Faculty Spotlight: Shawn Fulford’s Eaton Garden

When Shawn Fulford, Instructor in Mathematics, began to create her garden, she pictured her yard as a Cartesian plane divided by the line y = x. Using her extensive mathematical background, Fulford designed the garden based off of inverse functions and careful symmetry. Though the inverse functions disappeared as the garden grew, Fulford’s garden continues to brighten the landscape of the Quads.

According to Fulford, her garden is designed to bloom continuously from April through October. The first flowers are tiny purple crocuses, sprinkled throughout the yard. Then the rest of the garden is planned to bloom from back to front, from yellow and white daffodils to orange, yellow and red giant tulips on the left side of Eaton Cottage, and from purple and copper colored tulips to irises on the right side. Once the bulbs are done, the roses, peonies and azalea bushes bloom. During a warm spring, they bloom around graduation.

Fulford first envisioned her garden in 2004, when she was recovering from cancer treatment. She had no prior experience with gardening and decided to teach herself.

“I just tried things, and if it worked, I did them again. I taught myself… My family kept going, ‘You really like gardening? You’ve never gardened before!’” said Fulford.

Since Fulford began working on her garden, dubbed by the Andover community as the “Garden of Eaton,” it has grown tremendously and currently wraps all the way around her residence at Eaton Cottage.

Maita Eyzaguirre ’14, a proctor at Eaton Cottage said, “We also often help [Ms. Fulford] in the garden whenever we want and it is a great way to de-stress. It is also nice to know that we helped contribute to her beautiful garden. The fact that she lets us share one of her passions with her is really, really special.”

Fulford has received help with her garden from many students throughout the years. Two alumni, Nate Malo ’03 and Howie Kalter ’07, have helped Fulford tend her garden by building numerous trellises, as well as a stone wall and path.

“I saw [the garden] as an opportunity to enhance the Andover campus as well as expressing some creativity. I knew that Ms. Fulford’s dream of what this garden could be was limitless. Every time I came to work, she would have a new idea to bounce off of me and we would work together to make it happen. I like to think that over the years I have helped Ms. Fulford’s garden take shape and have some order,” said Kalter.

Fulford remembers a time when Malo, who was already an alumnus came back to help her with the garden, brought up the connection between math and gardening while building her patio.

“Several years after Nate graduated from Andover, he built the patio. He hadn’t had math in years. When I was confused as to how he was going to make the patio level, he looked at me and said, ‘Ms. Fulford, don’t you remember our lesson in calculus when we found the area under functions with rectangles?’”

Just as some flowers return year after year, so do many fans of Fulford’s garden.

“I have people that drive and walk by, and they tell me that they come by every season to see what’s different and what’s new,” said Fulford.

Fulford sees the garden as a way of thanking those who helped her while she was sick.

“For a whole year, people helped me. I went, ‘All right, I can give back.’ The flowers, the arrangements, the garden and the Christmas lights are ways that I can give back to not just people who helped me, but to the whole community,” she said.

In addition to gardening, Fulford also designs flower arrangements. Many of these can be seen at Andover dance recitals and in town, including the window at Christina’s Bridal, located on the corner of Main Street.

“I’m usually making [arrangements] for somebody or in honor of somebody, so I think of that person, or the event… I go to the flower store and I just start collecting colors, and I bring them back and just play with it until I like it. Sometimes I start with a vase or the flowers in mind, but I always have a person that I’m thinking about first,” said Fulford.

“There was a student here that passed away a couple years ago, and I did the arrangements for her memorial service. Orange was the color of the kind of cancer she had. Orange is very hard to find in flowers. So I found all these different shades of oranges, and I was very proud of it, and they appreciated it. That one’s probably the most meaningful, and the hardest one to do,” she said.

Ten years after she first envisioned her garden, Fulford is just as alive and vibrant as her flowers.

“My best friend saw the garden a couple of years later [after I started it] and said, ‘Shawn, that garden reflects someone who is going to live a long time. This is not a garden of someone who’s dying,’ and I said, ‘Oh, you’re right, all that illness is done,’” said Fulford.