By MADOLINE MARKHAM
To some people yard work is a chore and to others it’s a passion, Billy Angell will tell you. For Angell, owner of Oak Street Garden Shop in Crestline, it’s the passion that rules his career, his home, his livelihood, his life.
Over the past 21 years, his garden shop has become known for its exceptional service. Bring in a container, and his talented team will fill it with a unique potting of flowers that is sure to please. Four years ago they started selling fresh produce from local farmers. In addition to selling trees each Christmas season, they create custom wreaths, mailbox decorations and centerpieces.
Each day Angell’s gardening doesn’t begin at the shop but at his home on Glencoe Circle. He admits he’s an obsessive home gardener, spending 16 to 20 hours a week working in it. “If you can spend one hour each day before work, it adds up to a full day’s work,” he said like it’s no big deal to do so.
He has transformed the front yard into a wooded lot of native plants. One friend told him it looks like Jurassic Park. When he and his wife, Glory, bought the house 12 years ago, he planted 40 pine trees, and he has since replaced all but six with oaks, maples and other smaller flowering trees. His philosophy is to take a plant home and then find a place for it, not the other way around.
The side and backyard are laid out into different gardens: vegetables and herbs, annuals and perennials and more. There is only one small patch of grass on the entire lot. Glory helps with the vegetables and herbs, but Angell said he did 95 percent of yard work himself. He enjoys giving tours to those who appreciate the beauty of a garden.
Angell is always changing things out and trying new plants. “Even the best gardeners are not 100 percent successful,” he said. “The more you do it, the more you learn.”
Angell had always enjoyed being outside and helping out in what he calls an average yard in the home where he grew up in Mountain Brook. Gardening really took hold of him in his early twenties when he began to practically live at the Birmingham nursery where he worked. He started the retail business for that landscaping company and in 1986 built The Garden Shop, now Hanna’s Garden Shop, on Highway 280.
The yard of his first home on Warren Road was featured in before and after feature in Southern Living around 1980.
Angell has spread his love of gardening to those around him. He speaks of helping his daughter in New Orleans plant while visiting her recently and how another daughter in Jackson Hole, Wyo., grows plants pots and containers as much as she can. However, he worries that his children’s generation isn’t into gardening and that they don’t have the time for it.
To address his concern, last year he started a community garden on the street corner across from Emmett O’Neal Library in conjunction with the summer reading program. Kids plant most of the garden and participate in the harvesting, taking home what they’d grown to eat. Any produce not picked by families is donated to Magic City Harvest.
It is Angell’s hope that the community garden will be a classroom to empower children and parents to plant gardens of their own. “It’s not as mysterious and hard as so many people think,” he said.
The garden also fostered community. “It just made people feel good to see it and stroll by it when they came to the village to go out to eat,” Angell said.
Last year’s garden included corn, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, beans and squash with sunflowers as a border. This year they hope to expand to plant blueberries, blackberries, figs and fruiting trees. The fall garden features lettuces, turnips, greens, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Angell said than any of these can be planted in backyard space that gets sunlight.
After school lets out this summer Angell will gather children and anyone else interested in the community to plant in the community garden. They will schedule regular times each week for anyone to come work in the garden. Call the library (879-0459) or the Oak Street Garden Shop (870-7542) for more detailed information on how to get involved in the community garden. You can also call the garden shop to get on their community garden email newsletter list.