When Jack and Carolyn Landgrebe moved into their unassuming ranch house just south of Hillcrest School in 1963, the yard consisted of a few small locust trees.
But during the past 42 years, their landscape has been adapting to the whims of those locust trees, which are now the size of two four-story buildings. Where there once was only sun, there now resides a lush, woodland shade garden with a cozy tropical feel.
The Landgrebes' garden is one of nine featured on the 2005 Douglas County Garden Tour, organized by the Extension Master Gardeners.
The tour highlights stellar examples in the following categories: a demonstration and training garden, a neo-Victorian garden, a cottage memorial garden, a woodland shade garden, a garden in a new subdivision, a garden that combines formal and informal features, a blending of garden and pond, an established mixed garden and an evolving country garden.
I previewed three of the spaces: the woodland shade garden lovingly coddled by Jack Landgrebe; Arliss Stebbins' wonderful example of a garden with well-established mixed borders; and Master Gardener Stan Ring's yard, which flawlessly blends the landscape and pond. Here's a sneak peek:
Woodland shade garden
Landgrebe's interest in gardening blossomed after he retired in 2002 as an organic chemistry professor at Kansas University. He became a distinguished Master Gardener in 2003 and has been keeping his hands dirty molding and shaping his own garden ever since.
As the Landgrebes' locust trees grew a little more each year, the grass died back for lack of sun. So Jack Landgrebe began adding volcanic rock, paths, water features and ground covers. (He'll be giving ground cover demonstrations in his yard during the tour).
When I visited the Landgrebes, I was immediately drawn to the wild ginger used as a ground cover in their front yard. The bushy, wide-leafed plant pillowed around the trunk of one of the giant locusts, almost baiting squirrels to take a plunge from one of the tall branches.
There is a bit of lawn in the front yard. Jack says the key to maintaining a shade lawn is using the correct seed and re-applying it at least twice a year.
The front lawn is nice, but the most awe-inspiring space at the Landgrebes hides out back. There you'll find bubbling fountains; an urn teetering precariously on its side as water spills over its lip; a bog with a sign any Jayhawk fan could appreciate: "Beware of the Bog"; a pond full of gold fish and water plants; a giant frog chasing after a fly cast from metal.
But these man-made items only enhance the true star of the landscape: Jack's shade plants.
Japanese maples, liriope, hostas, coralbells, lungworts, ferns, butterbur, horsetail, pink turtlehead are all nestled in this moist, musty space. Visitors meander down paths that bring them up close and personal with every plant. Variegated dogwoods light up the shaded space with leaves trimmed in white. Every nook and cranny supports a plant; and if it's not growing upward, it's growing outward in a spread of ground cover: aquatic celery, Creeping Jenny, ginger, vinca and Bishop's weed.
Mixed borders garden
Arliss Stebbins likes plants that flower. Just about every plant in his yard, nestled in the hills near Quail Run School, carries a blossom that has expired or will bloom this summer or fall.
But it wasn't always this way.
Stebbins' yard used to be a retreat for rowdy boys and girls playing baseball, their tennis shoes marking up the grass, rather than delicate flowers in bloom. As his children left home, Stebbins' interest in gardening flourished.
He has transformed his landscape into a canvas of color. Ornamental grasses and stones border his property like fences. In a few of the stones, he has carved celestial images, the fruits of a new hobby. He reserves the back of his lot for sun-loving plants, many of which are native to Kansas. Much of the rest of the yard is covered in a wide array of roses, from the climber New Dawn that arches over the adirondack swing to the four varieties of David Austin English Roses and the Granda Flora Queen Elizabeth Rose.
A large screened-in porch is a retreat for sipping evening cocktails, listening to water trickling from the fountains and gazing out at the neighborhood's gardens in bloom.
The Stebbins' like their fenceless yard and think "garden rooms" are a passing fad. Arliss Stebbins says of his view: "It is like looking out onto a big park with our yard and the neighbors' yards in full sight. We have such great neighbors that the gardening bug has become rather infectious around here and everyone is getting involved."
Blending pond and garden
Across the Stebbins' expansive yard and beyond a few lilac bushes sits the yard of their neighbors: Master Gardener Stan Ring and his wife, Mary Ann. They too are participating in the tour as a shining example of how to gracefully blend a garden and pond.
While the Stebbins have a wide variety of different plants, the Rings have few plants but many of them. Take irises for instance: The Rings' property is peppered with more than 50 varieties in every shade and color imaginable.
The focal point of the Rings' yard is a large pond with a waterfall and a magnified floating ball that make the goldfish look 10 times their actual size when they swim past. The pond, though built in 2000, blends into the Rings' landscape as if it always has been there. Terrestrial plants such as buddleia, Japanese maple, columbine, lily and iris coexist with water plants such as lotus, horsetail, water lily and cattail.
If you're looking for inspiration and education - or you just want to be a voyeur for the day - head out to the Douglas County Garden Tour. It promises to be a marvelous weekend adventure.
The biennial tour of Lawrence area landscapes, sponsored by the Extension Master Gardeners of Douglas County, will be 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (rain or shine).
Nine gardens will be showcased:
¢ Demonstration and training gardens, Douglas County Fairgrounds, 2110 Harper St.
¢ Neo-Victorian garden, Pat and Michael Lechtenberg, 1701 Barker Ave.
¢ Cottage memorial garden, Shari and Roy Head, 1416 Conn.
¢ Woodland shade garden, Jack and Carolyn Landgrebe, 1125 Highland Drive
¢ New subdivision garden, Margarete and Carroll Johnson, 3017 W. 30th St.
¢ Combining formal and informal features, Joan and Steve Craig, 1712 Prestwick Drive
¢ Blending garden and pond, Stan and Mary Ann Ring, 4505 Winged Foot Court
¢ Established mixed gardens, Arliss and Kay Stebbins, 4504 Cedar Ridge Court
¢ Evolving country garden, Marie and Ron Willis, 982 N. 1892 Road
Plants, books and crafts will be for sale Saturday and Sunday at the fairgrounds. The following demonstrations will be offered:
¢ Pruning shrubs and trees, 10 a.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, fairgrounds
¢ Herb gardening, 10:30 a.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, fairgrounds
¢ Rain gardens, 11 a.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, fairgrounds
¢ Ground covers, 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday, Jack and Carolyn Landgrebe's garden
¢ Conifers in Kansas, 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday, Marie and Ron Willis' garden
Tickets are $8 in advance (available at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, 2110 Harper Road, and some garden centers) and $10 the day of the tour. Tickets include information about participating gardens, driving directions, a map and a schedule of events.
For more information, visit www.oznet.ksu.edu or call Bruce Chladny, horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, at 843-7058.