Douglas County Extension Master Gardeners: Connect to natural beauty in tour of 7 local gardens (Column)

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This year, perhaps more than any other, many of us are seeking a connection to the natural world and the beauty and serenity it provides. 

Douglas County Extension Master Gardeners will provide beauty and inspiration with our New Beginnings Garden Tour of seven gardens Saturday and Sunday, June 5 and 6. Tickets can be purchased for $10 online at, or in person on tour days at the Douglas County Extension Demonstration Gardens at 2110 Harper St. in Lawrence.

The New Beginnings theme reminds us that despite trying times, every season, like every garden, begins anew. Each of the homeowners selected for the 2021 tour has a story to share of how they began developing their gardens into spaces of beauty designed to delight and inspire. 

To add beauty to your garden, you can also preorder bloom boxes with three native plants of six different varieties (18 plants) for $60. You can see the varieties available, and pay online, at Orders will be available for pick up on Saturday. All plants are native to Kansas, locally grown and pesticide free. Any remaining plants will be sold at the Demo Garden Saturday morning.

Douglas County Extension Demonstration Gardens. Both novice and experienced gardeners will benefit from starting their tour at the Douglas County Extension Demonstration Gardens at 2110 Harper St. This educational site has more than 10 themed garden beds designed to inspire and educate. Experienced volunteers will be on hand to answer questions about plants that support pollination, deciduous and evergreen shrubs, bird gardens, daylilies, native grasses and more. Visitors to the Demonstration Gardens may also participate in a raffle or purchase garden art. Although the demonstration gardens are free and open to the public, tickets are required for visiting the remaining six gardens. 

Honoring the Past. Visitors to the home of caterer Evan Williams and Roger Walter will experience the history of the home and garden likely built in 1861. In 1986, a fire destroyed a barn on the property, prompting Evan’s mom to salvage the limestone ruins and lay the foundation for the gardens that exist today. The low-maintenance garden highlights a vast array of perennials including roses, peonies, alliums, hydrangeas, hostas and coreopsis spread throughout stone walls and pathways. Edible plants and herbs support the owner’s culinary passions. 

Outdoor Living. For those who prefer a contemporary style, the gardens of Colette and Ron Gaches will not disappoint. The outdoor living space has been expanded with hardscaping, colorful potted plants, perennials, maple and redbud trees. Visitors will enjoy seeing the Mission Bells Deep Rose Beardtongue Penstemon and the tree hydrangeas as well as the azaleas gracing the entrance to the garden. Giant hostas surround the fire pit and garden sculptures grace both the front and back gardens. 

Diane Guthrie Photography For those who prefer a contemporary style, the gardens of Colette and Ron Gaches will not disappoint.

Private Garden, Public Spaces. Master Gardener Laura Ross demonstrates how to reduce turf and invite neighbors into public spaces in front of her home. Each spring, neighbors are greeted with a vast array of daffodils, giant crocus, Siberian squill, winter wolf bane, bluebells, tulips and hyacinths. Stone pathways lead through specialty beds filled with prized daylilies with names like Miss Piggy, Ducks Dark Side and Red Kangaroo. There is also an “older than dirt” patch with cultivars that were started before Laura was born. 

Reclaim, Reuse, Restore. For retired physician Joan Brunfeldt and her husband David, protecting their environment from encroaching development through restoration and recycling is a top priority. The garden features plants reclaimed from sites throughout the city, structures and yard art created from recycled materials, and hardscaping created from unusual artifacts, such as a goldfish pond made from a recycled radar dish. The 5 acres abound with a diversity of plant life and building materials that create a breathtaking haven for the family. 

Balance and Color. Photographer Diane Guthrie brings her artistic eye to creating a woodland garden nestled in an older subdivision of west Lawrence. She and husband Jim share a collaborative process resulting in spaces that highlight balance and color. From forsythia hedges that protect emerging tulips to the stone pathways that lead past an outdoor pond, to the beehive tucked away in the vegetable garden, no detail is spared. The garden is an evolution of years of experimentation resulting in an inspired landscape. 

Garden on the Hill. Last but certainly not least is the garden on the hill, developed by Alicia and Cassidy Retter. Located southeast of Lawrence, the property was established in 1979 when rare peonies and iris were planted as a commercial enterprise. When the Retters purchased the home and gardens, many of the original plants had been sold off. Saving the few small remaining rhizomes and peonies, the couple expanded their landscape design by introducing a vast array of cut flowers, fruits and vegetables. One of the most captivating additions is a magnificent Koi pond featuring a 3-foot cascading waterfall with a view of the old Sibleyville Hills in the background. Hyacinth, water willow, hibiscus, iris, and water forget-me-nots engulf the pond. 

For more tour information, visit

— Douglas County Extension Master Gardeners are people who love to garden, learn about gardening and share what they learn with others. They are a community of gardeners who share a curiosity for learning, a passion for conservation, and a sense of obligation to enrich our community through outreach, education and beautification. They are volunteers trained in all aspects of horticulture, and their mission is to provide research-based gardening information to help Douglas County residents.

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