Neighbors express themselves

Craig yards adorned with lawn art displays

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Tiny green hosta shoots are just poking through the dirt in a shady spot in one of Marion Luke's flowerbeds.

The octogenarian gardener kneeled to brush the topsoil at the base of the little green cones, and she marveled at how quickly everything changed from dead to green.

"A garden is such a joy to me," Luke said, moving down the row, pointing to the lilies that are just starting to come up. "It's almost like a rebirth in the spring when I come out here."

Like many others throughout the Craig community, Luke treats her yard as a painter treats canvas. Luke focuses on the plants in her garden to bring her yard to life. Some of her neighbors use ornaments or knick-knacks. Either way, a yard is the opportunity for homeowners to express themselves and give their homes unique looks.

Less than a block from Luke, Tom and Ingrid Hammond's back yard is so full of eye-catching lawn art that a neighbor once requested the Hammonds build a chain-link fence instead of a wooden one so the neighbor could enjoy the view.

The Hammonds obliged.

"It's our hidden paradise back here," Tom Hammond said, standing beneath a tree from which hung brightly colored nylon kites that twirled and floated in the breeze.

Numerous artificial frogs are arranged in various poses at the base of an ash tree behind him.

Near the patio, a community of garden gnomes sit about in varied poses. One carries a lantern, one reads a book, one plays a flute. A rosy-cheeked gnome sits at a little table across from his bearded companion.

"I guess I probably call them elves," said Ingrid Hammond, who has been collecting the figurines for years. Part of her collection came from Germany, some were gifts from her mother, and others she purchased.

"I can't leave these things alone," Ingrid Hammond said, pointing to a snorkeling frog floating across one of her fountains.

At the center of the paradise, a concrete pond is surrounded by ducks, flowers, a blue heron and a miniature concrete pagoda.

Each spring, the Hammonds begin the task of unpacking all of the yard art and setting it up again. It's a leisurely pace, Ingrid said. It's no big deal if she only sets a few pieces out each day.

When the leaves fill the branches of the trees in the Hammonds' yard, and when splashing of the fountains drowns out all the background noise, Tom said he likes to sit in the shade and relax.

"It's our own little world back here, literally," Tom Hammond said.

Although she calls it the "maintenance monster," Ingrid beams as she walks through her peaceful back yard, pointing out all of the ornaments and the stories behind them.

On Pershing Street, Sylvia Queen's yard is full of an assortment of lawn art, and much of it isn't commercial.

There is an antique washing machine and a rusted farm implement beside a tree where a glittery butterfly clings to the bark. Queen said she's constantly fixing the antennae because the squirrels bend the wires when they climb over the butterfly on their way up and down the tree.

"Butterflies mean new life," Queen said, explaining her interest in the creatures that she placed in various areas of the yard.

Queen was a little shy about speaking about her yard and its decor, but she was coaxed into talking by her daughter.

"Mom, your yard is unique and it's beautiful," said Michelle Queen, who sat stripping a wheelbarrow full of holly hocks into a bucket.

It was Michelle's idea to adorn the yard with oyster shells. In one flowerbed, beside rocks and flowerpots, the oyster shells glistened blue and green and sliver in the sunlight.

Above the oyster shells, beside three clay angels, a curvy metal lattice stands planted in the dirt. It is part of a discarded potato chip display, Sylvia Queen said.

"I thought it would be pretty for my rose bush to grow up it," Sylvia Queen said. "It reminds me of a music symbol."

Sylvia Queen said she's always on the lookout for something unusual to add to her yard.

"I see something that hits my fancy, and I go from there," Sylvia said. "I don't like the same old thing."

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