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Two area gardeners share affinity for outhouses

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Catherine W. Idzerda
July 18, 2009
— Follow this recipe closely: Take two best friends, add a love of, um, historical structures, and then throw in a Master Gardener course, and voilà! You've created outhouse experts.

Of course, not everybody wants to be an outhouse expert, but Jennifer Ehle and Earlene Hanson have met prerequisites and are willing to share their knowledge.


At 12:45 p.m. Monday, Ehle and Hanson will be sharing about "Historic Outhouses" during a program at the Evansville Community/Senior Center, 320 Fair St., Evansville.


The event is free, and people are encouraged to bring their "favorite outhouse story to share."


Yikes.


Gardeners will learn what flowers and shrubs are appropriate to plant around outhouses; history buffs can look at the memorabilia on display and discuss the benefits and drawbacks of one- vs. two-holers.


Of course, everyone will want to know how the two friends became outhouse experts.


Ehle's a city girl. But when she and her husband, Steve, moved into their 1842 home in Cooksville, they found themselves plunged into the world of historical renovation.


When their home was completed, they turned their attention to the historical outhouse that was slowly disintegrating in their yard. Another, from a local home, soon was added to it.


Their saga—the outhouses', not the Ehles'—was chronicled in a 2005 Gazette story.


Here are the highlights: One of the houses dates to the early 1900s, and the other is based off of a WPA design from the 1930s. Both needed professional restoration, and one needed a crane—yes, a crane—to move it.


The WPA outhouse is cream and green with a small square window in the front. The other, pink and purple, features a side window.


Ehle and Hanson took the Master Gardener course at Rotary Gardens with Mike Maddox, UW Extension and Rotary horticulture educator.


"Mike told us we needed a focal point for our garden," Ehle said with a grin. "Those are my focal points."


Here's what happened next: Because her best friend had two outhouses, Hanson decided she needed to have one, too.


One or two, in fact.


Hanson, a country girl, remembered the outhouses on her father's dairy farm.


One of Hanson's outhouses came from the Cooksville Lutheran Church.


"They didn't want it; they were going to tear it down," said Hanson, sounding horrified.


When they pulled the metal sheeting off the old outhouse, the structure was in wooden tatters. Fortunately, Hanson's husband, Bob, is a carpenter and the man of many women's dreams: He went right to work on the restoration.


Another outhouse soon joined it. So did outhouse memorabilia, outhouse books and, of course, outhouse gardening with the proper plants.


Hanson's outhouse has stately yellow hollyhocks.


"They're called outhouse roses," Hanson said with a grin.



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