- Associated Press - Monday, August 11, 2014

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) - Phillip Le undertook a massive landscaping project 10 years ago, all because he missed his original home in Vietnam.

The 66-year-old Fort Smith resident was forced to flee from Communist forces during the fall of Saigon in 1975 before he relocated to Fort Chaffee and, eventually, the Park Hill area of Fort Smith. Le reluctantly left behind two acres of land, where a large house and an equally large garden area once stood in Saigon, the Southwest Times Record reported (https://bit.ly/1seF44M ).

“I had to leave Vietnam in 1975,” he said. “If I had stayed there, they would have killed me, because the Communists took over my country there. I had to come here to America. I had to come to Fort Smith.”

For the most part, Le adjusted to a relatively quiet life in Fort Smith, working as a welder for KMF Inc. He enjoyed the company of family and close friends, as well as the task of steady work, but still, something was missing.

“I missed my garden in Vietnam, so I built this one for my Fort Smith home 10 years ago,” Le said. “At first, I asked people to landscape, but they wanted $20,000. That was too much, so me and my son-in-law, Sam, built this garden here for something like $7,000.”

The garden includes a small, wooden bridge, large rocks, a couple of streaming fountains, dozens of Japanese native flowers and plants, figurines and a pond with more than 30 koi and other fish. Colorful and lush-looking, the garden has caught the attention of every neighbor and numerous passers-by and occasionally served as the natural-looking background for wedding pictures for friends and strangers alike, Le said.

“People tell me they like it,” he said of the garden area. “One couple took photos on the bridge, with the bride sitting and the groom standing, for their wedding photos. That was fun.”

Le said he takes pride in the many plants, trees and flowers that color his garden. Some of the plants are edible and used in Le’s tea, and he’s been known to chew leaves from another when a cough threatens to disrupt his speech.

“I forget the name of the plant this second, but it’s the same one a restaurant uses now,” he said while chewing a dark-green leaf. “That restaurant uses the leaves in their salad, and it’s good.”

The movement of fish and the barely audible sounds of a small waterfall never fail to relax those who see the garden, Le said.

“The fish in the pond, they are friendly,” he said with a smile. “You can lay your hand in the water, and the fish will come up to you and lay on your hand. The fish like people.”

Le purchased the fish, plants and the bridge online and along with Sam Le, worked on the garden for many months until it was completed.

“Phillip would come home from work, before he retired, at 4 p.m. or so and would work on the landscaping,” Sam Le said. “It took some time.”

Le’s yard is one of many area yards that features unique landscaping, said Michael Walker, owner of Walker Michael Landscapes. Some homeowners do it simply as a source of enjoyment, while others do landscaping to boost the resale value of their property, he said.

“If you study from the experts, curb appeal is everything,” Walker said. “It’s not just about a few plants. A quality job means everything, and that helps the value of the home or the business.

“I’m not absolutely positive how much percentage landscaping can help with the value of a property, but I’ve been told by some that it can increase it by as much as 20 percent,” he added. “People would have to check for themselves, but obviously if you are adding big patios and gazebos, that will raise the value of your home considerably.”

Landscaping also can be done for safety reasons, with the removal of unwanted shrubs allowing neighbors to keep a better eye on a home, Walker said.

“The best thing for a homeowner, other than praying, is to add a low-voltage lighting system to the landscaping of the home,” he said. “LED lights are so much better because they last longer. They’re a little bit more expensive bulbs, but with them lasting longer, it all balances out.”

For Phillip Le, his garden is much more than just a visual, smaller recreation of his old garden in Vietnam that slows down and/or stops traffic.

“I do this to remind me of my home in Vietnam, because the landscaping is exactly like it was over there,” he said while his granddaughter, Trish, picked a sweet-flavored peach from a nearby tree. “I come out on the porch and relax. It helps me get away from everything.”

Le laughed.

“People ask me to make another garden, but I’m too old now,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t want to do another. I just want to relax and be here in my garden now.”


Information from: Southwest Times Record, https://www.swtimes.com/

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