Archive for Wednesday, August 2, 2006

How does your garden grow

Leavenworth couple create oasis of blooms around their century-old Victorian home

August 2, 2006

A gentle breeze from the south whisks through John and Connie Anderson's flower garden as the couple sit beneath an umbrella at their outdoor table. Not too far away, purple martins chirp from their birdhouses.

The shade, coupled with a light breeze and bird songs, provides a reprieve from the normally hot July weather in northeast Kansas.

The Andersons' garden surrounds their 1883 farmhouse on the southwest corner of Pennsylvania and Grand in Leavenworth.

John and Connie's home -- still at its original site -- once stood on a rural setting outside Leavenworth.

Today, the home is surrounded by city dwellers, two blocks north of Leavenworth High School.

Cars zoom through the neighborhood on occasion, some with music blaring from stereos.

But inside the white picket fence that lines the Andersons' home, it's a different world.

"It's actually like an escape," Connie said. "A little haven."

Connie uses the word "tranquility" to describe the garden, which the couple have built into a bit of an impromptu tourist stop for passersby.

Although the Andersons' landscape requires plenty of work to maintain, the finished product provides a getaway and prompts Connie to ask the rhetorical question: "Why do we need to go on a vacation?"

"It's therapy," Connie said. "Everyone has to find something that intrigues them and relaxes them."

Green thumbs

Connie, who originally is from Seattle, has been in law enforcement for 20 years with the Leavenworth County sheriff's office.

John is retired from British special forces and is a native of Alnwick, in northern England near the Scottish borders.

The two met through a mutual law enforcement friend and married in 1988.

The couple moved into their home in 1991. Since then, their love -- and their garden -- have grown.

"We've been in here 15 years, so we started pretty early," Connie said about creating their flower gardens. "I'd say we've been at it 15 years."

When the Andersons purchased the property, a straight sidewalk formed a walkway from a streetside arbor to their house.

The sidewalk didn't stay long, as John took a sledgehammer to it. Meandering paths made of pebbles now run throughout the garden.

Straight paths traditionally aren't found in an English garden, which is the inspiration for John and Connie's garden.

"Where I come from, this is the way people keep their yards," said John with his strong English accent.

Gardening has been a family tradition for John, whose father also gardened, he said. John's thumb has become as green as his father's. For instance, John grew cuttings from a rose bush that had been on the property for years. The new bushes have multiplied and now cover much of the white picket fence and arbor on the east property line.

"My father was the best gardener in the north of England," John said.

The roses, which have a story behind them, are of the Dr. Van Fleet variety.

The Andersons bought their house from Joy Kozak, who lived at the residence from 1953 to 1991. Her grandfather gave her grandmother a Dr. Van Fleet rose bush because she let him buy an apple orchard in Fairmount. From one small bush, the roses have become a focal point of the garden.

Famous garden

Connie and John's garden is a popular spot.

One of Connie's colleagues at the sheriff's office was married near the arbor at the front of the flower garden.

And the current issue of Midwest Living magazine features the garden.

A woman from Iowa, who saw the article, was attending races at Kansas Speedway earlier this month. She made a quick trip from the speedway to Leavenworth to tour the garden.

While getting some ice cream at a local convenience store, Connie stumbled across another piece about their flower garden in Flower Gardens magazine. She said a freelance photographer took pictures of their garden a few years ago and those appeared in the magazine. The photographer had done a photo shoot inside their home for Romantic Country magazine and then sold photos to the garden magazine, Connie said.

Connie added that several women from California in the movie industry, who were scoping Leavenworth out for an upcoming film, stopped by as well. The movie, Connie thought, was to be a western.

Groups touring historic Leavenworth homes have stopped by, while visitors from other countries, including Japan and England, have been to their home.

One evening, 30 members of the queen's guard from London visited. They were training at Fort Leavenworth and they were John and Connie's dinner guests.

"I know all the guardsmen," John said.

Of course, local residents ask to tour the garden.

"It gets them away from their tasks and everyday life," John said.

According to Connie, John is an inviting tour guide.

"Usually they'll say 'beautiful garden' and John will say 'well come on in,'" Connie said.

For the birds

On a summer afternoon, John spotted several birds in the neighborhood.

At one point, a vacant lot across the street had quite a commotion. John pointed out a hawk that rustled the feathers of some smaller birds perched in an old tree.

John, though, should know all about those birds. He is a member of both the American and British ornithologists' unions, organizations devoted to the scientific study of birds.

Wrens, blue birds, catbirds, cardinals, robins and blue herons are a few of the birds that frequent the Andersons' garden with the martins, which the Andersons say help reduce the mosquito population. John has built four martin houses, which are south of their house.

"I think their staple diet is mosquitoes," Connie said.

And, birds not normally seen in the area, such as jack snipes, indigo buntings and orioles, have been spotted in the garden on occasion as well.

"Birds, chipmunks, rabbits, we get all that stuff coming in here," John said.

John and Connie said deer graze to the west of their house in an open field, especially in the evening.

"When you have people who don't appreciate wildlife, there's something wrong with them," John said.

More than a rose

There are more than roses in Connie and John's flower garden. Hollyhocks, zinnias, petunias, delphiniums and marigolds fill the Andersons' landscape, as do alyssum, impatiens and snapdragons, to name a few.

They also have planted lavender clematis and African daisies.

"Those are annuals you need," Connie said. "We're trying to integrate more perennials. We have to be careful of the climate. The fruits of your labor almost burn away."

Landscaping also wouldn't be complete without trees.

John has planted crabapple, magnolia, Newport plum, weeping cherry and juniper trees, as well as lilac bushes.

The trees and bushes complement the numerous flowers, with the fruit trees providing a food source for the many birds that make stops in the Andersons' yard.

The garden takes on different appearances, depending on the time of year.

John said he enjoyed the garden the most in May when many flowers, especially roses, are in bloom. Connie concurred, and said she liked the garden's look in the fall as well.

In October, Connie explained, zinnias and marigolds still are in bloom.

"Believe it or not, roses also bloom," Connie said.

Both Connie and John said gardening is time-consuming.

Although John is retired, Connie still works as the Leavenworth County DARE coordinator. And, she is the program director at the Heritage Center, a Leavenworth senior services center.

John is proud of what his wife does for the community.

"Connie wants to be doing something for people all the time," John said. "That's the ideal person."

Connie lightly scolded her husband, telling John the topic at hand was flowers.

But John didn't mind talking some more about his wife, or current events.

The Andersons refer to themselves as "self-taught gardeners, noting that gardening is about trial and error.

"The only limitations are the ones you put on yourself and your creativity," Connie said.

Although their garden is part of their private residence, the Andersons said they enjoy when visitors stop by.

"If you have something and don't share it with people, then why have it?" Connie said.

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