The Northland Garden Club members want you to know how many delights you will see on their autumn tours.
The club’s 15th annual tour, Bonfires of Autumn, promises to teach you how to extend the gardening season into fall beyond the cliche of chrysanthemums.
Consider, for example, crepe myrtle.
When other plants start looking scraggly and sun scorched, crepe myrtle bursts forth full of color.
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“Crepe myrtle is a late bloomer, and that’s one of the things we love about it,” said Dee West, president of the Northland Garden Club.
Crepe myrtle is just one of the many colorful plants you’ll see on the tour from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $10 per person, and reservations must be made in advance.
“What is unique about autumn gardens is the colors become deeper and richer, and ornamental grasses become much more predominant than in any other season,” said Vicki Kuse, whose garden is one of two featured in this year’s tour.
You will find out which plants flourish in fall. They include moonflowers, asters, brown-eyed Susans, sedum and kale. They also highlight which ones will continue their summer performance with a little persuasion. Attention given to warm-weather dahlias, zinnias, cannas and vinca, for example, can encourage them to linger longer when temperatures cool off.
“Removing the flowers after they bloom — called deadheading — and keeping them trimmed back will help the plants flower again,” West said.
West said her crepe myrtle started producing hot pink and white flowers in August. Her neighbor’s are blossoming in red.
The crepe myrtle flowers become berries, but if “you cut the berries before they turn brown, you can enjoy a second blush of blooms in the fall,” West said.
The day of the tour, participants will be given five packets of various seeds grown by the Northland gardeners.
“For beginner gardeners, seeds are the most economical way to get a garden going,” West said
Packets will contain seeds of foxglove, hardy hibiscus, poppies, Siberian irises, coneflowers, hollyhocks and other flowers from local gardens. Directions are included about the plant’s preference for sun or shade and expected height.
The Zen Habitat Garden
▪ Ken and Vicki Kuse
▪ 3620 N.E. Brooktree Circle in Gladstone
At the end of a cul-de-sac in Gladstone, the Kuses’ front lawn features a colorful string of prayer flags and a Buddha statue “to create harmony and happiness,” Vicki Kuse explained.
In the center of the flags is a wind horse, a symbol of good fortune.
Incense often burns as well “to send good messages into the environment and to keep mosquitoes away,” she said.
Kuse began digging up the front yard in April 2010 after she and her husband moved in. Shade and roots from towering trees in the front of the house kept grass from growing.
So Kuse replaced a lackluster lawn with native drought-resistant plants such as yarrow, beauty berry bush, coneflowers, asters and black-eyed Susans. Already growing in the yard were bugle weed, vinca and euonymus.
By the driveway this year, the broom corn seeds Kuse planted in the spring are now 10-foot-tall plants with tassels of seed heads in colorful shades of tan, red and brown. But no cobs.
“It doesn’t produce ears of corn,” Kuse said. “It’s more like bamboo.”
From a front yard of some 1,500 square feet, the Kuses’ backyard fans out to more than twice the space, allowing the Kuses to add a patio, plant a rain garden and a celestial garden with a sundial, build a pergola with tiny miniature lights overhead and create a monarch butterfly way station.
With tropical milkweed, two butterfly bushes and butterfly weed, the way station provides a nectar source for monarch butterflies and host plants where they can lay eggs and caterpillars can feed. The way station is part of a larger butterfly garden with goldenrod, asters, coneflowers, dill and parsley.
“Lots of bright and colorful flowers — that’s what butterflies like,” Kuse said.
Tourists will have a chance to find out how to plant their own butterfly gardens at the Kuses’ home. Packets of locally grown milkweed will be given away, and informational signs will be posted about the monarch life cycle and migration and a list of plants that attract butterflies.
The backyard has ample shade as well, encouraging a dogwood tree to bloom in the spring and heuchera to thrive.
The heuchera plant, with its colorful scalloped leaves of burgundy, purple and gold, is hardier than a hosta, she said, “and slugs don’t eat them.”
This year’s abundant rainfall, for the most part, has been good for gardeners.
The Kuses have a rain barrel on a downspout in the backyard, and “it’s been full all summer,” Ken Kuse said.
Vicki Kuse uses the rain to water her potted plants.
Visitors with pets may want to stop at the soul house, a new addition to the backyard this year. The soul house is a dwelling designed to honor pets who have died and to provide a sense of peace to those who miss them.
Rocks will be available for pet owners who want to write their pet’s name on a rock and place it on one of the shelves in the house.
Ken Kuse built the house from old fence wood after the Kuses saw a soul house in the Southwest.
“The reclaimed wood is a connection to the past,” Vicki Kuse explained.
In keeping with the theme of Bonfires of Autumn, the Kuses will light a Finnish fire log, a hollowed-out log that burns vertically like a candle.
The Whimsical Garden
▪ Rick and Sue Combellick
▪ 5824 N. Spruce Ave. in Kansas City, North
Fifteen years ago when the Combellicks moved into their home, an overgrown leather-leaf viburnum was the dominant element of the landscape in the front yard.
Unpruned, the bush had grown willfully and riotously and needed to be chopped down.
It reappears in the backyard now as a twisted twig wall created from the trimmed viburnum branches.
Since she retired in 2006, Sue Combellick said she averages four to five hours of gardening a day, and the yard shows it.
“It’s very fulfilling to go outside and see what looks good,” she said.
Where once the lone, unruly viburnum grew, now white hydrangea, heucheras, impatiens and ferns bloom profusely in the shade on the north side of the house. The sunny backyard abounds with marigolds, dahlias, a purple butterfly bush, autumn sedum, beauty berry, grasses, fennel, cockscomb, zinnias and an exuberance of other annuals and perennials.
Two of her favorite plants are angel trumpet shrubs. Nicknamed “Gabriel,” one is tall and graceful with long white trumpet-shaped flowers swaying upside down from the branches. The other is a shorter shrub with purple trumpets turned upward.
Combellick said she favors the ease of “lasagna gardening.”
Like preparing lasagna, she layers the ground. First she puts the large plants in an area covered with grass. Then around these, she places three to four pages of newspaper and waters thoroughly to keep them in place. Next she adds compost from her bin and finally about an inch of soil on top.
“You can plant immediately,” she said.
Though she plans her planting carefully, Combellick will accept the unexpected.
Pumpkin vines, for example, are now crawling outside the compost bins — the result of seeds that sprouted from pumpkins thrown into the compost last year.
The Combellicks’ house is on a half-acre corner lot and the backyard was fully exposed to view until Sue Combellick took her sister’s advice and divided the yard into rooms.
The twig wall is one of the ways the Combellicks have added intrigue to the garden.
“A garden needs to reveal itself as you walk around,” said Marla Galetti, also a member of the Northland Garden Club and Combellick’s sister.
Creating rooms outdoors calls for dissecting the garden into plots so that the garden opens up “as you turn a corner rather than seeing everything at once,” Galetti said.
Sections of a weathered wooden fence once used for the Combellicks’ dogs now support blackberry vines. Rick Combellick created a room with a view by adding a window atop part of the fence.
In another area of the yard, a tall, two-sided wooden screen displays artwork on one side and a hanging mobile in a small open square and a flower box on the other side. Ornamental grasses and hydrangea frame the screen.
When darkness descends, a pergola at the back of the yard lights up with captured sunlight from a solar chandelier.
For the Bonfires of Autumn tour, visitors will be seated on chairs and benches in another outdoor room with a fire pit.
If mums you must . . .
For those who insist on chrysanthemums for autumn gardens, Dee West offers these pointers.
▪ Give them their space. “Mums are persnickety about being crowded,” she said.
▪ Curb their enthusiasm. If you have them in the garden in the summer, keep them cut back. If you allow them to bloom in early summer, they’ll be spent by fall. To make the most of mums, divide the plants in half. This will double the blossoms.
▪ Lower your expectations: They’re fickle, too. Though billed as perennials, mums are best enjoyed seasonally as annuals.
“You can’t rely on them to come back next year,” she said.
Bonfires of Autumn
The Northland Garden Club meets at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month at Sherwood Bible Church, 4900 N. Norton Ave., Kansas City, MO 64119. Family memberships are $30; individual, $20. NorthlandGardenClub.com