April showers bring May flowers … then June garden tours. They’re popping up all over town just like the buds themselves.
One of the biggest is put on by the Master Gardeners of Greater Kansas City. At this year’s tour Friday and Saturday, about 1,000 visitors are expected to get an up-close look at the gardens of six homeowners in midtown and near the the Country Club Plaza.
Some of the gardens’ caretakers are master gardeners, a designation earned through education and volunteer work, while others are simply those who love working the soil.
Jacques Bredius and Danny Bowman aren’t accredited, but one look at their garden and you’ll think they should be. The front yard is highly manicured and appealing in the way homes in this neighborhood are, but behind the gate is a wonderland that the men have been creating for 26 years.
When they first moved in, the yard was a disaster. “It was dog doo, weeds and clay, and we’ve nursed it back to this,” Bredius says. It took eight years of cultivating and mulching to make the soil workable, but now it’s a lush landscape that nearly supports itself.
“We learned a lot just by doing it. The first 10 years it changed every year; now we just maintain it,” continues Bredius, who spends five days a week tending to the hundred-plus trees and thousands of plants on the half-acre lot. “But every once in awhile we do get a vision and change it.”
The garden ranges from total shade under a 125-year-old Chinese elm to total sun. The tour will have a list of Bredius’ 10 favorite plants for those interested, and volunteers also will help identify species.
There is one focal point that tour-goers will not be able to miss: a stacked-stone reflecting pool surrounded by eight Bradford pears.
“When they get too tall, they split, so we keep them like poodles,” Bredius says of their topped trunks with tufts of leaves that form a green canopy. “I know it looks totally bizarre, but we love it.”
Another garden on the tour also has unusual specimen trees — weeping cherries and birch, plus a stand of 15-foot-tall bamboo shoots — but the subtle, deep-rooted symbolism that underlies the design is most intriguing.
When Cheryl Jernigan was diagnosed with breast cancer years ago, she knew she needed to change her lifestyle and that started at home. “It was a wake-up call to see what I could do to live a cancer-free future,” she recalls.
Jernigan was drawn to Ayurvedic cultures and the simplicity of Zen atmospheres. She and husband Jeff had a solid starting point: They lived in the home that once belonged to Jerry and Jeanette Cohen, Starlight Theatre benefactors who had made the Japanese-themed home and gardens their labor of love in the 1960s.
In its later years the garden had fallen into neglect, so the Jernigans not only restored it but took it to another level. They hired Buck Buchan to install sculptural trees and immense boulders that form images of significance in Asian culture.
For instance, there’s the Tiger Stroll garden that, when viewed carefully, forms the shape of a tiger. “When you first look at it, you may not see it being a tiger,” Jernigan warns.
But then a trained eye will see other subtle references around the garden: a flying crane, tortoise, phoenix or even the moon setting on the Black Sea. The settings reflect meanings from longevity to well-being.
There are no straight lines; everything meanders. A large hedge along the path to the front door creates an off-center entry said to knock evil spirits out. Red, which symbolizes fire, carries the design in roses and hot pink azaleas. “It’s a very auspicious color in Asian cultures,” Jernigan says.
And that’s just the front. The back offers a calming oasis of trickling water and koi softly circling in a massive pond. A path for meditation winds back to a tea hut, past Japanese maples, spruces, a magnolia, weeping mulberry and heirloom flower garden.
But Jernigan prefers to sit comfortably outside the patio door and be entranced by the sound of water falling. “Even though Ward Parkway runs along here, I don’t really notice it,” she says.
Water is also at the center of the Lake Lotawana Garden tour on June 13: The mode of transportation among garden stops is a pontoon boat.
Purchase tickets at the marina, at Gate 1, and launch off on a leisurely waltz through eight gardens. Boats run 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., although the tour lasts until 4 p.m.
Of course, you can go by car if you prefer. Just be sure not to miss Pam and Ron Swezy’s lakeside retreat.
Pam is a third-generation Lake Lotawana resident and champion sailor. When not on the water, she tends the herbs planted on a vertical wall and tinkers with the faerie gardens.
Ron was raised on homegrown veggies but can’t keep food on the plants long enough to harvest it here, so he focuses on flowers instead. “The squirrels and rabbits eat everything,” he says with a shrug. “It’s a lot more fun to go to the farmers market anyway.”
The Swezys’ waterfront property faces south but gets lots of dappled light. Hostas thrive along the walkway from front to back. “They’re easy to grow and take up lots of space,” Ron notes. Continued shade under the deck makes a cool spot for coral bells, Japanese painted ferns and columbine.
The sun garden by the water pops with sunflowers, zinnias, Monarda, Russian sage, dianthus and five varieties of milkweed to bring in the butterflies. “Everything except the crepe myrtle is native,” he adds.
The neighbors liked what Ron was doing so much that they let him keep going across property lines. Ron uses divided plants and those that self-seed to blur the boundaries and create a more natural-looking transition. It’s hardly work for him now. “I spend one to two hours puttering with a glass of wine with my headphones on,” he says.
A deck with a glass railing allows them to enjoy the view from high atop the hill. A covered outdoor room with grill and seating and dining areas draws the whole family out for fresh air and a slower lifestyle that brings appreciation for nature.
Let that be your cue to go enjoy the weather and get inspired to create your own garden getaway.
2015 Garden Tours
Beautiful Gardens of Kansas City
What: Six gardens cultivated by members of Master Gardeners of Greater Kansas City
When: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. June 5-6
Tickets: $15 for adults; kids 12 and under free
For more info: MGGKC.org
Lake Lotawana Garden Tour
What: Eight gardens around the lake, reached via car or pontoon boat
When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 13
Tickets: $15 each
Union Hill Garden Tour
What: Self-guided tours of community and residents’ gardens in one of Kansas City’s oldest neighborhoods
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. June 14
Tickets: $10 for adults; $8 for seniors over 60; kids 12 and under free
For more info: UnionHill.com
Urban Grown Tour
What: Self-guided tour of 30 farms and urban gardens
When: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. June 27 and noon-5 p.m. June 28
Tickets: $8 in advance; $12 at event; family rates available
For more info: CultivateKC.org or Gibbs Road Farm tent at the Brookside farmers market each Saturday.
Water Garden Society of Greater Kansas City Tour
What: Members who’ve incorporated water features into their gardens open them to the public
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. June 27-28
For more info: Visit area Hen House and Westlake locations or KCWaterGarden.com
The Northland Garden Club
What: Two gardeners show how they change their gardens for fall
When: 4-6 p.m. Oct. 3
For more info: NorthlandGardenClub.com