When Sheryl Lawrence Howard is on stage for the upcoming performances of The Secret Garden, she may be drawing a little inspiration from a “secret garden” that is dear to her. Tucked quietly in the back of her parent’s West Knoxville home is garden blooming with tranquility.

Marilyn and Peter Lawrence fell in love with gardening when they moved to Knoxville from Mt. Laurel, New Jersey fifteen years ago. Marilyn, once a three-time golf champion in New Jersey (which includes having three holes-in-one), has traded in her putter for plants and pots. With their dog Sadie faithfully by her side, Marilyn meticulously selects all the plants, designs where they should be planted and keeps copious notes every year. Peter says he’s the “brawn” behind the designer and playfully admits he gets his “marching orders from his wife” of 47 years.

Whatever the mechanics, this teamwork is successful and the result is more than 200 flowering annuals planted and mixed in with plenty of perennials. There are begonias, impatiens, lantana, marigolds, hydrangeas, roses and more in countless colors and varieties. It’s a visual treat to the eyes and only a few minutes go by before this backyard gem has birds and squirrels stopping in for a visit as well.

To keep everything looking its best, Peter has engineered a watering system that includes 12 sprinklers and three timers set to go off at various times starting at 5 a.m. His system is neatly tucked away behind lattice work he designed to match the custom steps leading from the back door, which he also built by hand. Despite all the work, Peter is pleased with what they’ve accomplished together. “I’ve never been much on art, but this is ‘human art’ especially when everything is blooming.”

While she regretfully says she doesn’t share her parents ‘green thumb,’ Sheryl is pleased they have found a new passion in their semi-retirement, especially since the results give her a hiding spot for a little rejuvenation, if needed, before the curtain rises on The Secret Garden opening July 18.