It was so odd to be dropped into the middle of summer gardens this week after weeks and weeks of May coolness and rain. June is turning out to be another story entirely.
“The plants are already drying out,” Robert Llamas said to me Tuesday as he got the watering can after some flowers in his garden in Newton. He has to keep them looking good: His and his wife’s garden is going to be on the Newton-North Newton Flower & Garden Tour on June 13 and 14.
“We hope the weather holds, and the flowers perk up,” Llamas said. “They’ve been held back by all this rain.”
I don’t think anything’s being held back now that some hot sun has hit our gardens – unless we got too much out of the habit of watering. As I talked to Llamas in the warmth of the afternoon, little did I know that back in my own yard, hidden behind taller plants, a few flowers and herbs still in their nursery pots – because I hadn’t been able to plant them in the rain – were drying out, probably past the point of saving.
But I can’t worry too much about it; I need to conserve my energy for getting up and watering tomorrow morning. The loveliness of the three home gardens on the Newton tour, which is in its 20th year, reminds me of the delights that come from a well-tended garden – and of the importance of adding certain elements that kick things up a notch:
▪ Large chimes that intone the lower notes on the musical scale. Yes, they’re more expensive, but they’re worth it. (Smaller chimes in the higher notes, as well as bamboo chimes, join the rustling of the leaves on the trees for a full-fledged concert.)
▪ The charm of a wattle fence and a twig birdhouse.
▪ Tall pots flanking the garage.
▪ Picket fencing wherever you can fit it in. Robert Llamas and his wife, Lee, have a short section of it on the south side of the front yard, providing a pretty bottom frame for tantalizing views of the backyard – much more friendly than a privacy fence.
▪ A pretty gate. Even if you have a plain privacy or chain-link fence, you can make it fade away under the influence of a gate that has a pretty form, perhaps made from another material. Or adopt an open-door policy and put in a vine-covered arbor so that walking through it is an event.
▪ The impact of bright color. If your house is brown wood and/or brown brick, like the one on the tour at 504 Witmarsum West Drive in North Newton, paint the door a bold blue-purple. This yard is in a newer housing development in North Newton, but it still has some old-fashioned touches amid brightly colorful new ones: An old scooter sits alongside some containers. A chain-link gate painted bright orange stands as an ornament amid plants bordering the swimming pool. If your plants don’t provide enough color, your accessories sure can.
▪ Adding height. The Llamases have bermed up one corner of the front yard toward the street, planted with an golden deodar cedar that’s not supposed to grow here, but a big nearby spruce protects it. The evergreen branches sweep down to catch up colorful coral bells and hostas.
Lee Llamas owns a landscaping business, the Red Llamas, and it’s heartening to see how much she can do with a small yard of a ranch house, at 908 Westridge Drive in Newton.
“With such a small yard and with me being a horticulturist, I like everything, so sometimes we have to take something out,” Llamas said. Those things are usually healthy plants that are too aggressive, eating up limited real estate. And thus it was that sedums at one point and agastache in another were farmed off to friends – along with a warning that the plants spread. A new collection of unusual salvias are the latest flowers to feed the butterflies.
The tour also gives people hope for growing flowering plants indoors, as it makes a stop at Presbyterian Manor in Newton. Two residents there keep potted plants looking lovely in a long bright hallway that has windows on both sides – and an overhang on the outside to keep direct sun off.
Ann Showalter has been taking care of many of the plants for two or three years, since one day when the condition of the plants forced her into action.
“There were lots of plants in that hall, but they were pretty much cramped together, and there were a lot of geraniums, and they were long and gangly. They were overgrown. I just finally couldn’t stand it. One Sunday afternoon I grabbed my scissors, and I chopped.”
She “confessed” her actions to the management, who only encouraged her. Geraniums are still there, as well as cyclamen and African violets and a Christmas cactus that “has been blooming itself to death for months.” And orchids. But Showalter doesn’t touch that flower. That’s the work of another resident, Richard Sadowsky, who obviously has a way with them.
Showalter’s main blooming hunch: She removes leaves at the base of the plant as they grow large, and she thinks that helps keep them blooming.
Harvey County master gardeners will be on hand during the tour to answer questions. And there will be two talks given a few times over the two days: Lee Llamas will talk about using cocoa and cotton-hull mulches at 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. June 13 and at 2 and 2:30 p.m. June 14 in her garden, and Gary Moore will talk about monarch survival strategies at 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. June 13 and at 3 and 3:30 p.m. June 14 at the garden at 207 W. 22nd St. in North Newton.
If you go
Newton-North Newton Flower & Garden Tour
What: Tour of three home gardens and indoor plants at Presbyterian Manor, to benefit the Newton Public Library
When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 13 and 1 to 5 p.m. June 14
Where: 908 Westridge Drive in Newton, 504 Witmarsum Drive in North Newton, 207 W. 22nd in North Newton, Presbyterian Manor at 1200 E. Seventh in Newton
How much: $8; tickets available in advance at the library at 720 N. Oak or during the tour at any of the garden stops