A sprawling bamboo garden brought to life by David and Elaine Ellis provides a sanctuary for quiet reflection, focused study and faith-based outreach.
by David Roten
A man’s voice called out in welcome: “Hello.” Turning to face the direction of the greeting, the visitor quickly scanned the bamboo grove but saw no one. “Come on in,” the voice beckoned. Searching, the visitor found a trellis entrance and followed the winding path inside. “I love to sit right here and watch people come in and see their face,” retired stone mason David Ellis said, “because most people are like, ‘Oh, my goodness! Oh, wow!’” Indeed, it becomes readily apparent that theirs is no ordinary bamboo stand. “It’s unique,” said Elaine, David’s wife of 45 years. “It’s peaceful.”
Inside the couple’s bamboo garden, rays of sunlight force their way down through a dense maze of green, leafy stalks, some as tall as 30 feet. The vegetation casts dark shadows below that sway with the wind while light beams bend into colorful reflections that hover above marble-top tables. “As we’re sitting here in the evening and the sun’s going down, the bamboo looks like it’s on fire in places,” Elaine said. “You can see how the sun glistens on the canes,” David added. “You get a different look as it changes all through the day.” As a breeze gently blows, the melodic tinkling of wind chimes adds to the ambience.
David started growing his special garden almost 30 years ago as a way to remember his grandfather, in whose bamboo stand he often played as a young boy. “I wanted a part of my ‘Big Papa’ here,” he said. From his grandfather’s stand, he transplanted just three roots, each about a foot and a half long. “It has grown from that to this,” David said, his gaze sweeping the roughly 50-by-100-foot area the Ellises bamboo garden now comprises.
In the early years, as the garden began to grow, so did David’s vision of what he could build inside. He started by “making a room,” which involved creating empty spaces by selectively knocking down bamboo and kicking over what he calls “buttons,” or little bamboo shoots. Decor consisting of an old, white plastic table and matching chairs would prove to be temporary. “One day I looked out here and the table was about this high off the ground,” he said. “One of the canes was up under it pushing it up. I finally thought, ‘David, you’re a stone mason. You can do something to accent this.’”
“As we’re sitting here in the evening and the sun’s going down, the bamboo looks like it’s on fire in places.”Elaine Ellis
So began in earnest a labor of love that would transform a wild thicket into a multi-purpose sanctuary. David cut down plum and cedar trees and fashioned the stumps into bases for tables. He had heavy slabs of fieldstone, one weighing 1,200 pounds, delivered by truck and dumped in the yard outside the bamboo stand. Through a painstaking process utilizing a pry bar, PVC pipes and a whole lot of sweat and smarts, David moved the rocks—by himself—little by little to their final resting places, where they now serve as benches. Smaller stones, expertly pieced in to provide support and a framework for each bench, help to create a beautiful and functional mosaic.
Through the years, the garden has been the distinctive setting for tea parties, Bible studies, baby showers, cookouts and celebrations of birthdays, from Year 1 to 90. “We have a lot of memories here,” Elaine said. A wooden bluebird box, made by their daughter Tiffany as a sixth-grader three decades ago, hangs on to a bench swing support post. A beloved butterfly wind chime that belonged to Elaine’s late mother dangles from a cane. However, of all the memories living in the garden, none is treasured more than one: “I got saved here,” David said.
“[For] 28 years, I prayed for him,” Elaine said, “because he was a good husband, son, father, friend. He was good, but he was good and lost.” David in 2001 suffered a severe break to his left arm when he fell backward into a ditch while on the job. His condition worsened when he developed osteomyelitis—an infection of the bone. “I almost lost my arm,” he said. “It was nine months of horror, four surgeries, pain like you can’t imagine.”
It was also a time of finding contentment in the midst of uncertain circumstances, according to Elaine. “We had zero income for nine months,” she said, “but it was just amazing how the Lord provided and blessed us.” The experience left David humbled and grateful. “We never asked anybody for anything,” he said, “but the money just kept coming and coming.” The unsolicited generosity of friends, acquaintances and even a total stranger touched David to his core: “I learned how much people love me.”
When the Ellises’ pastor witnessed to David in the garden after his last surgery, he opened his heart to receive Jesus Christ. This side of the struggle, with body and spirit now healed, he believes it was all worth it.
“If I had to go through all the pain I went through to get what I’ve got now,” David said, “I would do it over again.”
Like the bamboo garden David planted so many years ago, the Ellises have put down roots that continue to grow and spread. They still live in the same house into which they moved the day after they were married almost 46 years ago. Two children have produced four grandchildren. Together, David and Elaine are enjoying their life’s journey as “best friends,” and yet, it almost never happened, or so it would seem.
“We didn’t know each other,” Elaine said. “We went all through Newton County High School together, and our paths never crossed.” After a chance first meeting the following year, Elaine and David soon discovered their birthdays were only two days apart and that, in fact, they had both been born at Emory Hospital. With hospital stays lasting several days for new mothers back then, newborns David and Elaine were almost certainly there at the same time. “We were in the nursery together,” she said. “Our daddies probably stood there looking at us at the same time.” Little did those fathers know that their child’s future spouse was resting nearby.
All grown up and in love 19 years later, the young couple had been dating for about eight months when Elaine made her move: “I told David one day, ‘I’m tired of dating. Let’s get married.’” David’s response was a bit more cautious. “Let’s wait and see how the economy’s going to do,” he said. “Well, that didn’t work. The next thing I knew, I was buying a ring and building a house.”
Theirs was a match made in heaven. “We’ve been very happy,” David said. “Blessed,” Elaine added. Knowing they will have been together from cradle to grave and through all eternity leaves them with a sense of wonder and gratitude. Their peaceful bamboo garden seems like a perfect place for a deep breath to take it all in. “It’s our little piece of heaven,” Elaine said, “but it’s something we enjoy sharing with our family and friends.”