The boundless energy of spring sets the tone for a gardening way of life.
Spring has the undisputed distinction of heralding all things new and fresh and young. We gardeners are the ever hopeful onlookers as gentle spring rains and the warming sun encourage our plants to flourish as the season of life begins again. We naturally fall under spring's energy-giving spell.
I have met a gardener who embodies the newness, freshness and youthful enthusiasm of springtime. Touring his garden is a refreshing walk into the bounty of spring and the promise of things to come; talking to the man is a renewal for the spirit and a lesson in life.
The garden of Dick Schiefelbusch begins at the front walk that curves from the driveway to the door. A small flower bed, lined with round granite rocks, holds back variegated euonymus bushes and numerous ground cover. A holly bush and a planting of iris anchor the corner of the house. In a nearby garden bed, one of the few places where the sun reaches, a few geraniums bloom, though the rest of the flowers have yet to reach their peak.
The highlight of Schiefelbusch's garden spot is the upward sloping back garden. It expands from left to right, top to bottom and is filled with an abundance of flowers and trees, miniature to mature. The garden is divided into sections, each one separated by railroad ties or carefully placed stones. We visited each section. As I followed him along the narrow, sometimes uneven, passageways of the garden, he cautioned me to watch my step.
Spring bulbs and ground cover spread over a large portion of the garden close to the house. ``I like to have spring flowers and vinca come into bloom at the same time,'' Schiefelbusch explained. ``It's like having a carpet at their feet.''
Hostas, lily of the valley and buttercups join forces with bishop's weed and columbine to fill in parts of the hillside. ``I'm amazed at how well columbine grow under shade and walnut trees,'' he admitted.
Vibrant blue sprays from forget-me-nots dot the landscape as do the arching branches of bleeding heart filled with delicate pink and white blooms. Daylilies, dianthus, chrysanthemum and bachelor buttons grow in great numbers. And tiny volunteer impatiens by the thousands are sprinkled throughout it all. ``In about 3 weeks, this will be very colorful,'' Schiefelbusch assured me. ``I'll have color all summer and fall.''
Honeysuckle twines around in a small circular bed. ``This is my extravagance,'' he admitted. ``I love the smell of honeysuckle. But it's the most invasive vine. I have it pretty well hemmed in.''
Schiefelbusch explained that the garden was built for viewing. ``This is for the neighbors,'' he commented as we walked to a bed filled with iris and daylilies. I saw another great view while seated inside the house at the dining room table.
`Grade and shade'
His garden space was not always so lovely. ``This was just nothing but gooseberry and buckbrush,'' he explained. ``I had to make a decision and got stuff out of there.'' Schiefelbusch started his garden project in 1989 digging up rocks and brush. ``I dug hundreds of limestone rocks out of the garden,'' he said. ``I always felt if I could get my pry bar under it and move it an inch, I had it.''
Clearing the space for a garden was only half the battle; the other half was the topography. ``I have grade and shade,'' Schiefelbusch pointed out. True enough. The immediate area behind the house is level for only a few feet before it rises up a sharp incline to the end of the property. The canopy from three sizable walnut trees and other tall trees shade the entire backyard.
``This is a soil erosion project,'' he declared of his garden's framework. Previously water would run down the hillside creating little rivers in the soil as it ran toward the house. ``I grew up on farms. I know about creeks,'' he explained. The tiers in the garden and their massive plantings have prevented erosion.
Schiefelbusch has thought of having a professional landscaper assess his garden, a thought he has put aside for now. ``They might not like my zest for experimenting,'' he said, a bit of a playful grin crossing his lips. ``I like to try different things.''
At the far end of the garden, a row of Korean spice lilac bushes release a heady fragrance in the air making our tour even more enjoyable. A small plot of iris grows on the other side. `` I helped a lady divide iris and asked her for the debris,'' Schiefelbusch explained. ``There wasn't anything that looked plantable.'' Within a few weeks several tall bearded iris plants grew from the debris.
He does seem to have the knack for salvaging plants and coaxing volunteers. A little up the hill, near the compost pile, a holding area nurtures tiny hostas, small versions of varieties elsewhere in the garden. ``If I can get one (large) clump, in three years I can get a dozen if I divide it carefully,'' he remarked.
Schiefelbusch generates a ready supply of geraniums, one of his favorite annuals. ``They bloom all summer,'' he commented. A large potted red geranium is the breeding stock for the new starts. ``I clone dozens of them,'' he said. ``I get a nice stem, put some root stimulator on it and place it in soil.'' The results, clones from the larger plant, grow in several plastic containers that are perched along the length of a railroad tie. Eventually they will make their way into his garden or the gardens of others.
Schiefelbusch is well known in his circle of friends for his generosity with his plants. Visitors to his garden do not leave empty handed. ``I love to give them (plants) away,'' he said.
This kindly gardener, whom I had just met, even offered me a young hosta plant. ``The older you get, the less joy you get by having something,'' he explained. ``What has grown in me is a desire and capacity for giving. That helps people. It is almost an ideal state.''
Continuing the challenge
Schiefelbusch is generous with his time as well as his plant material. ``I like to feel busy,'' he admitted. He is retired from Kansas University as the director of the Bureau of Child Research, now called the Institute for Life Span Studies, and he serves on the boards of the Douglas County Senior Services, Merrill Advanced Studies Center and ``As Time Goes By.''
He participated in the Master Gardener training in 1994 and gives mini seminars at the KU Retirees Club on gardening topics. Schiefelbusch calls the members ``a very special group of people'' for their lively intellect. ``If you really challenge yourself as an old person, you can squeeze out productive and artistic behavior that you didn't know was still there. You just don't let yourself fail,'' he declared.
``I'm writing something called `Ed and Emma's Family,''' he went on to say. It is his family's story, one that he expects cousins, nieces and nephews and his own three children to enjoy. Schiefelbusch is the youngest of six children in his family. ``I'll be 80 in July. If I don't write it, it won't be done. I'm also doing the history of the Bureau of Child Research.''
His wife, Ruth, is not actively involved in the gardening projects, but is pursuing other interests. ``I can make her notice a beautiful flower,'' he said, that same playful smile showing.
I truly savored the renewing energy of spring in this garden. My visit ended too soon. This unique and wonderful garden is upstaged only by its gardener. I have known about gardening, today I learned more about life. Schiefelbusch summarized it perfectly when he told me: ``The critical factor is not how much, but how interested.''
-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. You can send e-mail to her at gardenspot