Home & Garden

Country charms

What makes a country garden tour different from a city garden tour? a friend asked. Well, when it comes to the eight gardens on Belle Plaine's tour on Sunday, that would be soaring trees that seem to touch the clouds, baby goats, Gypsy jazz, soft white pines, real creeks alongside manmade ones, undulating lawns, pristine vegetable gardens — oh, and countryside.

The tour that Belle Plaine put together just last week to help a family struggling in the wake of losing two children to cystic fibrosis is special because of the stops on the tour, just 30 minutes south of Wichita, and because of the caring of the gardeners who have agreed to be on it.

"It's just a love garden," said Robin Macy, steward of Bartlett Arboretum. "The community is making this circle of love around this family."

The children of Bob and TiffanyClark were high-schoolers and had volunteered at the arboretum, the star attraction on the tour and worth the price of admission by itself. (You may want to start there, picking up your $10 ticket, which includes a map to all the stops.) Live Gypsy jazz music also will be performed from 1 to 3 p.m. there, maybe in the treehouse, or in the gazebo overlooking the white Southern-charm bridge that crosses Euphrates Creek.

Bob Clark, the father of the children who died, will have some of his furniture for sale in the drive of forester Tim McDonnell, whose property full of trees — which will be marked with their names — is also on the tour. (Check out the Korean evodia and other unusual specimens.)

"I appreciate all these gardens coming together for this cause," Tim said.

The feeling of community permeates the tour, which reaches from an eclectic garden west of town (take a turn at the sign of the Rapp's Roost chicken) to the century-old, other-worldly arboretum just east of the train tracks, through a few gardens in town, and finally to some gorgeous gems just east of town... in the country.

"It's very peaceful," said Debbie Philpot, whose frothy garden is on the tour just down the street from the arboretum, on Red Bird Court. "It's very quiet."

On a country garden tour, mainly there's a feeling that there's no pressing competition from manmade rush and consumerism all around. The feeling that, no, you couldn't satisfy your craving for a Starbucks vanilla latte right now, so what does that leave you? Just the sky and the countryside — and you.

The country gardens have a lot of the staples of a colorful garden — coneflowers, phlox, Black-eyed Susans.

And characters.

If the road isn't too muddy, the tour will take you past Jene Rapp's eclectic garden — and the shop where she makes porcelain dolls — to the cabin that contains various examples of taxidermy and related nature-center items.

The country garden tour also has good down-home garden advice.

Evergreen trees are happy in Rosalie Hatfield's yard. A long time ago she planted a Fat Albert spruce that wasn't very shapely, but has become perfectly fat, and tall. A nearby Norway spruce has outpaced its growth projections.

"I keep everything away from the trunk and get twice the growth," Rosalie says. That means Roundup or mulch around the drip line while the tree is young to keep weeds, and even turfgrass, from competing with the tree for water and nutrients.

Debbie Philpot, meanwhile, is killing some of her lawn by placing black plastic over it, so she can have more garden. There's lots of room for expanding gardens in the country.

The two garden stops east of Belle Plaine are especially special.

The Kansas Pond Society is having its garden tour this weekend too, in Wichita and environs, and Jeff and Jana Hatfield's log-cabin property has been on that tour before. I'm sorry I didn't catch it before now. The giant pond, complete with a stream and bridge, is tucked between lush Southern white pines and a charming potting shed, that ever-loving country spreading out beyond for a feeling of Colorado coziness within wide-open space. The real Cowskin Creek skirts the property.

And Ron and Linda Sharp have an undulating lawn that leads to a soft meadow on one side and a gorgeous vegetable garden tucked behind a willowy wall of flowers and grasses and a bear sculpture on the other. They also have a bunch of goats that they raise simply for the joy of it, and a stream trickling down the side of the house.

Amid the glory of the setting, it's easy to enjoy the gardens on the tour for their own sake. But then one of the gardeners reminds me of the main reason for the tour, residents of a little town pulling together for their neighbors.

"I just hope we can do some good," Jane Taylor said.

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