An English garden in Ypsilanti

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Dozens of oil paintings and watercolors fill Elaine Found and Judy Williston’s Ypsilanti home with Found’s signature, “E. Found,” carefully inscribed in the corner.

Her inspiration for many of those paintings is just outside the duo’s sliding back door — the English-inspired garden.

Deeply connected to their English roots, it’s no surprise that when the longtime friends decided to transform their backyard that they wanted to create their own version of an English garden. Both love the English countryside — Williston has been to England 37 times — and Found has painted dozens of paintings of English villages and towns.

Today, their backyard garden in Ypsilanti, which will be featured on the upcoming Ypsilanti Heritage Foundation’s 40th annual Historic Architectural Home Tour (see box for details), brims with a mix of perennials and annuals, all with an English feel. Divided into squares, woven among the gardens, are a few English chimney pots imported from overseas.

When Found and Williston, both retired Eastern Michigan University professors, bought the four-bedroom home nearly 40 years ago, the backyard was a vegetable garden.

“We decided to do something different,” says Williston. “We wanted something we could look out at.”

Now, it’s not just something to look at, but admire. Williston said it took about two decades to transform the backyard and it was often a team effort. Former students sometimes helped out. And they tapped the son of a cement builder they know to put down the patio. The English chimney pots are Williston’s favorite part.

“It took at least two decades to really change it, but that’s little pieces at a time,” says Williston. “What we tried do is make them like small English gardens because that’s what most people have (in England).”

Perennials such as peonies, hydrangea, salvia, roses, ferns and sedum bloom at different times throughout the year. And while it requires a fair amount of maintenance, “luckily we have our own time. It can be full a whole day or one hour a day,” says Williston, who retired from Eastern in 2004.

Found and Williston met at the University of Wisconsin at Madison where Williston was on the faculty and Found was a student before she also joined the staff. In the 1970s, they both eventually joined the faculty of Eastern, where they taught in what was once the home economics department. Williston later joined the education department.

The friends say they were drawn to their house, which was built in 1942 and designed by architect Ward Swarts, because they just liked how it looked, the friendly neighborhood and its proximity to Eastern. They could sometimes walk to campus.

Found also liked that the house, and specifically Ypsilanti, is so close to Toronto, which is where she’s from.

Throughout the house are hundreds, if not, thousands of books, along with artifacts from each woman’s past.

Found’s parents were medical missionaries in Korea — Found was born there — and she still has some of the pieces they purchased during their time there in the 1920s. A lovely cabinet with mother of pearl inlay stands in the dining room. Nearby are two painting also from the 1920s.

“They found this (a cabinet) on someone’s back and bought it in 1922,” says Found, 90, who later visited Korea with Williston in the late 1970s. “It was being carried on a jiggy.”

Nearly all of the paintings throughout the house, meanwhile, are by Found, who didn’t start painting until the late 1990s.

Looking for something to do after being forced to retire early from Eastern because of health issues, she took up painting. She took a class at Ann Arbor’s City Club. She paints mostly from photographs and prefers landscapes.

“I like flowers, or anything interesting,” said Found.

They have added to their house twice over the last 40 years, building first a larger dining room for entertaining and family room in 1981. In 2002, they added the sunroom that overlooks the back garden.

The sunroom gives the duo more space for their computer and Found’s art supplies. It has sliding glass doors that overlook the backyard and skylights.

And while the work in the garden is harder than it used to be — freelance gardener Susie Andrews helps them maintain it — they still love its evolving blooms.

“We’ve enjoyed it,” says Williston. “Isn’t it lovely?”

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Twitter: @mfeighan


Historic Home Tour

The Ypsilanti Heritage Foundation’s 40th annual Historic Home Tour on June 25 will feature both homes and businesses, though most of the homes on this year’s tour were designed by local architect Ward Swarts. Swarts designed more than 40 homes during the 1940s and ’50s (including Judy Williston and Elaine Found’s home) in Ypsilanti and several in Ann Arbor. His designs were considered contemporary but with a traditional and symmetrical approach. The home tour runs from 12-5 p.m. Tickets are $15. To purchase tickets online, go to The Heritage Foundation works to preserve Ypsilanti’s historic district, which is the second largest in Michigan.