Bright ideas: Color dominates palette in Lawrence gardener’s backyard

A large golden hibiscus lines a pathway through Kirsten Rosengaard's backyard garden.

Kirsten Rosengaard's sloping yard creates a terraced space for a multilevel deck and sweeping view of colorful flowers and a water garden.

The Rosengaards have created a seating area that overlooks their terraced garden.

It is always an unexpected pleasure to get mail that isn’t a bill or junk catalog. I particularly appreciate it when readers write to share an idea for an article or to boast of their own garden’s magnificence.

I received one of these proud letters from Kirsten Rosengaard recently about her garden; in the envelope she had placed a handful of photographs as a visual aid to enlighten me about her outdoor space. The most pronounced element that came flying off the photographs was Rosengaard’s use of color, and I thought to myself, “I’ve got to go see this kaleidoscope of floral hues in person.”

I’m glad I did. Rosengaard has fashioned a bright-blooming bevy of plants that on a sunny day might even require sunglasses to view.

She has not restricted her flamboyant sense of color to her garden. Rosengaard herself is sporting a lively cotton sweater with sparkling crystals and a whirlwind of colorful flowers sewn onto it. When she greets me, her red painted nails glisten in the sun as she extends her hand. Her thick Danish accent is strong even after living in the United States for many years.

She and her husband, Poul, have lived on this quiet cul-de-sac in West Lawrence for 11 years. While their home is nestled in the middle of a bustling neighborhood, it feels very secluded with the backyard bordering the McGrew Nature Preserve.

“It is so wonderful we cannot see anything or anyone, we can barely see our neighbors,” she says. “It really seems like we are in the country.”

As we walk to the backyard, Frank Sinatra’s melodic voice is wafting in the air, and the birds seem equally as delighted with the music selection piped in through the outdoor speakers as they tweet and whistle en masse. I comment to Kirsten of the unbelievable audio the birds are creating and ask if this is normal. It is, indeed, she says.

“We have many sweet birds,” she says. “We had a house wren who was looking for a nest. She found a watering can where she made her home and gave birth to five babies. It was such a joy and spiritual experience to see.”

The forested nature preserve is fat with mature trees. A gigantic weeping willow’s long, tendril-like arms are waving in the soft breeze right at the edge of the grassy yard. The property feels a lot like living in a tree house, only with indoor plumbing and stereo equipment.

And the Rosengaards have taken full advantage of this sloping yard and three-storied home by building an intricate decking maze that literally hugs every corner of the back side of the structure. The cedar decks have no exposed nails. The floorboards curve around tree trunks. There are built-in benches and a wide array of seating areas to choose from on each level.

It is abundantly clear that this deck is well-used.

“We eat every meal outside,” Rosengaard says. “Even when it’s raining we eat outside. My son makes fun of me. He says, ‘Here mom builds all these benches, and then she sets big potted plants all over them.'”

There are potted plants everywhere. It would be safe to guess that the number of potted plants rivals the bird population.

“I love gardening in pots,” Rosengaard beams. “It’s handy. They are easy to deadhead, easy to carry inside in the winter. The boxes remind me of Denmark.”

Above our heads are boxes of bright green sweet potato vine hanging down, with petunias, geraniums, mandevilla vine, hibiscus, crotons and marigolds, to name a few of the plants rooting in pots or mossy-covered boxes.

“I love color,” she says. “It is so fresh. It makes me feel happy. Color makes people shine and everything seems brighter. I’ll sit here and read my books and look out and know I’m one of the fortunate people to have all this beauty here.”

As we stand on one of the many thoughtfully constructed decks, a waterfall is coming out from under our feet into the pool below. It is an extremely natural experience, as if the water had always been flowing there and the deck came second. The pond actually has two waterfalls that tumble into the pool, creating a soothing, trickling noise that is loud enough to here over the songbirds and howling coyotes.

“I just love the sound of the water. It is so peaceful,” Rosengaard says. “We have a huge frog that sits there in hopes of a dragonfly to come by for lunch. We have a slew of wildlife. One evening I came outside, and 10 or so coyotes were howling at the sirens going past.”

Rosengaard chuckles a little when I ask where her green thumb came from.

She muses, “My mom would not believe me today. She would have been amazed that I can garden and cook. As a child, I was only interested in playing with my dogs. But now, I get a lot of satisfaction looking at the flowers, the bees, the birds, the insects. I really feel like I’m helping nature. There is really a peacefulness in your soul that comes from creating a garden.”