Keith and Elaine Fellenstein have made the most of garden gifts from family and friends.
As beautiful as gardens are, the real joy about them is the sentiment the flowers represent for the gardener. My own garden is filled with daylilies from special friends, live forever sedum from a neighbor, and herbs and ground covers from master gardeners.
My father-in-law, Chet, has meticulously collected and labeled flower seeds and gently dug up Boston ivy from his garden for relocation into mine. The spring tulips and lilies are a generous gift from my mother-in-law. I can thank my sister for many of my hostas and all my barberry bushes, and my dad for roses and variegated euonymus plants (and perhaps a bit of a green thumb).
Another garden in town blooms thanks to the generosity of others. The flowers, plants, trees and shrubs that fill the garden of Keith and Elaine Fellenstein have special meaning. Most of them are gifts from special people. The Fellensteins also give a home to plants shunned by many gardeners because of their aggressive growth.
All are welcome
The garden starts at the corner of Woodgate and Princeton with plants that seem to smile in the sun. Mums, coneflowers and bright annuals grow around the mulch-laden area. Lithrum, obedient plant and daylilies add height while ajuga carpets the ground, outlining the edge of the path as it trails off into the flower patch.
The garden wraps around the sidewalk and connects up to the wooden fence that encircles their back yard. Red trumpet and honeysuckle vines climb the fence. Great clumps of quaking grass dangle in front of them.
A delicate feathery leafed plant with small yellow and white flower, called butter and eggs, is interspersed in little inconspicuous spaces. After it caught my eye, I began to notice it more. It seems to pop up wherever it wants.
``Just try to get rid of it,'' Keith challenged.
More ajuga and obedient plants spread through the area. Mint grows and grows and grows next to the garage.
``I try to find places where plants can be aggressive,'' Elaine said. ``They're happy and I'm happy. If they get too aggressive, I chop them back and give them away.''
Beautiful blooms and textures grow in an oblong garden along the length of the driveway. Lamb's ear, daylilies and white daisies offer various shades of white and green. Liatris provide tall, strong spikes of purple that fade out to white. A row of ribbon grass stretches its striped leaves.
``This started out as seven cute little plugs,'' Elaine said. Now they have multiplied to nearly fill the area.
Pass it on
The Fellenstein garden was not always so prolific. In fact, the mint and a few rust-colored mums were the only flowers in the garden when they purchased the house in 1982.
``We got married on July 19 and bought the house the same day,'' Keith said. ``It was a very busy day.''
One of the first trees planted in their garden was a Scotch pine.
``It was our first Christmas tree,'' Elaine said. ``Keith and his dad dug a hole and planted it.''
Since then, the Fellensteins have added a great deal to their garden. Plus, the barren landscape has been filled in with many flowers -- gifts from others.
``This is basically a pass-along garden from friends, family and neighbors,'' Elaine said.
Her mother has generously donated plants like hens and chicks, black-eyed Susans, silver mound and gaillardia. Hostas, thriving in the shade of a large oak tree, have been in the family since Elaine's great-grandmother first grew them in 1956. Since then, divisions of them have been in her mother's garden, out to a dairy farm where Clinton Lake now stands, then back to Lawrence and finally in the Fellenstein garden.
Other flowers from other grandparents include surprise lilies and moonflowers.
``Most of the mums are from my grandpa's funeral,'' Elaine said.
Over the years friends have shared iris, coral bells, lily of the valley, lilies, clematis vines and peonies. Neighbors contributed creeping thyme, purple yarrow, spiderwort and hardy geraniums.
``It's really a yard that reminds me of friends,'' she said.
Elaine's co-workers share her enthusiasm for gardening. To mark her 25th anniversary with Hallmark, a co-worker and his son built a welded steel arbor.
``I caught them trying to sneak it into the yard,'' Elaine said.
A beautiful birdbath filled with cool water is another gift -- certainly one that the birds appreciate.
``I plant a lot for butterflies and birds,'' Elaine said. ``We feed the birds all winter.''
Tubular birdfeeders hang from several trees throughout the garden. A hummingbird feeder with a bright red rim is strategically placed near a window for undisturbed viewing. Hungry squirrels have their own flat-bottomed feeders. A wren house hangs from the large oak tree in back.
To the Fellenstein's delight -- and dismay -- a hawk has visited their garden for the last three years as the weather turns colder.
``We raise several batches of sparrows,'' Elaine said. ``During the winter, he thins them out.''
The garden area inside the fence in their private back yard is filled with plants that provide enjoyment and beauty for the Fellensteins. Blue salvia, yellow coreopsis and creamy white moonflowers put on quite a show.
``You can just sit and watch them (the moonflowers) open in the evening,'' Elaine said. A row of vibrant impatiens brightens the shaded space under a tree near the back deck. They hide a compost bin in the corner.
Because of their desire to attract wildlife, the Fellensteins are cautious about using chemicals in the garden. They prefer to use compost and hard work when amending soil for healthy plant growth.
Elaine tosses leaves, grass clippings and clover into the bin. When she turns over a new flower bed, the large clay clumps that inevitably turn up also make their way into the compost pile.
``There's a lot of hand-digging and churning,'' she said.
In addition, two large water collectors near the house gather rainwater, which provides a natural drink for many of the container plants.
Beautiful clematis climb the posts of the deck. Keith pointed out the narrow area between the deck and fence.
``We had a little trouble with standing water here,'' he said. ``We planted ajuga and it just soaks it up.''
Cleome and sunflowers reseed themselves generously, providing a lovely view from the comfortable garden chairs. Bright orange Mexican sunflowers seem to glow against the back fence. Begonias hanging in baskets, lady's mantle and tall white balloon flowers add to the pageantry.
About three times a year when their gardens look especially beautiful, Elaine and two of her friends have a seasonal tour of each other's gardens.
``We started about five years ago,'' she said. ``It is a part garden club, part social club.''
The three of them check out the flowers they have shared.
This year in Elaine's garden they will notice the striking purple stems of the hyacinth bean vine topped off with snap dragon-like pink flowers along its curling ends.
They will also see the simple garden plaque that hangs on the fence. It proclaims, ``Gardens are both gift and giver.'' This, too, from a friend.
-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.