Furnish Your Garden

Jim Heeter combines plants with statuary, water features and topiary in his CWE urban garden.

By Shannon Craig
Photography by Kim Dillon


In my three short years here, one Midwestern generalization has been proven true, time and time again, by both county and city dwellers. The moment the freeze warnings lift, the ice turns to rain and the brown of winter gives life to the electric-green haze of early spring, Missourians are outside fussing with whatever patch of land they can get their hands on, be it county-style acreage or a strip of sun-soaked alleyway downtown. 

One inhabitant in our vast community of tenders, tillers and trowel-ers—owner of The Gifted Gardener and creator/curator of his personal urban garden, Jim Heeter—is taking yardwork into the realm of high design. 

“Historically, gardening is a branch of architecture,” Heeter explains. “It’s about defining the space as it relates to your home. Furnish your garden like your favorite room, and you’ll plant a smile that will last a lifetime!” 

Much like his shop on Manchester Road, Heeter’s “inviting whimsical retreat” in the Central West End is a well-manicured homage to his belief that it takes more than plants to make a garden. “From early spring bulbs to late fall bloomers, the colors are always changing. And with strategically placed statuary, water features and my collection of neatly trimmed topiary, there are temptations and surprises at every turn.”

Representing 33 years of commitment, Heeter’s garden began as a debris-filled back yard behind a boarded-up home. The visual is a far cry from the hyper-organized, “sunny disposition” of the space today, and Heeter admits that it’s taken time, intentionality, and—in some cases—a little good and bad luck.

“Sometimes it’s serendipity rather than design that makes a statement in your garden. For example, the 14’ tall wood columns anchoring the back of my garden were accidental finds on Craigslist. They transformed the entire depth of the space. On the other hand, in my desire for all things boxwood, I have planted dozens of English boxwoods and not one has survived the shady conditions,” he says.

Though it may seem foreign to our county neighbors—and to many of our city’s green thumb novices—Heeter assures that with some planning, an urban garden can be easily maintained and as beautiful as a sprawling estate. “Designing a garden that fits in with the time that you can spend maintaining it is crucial to its success,” he advises. “Limited time does not mean limited choices. With good planning, some of the most effective urban gardens need surprisingly little work.”

If you haven’t already, Midwesterners, get some dirt under your fingernails and take a crack at what I have found to be one of the greatest advantages of living in this part of the country, in this particular city. Even if your small-spaced oasis takes a bit more work and finesse than a county back forty, heed word from Heeter.

“Every garden is a living work in progress…lighting and space will dictate much of your plant choices, but always leave room for a little trial and error.”   

Jim Heeter, The Gifted Gardener, 314-961-1985