Photography by Beth Mann
Laura Petersen and Chad Petersen were in search of a neighborhood where they could customize their own house when they moved to Pittsboro from Cleveland, Ohio. In 2010, they found the perfect plot of land to build their home in Chapel Ridge. The couple was attracted to the community’s rolling hills and trees. Convenient access to the golf course was an added bonus for Laura, a former collegiate golfer at Florida State University.
Today, Laura and Chad’s 3,400-square- foot home is complete with daughter, Aubrey, 4, and 6-year-old beagle, Harriet. Chad is the vice president of e-commerce at Lowes Foods and Laura, formerly an event planner at the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club, now stays at home with Aubrey. Her experience serves her family well when it comes to hosting guests in their backyard.
“We’re constantly updating the yard in bits and pieces,” Laura says. “Our backyard is our primary focus because that’s where we spend most of our time. We hosted a wedding in our backyard several years ago. Someone I worked with was having a small family wedding, 25 to 30 people.”
With wedding season on hold due to COVID-19, Laura and Chad concentrated on turning their backyard into a safe play zone for their daughter. Over the past few years, the family added a deck, a stone patio and fire pit, a sitting wall, a dry creek bed, integrated lighting and a drip irrigation system.
“Once you have a kid, you start to think about your lawn differently,” Chad says. “[Aubrey] likes to play in the grass, so we make sure things are smooth, and we don’t use any harsh chemicals in the yard anymore.”
Chad uses organic lawn care products from Cary-based Carolina Turf to keep their backyard safe, and they’ve recently also installed some educational fun.
“We just added a vegetable garden; Chad and Aubrey built that,” Laura says. “[Aubrey] was looking forward to gardening in her preschool class this year, so we did it now. We grow tomatoes, basil, peppers, zucchini – she’s got a lot of pride in watering and picking from her garden.”
Chad and Laura do most of the landscaping work themselves, but they like to hire local experts when necessary. Chad purchased materials from Fitch Lumber in Carrboro to build their grilling deck and stone from Pittsboro Landscape Supply to construct a dry creek bed. Chatham-based custom builder Kendall Summers was the primary contractor who oversaw and completed a lot of the work on the field stone patio, sourcing the stone from Scott Stone in Mebane.
“We love the community we live in,” Laura says. “We’ve made friends who feel like family here. We love going down to S&T’s Soda Shoppe. Pittsboro is everything we were looking for – small-town feel, friendly and Southern.”
Laura’s love of the South shows in her garden selection – magnolias, azaleas and gardenias can all be found in the backyard. After her mother passed away, Laura transplanted some of her mom’s plants, including peony bushes, violets and ferns, into the growing landscape.
“It makes me feel like her spirit is around when they bloom,” Laura says. – by Marie Muir
Sue Wilson and her husband, Rouse Wilson, are self-proclaimed “do- it-yourselfers.” The couple fell in love in the summer of 1980 while working for the National Park Service in Cherokee, North Carolina – Sue worked for the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Rouse worked as a naturalist in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Shortly after marrying, they built their own Victorian-style, multi-story home in 1989, two miles outside of downtown Pittsboro. Sue says it was the perfect place to raise their three children, Noah, Abigail and Andrew, all of whom are now adults.
Their youngest child happens to be responsible for digging up Sue’s love of gardening. In 2006, Andrew came home from UNC-Asheville with a mission to start a vegetable garden. The backyard project was such a success, Sue decided to keep the garden growing, building more raised beds and buying chickens.
Today, the Wilsons stay busy tending to a new flock of chickens along with their garden’s harvest. Sue carefully records the evolution of the backyard in an online journal, sueisinthegarden.blogspot.com. From seasonal planting advice to her favorite jalapeño jelly recipe, Sue’s blog offers helpful tips for maintaining a healthy, successful garden. As a retired speech-language pathologist with Chatham County Schools and a hammered dulcimer music teacher, sharing knowledge comes naturally to Sue.
“If you have a garden, you have a reason to be outdoors,” Sue says. “You piddle around, and next thing you know, an hour has gone by. It fits right into my other interest – cooking. Digging potatoes is like digging for buried treasure.” But the hobby doesn’t come without its obstacles. Drought, pests and hungry critters are just a few of the things that Sue and Rouse have had to problem-solve. “Deer are a real problem in Chatham County,” Sue admits. “It’s hard enough to protect your landscaping plants, let alone produce. We built a 7-foot plastic fence around our garden to keep the deer out.”
Sue likes to shop in town for her yard’s necessities. She visits Country Farm & Home for its large selection of locally grown seed starts. When it’s time to mulch, she orders from B & L Supply, which delivers directly to her home. Sue turns to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension agents at the Chatham County Center whenever she has a question she can’t answer. She is especially inspired by agriculture extension agent Debbie Roos’ pollinator garden at Chatham Mills.
Sunshine and nutritious soil complete Sue’s recipe for a successful garden, and, if you’re looking to start your own, she says, “Plant what you like to eat!”
In her own garden, you’ll find some of her granddaughter’s favorites – Evalyn Wilson, 6, likes cucumbers, sugar snap peas, and a sweet combination of mint and stevia leaves for tea parties. Sue also enjoys the tea parties, but she’s partial to okra – sautéed in the skillet till golden brown, drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. “It never makes it to the table,” Sue says. – by Marie Muir
WHO SAYS YOU CAN’T GO HOME?
Henry Thomas and Linda King-Thomas returned to their roots after 30 years away from Chatham County. The couple lived in Fearrington Village for several years after their 1979 marriage before relocating to Chapel Hill in search of more space for their growing family. But three years ago, Chatham called them back, and they now call the Briar Chapel community home.
Linda, a semi-retired occupational pediatric therapist and co-founder of Developmental Therapy Associates in Durham and Cary, has loved gardening since childhood. “I was the one who would rather weed the gardens than do the dishes,” she says. “Even back then, I was able to get my ‘dirt time.’” Henry, who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency and is now retired, has always supported Linda’s passion. “I married a husband who does the cooking … which lets me have more time in the garden,” Linda says. “I like growing the fresh herbs he likes to cook with.”
The Briar Chapel house they moved to with their dog, Molly, and cats, Stella and Oliver, included foundation plantings around its edges, but Linda had much grander plans in mind. She knew she wanted more space for flowers and vegetables, but the most ambitious project would be putting in a new patio. “At our old house, we put in a patio for [a] chimenea … that Henry purchased from [a] church [attics, basements and closets] sale more than 20 years ago,” Linda says. “So our new house also needed a patio.”
They reconnected with Southern Rain LLC, the Pittsboro-based landscaping company that installed their previous patio. With the help of Southern Rain Owner Kathy Koss, they created a vision for the new garden and deck. “Kathy designed the planting to provide some height variation and interest and to have something in bloom every season,” Linda says. Fifteen types of shrubs and trees, from crepe myrtles to Brown Turkey figs to a blueberry bush, now grow in the backyard. Annuals like zinnias, sunflowers and marigolds were planted to fill in space and add pops of color. Henry and Linda also incorporated some of their old home into their new garden by planting divisions of perennials such as tulips, daffodils, Clematis armandii and more sourced from their Chapel Hill yard.
Belgard Mega-Arbel Belgian stone from the Stone Center of Carolina in Durham makes up the patio and retaining wall, which were finished in February 2019. The plantings were completed in April. All in all, the project took about nine months. One of Linda’s best pieces of advice to those embarking on landscaping projects is simple: “Be patient.”
Linda and Henry’s calm determination to see the project through paid off, as they now enjoy the peacefulness of their backyard through every season. They especially appreciate the chance to get fresh air on their patio. “When it is cool enough [in the summer] and not too cold [in the winter], I like to have my breakfast and tea on the back porch. We also like to eat dinner looking at the landscape,” Linda says. Their favorite time to fire up the chimenea is when their daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, Derick, visit from Tennessee.
The landscaping project was key in making their new place feel like home, and the couple couldn’t be happier to be back in Chatham County. “I like the friendly nature of the community,” Linda says. “[Everyone seems] to take time to get to know you.” – by Claire Delano