A unique rock and petrified wood garden graces the backyard of Patsy Fittro-Knowles and her husband Glenn Knowles.
While some people have flower gardens or vegetable gardens in their back yard, there’s a garden in Coats that is anything but usual. It’s full of old rocks and petrified wood.
Patsy Fittro-Knowles and her husband Glenn Knowles own this unique garden that was put together by Frank Lockert,who was a genuine cowboy and an entrepreneur and collected rocks and petrified wood during his travels in Kansas and from around the Sun City area where he lived and his family homesteaded.
Lockert built a house with the rock garden in Coats decades ago. At least half of the material in the garden is petrified wood, said Fittro-Knowles. Lockert was in the freight business in the early 1900s and he used his wagon and horses to haul the rocks to the site, Glenn said.
Fittro-Knowles said she and her late first husband Mike Fittro purchased the property in the late 1980s and have spent many hours working on the house and maintaining the unique garden. Mike was in the Navy for 22 years and they were living in San Diego but neither one wanted to settle there. Both had been raised in the Sun City area. They were traveling the county in a fifth wheeler after Mike retired and looking for a place to retire. They landed in the Coats and were staying with Fred and Mary Ann Rose (Mike’s sister) when they found out the Lockert house, which was vacant, was up for sale.
Both Patsy and Mike had family in the area. When they found the house and garden for sale, they contacted Lockert’s grandson Phillip Chastain about purchasing the property. The sale was made in just two days with a promise they would keep up the rock garden that was so special to Lockert.
There was much to do. The house had been vacant for years and the garden was overgrown with weeds and trees. A couple of the displays had fallen down. Some of the trees were ones Lockert had planted.
It took lots of work but eventually the weeds and unwanted trees were stripped away and the rock garden came back into the light.
“It’s been an adventure,” Fittro-Knowles said.
The petrified wood and rocks were gathered over many years from around the Sun City area. The petrified wood sparkles when sunlight hits it.
The dominant feature in the garden is a stone and petrified wood shop building where Lockert conducted his business. The building is named Eagles Nest and features a petrified wood and rock chimney with Lockert’s initials, F.E.L., embedded in the stone. Lockert liked to incorporate his initials in his creations, Fittro-Knowles said.
There are several structures scattered throughout the garden. A number of arches are each topped with a rock formation that resembles different kinds of animals. The arches are not perfectly straight and they are made with a mixture of stone and petrified wood.
There are two rock covered tanks that used to hold fish. A wishing well, made with petrified rock, sits next to the work shed. There is a rock grill where Lockert used to cook meals. His initials are embedded in three sides around the grill.
One area in particular in the garden features several standing petrified wood stones that stand like monument markers.
A stone eagle proudly sits atop a pile of rock and petrified wood. For a time, the eagle was not on the property. It was put up for sale and purchased by a local veterinarian who put the eagle in his mother’s garage where it stayed for years before it was finally returned to its rightful place in the garden.
One particular rock stands beside a tree and when viewed from the side, resembles a clergyman in robes, Fittro-Knowles said.
Lockert was very busy when he settled in Coats. He was a self trained veterinarian, made eye glasses, did taxidermy and started the telephone company that served the area. He spent many hours working in his work shop.
He built a water system next to the garden the includes a vertical tank atop a pump shed. He would fill the tank with water and the sun would then provide warm water for washing and bathing.