Solutions: Pro designs own home with low upkeep plants

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

Though most residential properties require regularly scheduled maintenance, it is possible to create a less demanding home environment that leaves you with more time to enjoy it.

As the owner of Goldner Walsh Garden & Home in Pontiac, Tim Travis doesn’t have a lot of hours left in the day to devote to his own property on Sylvan Lake in Waterford. Being in the plant business means he needs to consider low-maintenance options.

“With my crazy work schedule, l have no time to fuss in the garden,” he says. “I am surrounded with plants and have a career in designing private gardens.”

So, he installed a landscape that requires less work. “It’s about having the right plants positioned properly,” says Travis, who learned the passion of gardening from his grandmothers, Lily and Rose, who were also great gardeners.

“There are not a lot of fussy flowers. I let the plants do all the talking,” he says.

His philosophy is to create a visual sanctuary that reflects one’s personal style where the design and the plants do all the work. “I have really cool plants that I treat as three-dimensional living art pieces that complement each other with texture, color and form,” Travis says.

Downsizing from a three-acre property to a roughly half-acre lot left him with excess plants in his collection that needed a home. This dilemma led to a clever solution. “I approached my neighbors who were within viewing distance of my home with the idea of letting me plant some of these plants to enhance their gardens,” he says.

Now he gets to enjoy them as well.

Though his historic house was previously featured in Homestyle, he has since added a sizable deck and additional plantings to the picturesque setting.

In fact, Travis has spent a dozen years carefully restoring and preserving the 1928 Montgomery Ward kit home and its surrounding property that reflect his eclectic style and his passion for art and design.

Many of his unique finds come from local artists, while others are discovered during his travels.

One of his more recent home improvement projects made a big impact inside and out. “The deck was the finishing touch to the outside living space,” he says. “I continued the visual lines of the trim of the house to connect to the fascia boards on the deck to make it look like an extension of the house.”

Made from the new PVC decking by AZEK, the deck is virtually maintenance-free. He credits the area with becoming an amazing outdoor nature observation deck that adds so much entertainment space.

As Travis explains, the deck was designed to proportionately and aesthetically fit the house and the existing landscape. Newly added plantings that surround the deck and the front of the home include weeping purple beech, Ruby Falls weeping Redbud and Rising Sun Redbud that add color and drama.

“The deck adds a whole new visual dimension from the house and to the house, which enhances the perspective of the enjoyment of the beautiful natural setting and landscape,” he says. “I'm also not afraid to sneak in a few peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants throughout my garden.”

Soothing views of Sylvan Lake include a natural canal and island filled with birds, frogs and turtles.

The way Travis skillfully arranges the intriguing objects in his home, such as his vintage gnome collection, is not unlike the array of outdoor elements. “The planning of plants is no different,” he says. “It’s like landscaping. It’s all about the composition.”

Some of the stalwart ornamental plants in the garden include the paperbark maple that he grew from a seedling 35 years ago and moved three times, along with other varieties including Japanese maples, Don Shadow cutleaf sugar maple, Slender Silhouette Sweetgum and weeping white pine.

“I like weeping trees. I like the sculptural aspect,” says Travis. He also likes to incorporate some quirky decorative elements in the garden, such as giant apple sculptures and oversized wind chimes that make people smile.

The fact that he is drawn to exaggerated pieces such as these seems to suit his personality. “I like objects that are unnaturally large,” he says “I’m animated.”

It’s no wonder his house has been chosen as a location for television commercials and films. “I am blessed to have a career and a home that I love that surrounds my life with a great family, friends and beauty that is best shared and celebrated,” Travis says.

Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at jeaninematlow@