Archive for Sunday, July 28, 2002

KU theater professor creates a dramatic backyard garden

July 28, 2002


Like actors on a stage, the plants are directed into position with thoughtfulness and care.

You need more sun, move over here. You need more shade, move over there. Too dry, too wet, move, move. A few final touches are added  a colorful potted plant, an attractive trellis or a whimsical piece of yard art.

Finally, the garden show is ready. The plants, lush and green, are ready to give their best performance.

The talented gardener in charge of this production is Jeanne Klein.

"I think of plants as characters," she says.

Indeed, she often calls her plants by their names as if they are actors or dear friends. Jeanne La Joie, a miniature climbing rose, sits next to Ville de Lyon, a lovely clematis. Also in her garden cast are Francis Williams hosta, Mildred Seaver hosta, Miss Bateman clematis and Sarah Bernhardt peony.

Although Klein is drawn to plants for their beauty, she says, "I have a lot of plants I have planted for their names."

Some of the plants were chosen because their names, such as Fairy tale daylily, On Stage hosta, Pooh Bear hosta and Child's Play miniature rose, relate to Klein's "day job" as director of the Theatre for Young People at Kansas University. Her Michigan roots prompted her to plant Lights of Detroit, a beautiful yellow daylily.

Chinese lanterns, daylilies, black-eyed Susans and St. John's Wort crowd in along the narrow garden strip between the driveway and fence. She also planted gooseneck in this space.

"Big mistake," she confesses. "I don't mind plants co-existing." But this one took over.

In a small bed to the right of her front door is what Klein calls her red hosta bed. It is filled with red-leafed, red-stemmed or red-flowered plants. Sparkling burgundy, raspberry sorbet and cherry berry hostas thrive among several red astilbes.

"I have gobs of astilbe," she says of the shade-loving perennial.

In other places the colorful blooms of roses dot the scenery.

"I've been putting in a lot of mini roses. They bloom all summer," Klein explains. "They get black spot but they still live. Once in a blue moon I think about spraying for black spot. I'm pretty much a low-maintenance gardener."

Her garden has changed over the 13 years she has lived here, as the trees in and around her yard have matured.

"My one and only sun garden is fading away as these trees get larger," she says of the two large ash trees in the front yard and a neighbor's tree just the other side of the fence.

Nonetheless, she has found places for penstemon, clematis, hardy geraniums and irises.

"I'm a big iris fan," she says. "I'm focusing on rebloomers."

To keep up with the advancing shade, Klein moves her plants.

"I'll move anything," she claims. "I moved some peony bushes four times in chase of the sun."

She says finding what works is like figuring out a puzzle.

"You've really got to know your back yard," she advises. "I've been focusing on drought- and heat-tolerant plants to cut down on the watering."

For the finale of the garden performance we move to the back yard. Thick green ivy happily grows under cover of an enormous tree. A small sculpture of Jeanne d'Arc sits among the sprawling groundcover.

"I was named after Joan of Arc," Klein explains.

Helleborus plants, swallowtail columbine, baptisia, more astilbes, bishop's weed and raspberry bushes make their home in this small backyard garden.

"It's an entirely different world," Klein acknowledges, pleased that she has been able to grow such a magnificent garden in such a small space and with so much shade.

At the far end Klein takes advantage of a small strip of sun and has planted a vegetable garden. Peas, beets, tomatoes, peppers and okra bask in the light. Marigolds are sprinkled among the vegetable garden to ward off natural competitors for the food.

"The best vantage point (of the garden) is from the chair," Klein says.

I would say this green-thumbed "director" has earned the right to sit on her chair as a member of the audience and watch her plants perform.

 Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and home and garden writer for the Journal-World.

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