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River retreat

A wooded river habitat inspires a couple to create a nature haven and embrace the wildlife on their lush Georgia acreage.
The water lilies growing in Andy and Joan Coval's ponds provide a natural place for the fish to hide from predators.
Joan and Andy relax with their dog, Smokey, who Andy found shortly after moving to Georgia.
When the Covals decided to upgrade their landscaping, Joan put her past garden experience to work, while Andy completed the rock projects.

River retreat

Joan and Andy Coval's home gives new meaning to the phrase "waterfront property." The house, set on 2.7 acres in Ellijay, Georgia, has a deck that overhangs the Cartecay River.

If they ever want to go fishing, they can literally drop a line from the deck and catch the bass and trout swimming below.

Easy access to fishing is just one of the advantages to living so close to the river. Today, the home is a tranquil retirement paradise for the couple and their black Labrador retriever mix, Smokey. When they purchased the property in 1996, however, its landscaping didn't enhance the natural beauty of the river scenery. The ponds on the land were surrounded by bare rock that looked stark in contrast with the surrounding wooded areas.

"We knew it when we saw it--this was a project just waiting for us," Joan says.

Growing a home

The Covals decided to focus their energy on planting lush gardens around the waterfalls and ponds. "We tried to use native plants where we could," Joan says.

She attended a local garden club's meetings, which helped her discover which plants would work best for her gardens. When the Covals moved from New Hampshire, Joan brought some plants that her friends had shared with her. She put each shared plant next to a sign indicating the plant's name and the name of the person who gave it to her.

Even the garden's stepping-stone paths and erosion-controlling rock creek banks take a natural approach. When a highway was being widened, the surrounding rock had to be blasted away to make room. Andy and a friend loaded up his truck with suitable rocks from the highway project and transported them to the property.

The project required a lot of hard work and a new suspension on Andy's truck afterward, but the rocks became an important part of the landscaping.

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