If you want to see Wichita at more than face value, I recommend you go on the master gardeners' garden tour next weekend. This is the master gardeners' only tour this year, taking you into seven hidden backyards in the east, west, north, south and central parts of the city.
Each has its own feel and introduces you to a particular part of Wichita that you might not set foot in otherwise.
Have you seen those steel palm trees peeking over the fence as you've barreled down Rock Road between 13th and Central? Wonder no more about what the rest of the yard looks like. At 7978 E. Dublin Court, it's on the tour, and it reveals a swimming pool, in-ground hot tub, hot colors, tropical annuals, raised vegetable garden, and more steel palm trees and cactus.
Want to take a trip back to simpler times? When I drove into Riverside I was impressed by irises blooming in alleys and little pocket gardens already overflowing in May. Ed and Melody Mynatt at 948 Porter have a border-fringed front yard and a charming front porch that mixes finds from the Paramount Antique Mall with succulents for an old Main-Street feel.
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The backyard reveals a giant silver maple that's 60 to 80 years old and nicknamed the "Tree of Life" because it's home to lots of wildlife. One young raccoon delighted me by waking from a nap, sauntering down the tree and jumping across limbs to check out a knothole. He looked out at me like Winnie the Pooh out of a honey jar.
The big tree is so dominating it didn't allow any grass to grow in the backyard, so the Mynatts decided to put a two-tiered limestone patio there and fill it with container gardens, a garden bed surrounded by rocks, a fountain and seating. To give their three dogs a place to do their business, they hid a mulched area, complete with fake fire hydrant, behind a lush ivy-covered fence. The entrance to the hidden area is crowned with a pergola and white garden lights and flanked with stone garden plaques and lanterns.
If you've been wondering what the color of the year — honeysuckle — looks like, you can see it in bloom here.
Ed Mynatt says he has to do a sweep of the backyard every morning to clear it of any baby wildlife before letting the dogs outside.
Head up and down Coolidge and Perry and other nearby streets for drive-by garden touring.
I'm overwhelmed with the deep peace of west Wichita when I step out of the car in front of the house at 110 S. Socora. On these 2 1/2 acres, a cottage is set back from the street, and huge trees and a gazebo make an immense front lawn feel like a park.
In the back 40, there's an old summer cooking porch with the original stove that has been turned into a greenhouse.
Other highly restful west-side stops are the gardens of Harry and Janet Valente Pape at 9602 W. Jamesburg, which include an outdoor kitchen and a tropical feel overlooking Sunset Park, and of Randy and Tina Roatch, who have a garden including a swimming pool and a new waterfall and pond by Scenic Landscapes overlooking Rainbow Lakes, at 132 N. Rainbow Lake Road.
Wrapping up back east are gardens off North Hydraulic and 47th Street and off 21st and Rock Road.
May is an early month for a garden tour, but that's good news when you have ancestral peonies in your yard. That's the case with Walter and Carol Young at 4950 Wyndham Court. In addition to 60-year-old peonies inherited from Walter's grandfather, they have a huge backyard leading down to some woods, and turkeys, owls, herons and deer are frequent visitors. Evidence of an artsy family can be seen in stones stacked into cairns and a bronze sculpture. Rocks, fountains and baths from Colorado and a lake of purple salvia are part of the beauty.
Don Allison at 7124 E. Rockhill transformed his yard by fortifying his soil with manure and other amendments and making his own mulch with his and neighbors' leaves and other yard debris. Because of covenants he couldn't have a tall garden shed, so he built a low-slung shed along one side of the house, matching the siding. Big tropical pots flank the front door.