For my sneak peek of Lawrence's annual water garden tour, owners at two sites were kind enough to open their doors for a preview.
This duo of water wonders could not be more different: Constance Wolfe and John Novosel's garden is streamlined and luxurious, while Jill Kleinberg's property is vast and playful. The first is built around confined spaces and city living, while the other has a bounty of areas to play with and a wild nature cradled in the bosom of the Kansas countryside. Both are inspiring, creative and peaceful, but most importantly, they fit the homeowners like a glove.
"God, it's hot," Constance Wolfe bellowed to her husband, John Novosel, one blistering August afternoon while seeking fresh air on their intimate outdoor patio. It can be tough to escape the Kansas heat without resigning to the fact that you must be near an air conditioner all summer.
Constance recalls, "We knew we needed some water in the garden one day when we were just sitting there and sweating bullets. We tossed around the idea of a fountain where humans can cool off, but we ultimately opted for a mini-pool."
What the two created is the best of both worlds. It is a union of two ponds - one for the aquatic plants and some fish, the other for soothing aches and staying cool. This uber-modern, straight-lined, smooth water feature is perfect for the small space that their Old West Lawrence lot provides. The "human pool" is around 3 feet deep and 15 feet long, enough room for a raft for sunbathing or a handful of friends for an intimate pool party. Three downy waterfalls gracefully hit the main pool, creating a lovely sound that filters out the rather busy road nearby.
A slightly taller and perfectly square pond for the plants sits above the human pond. Wolfe has a thriving water lily with delicate pink blooms and a spiky iris plant residing in the upper pond. She plans to add fish once the ecosystem buffs up a bit more.
There's only problem with creating a water wonderland that looks like it was torn right out of the pages of Better Homes and Gardens.
"John keeps threatening that he might not want to vacation any longer," Wolfe says. "He says he doesn't need to go anywhere now that his backyard is like a suite at the Hyatt."
Country's where to be
Jill Kleinberg has plenty of space. In fact, she has so much space she has created at least five serious aquatic focal points and countless other water marvels. Her Dan Rockhill-designed home is a fusion of modern angular architecture, dry streams and prairies of puffy grasses and colorful wildflowers. It is a study in old meeting new, ancient found objects colliding with an artistic eye to create surprises and delights around practically every corner of her expansive acreage.
Kleinberg's mother is a ceramic artist, and so it's no surprise that Jill has dozens of enormous pots filled with water and intricate ecosystems, from the lotus perched in a pot large enough for three adults to wade in, to minuscule mosaic-leafed plants floating in petite containers.
The property boasts a large rhombus reflecting pool that plays with the butterfly shape of Kleinberg's home. The pool has been laid with tile in random shards and bits in a rainbow of colors to frame the still waters below. Five metal heron sculptures are permanent fixtures, lending some gravitas to the piece.
Around the corner of the home, in what Kleinberg refers to as her "Japanese garden area," another unexpected water feature has a trickling stream spewing from an old, rusty pipe that has been bent in the shape of an upside down "U." The boulders that the waters run into appear to have been there for hundreds of years, and the water has carved away a canyon in the rocks' facade.
As I tread a path made of old radiator grills to the mud and straw bail teahouse that was recently completed, another water feature calls for a closer look. This tall ceramic piece has a cavernous sound to it as the liquid trickles down the accordionlike artwork, hugging its tall, beveled sides until finally lightly splashing down to the pebbles below. Not only is this a beautiful water accessory, but it adds serenity when Kleinberg is practicing her yoga and meditation.
Kleinberg recently retired from the School of Business at Kansas University, where she taught for many years. She has lived in Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and Boston. So how did this big city girl end up in the country?
"We had horses when I was young, and I've always appreciated space," she says. "I have admired the beauty of Kansas for some time. But I'd lived in a city for so long, I thought it defined me; however, in actuality, I've never had as much joy as I do from living here in the country. I have even learned to co-exist with the spiders."
Amid the other showstoppers on Kleinberg's property, now picture two giant aquatic ponds. They're full of life - from thalia, lilies and lotus plants to frogs, bunnies and fish.
Both of these magnificent ponds are spectacular displays of what a little ingenuity and sweat equity can accomplish in an outdoor space. And both are featured in the annual Water Garden Tour, hosted by the Sunflower Water Garden Society, set for Saturday and Sunday. With more than 20 ponds on the tour, the $10 entrance fee will give you a big bang for the buck. It's also helping support Lawrence High School's Latin Club, which is constructing a water garden. Hopefully you'll find, as I did, that properties such as Constance Wolfe and John Novosel's and Jill Kleinberg's are examples of the breadth of imagination and beauty that water gardens have to offer.
It's great to trounce around other people's gardens for motivation and design ideas, but sometimes the best-laid plans for water features just don't come to fruition like you envisioned. It could be a leaky liner or poor pool placement. Maybe you just jumped into the deep end when you should have eased into the kiddy pool.
Michael Parmley, owner of Anything Aquatic, 1724 Bullene Ave., has been dealing with the design, aesthetics and functionality of water gardens for more than eight years.
He says of their allure, "The tranquility of a clear pool filled with beautiful plants and a rush of gurgling water is a great stress relief. The plants are self-watering, easy to care for and are a great addition to the landscape. There is one aspect to keep in mind when creating a water garden, and that is the more plants you have the better the water quality."
Here are some aquatic plants that are bound to flourish in your water kingdom:
The large, dinner platter-sized leaves are enough to entice any plant lover, but when these babies bloom, "Wow!"
Anacharis, hornwort, vallisneria
These are all submerged aquatics that provide an underwater ecosystem with much-needed plant filtration.
Hardy water cannas
These have a tropical look with big leaves and delicate blooms. It's a tall plant at 4 to 6 feet, but unlike many tropical plants, this one will overwinter when submerged in deep enough waters.
French Impressionist painter Claude Monet has helped make these the essence of a water garden. They have stunning blooms, but take heed: They need sun. Parmley's favorite hardy water lily is Pink Grapefruit. It sports a peach-colored bloom that changes hues through its three-day life span.
Just as in any other garden, the idea is to have something of color or interest performing at all times, whether it be a grouping of hydrangeas with full pompoms of color or a euphorbia's delicate changing foliage. Water gardens are in constant flux and should be evaluated every six weeks or so to make sure there is always something to draw the eye. Parmley suggests the following aquatic plants for a non-stop show in our Kansas climate:
Early spring: Water Hawthornes, which might even bloom again in late autumn
Late spring: Iris
Summer: Lilies, lotus, water cannas
Fall: Tropical lilies, cannas, marsh hibiscus and water willow for foliage