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Outdoor Spaces: 'It's our Shangri-La'

Phyllis and Ken Wells have the perfect place to relax, entertain and enjoy their Parkside neighborhood: the wraparound porch on their 1910 American four-square house.

“It’s a gathering space,” said Phyllis Wells who, as the oldest of nine siblings, has a special connection to the house. Her family, including her parents Russell L. and Rosalia Russo, lived in the home from 1971 to 1991. Her late father was known as “Russ the Baker,” the singing, traveling baked-goods salesman.

The Wellses bought the house in 2005, after having lived in Florida, Georgia, Chicago and Maryland. Three other families had lived there since 1991.

Porch furnishings and accessories include redwood-stained Adirondack chairs, a matching hanging swing, a coffee table, a rocking chair, planters and an indoor/outdoor carpet.

The large front bed edged with rocks is planted with peonies, tiger lilies, roses, hostas and other flowers that bloom at different times. One of the roses is an American Beauty – a gift from a longtime neighbor in memory of Rosalia Russo, who people called Rose.

Baskets of Proven Winners Supertunia Bordeaux hang on the porch. A variety of Tradescantia  (a wandering Jew plant with purplish-green foliage) grows in a large pot near the porch steps. Phyllis Wells said she frequently takes cuttings and roots them, often passing them along to others.

This plant, too, is special to her. “My clinical nursing students in Atlanta gave it to me 21 years ago after my father died,” said Wells, a retired women’s health practitioner. “I just call it ‘my father’s plant.’ ”

The Wellses will open their front and back gardens to visitors during the Parkside Garden & Architecture Tour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 24. Garden maps will be available for $5 at tour headquarters, Hillside Children’s Center, 70 Jewett Parkway.

The back garden offers another gathering space. The “auto barn” at the back of the property was built in 1915, and the Wellses have been restoring it. It still has the turntable that was used to rotate automobiles, but it is non-functioning.

“We’ve been restoring the auto barn – putting a lot of TLC in it. It’s an important part of the house,” said Ken Wells, who retired from a career in telecommunications.

This structure is behind the back patio where they grill meals and entertain guests.

The peaceful backyard has been the setting for a niece’s bridal shower and a 40th reunion barbecue for Phyllis Wells’ classmates from Mount St. Joseph Academy. A walkway off the patio leads to a garden with angel statuary.

“We love to antique so we have all these little plant stands, pieces of old fence, plaques and old-fashioned ceramic pieces,” said Phyllis Wells. Favorite haunts include the Salamanca Mall Antiques, Ontario Mall Antiques in Farmington and Shawnee Country Barns Antique Co-op in Wheatfield.

Among the outdoor decor: Garden gnomes and other statues that were painted by their son Christopher; a hunting horn hung on a rose trellis (Ken Wells plays the French horn with the Cheektowaga Community Symphony Orchestra); a fountain, and plaques and other decorative items hung on the fence. Hostas and Rose of Sharon are among their favorite plants.

“Our garden pays homage to a lot of different people,” said Ken Wells. “We try to keep a little bit of ourselves out here."

Interesting finds have been uncovered during several outdoor projects. When the couple replaced the roof on the auto barn, the contractor found a stack of letters in the eaves. They were love letters from a young woman written in the 1920s to the chauffeur employed at the time by a former homeowner.

And, when the water and sewer lines were being replaced some years back, a newspaper insert was found featuring the work of Beatrice Burton, who wrote romance fiction in the early 20th century. This particular insert promoted her novel, “The Flapper Wife.” The framed insert now hangs in the back hall.

While mulching the garden one recent day, Ken Wells took a break to share these and other stories. As for the garden, it will be ready to welcome visitors during the Parkside Garden Tour – and friends, family and neighbors all summer long.

“It’s a communal-type space that is evolving and will always be evolving,” Ken Wells said.

As Phyllis Wells describes it: “It’s our Shangri-La.”

* See last week's Outdoor Spaces feature, a pretty setting in Snyder.

Outdoor spaces: A welcoming garden in Snyder

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