A waterfall cascades down an embankment through a series of artfully selected stones, flowering plants and hand-carved statues of wildlife. It rushes into a quiet pond retreat for rescued koi.
A scene from Tahiti? No, this sanctuary is in Shawnee, built as a mere “erosion control project” but now serving as a neighborhood haven and a refuge for owner Linda Harwood.
“At first we thought, ‘Maybe we want a little pond,’ and it turned into this,” Harwood said. Her inadvertent water garden now features fiber-optic lighting in an array of hues that change throughout the day. “We were envisioning a 2-foot stream, not a roaring river.”
Harwood’s garden is one of 43 stops on the 21st annual Water Gardens Tour, which runs next weekend on June 28 and 29. The Water Garden Society of Greater Kansas City uses money raised from the tour to build and maintain community gardens, including sites at the Kansas City Zoo, Lincoln College Preparatory Academy and the Niles Home for Children.
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Harwood grew up on a farm and knows her nature. Selecting shrubbery and garden statues came easy. However, she needed help for the heavy lifting and hired experts to create her first home oasis, which became the talk of the neighborhood
It’s big and elaborate, highly visible and even accessible to passersby. A small patio near the bottom of the stream practically screams, “Gather here.”
Some neighbors thought the project belonged to the subdivision as it was being built.
“We have a regular 2-year-old visitor in our garden, which warms my heart, and we have people walk down during parties and events to see the koi,” Harwood said. “This is like our vacation every night, and it’s nice to share it.”
Harwood and her husband, Michael, were hooked after their first installation. Their second project included dropping a waterfall over an existing retaining wall to create another pond for fish and wildlife. A garden on the side of their home features a multilevel patio with stools, shaped like Tiki heads, made by Missouri artist Sean Buchanan. There’s also a fire pit, turned into a planter during the warm seasons, and a bit of sand and seashells.
“This is our homage to our honeymoon in Tahiti,” said Harwood, who estimates spending $15,000 for a garden with a 2,000-gallon pump and a stream. “We wanted to bring in the tropics and make this space personal to us, since you can’t see it from the road.”
Personalizing a water garden is possible on many budgets, said Paul Brown of Raymore, who was a little wary of the $20,000 price tag estimated for his first project. Brown joined the Water Garden Society to learn how to install his own for less. That’s when he met the Harwood family, along with almost 600 other members of the society who have a vast array of skills, talents and installations in their backyards.
“It’s relaxing to sit around and watch these things,” said Brown, who said his first step toward a water garden was digging a hole, followed by watching the rain come, then spending three months working and worrying day and night.
Brown, along with society member Keith Button, favors old design elements to add whimsy. Brown, like Button, has used old chicken coops, light fixtures and musical instruments. Brown and Harwood recently used an antique, wrought-iron crib combined with clarinets to create a one-of-a-kind feature for the club.
Harwood and Brown estimate that it cost about $100 to construct, not including the crib and clarinets.
To create a similar feature, they suggest starting with a planter with a plastic liner. Install a grid, then add rock, plumbing and a pump.
If you go
The 2014 Water Gardens Tour is June 28-29, rain or shine.
Tickets are $10 and include a tour book with maps.
Tips for making your own water garden
Paul Brown, a member of the Water Garden Society of Greater Kansas City, offers the following suggestions:
Go with the current topography. Don’t attempt to install a gushing waterfall if you live on flat Kansas farmland, unless you want to pay for it.
Contact the city and find out what your garden can and cannot include and whether you need a permit.
Contact your subdivision or homeowners association to inquire about requirements for the project.
Decide which parts of the project you can build yourself and which parts will require help.
Set a budget to determine the initial elements of your garden and plan for future expansion if desired.
Settle on details of your system, including pump size, filters, fish, lighting and landscape elements.
Go on the annual Water Gardens Tour to get ideas on new features and styles that might fit your space.