When I visited Rob and Scarlet Thurston, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. First, I drove for miles through a green tunnel of trees along a narrow curving road that dipped up and down toward the farthest reaches of west Butts. The bright sun was low in the sky, and I occasionally passed magical pastures where gnomes and fairies might romp.
Turning into the driveway of their modern home on Ridgeway Road, just beyond the Thurston’s back yard, I could see a line of trees that had to be hiding the Towaliga River. That was my first question to Rob: “Is that the Towaliga?”
He just grinned and nodded. I knew already that Rob loves rivers. He grew up walking Yellow Water Creek with his mother and grandmother, searching for wild plants and tree wood for carving sticks and crafting chairs. He said, “I walk this stretch of river every chance I get.”
But he doesn’t get to walk and explore as much as he wants. Rob works full-time at Dauset Trails, helps his parents Ken and Sandra Thurston, and still has children at home. After ten years, the couple is still getting the house the way they want it. And he loves to be in his workshop that he built himself.
Currently, Rob’s primary art focus is metal work. He studied blacksmithing at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C., and ironwork, the process and the products, please him. An array of metal stars shine along the side of his house. A toothy sun leans in a bed around the corner.
The Thurston Wonderland continued when I walked into the backyard. A large banana tree dominates the pool area. A firepit made from a metal tractor tire sits nearby. Around the house an old washing machine is filled with ferns. Tangerine Crossvine twines up an old bedstead.
A huge glass topped table sits on the back patio. “This was our Covid project,” Scarlet said. The table is made of brightly colored bottle caps in an intricate pattern topped with thick glass. “My husband can do anything,” she said. “He can paint, carve, build, and create. We had this project in mind for a while and during the early Covid weeks, we got busy.”
Rob grew up surrounded by flowers. And as a member of a large family, he learned that if he wanted extra money, he had to put in the work of digging, planting, and weeding. His grandmother Betty Harper was his first boss. And she is the one who taught him to carve. Mrs. Harper taught herself to carve after falling in love with a duck decoy at a junk store.
Rob and Scarlet still love going to junk stores and finding pieces that he can repurpose and she can paint. On a recent birthday Rob took Scarlet junking (and out to eat) and she was ecstatic.
Rob pointed out Trillium and May Apple that he had dug up on his walks and transplanted to a bed. Many other plants, just poking their heads out of the ground, he can’t yet identify.
Rob and Scarlet work together in the yard. Scarlet’s father was a gardener as well. She said, “He loved flowers, and we always had flowers.”
Despite a number of surprises, Thurston’s wonderland is not disorienting. It is charming and delightful—altogether pleasing to the visitor.
Rob no longer does large chainsaw art — though his work is still on display at Indian Springs and Dauset Trails, but he still carves walking sticks, and he still picks up animal bones to create sculptures, tiny imaginative wild critters. Boxes of bones line the shelves of his workshop, along with pieces of metal and wood and whatever he might use in his creative pursuits.
Rob and Scarlet Thurston’s garden and five others will be open for touring from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 21, rain or shine. Each garden will feature a working artist with items for sale or view. Rob will be the artist at his own garden, and he will have “whimsical garden stakes, dragonflies made from repurposed tools and other metal items, as well as hand carved walking sticks.”
Tickets to the Art of the Garden Tour are $20 and may be purchased at the Jackson-Butts County Library, Gold Lion Farm, Collier’s Greenhouse and Garden Center, Mark’s Lawn and Garden, and online at Buttschamber.com for a small additional fee.
Profits from the Art of the Garden Tour will support the Arts Council Scholarship and the Butts County Permanent Collection.
Sponsors for the 2022 Art of the Garden Tour include Dauset Trails; ITM Outdoors, Smith, Welch,Webb & White; Whitaker Builders & Supply; AWI Trucking; Southern Readymix; Elizabeth Carter; Wilson Brothers; A Scarlet Thread; Adams-Brisco Seed Company; Collier’s Greenhouse and Garden Center; and the Bunny’s nest.