Lanis Littlefield satisfies her gardening urge with a charming potting shed

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Lanis Littlefield stands outside the potting shed in her backyard garden. The building was intended as a maids quarters when the home was built in 1900. The Littlefields have lived here since 1971.

An arborist friend once told Lanis Littlefield that she had a beautiful garden but, also growing in it, "the worst trees you could possibly have." She laughs at the memory and concedes that he was probably right

But after half a century living in this tidy Brainerd neighborhood, she's made peace with the undesirable trees in her backyard. Yes, the hackberries attract woolly aphids, and the blackjack oak drops large, thick leaves that defy decomposition.

Yet these same trees are the major reason she loves her garden. What's her favorite feature? "The shade," she quips.

The garden is arrayed in multiple shades of green -- darks and lights and everything in between -- from plants shrouded in shade or gleaming in streaks of sunlight. Within this verdant landscape of hostas and ferns come bursts of color from showier plants: begonias, petunias, hydrangeas.


Lanis began gardening in earnest in 1992 after her and husband Ron's two sons were grown and gone.

"You can't have boys and a garden," she says.

Indeed, the arbor swing that centers the backyard is situated where the boys once jumped and tumbled on a trampoline.

Little by little, her vision became reality.

"It evolved area by area," she says.

As the backyard garden took shape, another project was on hold: converting a potting shed from a small outbuilding the Littlefields say was originally intended as a maid's quarters when the house was built in 1900.

"We knew we didn't need it for that," says Ron, whose 30-year political career included two terms as Chattanooga mayor, 2005-2013.

"During my political years," he says, "we practically let it fall in."

Lanis was biding her time, all the while fine-tuning her vision for the space.

"I collected pictures. I had a file. I had tons of pictures of potting sheds and how I thought it should be," she says.

Once he left office, Ron got busy with the repairs and built some of the furnishings, including a table that holds a small sink and a wooden trolley for long-handled tools.

Lanis says she executed her vision without putting anything down on paper.

"I didn't draw a picture," she says. "I didn't have a plan."

The sun-dappled green of the garden is mirrored inside the shed, with its light sage walls and pale green and yellow checkerboard flooring. Ron suggested the lattice panels on the ceiling.

The centerpiece fixture is an open cabinet, painted a darker sage, that holds antiques salvaged from her grandparents' farm before it was sold in the 1970s. On its shelves and along the walls are crates, crockery, pulleys and enamelware that evoke memories of her childhood.

Occasionally, especially when the air is damp after a rain, she says that she can walk in and remember the smell of her grandfather's workshed where so many of these treasured possessions once lived.