2018 PROJECT GREEN GARDEN TOUR
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of so many volunteers, friends and supporters of Project GREEN, the 2017 garden tour broke records in terms of the number of people who took part. Around 800 people were welcomed to the event, which featured a lovely selection of eclectic gardens within the Lucas Farms neighborhood in central Iowa City – a neighborhood that surrounds the Plum Grove Historic Home on 1030 Carroll Street.
The larger-than-expected turnout was due in part to the fact that the Lucas Farms History Day was scheduled the same day, with historic reenactors and displays present at various homes throughout the neighborhood, and pony rides for the children.
The 2017 tour homes featured a number of “secret” gardens that delighted tour-goers who had no idea what surprises awaited them as they ventured into the delightful backyards. The Master Gardeners of Plum Grove were also kept busy as hundreds gathered in the home’s expansive yard to learn about the fruits and vegetables that would soon be harvested for the annual Taste of Plum Grove.
As Project GREEN celebrates 50 years of existence in 2018, tour organizers are busy working to make the 2018 tour another splendid event. Do mark your calendars for June 23 from 10am to 3pm! The 50th anniversary tour will feature three “walkable” neighborhoods in Iowa City, and in addition, Plum Grove will once again open its gates to Project GREEN garden lovers.
This year’s Project GREEN garden tour, which takes place June 23 from 10am to 3pm, will bring our garden-loving visitors to three separate but contained walkable neighborhoods close to downtown Iowa City, all within five minutes of each other. We will continue our theme of supporting local pollinators in our gardening, and are showcasing homes with beautiful vistas, hand-built and engaging hardscapes, and edible gardens. Children are especially welcome, as we will be handing out a scavenger hunt sheet at each garden!
Further, this year Project GREEN is partnering with the Old Capitol Quilters Guild, and several quilts will be displayed throughout the tour; one of the most beautiful quilts we have ever seen has been donated as a raffle item and all proceeds will go to beautifying Iowa City landscapes!
Following are descriptions provided by our host gardeners. For an “extended version” of this article with additional gorgeous photos, please visit our website at www.projectgreen.org.
NEIGHBORHOOD 1 [FAIRVIEW/EAST COURT/EAST COLLEGE near CITY HIGH]
Mary Morrison and Libby Kestle (1402 East Court Street)
“I want our garden to be a tranquil escape and for it to be bird and bee friendly. We have tried to focus on native perennials, bee friendly plants, hardy and easy to care for plants. I love hydrangea-like blossoms, so I have a few varieties. I also love purple flowers. I am continually working on adding more perennials and get color all season long and visual interest all year long.
I love Seed Saver's so I have been incorporating some of their bee friendly plants from seed, and using their seeds for the vegetable garden. We have blueberries, thornless blackberries, rhubarb, and 2 dwarf cherry trees. I have a few Buck roses. The thornless blackberries came from a sale at the Rec Center. The red rhubarb and peonies came from my parents’ garden from Keosauqua (1959) via Cresco (1999). We have a new tulip tree and a redbud in the back yard to replace an ash.
I want our garden to feel like a hideaway and an escape. We also have a pond- love the sound of running water. It is a dog friendly place.
I love being outside as much as possible. I love to stay busy and am a visual person and like to be creative. Libby loves bee keeping and learning about bees and their behavior. She is a scientist at heart. We both have stressful jobs so the yard and bees are great stress relievers and provide us a huge amount of enjoyment for us our family and our friends.”
Philip and Julia Mears (1507 East College):
“We moved to our house in 1983 and our garden has been growing and evolving for 35 years. We have a nice mix of sun and shade, and mature trees. Our corner-lot has always been very visible and open to people walking or driving by. I garden so everyone can enjoy it.
When we first moved in we tried to grow vegetables. There was not enough sun. We put up a swing set for our children. There was much grass. And slowly the garden grew. The swing set came down. The grass began to disappear. Our daughter Katie, then age 12, designed and put in the little still pond in the backyard. She said we needed a water feature. She even did the digging.
The last thirty years have seen a series of enthusiasms. In the beginning there were hostas and daylilies. Then there have been epimedium and iris and hellebores and lilium of all kinds.
I think the garden is best in April, with so many spring bulbs. There is the wonderful sequence of the blue of the scilla followed by the bluebells. The hosta are particularly nice amidst the bluebells. At the same time I try to make sure there is something of interest in all the months. Late fall can be a challenge.
I garden all the way to the curb. I have filled up the two dimensions. I now look to the only available space: I have started going up. I hang plants in the trees. I have a few orchids and then there are the wonderful plants called epiphyllum, or orchid cactuses. They are cousins of the Christmas cactus everyone knows. But they have much bigger flowers and bloom in the summer.
In the last few years I have been expanding the garden paths to make the garden more accessible. When there is a wonderful yellow toadlily in bloom, I want people to be able to see it.
While the garden walk is on a particular day in June, I encourage people to come by, from early spring on. To understand a garden or gardening, I think it is important to see how a garden progresses throughout the year. You should see the spring bulbs give way to the hostas and then the lilies. Maybe you will be able to catch some of the orchid cactus plants, which should start blooming in early June.
You can see most of the garden from the sidewalk and the street. You are also welcome to just wander through on the paths, even when we are not home. But if I am out in the garden, please say hello. I enjoy gardening. I enjoy talking about gardening just about as much.”
You can read about the garden and see the best pictures at my garden blog located at http://mearsgarden.blogspot.com/
NEIGHBORHOOD 2 [WINDSOR HEIGHTS, JUST WEST OF REGINA]
Ginny and Bryan 518 Woodridge Avenue
“We enjoy gardening for the beauty it yields and because it is a relaxing and peaceful endeavor, and we enjoy the challenge that each weather condition provides. Our front yard garden is highlighted with a berm featuring low-growing evergreen shrubs interspersed with perennial "Iris cristata", ground cover and some annuals for color. The front walkway features perennial Wintercreeper (Euonymus) ground cover and boxwood shrubs.
The east side of the patio is planted with a row of very hardy and architectural Easter Hornbeam trees which add shade. The trees are interspersed with upright boxwood shrubs which help to cover a retaining wall.
Proceeding to the back yard, the look becomes more casual. Around the foundation of the house are plantings of spirea, cypress, some hydrangeas and viburnum, and shady perennials. Once again Wintercreeper is featured around a sitting patio. The fenced cutting garden contains a mixture of sunny perennials and many annuals started mostly from seed. Zinnias are a feature because of the bright color they add to the back yard, and because they are a great cutting flower. This is a favorite spot for butterflies which frequent the garden plants. Living next to Hickory Hill park, deer are constant visitors, and outside the fence we have tried to plant things that are not attractive to them!”
Blossom Perkins Shaw and Jay Shaw (309 Windsor Drive)
“’Why do I work so hard in my gardens?’ I wrote in my journal in 1981. When we moved to our home on a large lot on the eastside of Iowa City in 1979 there were seven big shade trees, a few yard plantings, sparse grass, and muddy slopes. My need to tackle such problems started me on my gardening journey to create what I call my ’38-years work of art.’
Our yard is designed by me and mostly done by me with help from my husband and students. It features a native woodland garden, hosta hill, shade terrace, wood chip island, prairie garden, and four butterfly and bee gardens. I built small walls using native rocks to hold and outline some beds. We save our leaves for mulch and use fallen branches to build a brush pile for wildlife. We provide for birds with feeders, water, plantings and nest boxes. Our yard is certified by the National Wildlife Federation, the North America Butterfly Association, and the Bee Friendly program. Everyone in our family loves this natural habitat.
Now, many years later, the words I wrote in 1981 still hold true: ‘…because I love being close to nature, because this is our territory – a place to make as beautiful and natural as I have the energy to do. And at the end of the day, when the low sun filters across textures and colors fo floers and leaves, and the chickadees and cardinals visit me again, I know that with my time and toil I have made this beautiful garden to grow and last – as long as I keep on weeding.’”
Scott and Sheri Swartzendruber (
“The Swartzendruber backyard invites you to relax with a glass of lemonade under the pergola. The yard focus is a gigantic white pine with a Japanese bird bath beneath it, a place that the birds love to stop for a drink. The white pine is surrounded by many varieties of hostas and astilbes. The tiered flower garden contains many natural tall grasses and a variety of annual and perennial flowers to splash color here and there.
The backyard is an active one, depending on which grandchild is there with their football, baseball or frisbie before the family bar-b-q.”
NEIGHBORHOOD 3 [S. 7th AVENUE]
Martha Norbeck (906 S. 7th Avenue]
“As a green architect, my first task with this property was to redo the building – formerly a shed – into a livable space with proper “green” materials including a solar panel. Ten years ago the first fruit tree was planted followed by green beans strung on the porch. Now there are many kinds of berries, various vegetables, two nut trees, and apple tree and many varieties of flowers and herbs.”
Jon Yagla (911 South 7th Avenue)
“All of the garden beds at The Millet Seed are approximately 4' by 25' to maximize the efficiency of planning, planting and harvesting of food crops. We grow a large variety of fruits and vegetables for home use and for CSA shares from May-October. One of my favorite vegetables to grow is the Egyptian walking onion. This perennial onion has alien like top sets and we eat the delicious green onions and shallot like bulbs. Our goal is to grow healthy food for our community while taking excellent care of the soil and using as little fossil fuels as possible. We follow organic practices, no till, and deep mulching for maximum carbon sequestration and plant and soil health. Visit www.themilletseed.com to learn more about our CSA and what we grow. “