At next weekend’s Wichita garden tour you can see how artwork – both commissioned Mexican lagoons of dark water and do-it-yourself garden photos hung on a privacy fence – can elevate a home landscape.
But you’ll probably have to step over some butterflies to get to the art.
The annual garden tour sponsored by the master gardeners, reaching from east to west Wichita and north to south, will travel to seven home landscapes and one community garden – Delano’s – from May 29 through May 31. A ticket ($8 in advance, $10 at the garden gates) allows you to split up seeing the gardens over two or three days.
Some of the gardens on the tour are planted in wild and otherwise-bee-and-butterfly-attracting flowers, following a movement to replace sterile hybrids with life-giving natives. Not only does it help restore some of the corporate landscape for wildlife, it can be a thriftier way of gardening. Native plants either tend to spread, or let themselves be spread. And many are drought-tolerant.
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“I can’t afford it,” Laura Knight says of populating her huge yard in Vickridge with masses of plants without the benefit of taking cuttings and sowing seeds from plants she already has. May Night salvias, for example, “have been here since 1991, so I move them all over.”
“I overplant because I believe that from the time my hellebores bloom in February, something should always be in bloom or have some horticultural interest,” Knight says. “I plant in layers of interest.”
In the past three years, since she retired from her career as a radiologist, Knight has removed virtually of her roses (“too much work, and at least two in each area were infected” with rose rosette) and replaced them mainly with grasses. If there’s a certain type of plant she loves – agastache, penstemon, amsonia – she collects them in different varieties. And the same with specific colors and flower forms: She collects yellow daisy-type flowers.
“I think of the yard as a kid going through a buffet line,” Knight says.
The yard contains artwork done by Terry Corbett, Steve Murillo and Conrad Snider. A tall twisted sculpture by Snider is reminiscent of his big squirrel container at the entry to the Downing Children’s Garden at Botanica. When the Knights visited Mexico once, Laura fell for the cenote waterways there, and had Murillo design one for her. Corbett did the tiles. “I like the water dark,” Laura Knight says, and her husband often puts dye in it to make it so.
Knight loves the flit of the bees throughout the garden, which also has lots of birdhouses and butterflies.
“I did an English garden and didn’t get bees. Now I see bees and hummingbirds,” Knight says.
But there’s another stop on the tour that’s done in the English style – and is a butterfly garden. I wrote about Kristy McFarland’s yard on Valley Hi Drive in west Wichita in 2011. It was in September when the flowers were rioting, and the butterflies covered them.
McFarland also has garden art, equally bold, but do-it-yourself. She’s taken a small section of privacy fence near the backyard garden gate and turned it into a room. A concrete patio serves as the floor, and short curtain rods holding pulled-back curtains hang on the fence wall, framing a cafe table and chairs. A montage of garden photos hangs on the fence above the table.
The garden tour has lots of such ideas for all kinds of gardens, including a cute chicken coop at 3040 N. Cromwell, rock hardscaping and a dry creek at 14106 W. Texas Circle, a variety of ground covers and perennials for sun and shade at 8309 W. Northridge Road, and a park-like setting with natural stonework at 702 Edgewater. Several of the gardens have ponds; the Cromwell garden was on the Kansas Pond Society Tour in 2014.
Jason and Kim Gish were on the garden tour 10 years ago, but I couldn’t recognize their house this time. Ten years will do a lot to change a garden, but the biggest reason here is that the Gishes changed the facade of their house this year, giving it an arts-and-crafts look that stands out on Odessa Street in Bel Aire. A swing set, fort and castle that had been in the backyard have now been replaced with a garden shed that looks nothing like a shed, having its own pergola, patio and fire pit.
There’s a reason this landscape has a certain refinement along with an eclectic plant palette: Jason Gish is a landscape architect. You may have seen his work on the grounds of Holy Cross Lutheran Church at 600 N. Greenwich Road, some of which has been turned into a natural area.
The front yard is a lesson in how to carve out lawn to make way for garden beds. The borders are not simply cut into the edges, but also are well-behaved and perfectly placed islands within green fescue. The border along the eastern neighbor’s green yard is beautifully edged in soft gray lamb’s ear.
A rain chain off one corner of the roof dangles prettily into a half-buried blue-glazed pot with a hole in the bottom.
The garden beds are finished off with a dressing of pine straw from Georgia – an unusual mulch for these parts – and tall galvanized tubs serve as cool, raised beds for vegetables in the back yard, bamboo teepees serving as plant supports.
Eastern white pines and red roses mix it up with natives in the backyard. Gish wants to keep the emphasis on the natives.
“I’d like to do more. … It’s hard to find true native plants. It’s kind of a challenge when you have shade,” Gish says. “We try not to plant anything that’s wimpy.”
This yard has very little art per se, but it’s whimsical and well chosen – ants and frogs brought back from a vacation to Colorado.
Going on the garden tour is a little like going on vacation while staying in town. The plants on the tour will be labeled, and Laura Knight will have handouts about how she propagates her plants to take home as a souvenir.
If you go
Wichita garden tour
What: Tour of seven homes and one community garden, sponsored by the Sedgwick County Extension master gardeners
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 29 and May 30, noon to 4 p.m. May 31
Where: 8309 W. Northridge Road (northeast of 21st and Tyler), 11304 W. Valley Hi Drive (southeast of 119th and Maple), 14106 W. Texas Circle (northwest of Maple and 135th), 3040 N. Cromwell (northeast of 29th and Amidon), 526 N. Tara Lane (northeast of Rock and Central), 702 Edgewater (southeast of Kellogg and 143rd), 6927 Odessa St. in Bel Aire (southeast of 45th and Woodlawn), Delano Community Garden at 200 S. Walnut
How much: $8 in advance at the Extension Center at 21st and Ridge Road or online at sedgwick.ksu.edu, or $10 at any of the gardens during the tour