Pleasing patchwork

Rural Shueyville garden suits 150-year-old farm

Home & Garden, house, Life & Accent,
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July 27, 2014 | 12:01 am

SHUEYVILLE — It’s not that Kathy Bowersox’s garden is so much in a plot as it is in patches. It’s just kind of sprinkled all over the yard at their 1865 brick house, built on rolling farmland near this Johnson County village of 610 or so souls.

There are flowers lining a pristine white picket fence on both sides; flowers by the house foundation, and by the vintage cellar doors, the kind that are sloped at a 45-degree angle to the house and open in the middle — the kind that you headed for in rural areas when a tornado was coming.

Kathy definitely thinks outside the box, and “ample examples” are easily seen: All about the farmyard are rusted stools or chipped chairs, even a short scarred stepladder, each home to a sprightly pot of flowers. No, it’s not Junkyard 101. It’s charming and quaint, something a lot of people wouldn’t do, but makes you want to look around and discover more.

Winding around the side of the house, you come to a stand-alone wire gate, with a sign that says “Garden Gate.” Below it are the pure white blossoms of a phlox plant.

“This will be my purple and white garden,” says the tall, brown-haired Kathy, 68, clearly seeing its promise in her mind’s eye. The old gate came from the farm property and was confiscated by “the lady of the garden,” who knew that in her hands it would become a visual attraction, not fodder for a discard pile.

A short distance away are the cellar doors; standing sentinel is a gorgeous scarlet daylily sporting Frenched edges.

Then — there is the potting shed. Built a year ago on the site of a razed washhouse, the potting shed name is kind of a misnomer because Kathy uses it largely for refreshments (kept in the refrigerator) — and contentment. She has a coffeepot in there, and her adult children gave her a new record player that resembles a vintage radio and plays the vinyl records of old.

“It’s more a picnic shed than a potting shed,” Kathy says. “We have breakfast out here sometimes, too. I do keep all my gardening tools in here, though.”

Bright eye-popping colors define the potting shed, along with the thrift shop finds with which she has furnished it. Two identical cabinets sporting under-shelf lighting were found at St. Vincent de Paul and Kathy painted them shocking pink. Four chairs “probably from Goodwill” in lime green, royal blue, purple and electric pink surround a venerable metal-topped table she got from her mother-in-law. Kathy painted the block legs purple, put a perky cloth on it handkerchief style and turned it into a real eye-catcher.

The shed comes in handy for the garden walk Kathy has hosted for the past two years, the most recent on July 14. Visitors enjoy the cozy shed after a walk around the grounds.

On the coffee cabinet is a lovely frosted Mason jar that depicts a bird by silhouetting it in clear glass. Expensive? No, it was found at Wal-Mart. Kathy prefers charm on a budget.

“I’ve gardened since we moved here in 1995,” she says, “but I just got serious about it three years ago. Friends and family have really helped me with tips and advice. My husband helps with the chores; he brings rocks and digs lots of holes for me. He enjoys the flowers.”

Kathy’s becoming serious about gardening coincided with her retirement in 2011 as a school nurse from the College Community School District. Husband Dave, now 70, retired then, too. “Dave has farmed all his life (for 47 years) after he graduated from Iowa State,” she says. “He grew crops all his life and now I can grow flowers….”

As for her style, she admits “I’ve always liked older things, chairs and even old flowers like hollyhocks.”

And old-fashioned flowers abound throughout the yard. One doesn’t see hollyhocks that often these days, but they proliferate at the Bowersox place, rearing their tall blossoms above the heads of the other flowers. There’s also the spreading rose bush that Kathy planted in 1995, “Rosa rugosa,” (Japanese rose) that is now a proud matron, boasting generous proportions.

Kathy’s favorite flower is the peony.

“I have my mom’s peonies and my husband’s mom’s peonies and I’m sure they were their moms’ peonies,” she says with a smile.

There are all varieties, colors and heights of flowers here, ranging from tall hollyhocks and roses to the low, sedate lamb’s ear, the medium height bright yellow coreopsis with its dill-like foliage, to the fat, deep purple hydrangea and pink/jonquil yellow/scarlet daylilies, the latter acting as if they are the queen of flowers — elegant, stately.

Not to be ignored are the ubiquitous Queen Anne’s lace, dusty miller, coralbells, dianthus, scarlet bee balm, and — the blue bomb Veronica, Veronica being a tall, spiky flower that’s perhaps a little known species of perennial.

Of particular interest is a hydrangea called “Blushing Bride.” Kathy says it starts out white and evolves into a pale “blushing” pink.

Weathered birdhouses are sprinkled about the grounds like petals on a summer day.

The Bowersoxes added a firepit toward the back of the premises and a spacious patio by the potting shed. Field stones punctuate the landscaping and here you will find Kathy’s favorite pot of flowers: the vary-colored lantana.

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