Drive down Austinville Road and you can’t miss it -- an old, rusty truck parked at the end of a driveway, all gussied up with flowers and plants and rocks and such. It’s the brainchild of Dinah Hill, who returned with her husband, Gary, to their hometown three years ago after Gary retired from Philip Morris in Richmond.
Their home, built in 2015, sits on 200 acres. The front 10 acres belonged to Gary’s grandparents, Early and Annie Porter. To make way for their long driveway, the Hills had to clear the Porter farmland, on which sat Early Porter’s green GMC truck that dates back to the early 1960s.
“I really had to sweet-talk my husband,” Dinah Hill said. “We had seven or eight people stop by who wanted to buy that truck, and I said, ‘No, no, no, I have plans for that truck.’ We didn’t want to sell it anyway because of the history. I thought this was a good way to put it to use.”
And put it to use, she did. Hill had the truck moved to the bottom of the driveway, then got busy. A retired master gardener, she filled the truck with dirt and started planting. Perennial plants, like the weeping pussy willow tree, hostas and colorful peonies, remain with the truck year-round and bloom anew each spring. Other plants change season to season. In the spring and summer, Hill plants pansies, hibiscus, foxtail ferns, wandering Jew and more. She moves some of the plants inside for the cold winter months.
“I try to do something a little different each year, if I can,” she said. Plants that cannot be used again are turned into compost for the farm.
The Hill’s truck is more than just a garden; it’s also a seasonal display. In the spring, Hill decorates it for Easter, complete with a cross. The Hills attend Austinville Baptist Church.
Soon, it will be time for Halloween mums, pumpkins and corn stalks – with Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger behind the wheel. At Christmastime, when the truck is filled with lights, snowmen and a Christmas tree, Santa drives.
Hill is able to do all of this thanks to her husband, who, knowing of his wife’s plans for the truck, thought of running power and water to the end of the driveway during construction.
“That way, I can water it and keep it lit at night,” she said. “He thought of it; I didn’t.”
Maintaining the truck garden can be a bit tricky, Hill said. The metal from the truck absorbs heat and that can affect the plants inside. Fancy, expensive flowers don’t do as well inside the truck because of the heat generated by the truck.
“The back of the truck bed is rusted out, and that’s a good thing, because it lets it drain,” Hill said.
Sometimes it drains a little too much, so steady constant monitoring is required. To help trap bits of moisture, Hill uses moisture-control potting soil.
“You have to fight and figure out if it’s getting too much moisture or not enough,” Hill said, adding that each spring she replenishes the dirt with fertilizer and nutrient-rich top soil.
It’s a lot to keep up with, especially for the Hills, who like to travel. Their son, Gary Jr., is an engineer in Australia. One daughter, Crystal, is an engineer in Richmond. Their second daughter, Shannon, is in finance in Northern Virginia. While they are away, Dinah’s sister, Becky Hanks, who lives right up the street, takes care of the truck.
Of all the plants in and around the truck, the fluffy hostas are Hill’s favorite. She transplanted them from her home in Richmond and they are thriving, even in the full sun – usually, they prefer a little shade. One hosta, planted behind her home, is 5 feet wide.
“They are breathtaking,” Hill said.
To reach Millie Rothrock, call 228-6611, ext. 35, or email email@example.com.