Story of a garden

Home + Garden

March 31, 2023

Over more than four decades, Pete and Eve Pappas have transformed their Myers Park backyard into a peaceful moss garden.

by Cathy Martin  |  photographs by Richard Israel

When Pete and Eve Pappas purchased their one-third-acre Myers Park property more than 40 years ago, no matter how hard they tried they couldn’t get grass to grow. “We always would plant grass a couple times a year — there was so much shade back there, it just didn’t happen,” says Pete, a local craftsman who longtime Charlotteans might remember as co-owner of SouthPark’s now-shuttered Zebra restaurant and, before that, The Pine Room in uptown.

Pete and Eve Pappas

One day, Eve Pappas noticed some moss growing on the property, and that sparked an idea. “So, we just took a 5-gallon bucket and a flat shovel and scooped the moss up out of the creek bed,” Pete says. “We started bringing a little bit up at the time, and just let that garden evolve.”

And evolve it has. But the couple are no weekend warriors making regular trips to big-box garden centers like so many backyard growers. Instead, their landscape is filled with sentimental treasures given to them by friends or acquired from memorable sources over the years.

It’s a giving garden, too. “I remember when our kids were born, we bought a huge Japanese maple,” says Pete, whose two daughters are now in their 40s. “I bought one for each girl.” They planted Bree’s tree, which now stands about 35 feet, in the backyard; Lauren’s went in the front. The trees put out seedlings, and Pete and Eve would dig them up. “We’d raise them in 2-inch pots, then next year we’d put them in a 4-inch pot; next, we’d put them in a gallon-sized pot. I kept about 50 to 75 all the time,” Pete says. One day, their daughter asked to give one of the seedlings to a friend with a new baby. Since then, Pete figures they’ve given at least 300 trees away, including about 25 to Myers Park Country Club as he completed jobs on the property. 

A Japanese maple, top left. An espaliered magnolia, top right. While the process can take years, Pete Pappas says this one took right away. The couple purchased the oyster-shell birdhouse, below left, from a vendor at the Metrolina Expo, the massive flea market held in north Charlotte for decades before the land was sold to a developer in 2016. It inspired Pete to build similar ones as client gifts.

The 50-foot hemlocks surrounding the lot on three sides were barely larger than seedlings when Pete purchased and planted them. Before he got into the restaurant business, Pete taught at a junior high school in Huntersville and would take the back roads to work. “When I left school one day I saw this guy had a table set up with some plants on it. I stopped, and he had about 20 hemlocks growing in a gallon coffee can.” He bought all of them.

A circular bed anchored by a statue is a particularly special spot, filled with Lenten roses, Solomon’s seal and autumn ferns that were gifted to the couple by Jesse Campbell, the founder of Campbell’s Greenhouses & Nursery in Dilworth before his death in 2016. The plants were a thank-you present after Pete completed a woodworking project for Campbell. “My cat’s buried there,” Pete reminisces. “It’s just a place for remembrance.”

The Pappases enjoy their little slice of nature every day, especially Eve, who enjoys manicuring and pruning. “She’s at peace when she’s back there,” Pete says. “I often kid and call it the garden of Eve.”

The shade-loving aucuba plants were purchased years ago “for a dollar and a quarter a bucket” from a woman who sold them at her property on Sharon Road.

The neighborhood has seen significant change since the couple moved in more than four decades ago — the house next door, for example, was recently razed to make room for a modern hillside marvel that’s more reminiscent of California than Carolina. But it’s home for Pete and Eve, and it’s hard to imagine them ever leaving, given the memories here and the careful work they’ve put into creating their backyard sanctuary.

“When we moved in, we were the youngest people on the block, and now we’re the oldest,” chuckles Pete, 74. “It’s just evolved into a peaceful place.”  SP

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