‘This is my salvation’: Wilmington Island woman nurtures miraculous garden in son’s memory

Local News

WILMINGTON ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV)- A woman on Wilmington Island has spent the last 15 years growing a garden in honor of her son who passed away in 2008. She’s sharing her story in hopes people in the community will come and visit.

Leah Stoupenos lives in a quaint Wilmington Island neighborhood. Her backyard is filled with flowers of every color, trees, bronze sculptures, and fountains.

She says the signature red poppies are a reminder of her younger years back home in Greece.

As she walks you through every path and through every nitch she’d tell you her flowers have stories. She’d also say every day she spends out here brings her closer to the son she outlived.

“I’ve always been a gardener so it wasn’t something new, but after my son passed away,” Stoupenos said tearfully, “this was the only way, so I’ve given my life to it.”‘

In 2008 Stoupenos’s son died suddenly from an asthma attack while working at the family’s Tybee Island store. He was only 33 years old.

“My son had asthma and he felt a problem coming on so he went to a separate little building to do a breathing treatment,” said Stoupenos. “The first one didn’t work evidently and he went into a second one, and then went into cardiac arrest, and he was gone.”

Stoupenos also lost her husband last year. Grief is a key ingredient to this thriving oasis, it’s as if her emotional void left room for something new to grow.

“This is my salvation, I feel them here even though my husband used to fuss,” said Stoupenos, “he’d say how much money did you spend I said that’s not for you to know.”

The solid bronze fountain is one of the more expensive features of the garden. It comes from Italy. She says the sound of the water rushing helps calm her on her bad days.

“You’re in touch with God and you’re surrounded by peace,” said Stoupenos, “the tranquility, it’s all here.”

The mother of three says the sculpture of Paul as a little boy, tucked away in the back is her favorite piece.

Paul’s rising a skateboard next to his late dog Bosco. On his shirt is a logo he designed, Stoupenos says it’s become a widely known trademark for their gift shop on Tybee Island.

“I had the statue commissioned to someone, Gregory Johnson,” she said, “he did that from pictures of course.”

Paul would have turned 46 next month. She says he was fun and always had a big group of friends surrounding him. Paul also had two sisters Loukia Tsiaras and Viki Stoupenos. He and Tsiaras worked at the family store together for close to 24 years.

“When he passed, nothing was balanced anymore,” said Tsiaras, “He was hilariously funny, creative, and a friend to everyone.”

“His family always came first I miss him being here for us,” she added.

Stoupenos says Paul was no plant fanatic, but his strong arms are always missed.

“He would do the heavy stuff so I think it was a tribute for all his hard work,” said Stoupenos.

Stoupenos says she admires every petal, every leaf, and every thorn in this space.

Her hope is that others can admire it too and maybe find the same comfort that’s kept her going all these years.

“There’s a lot of love that goes into this and it’s important to me,” said Stoupenous, “it’s keeping my son’s memory alive and I do want people to visit.”

“I want them to enjoy it as much as I do,” she added.

This garden at home on Wilmington Island will always be bittersweet for her, while she copes with the unthinkable. She says no matter what she’ll always keep her son close to her heart and always in her memory.

“This is where I find peace, It’s painful but I find it,” said Stoupenos.

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