Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 7, 2001
Meet Mrs. Greely Lee. She's most often been called simply "Miz" Lee during her 46 years (and still counting) working at Lee Electric, a family business started by her husband and now run by son Mack. But she confesses to having "one of those old-time double southern girl's names, Eva Nell."
Eva Lee is a soft-spoken lady who lights up visibly when the subject of gardens enters theconversation. "My flowers are my hobby and my therapy," she states with a sunny smile.
She keeps things simple, she says, by concentrating on perennials, "things that will come back year after year both in my flowers and the trees."
As a girl growing up in central Florida, Eva came to share her mother's love of growing things. A war bride, Eva returned with her WW II veteran husband to Alabama to share a home in his native Butler County.
"I have to say I wasn't happy at first in town. I came from a very rural area where everybody knew everybody else. But over the years I have to say I've learned to love Greenville," Eva Lee comments, adding. "It's a great town to live in and a great place to raise your children."
And it's a great place to grow a garden, she's discovered. "I've learned to pay attention to the kinds of plants that grow well in these parts and that's what I try to choose."
But Eva Lee doesn't shop in nurseries or garden centers for the majority of her flowers, trees and shrubs. They come from a far more personal source, as a visitor strolling through the yard will discover in conversation with Mrs. Lee.
"Mrs. Lonnie Sims over on Second St. gave me my very first day lilies, oh, goodness, 49 years ago. I transplanted them when we moved each time and they're still blooming.
Myrtle Callens gave me some perennial phlox and shared some of the Sims day lilies, and Imogene Robinson and her mother, Emily Reeves, gave me a lot of my day lilies some 20 to 25 years ago." She even has day lilies transplanted from her late sister's home in Kansas.
Mrs. Lee points out the variegated border grass decorating her beds. "I call that "Pouncey" grass because Mrs. Mack Pouncey gave it to me---and here are some of her country girl chrysanthemums Eva Lee pauses and casts a fond glance at the riot of color surrounding her.
"When I walk through my flowers, I see my friends. Some friends are still here and some died long ago, but they are all here with me through their lovely plants. . . really, I'm old-fashioned and I buy very little in general when it comes to plants."
Day lilies are an especial favorite of this local gardener who has a large number of varieties in striking shades of red, yellow and peach gracing both the front and back yard areas at the Lee's Burnett St. home of 35 years. "Oh, if you'd only seem them a week or so ago," she says ruefully, adding, "They were really gorgeous then."
The lilies are expected to fade in the next week or so. But never fear.
The lady with the green thumb extraordinaire always plans her landscaping so that as one group of plants fades, another will bloom forward and take its place.
"I guess I do have a little bit of everything out there," Lee chuckles as she surveys the quiet, serene hideaway she has created in a backyard smack dab in the center of town: a lush green lawn surrounded by hydrangea, phlox, crape myrtle, day lilies, roses, and much, much more.
Birds fly in to sip from the verdigris baths or perhaps to catch a glimpse of themselves in the whimsical gazing ball.". It is shady, verdant, fragrant---beautiful.
"I don't need to go to the gym to exercise, I get it right out here in my yard. . . it's a lot of work, yes, but I enjoy it so much," she affirms.
Have the "growing" genes passed from mother to only daughter Linda?
"Well, Linda loves flowers, too, but with her work and her family, she's really strung out," says Lee, mother of two and grandmother of four.
One day, Eva Lee hopes her daughter will be able to slow down, stop and smell the roses and perhaps grow a few of her own. Or lilies, crape myrtles, hydrangeas. . .
In the meantime, Eva Lee surveys her newly transplanted crape myrtles lining the fence bordering the neighbor's property. "I guess, you know, I just wanted to try something new," she smiles.
Like any true artist, Lee isn't content to rest on her laurels (or her lilies). Looks like Burnett Street will be a-bloom for a long time to come.