Transplants from the northwestern part of the country have taken up the challenge of gardening in northeastern Kansas, complete with its heavy clay soil, limited rainfall and problematic areas on their property. Nonetheless, Ross and Angie Friesen have transformed an ordinary neighborhood yard into a lovely garden spot.
Much of their garden is bathed in sunlight and is home to so many colorful flowers that they spill over the edges of their borders and crowd among the crevices of the rocks. The bones of the landscape are the huge rocks that have been placed throughout the yard.
"It took me about seven months to dig up the yard, place the stones, top soil and sod," Angie said. Much of the stone work has been done to conquer problem areas. The slope in the front yard has been tempered by creating a terrace edged with huge boulders.
At the left side of the house more huge stones have been placed to remedy an area that floods occasionally when water from neighboring properties drain through it. The stones serve as a waterway during heavy rains.
"The water falls over the rocks," Angie said. "It looks like a waterfall. It is kind of pretty." In addition, the stones serve as steps, allowing visitors to move from one level to another.
The stone wall is softened with an assortment of sedums.
"I have a lot of different sedum," Angie said. "They're good because of the rocks. They are drought tolerant and fill in all the cracks. They make things look natural."
Above the rocky ledge, Angie has created a beautiful wildflower garden that looks quite natural. A couple of trees, butterfly bushes and a thick patch of ornamental grass are set among the stones that look like they belong in the landscape. Columbine, coneflowers and verbena and other volunteer annuals grow wherever their seeds have planted themselves. Every summer the garden looks a bit different.
"When seeds come up, I try to leave everything," she said. "When the leaves come up and I can identify things, I thin plants so they can get larger."
Friesen stressed her attempt to recreate a certain look to her landscape.
"Coming from Idaho, I wanted it to look like it came up on its own," she said. "That's why I buried the rocks." That's also why she lets the wildflowers plant their seeds with the wind.
The Friesen garden is filled many unknown plants. One plant looks suspiciously like Queen Anne's Lace, the beautifully flowered plant thought by some to be a nuisance.
"I think it is a weed, but I kept it," she said.
Some of Angie's plant purchases are ones that have been reduced to 25 cents because the name tags were missing.
"A lot of times I'll pick up plants that have no name," she confessed. "It's kind of like the luck of the draw." She also admitted to scavenging plants that had been discarded by others and nursing them back to health.
One of the amazing parts of the Friesen garden is the combination of ordinary plants positioned among each other and with other elements, like pieces of driftwood.
"I think texture with wood and rocks is important for natural looking landscape," she said.
Bee balm, tickweed, pincushion flower and yarrow grow along the narrow side garden. Many different colored salvia plants and lantana squeeze among the other plantings.
"Lantana is probably one of my favorites because it adds color all summer," Angie said. She dismissed a beautiful pink lythrum blooming with abandon. "I think everyone's got that," she said.
"We have horrible rocky clay soil here," she said. "I guess everyone does." To conquer that she adheres to the strict principle of prepping the soil as the key to healthy plants and a great looking garden.
"I like the soil to be the texture of a chocolate cake mix: real rich," she said. She enriches the soil with everything she plants, sometimes adding a tablespoon of fertilizer. She also teases the plant's root ball apart. "I think it's real important to gently pull the root ball apart, press the plant down in (the soil) to get the air out," she explained.
"Let the roots make good contact with the soil and water the plant in."
Angie enjoys the benefits of her hard labor.
"We wanted our place to be a refuge, a stress reliever," she noted. "When you have perennials and mulch well, it's pretty low maintenance."