To everyone who thinks gardens require a good-sized city lot to do them justice, a trip to the home garden of Don and Dottie Daugherty would quickly challenge that myth. They prove that good things do indeed come in small packages.
Their courtyard garden is packed with trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials, herbs, vines, flower containers, a fountain, a birdfeeder, patio furniture and more. But I am getting ahead of myself -- my arrival at this miniature wonderland should come first.
At the end of a short walk up the driveway, a small garden just outside the courtyard gives visitors a preview of what lies ahead. A large Russian sage, tall phlox, daylilies, dianthus and vinca fill the area. A wrought-iron lamppost stands in their midst as though guarding the entry into the courtyard.
The courtyard itself is hidden by a large wooden gate hinged against a brick garden wall. Across the arch of the gate, a clematis climbs along a twisted grapevine branch.
I swung open the gate to enter the courtyard. A weeping pussy willow tree greeted me. Its downward arching branches offer an unusual sight.
The tree, with its strategic position at the entry, provides a touch of mystery to the garden since it hides the main courtyard from view. Dottie mentioned that the tree "has an interesting form in winter and is the first thing that has any life in the spring. I planted it by a window so I could see it from inside the house."
Delighting the eye
We followed the plank walkway that Don built around a small bend into the main courtyard. Blue rug junipers spread low over a layer of red rocks on the left of the path. Along the right side of the path, another garden borders the concrete patio floor. A brick wall encloses the courtyard on three sides, the house on the remaining side.
The 5-foot perimeter between the patio and the garden wall is filled with a variety of plants. A cutleaf Japanese maple tree stands over blue columbine. Red barberry shrubs, lamb's ear, ajuga, Siberian iris, blue fescue, lobelia, perennial geraniums and coral bells all grow in close harmony with one another.
"I like to combine things that almost knit together," Dottie said.
The small garden delights the eye. An iron trellis provides the perfect place for another clematis vine. Spiderwort bloom most of the summer. A Canadian chokecherry tree stays red all summer. Maiden grass and low veronica, deep blue in color, add more appeal. Meadow rue tickles the air with its lacy lavender flowers.
A strawberry jar, sitting on the patio, is filled with scented geranium, while curly star flowers cascade down one opening. Blue fescue stands straight out a side opening and bright blue lobelia casually bloom around the other side.
Close to a door I noticed an old sneaker filled with soil and a barren stem or two.
"That's my wacky sense of humor," Dottie said. The sneaker was home to parsley earlier this year.
"The swallowtail butterfly larvae loved the parsley," Dottie said. Since the parsley is gone now, she plans to grow something else in the shoe, just for fun.
It's in the details
"I used to be pretty much a perennial person," Dottie said. "Then I discovered annuals can add a little punch when the perennials are resting. What I am after is texture and color of leaves. If there is nothing blooming, I want the garden to be interesting."
Lack of interest does not seem to be a problem within this courtyard. A small water garden sits within the center of the courtyard floor. In this island, garden purple fountain grass highlights one corner and coreopsis anchors another. Two varieties of silver colored artemisia add contrasting color. A young forest pansy redbud tree provides noon-day shade. The island is a garden within a garden. It makes a perfect setting for enjoying an evening. The space is intimate and so very private.
Even though I could see almost the entire courtyard from a central location, a closer look revealed items not noticed at first glance. A concrete Jayhawk stands proudly among the flowers; a terra cotta thermometer dial hangs along the bricked garden wall. Other ornaments like a floppy-eared rabbit, a frog and a snail are snuggled into almost secret hiding places. Variegated ivy flows from a basket hanging on the house. A hibiscus blooms in a container near the door.
Dottie, a master gardener, draws her expertise in gardening from many sources. She works as administrative secretary for the Douglas County Extension Service, where research-based horticulture information is available to all. Dottie has a wealth of gardening knowledge and is ready to share it with anyone who asks.
The courtyard garden is in its third growing season.
"Originally all this area was grass," Dottie said. She enlisted the help of a friend to rototill the area. Sheep manure and peat moss were added to prepare the soil for the garden.
At first the garden area started with trees and shrubs. Flowers came a little later. Another friend, Mary Ann Dickinson, shared many plants from her garden.
"I feel like my garden is a satellite garden of hers," Dottie confessed. However, not all the plants are from her friends.
Dottie took many of her favorite plants with her when she moved from a house with a much larger garden space.
"We had a clause in the contract to return in the spring," she said. Dottie dug up starts of hostas, daylilies and iris to place in her courtyard.
"It's kind of fun to move because you take the things you like and leave behind all the troublemakers," she said.
But her young garden is not without trouble. A double-flowered viburnum anchors one corner of the courtyard.
"It only had five blooms this year and none last year," Dottie admitted. "If it does not bloom any better next year, I'll take it out. I like to try new things."
One of the things Dottie tries is flower arranging. She uses some of her own plants in the arrangements.
"That's when the shrubs get trimmed," she said. Her arrangements submitted for competition at the Douglas County Free Fair and flower shows inevitably win blue ribbons.
"Blue ribbons are not as important as the challenge of trying to interpret a category," she said. "I am amazed at how many different arrangement ideas people can come up with."
Dottie was not always so successful at flower arranging. She began competing 15 years ago at a daffodil show.
"My first entries were total disasters," she said. She decided to get some books and study the topic. She also belongs to the Designers Guild. Members practice arranging flowers at their monthly meetings and critique their finished arrangements.
"We discuss what is good and what could be better," she said.
Dottie walked me to the front gate of her courtyard as I prepared to leave.
"I'm rather satisfied," she said of her garden, "although I will undoubtedly change many things."
Her plans include a renovation of the small garden just outside the courtyard.
"I want to expand the entrance flower beds. They seem too crowded," she said.
Before long Dottie will have a smaller lawn but she will also have more flowers, trees, shrubs and herbs.
The last thing she told me: "A garden is never really finished."
-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and a Douglas County master gardener.