Archive for Sunday, May 31, 1998

WORK AND PLAY COMBINE FOR A BEAUTIFUL EFFECT IN THE COUNTRY.

May 31, 1998

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Someone recently said to me that every action should have more than one benefit. The point is not that we should work harder. In fact, just the opposite. We should work in such a way that any single effort on our part has at least a double outcome -- the originally intended result and a second one, a bonus, if you will.

Gardeners have been known to achieve this twofold results, although sometimes serendipitously. How often have we planted a flower for its beauty only discover it has a delightful fragrance as well? Or we have placed a bush in the garden to camouflage an unsightly structure only to witness the attraction that birds and butterflies have to it. That being so, when gardeners consciously seek to maximize results, they assure a doubled output for their single effort.

So it is with Bret and Roxanne Ebberts. They have deliberately worked at building a garden that delivers multiple effects. Located in the country west of town, the Ebberts' garden combines their passion for flowers, their willingness to work, their ingenuity and their individual talents. The result is a garden spot that has become a place of personal joy, an area of beauty and a business venture for them.

On the way up the long curving drive to their house I could see large raised garden beds at the front of their house and along both sides. Once I arrived Roxanne greeted me and gave me a grand tour. Burning bush, peonies, lavender and sage grew in the front garden. ``A lot of things I can grow and dry,'' she said. ``I like to try to landscape with things I can do both.'' Aha, multiple benefits from a single gardening effort.

On a concrete area close to the house, flats of Munstead lavender that Roxanne has started from seed are getting close to reaching transplanting size. The plants are scheduled to grow in a large area just beyond a willow tree branch arch on which thornless roses are being encouraged to climb.

``I love lavender,'' she admitted. Once the lavender blooms, it will be harvested and dried.

We moved toward the left part of the front garden. Blue linum, dame's rocket, bachelor buttons, daisies and gaillardia create a natural looking bed filled with delicate flowers. ``This is very pretty in the morning,'' Roxanne said. The flowers, with the exception of the blue linum, will be cut and dried for later use in floral designs. Huge stones anchor the area at the back border as the land drops to a lower elevation. Roxanne described a future project in which stone steps will lead from the garden to the side of the house.

So much to do, so little time

At the back a large horse tank awaits its placement into the ground to create a natural landscape pond. Beyond that, an open field will house a large portable greenhouse in the future. Roxanne admitted that she and her husband fill their summer months with various projects. They are completed as ``time, money and energy hold out,'' she said. ``I think we like hard work,'' she acknowledged. ``We have lots of ideas and not enough time.''

A group of trees has been planted along the back edge of the house to set up a windbreak. ``I like to try a lot of different trees. We are on a hill and get lots of wind,'' she noted. ``We've planted every single bush and tree, probably about a thousand.'' Surrounding the property are bald cypress, ginkgo and sawtooth oak, among others.

Faithful to their style of reaping more than one result, the Ebberts planted trees that serve as both a windbreak and a songbird habitat. Their trees are home to bluebirds, orioles, meadowlarks, mocking birds, quail, finches and hummingbirds.

Fit to be dried

Around the other side of the house a delightful flower bed surrounds a stone path. ``This is a medley of herbs I'm experimenting with,'' Roxanne said. She harvests Roman chamomile, with its soft green fragrant leaves for use in tea and sachets. Ten varieties of sage and more lavender blanket the area. A tree peony produces interesting seed pods which are collected for use in flower arrangements. A little further along the walkway, deep pink painted daisies and delphinium flutter in the breeze.

``This is my sanctuary, to work with my flowers,'' Roxanne claimed. The flowers include Chinese lanterns, Missouri primrose, German edible poppy, lily of the valley, a pussy willow bush and tulips. On the far side, an acre of land is dedicated to the cultivation of 14 varieties of peony bushes. The peonies are harvested and dried at the peak of the bloom.

``Our house did have a two-car garage,'' Roxanne explained as we continued walking. ``But we've converted it to an art studio and where I do my drying projects.'' At this point I followed her into the transformed garage. The sweet smell of flowers immediately greeted me. When the lights were switched on, I noticed fans circulating the air, a work bench and drying screens. Wires were strung along the ceiling high above my head. Small bunches of richly colored peonies and other flowers were tied with rubber bands and suspended from the wires with twisted paper clips. The neatly hanging bunches, in various stages of drying, were spaced about 12 inches apart from one another.

This is the place from which Roxanne and Bret operate their business called Colorfields, now in its fifth season. The dried flowers go into floral arrangements, wreaths, bouquets, topiaries, potpourri, notecards and seed packets. They will hold an open house in October.

Roxanne said that generally two to three weeks are needed to air-dry flowers. The process is most successful if the cut flowers are dried in total darkness, given adequate air circulation and kept at a humidity level below 50 percent.

``You want to dehydrate the flowers, not decompose them,'' she explained. ``Sunlight causes them to break down and turn brown.''

Roxanne is able to dry most of the flowers from her garden. Statice, zinnias, lavender, sunflowers, marigolds and peonies are seen in her dried arrangements. ``They (peonies) do keep their color nicely,'' Roxanne said. ``Blue flax can't be dried. I've tried. It's delicate and wispy and the flowers fall off.''

After we left the drying studio, Roxanne showed me the vineyard. Bret is growing several rows of wine grapes. Yes, I do believe I see yet another bonus to their gardening efforts.

Rock 'n' roll

The Ebberts have been gardening on this property for six years. ``Basically, this was a pasture and hay meadow,'' Roxanne explained. The house itself sits on an old rock quarry. When they purchased the land, the Ebberts were told that some of the stones from the property had been used in a building on the Kansas University campus.

In their gardens, the stones have been used to create paths that meander through the rock lined raised flower beds. ``We took advantage of the nice rock on the location and made raised beds,'' she explained. ``This kind of grew from my vision of perennials and French (flower) fields.'' As she spoke she gestured to the open flower areas that follow the gently sloping contours of the land.

Some of Roxanne's talent for gardening comes from her training as a graphic designer.

``Being an artist, I see things visually,'' she said. Some of it must be genetic. ``My mother is an avid gardener,'' she claimed. ``She works harder than I do. I picked up a lot of interest from her.''

Whatever the cause, the results are wonderful. For all the hard work that has gone into the garden, multiple benefits are clearly visible.

-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. You can send e-mail to her at gardenspot

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