Wichita gardener Cindi Gentry spent several weeks in the United Kingdom last year, and during her time in England, “I kept seeing these amazingly colorful solid columns of flowers,” she says. “So one day, I finally went up to one and tried to figure out how they were made.”
Gentry, a fourth-generation gardener who gardens for commercial and individual clients and who is a Soil Sister volunteer at Bartlett Arboretum in Belle Plaine, uncovered three tiers of planters held together by metal stands. Flowers, often petunias, were planted at the top of each tier, and the flowers flowed down from them, creating a solid column.
Gentry took pictures of the towers, and when she showed photos from her trip to one of her clients, Barney Lehnherr at Abode Venue, 1330 E. Douglas, he fell for the flower towers. He had planted Wave petunias in the three urns bordering Abode’s parking lot last year, and they were pretty, but the dramatic vertical element was lacking.
“The venue is such a unique building and such a unique place, I wanted something different,” Lehnherr said.
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So Gentry seized the challenge of trying to re-create the towers. She looked everywhere, including scouring the Internet, for a way to make them, but found no clues. So she decided to try to design her own towers, but on a smaller scale than those in England.
She shopped around until she found something that could serve as her structure: plastic cylinders at Ace Hardware that are meant to hold a bag open for filling with leaves or other garden refuse. Gentry spray-painted the bottomless cylinders with primer and then with a color to match the urns. She used a 3 1/2-inch drill bit to drill holes at intervals in the cylinders, then put the cylinders in the urns. She wet down a potting mix until it was the consistency of mud, then used it to fill the cylinders. She also spiraled a drip-irrigation line up through the soil. For her flowers, she chose calibrachoa (also known as million bells petunias), popping them into the holes in the cylinders and also planting some at the top of the cylinders, along with tufts of Fireworks fountain grass. Around the base of the cylinders, she planted yellow melampodium.
Now, several weeks later, the flowers are filling out and covering the cylinder. With the exception of some of the plants being pulled out by heavy winds on Wednesday, the towers are working.
Lehnherr’s office is in the Furniture Options building that looks out on Douglas, and he sees people practically stop their cars to look at the planters, and walkers and bicyclists will turn back to get another look at them.
“I’m pretty impressed with that,” he said.
Gentry already has an order for the towers for next year. It won’t be cheap, because making the towers “was messy, and it was tedious, but it wasn’t difficult. My arms got a real workout,” Gentry said. She also discovered some areas of the towers that she has to hand-water, so she plans to add more drip line next year.
“It’s cool. It’s unique,” Lehnherr says. “It’s something you’re not going to see anywhere else in Wichita.”
And, after all her looking, Gentry wonders if maybe you won’t see it anywhere else this side of the Big Pond.