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Gardens galore at Tallgrass Creek

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August 20th, 2014
woman in a garden
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Walkers strolling Tallgrass Creek’s lush Overland Park campus on a sunny, Kansas morning are often drawn to a charmingly fenced area located just north of the community’s main entrance. A quick peek behind the slatted wooden fence will usually find several residents planting, weeding, or harvesting in plentiful, well-maintained gardens. 

The 48 garden spaces are provided by Tallgrass Creek to its resident gardeners and measure 10 feet by 10 feet. Creek is responsible for the soil, water, and rototilling, while residents take care of the design, planting, and maintenance of their individual gardens. The result is an eye-popping plethora of unique garden spaces, one tended by gardening enthusiast Al Schwandt.

“Gardening is good for the soul,” says Al, who has gardened since he was a child. “I think it’s just in my blood.” 

Flowers and fences

Al’s gardening roots run deep. He grew up on his family’s dairy farm in Wisconsin, which produced flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees. 

“As a high schooler, I plowed the soil with a team of horses,” says Al, a retired pastor, who, along with wife Mary, moved to Tallgrass Creek in 2011 from Lincoln, Neb. “I can remember when tractors first began being used—a huge step forward for farming.”  

Al is well known to Tallgrass Creek gardeners not only for his homegrown vegetables, but also for his woodworking skills. He oversaw the construction of more than 320 feet of “rabbit” fence that fellow gardeners have used to keep the pesky critters away from their plants. The fences are chicken wire framed in wood with latch gates for easy access. Al, assisted by other residents, cut and fashioned the fencing in Tallgrass Creek’s spacious woodshop located behind the Sunflower Bistro and finished them in the garden area.  

“As a child, I was always the one my dad chose to do the carpentry projects, so when rabbits became a problem, I was the natural one to help make rabbit fences,” says Al. 

A year ago, Al also helped stain the entire fence that surrounds all the gardens. 

“Several other residents pitched in so it wasn’t difficult,” says Al. “It’s something we felt we could do, and it made a big difference.”  

Tasty vegetables, pretty blooms, and woodworking projects are only part of the reason Al gardens.  

“I’m a practical person,” notes Al. “I like to see the results of my labor, and gardening fits right into that.” 

Lots of lovely lilies

Bettye Coughenour’s daylilies make a stunning statement in her Tallgrass Creek garden. Bettye has loved daylilies for as long as she can remember. The lovely blooms actually helped lead her to Tallgrass Creek in 2011. 

“When I decided to move to a retirement community, I looked for three things,” says Bettye. “A place to swim, a place to paint, and a place to garden. Tallgrass had all three.” 

From her former Wellsville, Kans., home, she moved 35 daylilies, (some more than 25 years old) to her Tallgrass Creek gardening space before she moved furniture into her new residence. 

Her love for the elegant flowers runs in the family.  

“My mother grew day daylilies, and I fell in love with them as a little girl,” says Bettye. “At one point, I had about 450 plants!” 

Lilies in the spotlight

All Tallgrass Creek residents—gardeners and non-gardeners alike—enjoy Bettye’s daylilies thanks to neighbor Lila Martin, who made a captivating video montage of the colorful, luxurious blooms. The video is set to music and plays on the community’s television station throughout the day. Several TV screens are stationed throughout campus, and both residents and staff are drawn to the video’s peaceful message of beauty. 

Lila, an avid photographer and retired teacher, has made other nature-oriented videos for the community’s television station, including one about the many native wildflowers on Tallgrass Creek’s rambling, 65-acre campus. She took about 200 photos of Bettye’s daylilies to capture their uncommon beauty.  

“I didn’t include words because these wonderful blooms speak for themselves,” says Lila, who is rarely without her camera. “Each one is beautifully unique, and together they are just breathtaking.” 

Lila and husband Jerry also have a garden space. Lila grows zinnias, and Jerry grows tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, okra, green beans, and for the first time this season, apple melons. 

No two the same

Each resident’s garden has its own unique look and personality. There are cutting gardens of gorgeous blooms, vegetable gardens of ripening produce, gardens full of wandering vines heavy with pumpkins and squash, even a troll garden populated with the funny, mythical people.  

“Just like people, every garden is different,” notes Al. “Which is another wonderful thing about gardening.” 

Bettye notes all gardens have one thing in common. “They are planted and cared for with love, optimism, and anticipation,” she says. “There’s nothing like seeing those first shoots come up in the spring. It’s always magical—and wonderful therapy!” 

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