By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
You name it and Louis Rowles collects it.
Transferware, oyster plates, small oil paintings, Staffordshire, crucifixes, seashells, Majolica, plants, sugar shell spoons, demitasse spoons, Blue Willow, gaudy red rugs, rolling pins, books, boxes, pastry shop stands, signs, clocks, vintage postcards and, quite by accident, cats.
“All the cats but one chose me,” Rowles explained. Janie, Gray, The Ghost and Stubby are all outside cats, while Maggie and Orangie stay comfortable in the greenhouse. Only Little Bit, the chosen one, gets to live in the house and prowl around on tables, desk and chests covered in collectibles.
“I’m more of a pack rat,” said Rowles, 53. “I collect lots of different things. You can collect anything, and I do.”
Rowles began collecting when he was a young boy. Seashells were one of his first interests. Today, seashells are in just about every room in his house: They line shelves, fill display cases, overflow boxes and rest in glass jars.
As a young adult, he began collecting country-type furniture and whatnots. As he got older, he graduated to a more eclectic style.
“My mother told me one time when she was here that I’d have to use grease and a shoehorn to get one more thing in this house,” he said. “The house just kind of swallows stuff sometimes. I have to purge the house periodically.”
Rowles is much more than a collector, though. For 20 years, he taught French and English at Amory High School. For the next 10, he was curriculum coordinator for the Nettleton School District. For the past three years, in his retirement, he’s been a consultant who mentors teachers.
He’s also the author of four children’s books: “Ida Claire Does Fabulous Hair,” “Ida Claire Decorates with Flair,” “Ida Claire Teaches Us To Care,” and “Chickens Dance in the Moonlight.”
Plus he’s an artist, accomplished pastry chef, antiques dealer and avid gardener.
“I have so many interests,” said Rowles, who has never married. “People said, ‘You’re too young to retire. You’re going to be bored,’” and I said, ‘I promise. I have lots to do.’”
Rowles got the gardening bug after he bought his cottage on a quiet street in Amory 27 years ago.
“It was a boxy little house and I wanted to do something to give it character,” he said. So he began collecting plants to put in the ground or in pots beneath hedges and bushes.
A walk through the front, side and back yard reveals hundreds of specimens, including coleus, ferns, ivy, elephant ears, Mexican petunias, potato vine, sea oats, forsythia, mare’s tail, periwinkles, azaleas, liriope, hostas, rosemary, coneflowers, Easter lilies, impatiens, caladiums and dozens of hydrangeas.
“I like to root hydrangeas,” he said. “I have several different kinds. I experiment with the soils to get several different colors.”
Rowles, who grew up in West Point, has spared no expense of color in his garden. Two metal chairs between his greenhouse and a storage shed are painted electric blue. Adirondack chairs on a deck in his front yard are painted red, orange, lime green, blue and white. And a swing outside his kitchen door sports a royal purple hue.
“It’s the perfect foil for green,” he said. “I’ve gotten gaudy in my old age.”
Rowles’ latest project has been his front yard. This past September, he had a carpenter build a “floating” deck in his front yard similar to ones in Mississippi garden guru Felder Rushing’s yard.
“My front yard had always been a problem area,” he said. “It always looked scrubby to me. I went to Felder’s Web site and he has all these floating decks with no rails and I decided that’s what I needed. At first, it really didn’t fit, but now it’s like it blends in with the landscape. It has settled.”
After adding the Adirondack chairs and pots of brightly colored flowers, he decided he needed a brick walkway to connect the driveway to the octagonal deck. He had someone give him an estimate, which turned out to be more than the whole deck cost. So he built it himself with – you guessed it – old bricks he’d collected through the years.
“I call it perfectly imperfect and I love it,” he said. “It fits this place. It’s gangly and wild.”
Rowles also added another personal touch to his home, built in 1957. He gave it a name – Four Oaks – named for the large trees in his front yard.
“It gives the place an actual character,” he said. “It defines it somehow.”
Character is about the last thing Rowles needs to worry about. Every inch of garden space, every shelf in every room, every seashell oozes personality and individuality. They all come together in a strange cacophony of harmony.
“I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t have in my house,” he said. “I’m not into plastics from the 1950s, but I’m not ruling that out forever.”