Nestled in a flower bed, the words engraved on a stone seem to say it best: “An Hour in the Garden Puts Life’s Problems in Perspective.”
When I took a preview tour of the 30th Annual Summer Garden Walk in May 2019 with members of The Bloomington Garden Club, we had no idea what was ahead. Then COVID hit.
When much of the world shut down, the 2020 Garden Walk was canceled. That didn’t mean, however, that flowers quit blooming, trees stopped leafing, birds ceased singing and gardeners paused gardening.
In fact, many folks may have enjoyed even more time than usual in their outdoor havens. I know that I tackled a hillside landscaping task that I had been putting off for years. Spending more time at home was not wasted.
Now, the 31st Annual Summer Garden Walk is back and ready to showcase some of Bloomington’s beautiful gardens. The five gardens on this year’s walk are glorious and quite diverse. I jotted down ideas for what to do with my own country acre.
For pure pleasure and a chance to see the paradises that are often hidden from passing view, join this year’s Garden Walk on Saturday, June 5, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday, June 6, noon to 4 p.m. Rain or shine, each garden will be open for visitors. Tour tickets have a map and the $10 ticket is good for both days when gardens can be visited in any order.
Each garden reflects the personalities of the people who live there and each garden offers several wonderful surprises. To give a hint of the treasures to be found in the five gardens, Garden Club members compiled information for these short previews. My thanks for their knowledge of all things growing in these home gardens.
Along the front of this home is a lined bed of simple red geraniums. But the story behind the flowers reflects the kindness of the man who lives here. When a local 4-H Club member called to ask if the homeowner would like to buy some geraniums for a 4-H fundraiser, the man immediately said he would take 150. That’s when the girl’s father got on the phone to verify that huge number. The following year the homeowner ordered 200 more geraniums from the same 4-H member and has been doing so ever since.
The 1954 Usonian masterpiece home for Garden One was designed by Charles Miller, the former instrument maker for Indiana University’s Department of Geology. The new owner purchased the “Concrete Hut” in April 2013 and moved in January 2015 after a major renovation. This garden features an innovative 12-zone watering system which cuts down on the waste of time and water.
As the homeowner notes, the weed eradication in his front yard required a backhoe and a landscaping crew. Nonetheless, the homeowner was able to implement his primary design concept which he calls the “Count Rugan Plan,” known for the villain in “The Princess Bride.” The Count apologized to the hero he’s about to torture because his torture device is untested, saying, “But let’s just start with what we have.” So began this unusual garden.
Peaceful beauty reigns in this garden of “ordinary” plants that the owner says was not professionally designed but “just happened.” The homeowner emphasizes that her garden is composed of plants that anyone can easily buy and grow. But the result, under her skill and talented eye, is an extraordinary mature garden.
Started 40 years ago, the garden features herbaceous and woody plants massed to create lush beds of greenery and a seasonal succession of blooms. During 2020, the garden got a boost when the owners’ son left pandemic New York to stay with his parents and would routinely end each day of remote computer work by enthusiastically toiling in the garden.
He unearthed old stepping stones that wind through a delightful garden island in the lawn, lined with an array of plants including multi-colored foxgloves that rise like exclamation points. Look for the wooden bench that the son carried atop a spot overlooking the garden. The bench is the best place to view this wonderland.
Artistic touches abound in this garden which features interesting “small moments” made from a variety of painted logs, geodes and rocks. A chink from a fallen tree has been creatively painted to become a watermelon slice. A bright blue “bottle tree” adds more color and a backyard waterfall provides a soothing sound effect to the creative garden.
Built in 1987 on what was then a heavily shaded lot, the site has gained additional sun exposure over the last few years due to the removal of about eight large diseased trees. Stumps of various sizes have been saved and used as plant stands. Note the broken ceramic pots and well-worn ceramic hands resting on a tree stump.
Along the driveway are numerous small redbud saplings. Broken ceramic pots are used to mark the saplings and to shelter them. When the saplings reach a certain size, they are given as gifts by the generous gardener.
What to do if your home is located on a busy street with limited parking and a steeply sloping back yard? Over a quarter of a century, this homeowner has turned the obstacles of her property into a lovely sanctuary where guests feel welcome to gather.
One of the first projects was to create a stamped concrete circular drive so motorists could drive forward when leaving as opposed to backing out. A courtyard area in front of the home is graced by a lighted foundation, serviceberry trees, decorative pots that contain evergreens and perennials as well as a stunning beautiful pink climbing rose Zephirine Drouhin that thrives in the shade. Take time to enjoy a large boulder planted with succulents before heading around back.
As for that sloping lot, the creative homeowner turned it into a lovely terraced area with imaginative spots to sit and enjoy. A gazebo with two cozy swings, a fireplace and celling fan is a delight in any season. Elsewhere are dining areas, a bar, built-in grill, plentiful seating and a thermal spa. On the lower level, a rock stream was created with a tip pot flowing with a purple perennial. Also included is a bird bath surrounded by iris.
These homeowners wanted their home to have a natural area with the feel of a British park. First, a water problem presented by a sloping lot through which runoff from neighboring homes flowed freely had to be corrected. The result is that all paving, including the driveway, consists of irregularly-shaped concrete pavers treated to look like stone and laid on a porous base that allows rainwater to seep into the ground below.
On the east side of the front garden, a broad gravel path leads to a garden gate and acts as a spillway, directing runoff down the slope where it is carried under the sidewalk by a drainage pipe. A veritable arboretum, the garden features the soothing sounds of a waterfall and pond that is home to both koi and frogs. The pond has two bubblers that keep the water from freezing solid in the winter.
Lovers of wildlife, these homeowners have fenced out deer but taken special care to welcome other critters. When a squirrel with an injured leg had difficulty reaching seed in a bird feeder, the homeowner built a “squirrel ladder” and attached it to the bird feeder. Although the squirrel is no longer in residence, a band of chipmunks now climbs the ladder to access the feeder. Near the koi pond is a specially constructed “squirrel hotel” and “squirrel picnic table” where the squirrels can sit and munch on abundant squirrel food.