A reader sent me a letter several weeks ago to tell me about her parents' garden. She wrote, "Our yard has always been a very special place for my family. For as long as I can remember, my parents have worked hard to make it a colorful array of flowers and plants."
I had to look for myself.
The home of Bill and Terry Platz sits on a steep hillside. The front garden is lush with thick green grass and is shaded by two mature oak trees. Rings of flowers grow beneath the trees on the front lawn. Bill Platz painstakingly placed the stones one upon another, forming three rings, each smaller by three-quarters of an inch than the one below it.
A semicircle of pink geraniums and white alyssum provide a perfumed welcome at the entrance to the house. Coral bells, impatiens, coleus and hostas grow along the north side. A tall, wide lilac bush anchors the back corner. I was impressed, and I had yet to see the full garden.
Terry greeted me at the front door and led me through the house to the back garden. On the way I noticed fragrant flower arrangements on tables and shelves. "You usually find two or three bouquets in the house at any time," Bill said.
Up, up and away
The back garden began beyond a small tract of grass behind the porch and stretched from one side of the yard to the other. It scaled the hillside in three tiers, each tier created by a stone wall. Stone steps headed up the middle of the tiered expanse.
"We had a real challenge when we built," Terry said.
The slope of the back yard made landscaping difficult. Plus, water collects on one side of the slope and runs across the grass, so it's moist much of the time. One of the first things they did in the back was construct the tiers. The stone steps at the center are wide and deep and, I admit, quite a reach to climb. "They're 12-inch steps," Bill noted. He said they were made in his younger days.
Though it looks complete, the garden was done in stages. Even so, the highest level isn't done to the couple's satisfaction. The right side is a bit higher than the left. "I've got a lot of dirt to move to balance it out," Bill said.
Building the terraces was one thing. Filling and leveling them was another. The contour of the land makes it impossible to get a truck close to the terraces, so everything must be hauled by hand. "I broke about 80 bags of topsoil to fill in the low spots" this year, Bill said. Little by little, year after year, the garden has taken shape.
Today, it is a mixture of annuals and perennials. Phlox, black-eyed Susan, pink hibiscus, mums and asters grow among the Victoria blue salvia and baskets of gold. The tall spires of the lythrum waved in the breeze at the corners. Spirea, hollyhocks, marigolds and begonias dot the landscape with color. "There's just a little bit of everything," Bill said of the wide variety of plantings. "We find something we like and put in more."
"We've got a lot of annuals. We plant 200 to 300 annuals every year," Terry said. "We like to have flowers in bloom all the time."
Some annuals never leave their containers. A large pot of Mexican heather sits on the first tier. Terry moves it around the garden to fill in bare spots that come up during the season. A few annuals even wintered over from last year. Calla bulbs and dahlias both bloomed in the garden, after inadvertently being left in the ground last fall.
"We'd like to put in flowering shrubs and perennials, get rid of some of the annuals," Bill commented.
It actually was flowers that brought Bill and Terry together.
"I met her looking for flowers," Bill said.
"I worked in a flower shop in Lincoln, Nebraska" in the mid-'50s, Terry explained. "Primarily, we did weddings and funerals."
One day Bill came into the shop, seeking flowers for a military ball. He had priced flowers at other shops in town and was hoping to find some that were less expensive.
"He didn't get a good deal," she said. He still had to pay the going rate, $4 a dozen. "I bought a corsage for another girl," Bill added. He and Terry met again at the ball and soon began dating.
Flowers always have held special meaning for them.
"Bill always remembers our special occasions with flowers," Terry said. On their wedding anniversary he sends one rose for every year of their marriage. This September, 38 roses will be delivered to her.
Flowers may have started another tradition in the family. The Platz garden served in June as the backdrop for son Jon's small family wedding.
"We babied the peonies to be in bloom for the June 6th wedding," Terry said.
They bloomed as planned. Rain had fallen on the morning of the wedding. To keep the bride's satin shoes dry, they placed in the yard stepping stones carved in the likeness of the Big 12 mascots, made by son Jeff. After the ceremony, the wedding guests, fans of the different schools, each received a stone of their favorite school.
Although flowers are their passion, Bill also tends a small vegetable garden on the side of the house. Three tomato plants are loaded with ripening fruit.
"We did vegetable gardening," Bill said about his childhood. He remembers that his mother's favorite flower was a gardenia. "She spritzed it every morning."
Since Bill's retirement from Farmland, where he worked for 35 years, he has taken on a few extra duties such as cooking and grocery shopping. Terry continues to work at Stephens Real Estate.
Yet, both are involved in gardening. "We're so gung-ho in the spring," she said. "He plants the big pots and I plant the little pots." Bill also hand-waters all the flowers in the morning.
When I returned home from my tour, I again read the letter their daughter Shelly had sent. "The abundance of loving care my parents have given to us over the years has overflowed into their garden. My parents probably won't want to make a big deal out of what they have done. But I would like to recognize their hard work and to share the special beauty they have created that helps make their house our home."
-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. You can send e-mail to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.