Annie Calovich

May 30, 2014

North Riverside gardens deliver shots of color for tour

North Riverside gardens deliver shots of color for tour.

Bucharest is known as Little Paris, and a Wichita gardener who hails from Romania has created a little bit of Little Paris in her North Riverside front yard.

Cristina Wharton has planted sedums in bright pink pumps and tucked them under a lantern hung on a shepherd’s hook in the corner of a front-yard garden bed. Wrought iron, an Eiffel Tower plaque on the front porch, a lamp on the porch table, and a baby stroller spilling sweet potato vine are other Frenchified details.

You can see Wharton’s garden and four other home gardens June 7 on the North Riverside Garden Stroll, which this year has a new twist – you can check out a bicycle for free at tour headquarters and “Bike the Stroll.”

Headquarters is at Jim Starkey Music Center, 1318 W. 18th St. – the place to buy the $5 tickets, have refreshments, hear musical entertainment, buy crafts, rain barrels, plants and other gardening items. Johnson’s Garden Center, the Wichita Rose Society and the Friends of Kansas Wildlife will be on hand.

Wharton, who came to Wichita from Romania in 2000 when she was 24 years old, is thrilled to be part of the tour. She moved into her house at 1517 W. 17th in 2005 and began gardening there almost instinctively. She found out that the hardiness zone of Wichita matched that of her homeland. So gardening has allowed her to honor the memory of Romania but especially that of her grandmother, who died after a tragic chapter in the country’s history.

Her grandmother died in 1990 when Cristina was 14, and her grandmother only 66. She died of sorrow, Wharton said, after Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu destroyed her grandparents’ town, including all the homes, the church and the cemetery, to make way for an airport he envisioned. Wharton’s grandparents not only were forced from their farm, but had to slaughter their animals and retrieve the bones of their loved ones, Wharton said. Only two months later, Ceausescu was overthrown and executed. But Wharton’s grandfather, 96 now, still lives in the two-room apartment where the family was relocated in 1989.

Gardening allows Wharton to bring back a piece of her childhood days spent visiting her grandparents’ farm. She has been planting what her grandmother grew – roses, daylilies, peonies, azaleas, rose of Sharon, boxwood, lilac, mums, irises, mock orange, snowball bushes, bridal wreath spirea. Wharton has used a vivid blue color as a unifying theme in her garden, painting the baby stroller, a big flower pot, a metal flower plaque on the house and the lantern with the shade.

“It’s happy,” Wharton says.

That happy-color theme continues on the tour in the garden of another woman whose house evokes a grandmother. Shelley McKinney and her husband, Steve, live in the house at 1462 N. Coolidge where Shelley’s grandparents moved after they started Wichita’s beloved Nifty Nut House.

You may know the yard from its light display at Christmastime, but now in the summer it is green – and neat as a pin. Behind a new addition to the house – which features a side porch where a cat lolls – is a small backyard popping with color, not only from flowers but also from shadow boxes hanging on the privacy fence. Steve Wharton built the shadow boxes and backed them with diagonal boards painted in bold colors. The boxes hold pots spilling with flowers as well as birdhouses and vases.

The McKinneys’ yard sits at an angle, where Shelley is always trying to remember exactly which direction things are from the house. So Steve has added some whimsy with a blue and yellow directional sign pointing out the four directions. The garden also has a brightly tiled fountain and a pond.

Part of the charm of neighborhood tours is seeing all the gardens in between the tour stops. This tour also features a community garden in a former alley west of 15th and Woodland, and perhaps the first of Wichita’s Little Free Libraries. The Little Free Library – books for all ages on the honor system – is in the form of a little blue house sitting in front of the Big Blue House at 1450 N. Salina. You can get more details about the Little Free Library concept at tour headquarters.

You can also see “your Garden Stroll dollars at work” in the Triangle Garden at McKee and Coolidge. It’s a spit of land that used to be just grass and weeds but that has been landscaped and tended by neighborhood volunteers with help from Johnson’s.

After taking last year off because of the drought, Newton also is returning with a garden tour this year; it will be both Saturday and Sunday next weekend.

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