story and photos by Cindy Ruggieri
Driving along Michigan Hollow Road in the town of Spencer, you might notice a small sign in front of Wayne Myers’ house simply stating “Myers’ Gardens.” It’s a hint of what he has here, but doesn’t come close to describing what’s in his backyard. A lifelong resident of Spencer, Wayne has spent years building, creating, collecting and sharing.
Yes, it is a gorgeous botanical garden. With over 650 different perennials, it’s a stunning burst of color spread out along pathways, stone walls and terrace, a gazebo, and a pond that includes a waterfall and bridge. “Both my mother and grandmother were avid gardeners, and that’s where my interest in gardening began,” Myers explains. Growing up, he grew about 700 pumpkins each year and sold them to help finance his education at Cornell.
But the garden is just the beginning. The property has been in the Myers family since his parents purchased it in 1958, and Wayne has spent years turning the 36 acres into not only a lush garden, but also his own small town, with buildings preserving historical artifacts and full of the collections he has spent a lifetime gathering.
It started with a grist mill. The property was once the site of a water-powered sawmill, which was gone when the Myers family moved in. “I was always interested in water wheels, and when I acquired some milling equipment, I decided I needed to build the mill to go along with it on the site of the previous sawmill,” he says. It took almost three years to build the mill—including cutting all his own timber—but when it was completed, it had a working water wheel and even a miller’s quarters. His town expanded from there.
Always a collector of anything old or nostalgic, Myers uses his buildings to display his collections. The grist mill features over 100 feed sacks hanging on a poster display rack for easy viewing, and plenty of kitchen wares to go along with the miller’s quarters. Next came the woodworker’s building, built to display Myers’ large collection of woodworking tools. A blacksmith shop—dedicated to the memory of his grandfather, who had been a blacksmith and farrier—was added and filled with an extensive collection of blacksmithing tools and implements. Myers needed an equipment shed to house his old grindstones and cultivators, and a wagon shed to hold his horse-drawn equipment. After acquiring four different cider presses, he built a cider house to house them.
If something is reminiscent of a past era, Myers will collect and display it. And he has a story to go along with everything. “Locals are always adding to my collections,” he explains. “When they clean out or find some interesting antique, they bring it to me.”
There is always a new project to keep him going. “Right now, I’m working on a shed for the sleigh I just acquired,” he says. It will be ready by the time the Theodore Friendly Company of Elmira has finished restoring the upholstery of the circa 1880 sled.
It’s not just working with wood that holds Myers’ interest. “Growing up, I liked to build everything and anything,” he explains. “As a young teen, I started building stone walls. The first few fell down, but eventually I learned how to do them properly.” The extensive stone work around his property shows off his stonemason skills.
After wood and stone, Myers progressed to metal. “I kept bothering my neighbor to weld things for me. He finally taught me how to weld so I could do it myself.” His metal sculptures are spread throughout his gardens – a giant dragonfly on the roof of a shed, a family of metal people, a giant spider overlooking the pond.
And then there is his brick collection. It started when he noticed a number of marked bricks while working at his job cleaning up a vacated property. Research led him to the International Brick Collectors Association, a group devoted to collecting marked bricks. Three swap meets are held each year; Myers has twice hosted the meet at his property, with attendance of more than 60 members from all over the country. His collection, over 1500 bricks from all over the United States and even other countries, is displayed in a custom-built pergola next to his gardens. “Bricks were so important to the building of our country,” he explains. His collection is yet another way he honors the past.
Whatever catches his interest, Myers turns into a creation on his property. There is a covered bridge over a creek, and a little further up, a rope bridge. A sundial sits on his terrace. One of the most interesting things is his fossil collection, including the huge Uphantania Chemungensis mounted in a glass display case. The glass sponge fossil is a rare fossil found only in a small region of central New York.
School groups, Cub Scouts, and even some bus tours from others states have made visits to Myers’ Gardens. “The collection is so large that there is always something that catches the kids’ interest,” he says.
There are so many words to describe Wayne Myers: master gardener, historian, builder, stonemason, artist, collector. And generous with his time, welcoming visitors to explore all he has created in his backyard.
For anyone interested in visiting Myers’ Gardens, call ahead at 607-589-4572. His address is 1017 Michigan Hollow Road in Spencer.