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Mark your Calendar – 2017 Garden Tour will be Sunday, June 25, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.


"Secret Northside Gardens"
(rain or shine)

This past June 25th was a day brimming with Iowa heat and humidity, but it was a beautiful sunny day -- the first garden tour in three years that wasn't rained out! Hurray! This tour may have also convinced two of the host gardeners to become co-chairs for future garden tours! (No final commitment has been made so we'll not yet announce their names, but it looks hopeful!)

So on a late Saturday afternoon into the early evening, a little over 760 garden visitors were treated to a walking tour that featured 12 gardens! Traversing a loop that led through six backyard gardens and past six front yard gardens, visitors also enjoyed a stroll through a neighborhood of historic and beautiful homes. We began on Linn Street north of its intersection with Brown Street, circled the loop of Bella Vista Place, then returned to Linn. Halfway through the walk, visitors were greeted in a roadside gazebo by "the Lemonade Brigade" headed up by Sophie Wagner. Besides offering cool refreshment to the hot participants, she donated the proceeds of $106.75 to Project GREEN!

BARB & AL SMART, in residence at 222 Brown Street, have created a private and very appealing backyard shade garden that they have tweaked over the past 30 years. Under the dappled shade, hydrangeas, hostas and bright annuals were clustered around both open and enclosed seating areas, a stone patio and main pathway, plus a delightful burbling waterfall and goldfish pond. Through a gated connecting fence, visitors moved into the next hosta haven.

When JAN ALAN moved to 815 North Linn Street in 2007, the ravines were full of trash, trees, nettles and weeds. The house was built for Carl Seashore in 1914, complete with a fish pond, but erosion had taken its toll. Retaining walls now keep the entire hillside from dropping down to Dubuque Street. Jan expanded this shady glen completely through the adjoining two backyards, joined by paths built with tree slices from downed trunks. Along with her assistant, Tim Roundtree Bay, they have weeded, dug, transplanted and watered, transforming three backyards into one continuous shady valley!
These adjoining gardens are owned by VICKI SOLURSH, who rents out 817 North Linn and lives next door at 819 North Linn. Over 40 years ago, Vicki and husband Michael planted flowers in the front and began taming the overgrown and tangled "mess" in the back. But after Michael passed away, Vicki hired various garden care services until Jan Alan moved in, releasing both backyards into the capable hands of Jan and Tim!

BRUCE AYATI & BECKY POPELCKA garden in the next property at 821 North Linn. This relatively new garden was begun in 2014 and is "definitely a work in progress," according to Becky. Bruce installed hardscaping, including a patio, retaining walls, and a fire pit area where they can gaze upon a spectacular view of the new Hancher Auditorium. Many of their flowering plants have been transplants from the garden of Becky's mother, Sylvia Popelka, who also helps in this garden.

The next backyard garden, at 5 Bella Vista Place, was created by TONY COLBY. Tony's overgrown slope was reclaimed in 2006 in the aftermath of a tremendous storm. On one summer's day, Tony, Marti Milani and her son Phil Ribble planted 60 trees, plants and bushes! The magnificent multi-level decks and sparkling water fountain were built in 2007. Tony's vision for his garden is a sanctuary in the spirit of the Lakota Tribe: "for the standing, the two-legged, the four-legged, and the winged." Enhancing this vision is a collection of exquisite stone and metal sculptures, collected from all over the country. An artistic haven!

LISA & SCOTT McDONOUGH have been working on their property at 10 Bella Vista Place since they moved here five years ago. They installed a sculpture piece created by Dale Merrill on the southeast side of the house. The majority of their gardens contain shade plants, but for the first time they will also have the opportunity to experiment with sun-loving plants after recently losing a large oak tree. That's the positive way to look at the loss of a treasured oak!

The tree-lined circular drive around 12 Bella Vista Place with its attractive pink facade brings up enchanting visions of European villas. DAN & LAURIE CUMMINS call themselves momentary caretakers of their lovely 1910 home and property. True to Bella Vista's Italian translation ("beautiful view"), the stunning panorama from atop the hill delights with leafy views in warm weather and full river views in late fall and winter.

GEORGE & JENNIFER WAGNER purchased their 1922 Colonial at 4 Bella Vista Place in 2000. They faced a large cracked driveway, a front stoop covered in bright green plastic turf, and flamboyant weeds everywhere, including the rooftop! Their ultimate goal is to create an ever-blooming cottage cutting garden with edible surprises dotted throughout. Tomatoes, eggplant, peas and dozens of herbs mingled with purple cleome, hyacinth bean (an heirloom from Monticello gardens), Japanese iris, lilies and daylilies.

HALLIE SIMS, at 1 Bella Vista Place, purchased her property in 2006. This former student rental's "garden" consisted of weeds, overgrown yews and arborvitae. Since then, Hallie has replaced concrete sidewalks with stone underlain by French drains to keep the basement dry. Herbs and peppers are planted among hollyhocks and bee balm. In the future she will introduce order to the steeply sloped backyard woodland by installing terraces to reduce erosion and planting native plants with deep root systems.

DAISSY OWEN's garden decorates the front of her busy bed and breakfast at 2 Bella Vista Place. She loves flowers and lots of color, and works every day in her tidy front yard with its numerous rose bushes.

The final stop brought tour-goers back to Linn Street. This sunny/partly shaded front yard garden at 818 North Linn belongs to SAMANTHA KARREL and DAVID WIESENECK. Only in its second year, the ongoing development in their garden will include replacing the turf grass in favor of a teeming plot of herbs and lavender. They wish to create a visually enjoyable and abundant landscape for humans and insects alike!