It’s early Sunday morning in Lake Highlands. While much of the neighborhood sleeps, Julie Noble crawls on her hands and knees in the middle of Kingsley Road.

With dirt flying and water sloshing in plastic buckets, all Noble lacks is a cardboard sign begging for work. But Noble isn’t looking for handouts; instead, she’s lending a hand to neighborhood beautification efforts.

Friend Ann Bauereis helps Noble in the medians during the spring and summer months (but not early Sunday morning, Bauereis says).

“Was that you in the median?” Bauereis mimicks, quoting neighbors and friends. “What in the world were you doing?”

“Actually,” she says, “you do feel like a fool down there (in the medians).

“But somebody’s got to do it.”

Stress Reliever

Dodging cars and wallowing in street median mud may not seem like a great way to spend a Sunday morning, much less any other day of the week.

In a world of electronic wizardry and instant gratification, the simple art of nurturing a plant to life seems, well, mundane.

But something as simple as a single blossom can brighten an otherwise bleary day.

A single neighbor’s passion for gardening can influence an entire neighborhood for the better, producing a calming effect on people, Bauereis says. Even the actual act of gardening is therapeutic, she says.

“If you get uptight, go get your clippers,” she says. “The two best things as stress relievers are clipping bushes and making bread.”

So while Bauereis is solving her problems while digging in the dirt, she’s also beautifying our neighborhood. There’s just something to be said about watching things grow into different forms and colors.

“Anything that you can make green softens all of the concrete,” Bauereis says.

“Wouldn’t you rather drive down a street with trees in the middle of it rather than an LBJ?”

On A Mission

“So, where are we going to weed today?”

Noble asks her friend Bauereis that question almost every summer morning.

“Julie is the go-getter. She keeps us going,” Bauereis says.

They began planting trees, flowers and shrubbery in neighborhood medians three years ago. Since then, they’ve planted more than 60 trees and countless flowers and shrubs in street medians.

They have literally covered the medians along Kingsley, between Ferndale and White Rock Trail, and along Audelia, between McCree and Church with live oak, cypress, oak and sweetgum trees.

Last year, they were interviewed by Channel 4 because of their neighborhood spirit and gardening efforts. Exxon and the National State Garden Club also recognized the women with a $550 prize for planting picturesque flower beds in front of several Audelia apartment complexes.

Once the trees are planted, the work still isn’t done. For summer waterings, neighbors pile into trucks while safeguarding huge buckets of water, then drive slowly up and down streets, splashing water onto the trees and shrubs in the medians.

“Trees absorb a lot of things in the air we don’t want,” Bauereis says.

“Without trees, we would just be one big smog-bug.”

Numerous neighbors joined Ebby Halliday Realtors, the Exchange Club of Lake Highlands, RE/MAX Associates and the Lake Highlands Women’s League in funding the project, Bauereis says.

Noble is in her 50s and is this year’s Lake Highlands Women’s League president. Bauereis is in her early 60s and has lived in the same house off Audelia near Kingsley for the past 18 years with her husband, Bo.

Bauereis enjoys working to improve the neighborhood, despite a few unpleasant experiences while lodged in the dirt, surrounded by blinding orange cones set out to alert drivers.

“I have had people who have tried to run me over and curse me out because they don’t like the cones,” she laughs, rolling her eyes.

“But that’s abnormal,” she says. “We get more honks and waves.”

A Garden Menagerie

Cruising down Garland Road, Diana Thatcher’s place looks as if a homeowner went a little crazy with yard decorations.

The front yard is clogged with bird-feeders, yard signs, statues and rounded, mirrored reflecting balls. A narrow walkway leads to the porch, which is decorated with engraved stones, more statues and outdoor wall-hangings.

When Thatcher and husband Harlan began thinking about opening their gardening gift shop, Splendor in the Grass, friends told them the shop would be more successful if located in North Dallas.

“People in East Dallas like nice things, too,” Thatcher told them.

The shop, located at 8626 Garland, looks more like a home than a business.

“We sell anything (for yards) that isn’t alive,” Thatcher says. “We have absolutely, completely, nonessential things.”

One of the most popular items with customers, Thatcher says, is a sand-casting – a 3-D wall-hanging made from sand. Many of the shop’s items are made by Texas artists, she says.

“What I realized is that people are cocooning themselves and spending more of their time sitting at home,” Thatcher says.

“People are turning their yards into a room in their home. They’re furnishing them.”

Splendor in the Grass is located adjacent to Walton’s Nursery and across from the Dallas Arboretum. Whenever Splendor in the Grass customers need greenery, the Thatchers direct them to Walton’s. And that’s just the way the Thatchers like it.

“There are too many perishables in that business,” Thatcher laughs.

The Thatchers opened their garden shop two years ago to complement their seven-year-old business, Thatcher Commercial Real Estate.

Their goal is to be working at the shop full-time by the year 2000, Thatcher says.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” she says. “I want to retire into this.”

Fighting Crime Leads To Blooming Yards

Several years ago, neighbors formed the Royal Highlands Homeowners Association.

Their goal was to reduce crime.

Shortly thereafter, Ray Hill, president of the association, noticed the association was doing more than fighting crime.

“We’re finding a lot more people who now plant seasonal plantings in their yards,” Ray says.

And the connection is…

It all started when two homeowners association officers, Gordon and Pam Moore, developed a monthly Best Yard Award for the neighborhood, Hill says.

Last summer, Mary Janick became the first homeowner to receive the award.

“They came to the door with the sign, and we were just shocked,” says Janick, who at the time had just finished remodeling her home and landscape.

Since then, the award has been a big hit in the neighborhood, Hill says.

The Best Yard Award sign is stuck into a winning yard each month. After a homeowner has basked in the glory for a month, he or she chooses the next winner and personally delivers the sought-after sign to the next lucky yard, Hill says.

“Homeowners call and ask why they can’t be the winner,” Hill laughs. “Then they say they’re working to be the winning yard next month.”

Seasonal plantings have sky-rocketed since implementing the contest, Hill says, making the neighborhood an all-around more colorful and pleasant place to be.

Hill isn’t exempt from yard-fever. He dug a hole in his own backyard and created a pond that now houses 15-20 turtles, along with a small, year-round waterfall.

Hill moved to our neighborhood with his wife, Peggy, 12 years ago and says he still works in his yard feverishly because the work is rewarding.

“When we moved here, there was no color,” Hill says. “It’s nice to be able to sit back and enjoy the simplicity and beauty of it.”

Organized Gardening

The Four Seasons Garden Club has been socializing and gardening for the past 25 years.

Participants aren’t limited by neighborhood, so the 44-member club has members from throughout the City.

But Lake Highlands residents form the club’s core, and its two main projects are in our neighborhood.

“Oh, we’re a fun group,” says Margie Arnold, a neighborhood resident who is club president.

“I think the women are gung-ho about getting in the dirt,” says club member Melanie Brown.

The group’s members are younger than those of many other gardening groups, Brown says.

“I don’t think of most garden clubs having members with children still in school,” Arnold says.

The Audelia Road Branch Library and the Forest Green Branch Library receive extra attention from the club.

“Our focus on Forest Green is to clean it up and then go for a long-term plan,” Arnold says.

The Forest Green Library, located at Forest and Greenville, had been neglected for years, and the club recently drafted plans to plant ornamental grasses around the library.

The Audelia Road Library at Church and Audelia is maintained year-round by the club, says club member Paula Gillgan.

During the spring, the club plants caladiums and impatiens in front of the library, and pansies are planted in the fall.

“The neighbors in the area are always so appreciative because they can see it,” Brown says. “I think the club members feel like what we’re doing is important.”

The club meets monthly, hosts a flower show every other year, holds an annual fund-raising luncheon, and contributes to the Lake Highlands High School scholarship fund.

Gardening is vital to many people’s well-being, Brown says – plants and greenery elicit a sense of tranquility.

“When I’m gardening, I’m covered from hear to toe with dirt. The birds are chirping, and there’s so much going on around me,” Brown says.

“There’s just something about getting my hands dirty.”