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How their garden grew

When Karl and Carla Naegler moved from Fairport into their Canandaigua home in 2001, they envisioned a complete backyard retrofit. The couple shared a love of the outdoors, and it seemed natural to extend their living space outside. They were also antique collectors with a rustic-meets-shabby-chic design sensibility. Bit by bit, using repurposed materials and vintage finds, they created a relaxing retreat packed with personality.

“I am so, so lucky,” says Carla, a high school special education teacher. “I have an idea or inspiration in my head but can’t execute it. He does everything and makes it work in some capacity.”

Karl, senior landscape designer for John Welch Enterprise (JWE) in Victor, is not your typical weekend warrior. “He’s an incredibly talented and gifted designer,” says owner John Welch. With a landscape architecture degree, a New York State Nursery and Landscape Association certification, and a twenty-eight-year career in the industry, Karl’s skill sets are put to good use on his own turf.

What Welch loves about the Naegler yard is that within a relatively compact space (just sixty-five feet wide, eighty feet deep, and with a small side yard) there are individual living areas, and each evokes different feelings and moods. Plus “it’s always evolving,” says Welch.

Karl insists it’s a team effort: “I design it and put it together and Carla decorates it with shiny things.”

The shiny things Carla collects run the gamut, but one example is stained glass. Their growing inventory was lovingly integrated into a glass-enclosed “She Shed” as stunning wall panels, added a decorative touch to side yard fencing, and was fashioned into a clever outdoor fireplace screen, among other inventive uses.

Eighteen years later and still tweaking, Karl cheerfully notes that Rome wasn’t built in a day. The couple juggled yard and house projects along with demanding careers, raising three children (now grown: Colin, twenty-five; Kourtnee, twenty-four; and Cameron, twenty-two) plus a revolving menagerie of dogs, cats, fish, birds, a snake, a hedgehog, and Wilbur B. Bacon, the family’s micro potbelly pig. “The kids did a fine job at helping us with the zoo, but it was distracting at times,” says Karl. “The pig was the most difficult to manage.”   


Best-laid plans

Longtime neighbors Amy Smith and Gerry Wilcox have an up-close view and a deep appreciation of the Naeglers’ backyard transformation.

“One of the foundations of our lasting friendship is our shared interest in eclectic and obscure collectibles as well as an ability to create unique spaces,” says Smith. She and Wilcox also understand that gardening gene. “Karl and Carla are the only friends we have that can get truly excited over a new boulder or just a freshly dug-up area for the next project,” says Wilcox.

All projects begin with a plan, says Karl, but options stay open for inspiration. Two focal points not originally planned are his funky Mud Puppy Lounge, an outdoor bar replete with malt shop–style stools and tin rain roof, and Carla’s She Shed—a cozy, glass-enclosed lounging structure with comfy seating, fun and functional tchotchkes, and a working fireplace.

Karl started his inaugural project in 2003: a stone patio off the back steps. But first, some prep work.

“I was careful to plan for drainage before any hardscape went in, so piping and a massive drywell were installed,” says Karl. “To this day, I still have no actual gutters on the house, except for the front porch.” Water issues were solved by proper grading and pitching away from the house.

The following year, Karl constructed a rustic pergola from reclaimed wood for a display at Gardenscape, Rochester’s popular flower and garden show.  The pergola later came to roost on the Naeglers’ patio. Next, Karl installed a side patio for a hot tub and created his unique “Bubbling Rock” fountain, a large boulder with a clever trickling water effect.

The “Mud Puppy Lounge” bar was fabricated in 2006 using salvaged materials from various projects and assorted curbside finds. The bar top is eight feet long, five feet deep, and made from redwood fence slats. A former tin shed roof with a gutter spout to empty rain water into a wooden barrel provides a protective overhang for all-weather gatherings.  The roof is held up by antique porch posts.

Because Karl enjoys Kraken Rum and the pirate folklore attached to the brand, decorative accents include skull- and pirate-themed collectibles along with a jumble of old license plates, stringed lights, liquor signs, and vintage beer memorabilia. The addition of potted tall grasses that remind the couple of Key Largo adds to the seaside hole-in-the-wall atmosphere.

In 2012, Karl built a massive outdoor fireplace using excess dolomite stone inventory from JWE. Though a new construction, it was evocative of a long-ago relic. He even integrated some bricks leftover from the Standard Brewing Company factory demolition as a nod to Rochester’s brewing history.

Initially situated adjacent to the pergola (dismantled in 2017 due to wood rot), the fireplace would eventually become the centerpiece of the she shed, a signature installation that Karl built that same year. Meanwhile, they finished yard fencing, including a row of antique doors for privacy screening, and added a raised vegetable garden, another small patio for outdoor dining, and a koi pond winding under a distressed old window on a stone folly foundation. As the yard evolved, Karl kept replacing grass with hardscape features—except in the side yard. “I was on an anti-grass movement, and every year, a little bit of grass disappeared,” says Karl, whose garden is instead green with English weeping yew and lush with hydrangeas, dwarf rhododendrons, roses, white lilacs, and colorful perennials aplenty.

Their grassy side yard is dubbed “Delilah’s Garden” in memory of a beloved dog. Carla describes it as a magical “people-sized fairy garden.” Its entry, through a rustic arbor with a solar chandelier and climbing clematis vines, leads to a charming tableau: a ‘Ruby Falls’ weeping redbud tree, a metal two-seater bench with a sparkly sequined pillow, vintage sleeping lawn gnomes, a crystal gazing ball, and a colored glass bird feeder.  “When the sun is out, the whole garden shines and shimmers,” says Carla. 

The she shed    

She sheds, the female counterpart to man caves, are serene hideaways outfitted for relaxing, reading, crafting, or other restorative pursuits. “We had been collecting stained glass windows, lumber, and antique architecture, anticipating for this moment in time that I would wave my magic wand and POOF! Look! A she shed!” says Karl. Carla had been dreaming of a glass-enclosed shed, and she had him draw a plan as if she were a customer.

Karl built the she shed around the existing fireplace where the pergola had stood. It was indeed all glass, integrating stained glass for wall panels and distressed French doors and utilizing repurposed lumber, shutters, and old ceiling tin. Carla furnished the inside of her special space, making sure to decorate it with timeworn “shiny things.”

With boys allowed, this she shed is a cool coed entertaining option. Carla and Karl also use it to cuddle their pups, enjoy a cocktail, decompress, or just dream about their next big design.

Nancy E. McCarthy is a freelance writer reporting on a wide range of topics for print publications, websites, and corporate clients. McCarthy, also a certified exercise instructor and community volunteer, lives in Canandaigua with her family and two magnificent Newfoundland dogs. Contact her at [email protected].

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