime members of the now-disbanded Tri-County Rose Society, the Brunners feature roses as focal points of their garden.
Their roses even received special attention when their yard was featured on the Washington garden tour one year.
In their remaining time, Carol and Jerry remain active volunteers in the community. Jerry is a member of the Lions Club, and Carol spends time sewing blankets and other supplies for Mercy Clinic physician Tim Long to distribute on mission trips to Honduras. Additionally, both enjoy volunteering at the Washington Town and Country Fair, giving special effort to organizing the livestock auction brunch and dinner.
The Brunners discovered their green thumbs while maintaining the garden of Carol’s elderly grandmother.
“She had a place on MacArthur and a vegetable garden almost bigger than our backyard,” Carol recalled.
The vegetable garden on MacArthur planted the seed for the Brunners’ idea to begin their own garden, but it took a lot of rain before the idea took hold.
About 20 years ago, Carol and Jerry found their sloped backyard drowning in runoff water—“like a river flowing through the yard.”
“So we decided to put in a retaining wall,” said Jerry. “And then of course you have to do a little landscaping behind it.”
And so the garden began.
“It’s really been a lot of trial and error; a lot of times your plants will tell you if they like the conditions,” Carol remarked. “You just have to show your plants that you love them.”
Carol and Jerry have enjoyed learning the tricks of the trade together.
“If you don’t grow, you die,” Carol said in true gardener’s lingo.
The Brunners’ backyard might have as many stories as it has flowers. Ranging from foxes to eagles to a family of skunks, a variety of wildlife has taken up residence in their flower beds.
“We’ve had every creature imaginable,” Carol said, laughing. “They’re OK until they eat my flowers — then they’re gone.”
Even before their gardening days, the Brunners’ backyard was a lively scene.
One snowy day when their son was young, a sledding neighbor boy crashed into the Brunners’ baby crabapple tree and snapped the sapling in half. Unsure of how to repair it, Carol wound a roll of duct tape around the tiny tree.
Thirty-five years later, the tree is full-grown. Albeit a bit gnarled, the tree is so striking when in bloom that neighbors have chosen it as a site for wedding photos.
“It’s all of the small things that give the garden such character,” Carol said.
Couples Who Garden Together, Stay Together
“Gardening is something we both fortunately like to do,” Carol said. “If I didn’t enjoy something and he did, I would be awfully bored.”
Fortunately, Carol and Jerry have kept each other interested since 1962, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary last July.
The two both attended St. Francis Borgia High School, but they did not meet until after Jerry had graduated — during Carol’s high school days as a carhop at A&W.
“Jerry was driving a ’57 Chevy convertible,” Carol said with a smile. “I’ll always remember that.”
From volunteering with their son’s Boy Scout troop and to the SFBRHS Music Association, the two have taken up similar activities over the years. Today, they even mow the lawn together: they own two lawnmowers, and Carol cuts the flat parts of the yard while Jerry cuts the terraces.
“We enjoy working together,” Carol said. “We’ve been lucky that way.”