Robin Boyer's Jungle
When he's not tending his fairy gardens, he's cruising Chelsea in his "go-cart."
by Kathy J. Clark
Published in November, 2018
At the corner of Grant and Lincoln streets in Chelsea, Robin Boyer has filled his time while waiting for a kidney transplant by building ornamental gardens. Boyer's hobby started a few years ago when his wife--also named Robin--requested a vegetable garden, which began as four raised planters at the corner. Vegetable gardening was short-lived and has now morphed into succulent planters and "fairy gardens"--whimsical miniature landscapes--at the front and back of the house. "Deer roaming around town devastated the vegetables, but they don't seem to bother our new fairy gardens," Boyer explains.
Boyer's parents, Laurance and Laureta Boyer, bought the property in the 1940s from Arnold Fahrner, who lived caddy-corner from the lot. Boyer's grandfather built a house on the corner using discarded wood, and it was expanded later. Boyer, born in 1956, has two older siblings.
In 1962 his parents designed and built a new split-level home "in the backyard" facing Grant.
As newlyweds, Robin and Robin lived in the old corner house and later moved to Plymouth. He retired in 2008 from Chrysler Proving Grounds, where he worked on the Dodge Viper for eighteen years. With his parents recently deceased, Boyer and his family, including children Anna and Justin, will soon spend more time in the split-level, leaving the corner house as a rental.
After the deer ate the vegetables, Boyer surfed the Internet and traveled to Roseacre Greenhouses in Charlotte to buy the cold-weather hardy succulents and groundcovers he uses to sculpt his one-of-a-kind streetscapes. He has to buy the succulents at greenhouses, he explains, because "they don't grow from seeds. They're grown from a cutting called a 'pup,' which you can transplant." He adds, "I mostly prefer non-needle cactus that are safe to touch."
His collection has grown to around 100 varieties thriving inside and outside of his home. A few of his favorites are "hens and chicks," moneywort, creeping jenny, Irish moss, and miniature hostas, dwarf conifers, and shrubs.
One reason he prefers
succulents to annuals and perennials is they don't need as much maintenance: "I only water the tropical plants once or twice a week, because they will rot if left in water over twenty-four hours," he says.
He's built eye-catching trellis obelisks over three of his fairy gardens. Each one is eight feet tall, made mostly of cedar two-by-twos and fitted with three-way swivel-tube connections. The first is a classic windmill design. The others represent the geometry of the Golden Ratio, proportions found throughout the world in plants and buildings. "I'm trying to bring good, healing energy to my house," Boyer says.
As his hobby grew, Boyer and Justin constructed wooden planters at the front door with treated ProWood and engineered decking. Recently he added an old washtub filled with a raised wooden liner to hold various sizes of the potted succulents. The doorway is a cornucopia of contrasting shapes in shades of green, soft pink, purple, and yellow.
Although it can't be seen from the street, he also has a fairy garden in the backyard planted in a large fire ring. Each spring, he moves the potted plants outdoors to the back-porch railing, where they provide decoration and replenishment for the fairy gardens.
An extension of his succulent gardening hobby can be seen at the Davita dialysis center on Commerce Park Dr. where Boyer spends every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. He found the view of the small rock garden out front boring, so he spruced it up. He dug out the existing garden, added hundreds of pounds of potting soil and more rocks, and planted a fairy garden. "I wanted something pleasing to look at while spending hours in the dialysis chair," he explains. And it gives him something to do: "I maintain the plants, and I like to putter sometimes by rearranging the fairies, lizards, and houses."
With arthritis in his knees and neuropathy in one foot, he can't walk long distances, so he rides between his gardens in his motorized Wrangler mobility cart. Seasonally, he rearranges the figurines and tiny houses to represent Halloween, Christmas, and Easter.
When he's not maneuvering his go-cart around the outdoor gardens, he drives it to explore downtown Chelsea. Mike's Deli, Zou Zou's, and the Clocktower complex are favorite destinations. Other frequent routes are through the old D.U.R. trail beginning at the end of Lincoln St. and paths around Silver Maples and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. "I have ridden my go-cart on almost every sidewalk and side street in Chelsea," he says.
After enjoying his gardens all summer and fall, Boyer says, "When the temperatures drop below forty-five to fifty degrees, I move them indoors." In winter they occupy window shelves at the front door and a unit in front of a south window, strung with LED red, white, and blue grow lights. "I like to sit there. It's peaceful with the glow of the lights, and I like to groom and organize the plants."
[Originally published in November, 2018.]
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