By Traci Chapman
Set on a sweeping hill with panoramic views, Pugh Gardens provides a respite from day-to-day life in a setting that entrances the soul.
It’s a setting made possible by Ruthie and Daniel Pugh, who have transformed their western Canadian County property into a garden that’s seen a journey from overgrown scrub to an oasis of the prairie.
That journey began far from that five-acre site and the couple began their careers far afield from Pugh Gardens.
Daniel’s work background is varied. After working as a certified painting contractor and moving to Oklahoma in 1991, he attended Oklahoma Baptist University on a scholarship to finish a philosophy degree. His career path took a turn when he decided to pursue a different path.
“I had a long-held passion for great coffee and opened the first espresso café in Oklahoma City,” he said. “The café was successful but when flanked by a short distance to the north and the south by two Barnes and Noble bookstores, I sold the café and returned to painting custom homes.”
The café did more than serve as a business, however – it was there he met Ruthie.
“She liked my coffee,” Daniel said. “We’ll be married 27 years next month.”
Ruthie has worked in hospital information technology for decades, first at Baptist Hospital and then turning to consulting.
“The consulting career took me traveling around the country for 16 years,” she said. “While at my last consulting engagement, I was allowed to work from home – after three years, they offered me full time employment.”
The couple moved to western Canadian County in 2002, a five-acre parcel located about two miles northeast of the Cherokee Trading Post, not far from Highway 66.
“We picked the spot to build our forever home on top of a hill because of its panoramic views of rolling prairie, canyons and tree lined valleys,” Daniel said. “It was the site of an old, abandoned homestead and there was a bunch of work to do to clear out an enormous amount of debris – it took us two years of long hours on weekends to clear the site.”
That work would become a foreshadow to the creation of Pugh Gardens.
For Ruthie, gardening was a family tradition – her grandfather loved the activity, and her mother was a master gardener. For Daniel, it was the site itself that inspired him to do something new, he said.
“I really don’t know when I caught the bug, but shortly after moving in I saw the acreage as a blank canvas to create something flora and fauna special,” Daniel said. “I retired from my painting contractor career and set out to ‘paint’ a unique botanical experience.”
He also became a master gardener, completing the program in 2018 – part of a process that saw the transformation of the Pugh’s property.
“I began changing the landscape with several natural stoned raised flower beds on the south side overlooking the prairie – each year I would add another large, raised bed, then another, and another, until there was a curved circuit of botanicals framing the southeast to southwest terrace,” Daniel said. “We strived to fill the beds with as varied a variety of plants as we could imagine.
“To finish off the floral campus, I developed a winding circuit of graveled paths connecting the beds and festooned them with an array of large flagstone embedded stone art of tortoise, dragon fly, hummingbird, horn toad, road runner, praying mantis, running horse and lady bug,” he said. “A woodland garden with shade and winding paths seemed like just the ticket for a campus for shade plants and blessed shade from the Oklahoma summer season. – the winding paths were laid to lead one on to see what’s next around the corner, and wooden decks for enjoying the views were built to provide a calming respite by which to pause and enjoy the botanical journey.”
Finally came a large koi pond featuring water lilies and a variety of aquatic plants. A pathway is still under construction but nearly finished.
“Pugh Gardens is a work in progress but is far enough along to becoming noticed among the Oklahoma gardening professionals and regional gardeners,” which is a truly gratifying recognition,” Daniel said.
Although the Pugh’s and their garden have seen challenges – devastating ice and cold, the pandemic and a grass fire that burned nearly to their door – they, and it, continue to flourish. A retailer held a product photo shoot at the site, and Pugh Gardens hosted an October 2021 wedding, Daniel and Ruthie said.
But that’s just the start, the couple said.
“Soon we will build a large deck at the pond which in addition to these other events would be a grand setting for the occasional yoga class,” Daniel said. “We’ve acquired another 40 acres of prairie and wooded hills where we will continuously expand our nature trails.”
Pugh Gardens is located at 23505 Jones Road NW in Calumet. The garden opens for the 2022 season Saturday and will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through November, weather permitting.
Admission is $12, with children under 12 admitted free. Weekday viewing and other uses may be arranged by appointment.
For more information call (405) 249-8758 or see the garden’s Facebook page, found by searching for “Pugh Gardens.”