Earth Spirit: A Lush Sanctuary in Cary

A landscape supervisor by day, for C.J. Dykes, gardening is both a passion and a career
by Colony Little | photography by Jaclyn Morgan

For C.J. Dykes, gardening is both a passion and a career. His interest surfaced early: according to family lore, at age 5, Dykes dug up flowers that his mother had planted, finding new locations where they would best thrive. “My mother liked to piddle around in the yard,” says Dykes, “but I took it to a different level.” As he grew up, these backyard experiments evolved into rose gardens and vegetable gardens around his childhood home in Maryland.

This interest led him to study agricultural science and environmental horticulture at the University of Maryland, College Park. And for the last 35 years, Dykes has worked for the Wake County Public School System, as a landscape supervisor, where he manages plant selection and contractual agreements for 200 sites in the county’s system.

Dykes moved to North Carolina in the late 1980s, and in 1992, Dykes and his partner, Bryar Cougle, moved to Cary, where they began to develop the land surrounding their home. Dykes was careful to maintain many of the native plants that were already there. “I was able to save native azaleas, gingers, Hearts a Bustin, euonymus,” he says. “I have a Fringe tree on the property, a lot of Dogwoods, and Sourwoods, which you don’t always see on people’s property.”

The front yard features more than 70 rose bushes, and the hardscaped backyard is surrounded by native shrubs, ferns, and palms, along with perennials such as daylilies, hostas, and irises. Deeper into the backyard, visitors are guided into a mature woodland garden via woodchip pathways.

The gardens are enhanced by a menagerie of sculptures: fairies, angels, and dragons, plus the green visage of a Celtic god and a smiling Buddha. These figures both provide visual contrast and reflect Dykes’ diverse spiritual influences. “I consider myself an earth spirit,” he says. “In my garden, I’m closer to creation than any other place in the world.”

Dykes’ gardens are a popular place for hummingbirds, butterflies, dragonflies, rabbits, and an occasional deer. Dykes also welcomes human visitors and gladly offers garden tours of the property. He hosts regular tours as part of the Cary Garden Club and the Raleigh Garden Club, and has even hosted tours for the national Garden Conservancy. “I like sharing my passion,” says Dykes. He’s also a member of the Gardeners of Wake County and the Piedmont chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society.

After decades of work both on his home garden, his reward is found in the quiet moments enjoying the fruits of his labor. “I can go out there and totally unwind and relax with a glass of wine,” he says. “I can spend hours just observing — it is my sanctuary.”

Each area of has its own personality. Dykes calls the patio his Sun Borders Viewing Stage, outlined by Windmill and Sabal palms, along with a Banana tree. In the Deep Shade Grotto, as he calls the shade garden under his deck, “It doesn’t get any sun, and I have a fountain, so it’s always wet.”
“I try to introduce as much color and variety in the garden as possible,” says Dykes. His biggest blooming season is in May. “That’s when the roses and a lot of the perennials are at their best.” Roses, Black-Eyed Susans, and Limelight Hydrangeas that line the various paths 
An iron ballerina dances among the plants on the Sun Borders Viewing Stage.

“When I’m in my garden,
I’m closer to creation than any
other place in the world.”
—C.J. Dykes


This story originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of WALTER magazine.