The yard with the Yucca plants

By Kevin Denke
Posted 8/11/09

“So you’d say you just have a taste for the old stuff?” The question is the kind of softball-type query that a major league baseball player would knock three miles out of the …

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The yard with the Yucca plants


“So you’d say you just have a taste for the old stuff?”

The question is the kind of softball-type query that a major league baseball player would knock three miles out of the ballpark.

And, for a second, Marvin Neer, 56, of Brighton, begins to swing, ready to pontificate on why he would painstakingly landscape his Bromley Park yard with massive, century-old Yucca plants and use elaborate petrified wood as lawn edgers.

But he stops himself. I’m caught red-handed. Guilty of the charge of trying to get Neer to be ordinary.

“Oh, I see,” he says. “I like the way you’re thinking. I gotcha. You’ve got to think different than I do. You’re putting the pieces of the puzzle together, to formulate something that’ll grab ‘em (readers).”

And as Neer’s mind meticulously bounces along as it does connecting one thought to another, it becomes apparent he is issuing a subtle but polite decline to any attempt to characterize him or draw any singular meaning from the things he says, does and why.

“You write stories, don’t you?” he asks in a peculiar fashion that prompts a second of hesitation to ponder whether the question is rhetorical or if he really wants to know what you do.

I half-wonder if this is how he greeted members of the homeowners association when they came to question why he would disrupt the rhythm of deciduous landscaping with odd-looking plants prescribed for a parched desert climate. Perhaps it was with a terse but delicate praise of the tough job they face in upholding all the covenants of the neighborhood.

My answer, nevertheless, is a timid “Yes.”

“Wow,” he continues. “I’m not you but I sure appreciate the way you have to use your creativity along with facts and timing and all other kinds of things too. You’ve got a great deal.”

“Thanks,” I reply, more puzzled and meeker by the second.

“I kind of follow the train of thought you’re going for,” he adds with a sense of reassurance. “It makes a lot of sense. I think I should leave it to you because you sound like you’re way good.”

Marvin Neer: 1. Reporter: 0.


Neer greets you at the front door of his Nighthawk Drive home as the overcast of a Thursday morning begins to give way to intense heat. He called a couple days earlier because, he said, the last time a reporter stopped by his home to get a look at the tree he built out of petrified wood (better known as a “troc”), they promised they would return when the Yucca plants were blooming. That happened to be this week, albeit a few years after talking about the troc.

Yet after a warm welcome and a thank you for stopping by, Neer does not immediately direct you back outside for a closer look at the plants. Instead, he ushers you into his kitchen. He apologizes for it being such a mess – a few empty glasses and a fresh, hollowed-out watermelon with an orange juice carton resting inside of it.

He wants to show off his granite countertops. These aren’t just any ordinary countertops. Neer somehow (he will tell you accidentally) discovered a way to make the granite iridescent so with the flick of the switch of some rainbow-colored, fluorescent bulbs hanging above the granite will come to life in a colorful glow.

He takes pains to explain the intricate process of installing the granite to reflect the light, or “pop,” as he puts it. But, the bottom line, he says is at night he has the most fantastic kitchen in the world.

He thinks his creation is affordable enough so that other people can enjoy the same effect. But he hasn’t even won over everyone in his own family.

“My wife doesn’t like it,” he says with a slight shrug.

A little while later he’ll drift away from another subject to ask you what you think of it.

“Did it come out OK?” he asks.

“I think it looks good,” I respond, wondering how much my opinion matters if he can harmlessly shrug off his wife’s disapproval.

The tour continues down a couple steps near the kitchen to what Neer describes as his office. Hanging on the walls are his other creations – laser illuminated images. He creates the images with the help of handheld lasers. When he leads you from his office to his garage, there is a full wall lined with the images.

Neer mentions if you look closely, you can start to discern images almost like a child staring at clouds.

“You have to use your imagination,” he says.

All of this is to get to the reason Neer invited you over in the first place – the five Yucca plants in his front yard. He says he got most of them about five or six years ago from the ranch of a friend in New Mexico. The plant’s prickly leaves give more of the appearance of an overgrown pineapple plant, but not to Neer, who says he grew up in Hawaii and saw his share of pineapple fields. In full bloom, the plants sprout to upwards of 10 or 12 feet tall.

Transplanting the Yuccas was a grueling process for Neer. The plants – he estimates one could be more than 300 years old – are incredibly heavy and they were delivered by flatbed trailer. Giving them the environment they need to thrive is another challenge, and Neer has gone to great lengths to divert water and runoff around the plants because they simply don’t need it. The plants use hair follicles on their trunk to absorb necessary moisture from the air.

“Me and the botanical gardens are the only ones who have figured out how to transplant with them surviving,” he says. “It’s not one of these easy deals. You got to know what to do.”

He brags they are the northern-most Yucca plants in North America.

The payoff comes with the clusters of white flowers that sprout from long shoots at the top of the plants.

The plants didn’t come without a bit of a battle.

“Yeah,” he says with a sense of incredulousness when asked if the HOA had any concerns about the plants.

“I try to keep it nice,” Neer says.

‘It is ugly?” he asks, leaving a brief pause for a response. “It should be nicer than anybody else’s. I try to.”

He does mention that he removed a couple more Yucca plants from his yard – a unwarranted but conciliatory nod to the HOA’s concerns.

“These two I took out just to ease the HOA’s pain,” he says. “Make them feel like they’d won.”

He insists he doesn’t mean to be troublesome. As he surveys the surrounding cookie-cutter houses, he acknowledges, even after 15 years of living in Brighton, this probably isn’t the best place for a guy like him to live anyway.

“I shouldn’t even be around these people because I’m a little eccentric,” Neer says.

But if he gives off hints of being the quirky, neighborhood curmudgeon, he is gracious for the chance to show off his yard and home when the interview comes to an end. He offers a cup of ice water or coffee before I leave and he offers some thanks.

“If you’re ever driving by and you need water, you don’t need to call me,” he adds. “You can always stop by, and I’ll take care of ya.”


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