Finding Sanctuary

By Amy Mangan

A half a mile from a bustling major highway sits a perfect oasis. Vibrant perennials, a pebble walkway, and a custom wooden bridge tells visitors this is no ordinary backyard. And that’s music to a gardener’s ear for homeowner Chuck Hiatt, an economics professor at Central Florida Community College.

For many years, Chuck and his wife, Mary Kate, dreamed of finding the ideal home for a garden getaway. When they looked at an overgrown and empty one-acre lot for sale in southwest Ocala, the Hiatts knew they found what they were looking for.

“After we walked around the property for a few minutes, I knew this was the place for us,” says Chuck.

The Hiatts built their Mediterranean-style dream home and immediately began creating their garden oasis.

The steep incline off the back porch lends to the dramatic introduction to the garden. A brick-paved stairway is embraced by mature azaleas in stucco urns. The adjoining winding brick walkway guides the way to a stunning landscape of green palms and exquisite cottage-style flowers in vibrant yellows and reds. Exuberant shrubs serve as a lavish anchor for the colorful setting.

Several resting spots beckon one to stop and stay awhile. A concrete bench sits beside a creek of stone — a winding river of multi-colored pebbles — as the wooden bridge arches over it.

Such scenery invites contemplation, something Mary Kate appreciates. As a nationally recognized and published political science professor at Delta College in Michigan, Mary Kate welcomes the chance to get away from the demands of academic life to her Florida home.

“My favorite thing to do,” she says, “is to have a cup of coffee while sitting on the back porch and looking at the garden.”

Her influence is seen throughout the garden. Whimsical objects are sprinkled strategically around the yard, while an impressive 500-pound stone statue holds command.

“I wanted this to be a place for fun, too,” she adds.

Throughout the years, the Hiatts’ travels reinforced their love of nature. One special outdoor niche is the butterfly garden inspired from a visit to the Epcot annual garden show.

It’s easy to see why the Hiatts find reasons to stay close to home. Their innate sense of the garden resonates as an extension of serene living.

Adds Mary Kate, “There’s really nowhere else we’d rather be.”

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