Meeting the Gardeners: Terry and Shirley Sigle

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Terry and Shirley Sigle at the home outside of Dardanelle, Arkansas. All images by Bryan Moats.

If you read this column often you know that for the past year the McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources and Community Action has been working to put together a book of regional garden stories. We’re highlighting the people behind the gardens and exploring both how gardening shaped our history and why we need these skills for the future. Throughout these colder months we’ve been continuing to share their stories, providing readers with an encouraging reminder that spring is around the corner.

Shirley and Terry Sigle live three miles outside of Dardanelle on Highway 28. They built their house in 1975 on land Terry and his brother inherited from their father. “We did it all,” Terry explains as we walk around the woods encircling the house. “We even cleared the trees where the house was. This was all woods,” he says pointing to the long driveway and the multiple garden sites that encircle the house. Many of the plots sit near beautiful cedar rail fences that Terry made years ago. Their garden spaces are a mixture of cultivated plants and native species they’ve nurtured over the years. A few toothache trees (often called a prickly ash) grow near the house and the property is home to multiple wild growing muscadine vines that pop up from time to time.

Shirley points out a bed of vibrant four o’clocks and bee balm that run alongside the house, noting the four o’clocks were given to her by a friend in town, Floy Bearden. Like so many people we’ve met doing this Garden Book project, Shirley’s flower garden is populated with gift plants. And she continues to share the flowers, passing along cuttings to her own friends and family.  Out past the flowerbeds is a large vegetable garden filled with multiple varieties of tomatoes, peppers and squash. Patches of blueberry bushes have grown on the property for years, and this past year the Sigles added a dozen more, hoping to soon grow enough on site to last the family all season. Near the back of the house sits both a greenhouse and workshop where Shirley makes flower arrangements and Terry does woodcarving.

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Wreath hanging up to dry,

“My mom was an avid gardener,” Shirley explains. “They lived in the country and had huge vegetable gardens. “But I had an aunt, and she took care of me. She could stick anything in a pot and it would grow,” she says, recalling her early days learning to tend to the soil. “Today I only want to grow perennials,” she laughs. For years she worked in a flower shop but now just grows for her family and friends, including the large collection of ferns she loans out to community members for weddings and other events. She also designs handmade wreaths for both Decoration Days and family celebrations, making her one of few people in the area who still uses fresh materials for the yearly decorating of area graves in May.

As we enter her greenhouse she points to multiple wreaths hanging up to dry. She crafts them from wisteria vines cut from the backyard and tangles of tame and wild muscadines, weaving them together when they’re still green and allowing them to dry to shape. She’ll then decorate the wreaths with ribbon or flowers before passing them on to others.

Muscadines grow native in this region, but the Sigles pay special attention to any vines they discover on their property.  They have also planted multiple varieties of cultivators  “We treat them like regular grapes,” Shirley explains. “We pick them at the end of August through September and trim them back.” Some of the vines grow near the house making it easy to water. Others are too far out but still produce fruit. Like so many people in this area, Shirley uses her muscadines to make the regionally favorite treat, Muscadine jelly.

You can see photos of Shirley and Terry’s garden online at www.boileddownjuice.com. While you’re there you can learn more about our Garden Book Project, read past columns about muscadines, and browse profiles of  other area growers featured in this column. Thanks so much for reading!

 

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