FIELD TRIP: Good Bones in Louisburg

A field trip to Louisburg with garden ally Shelley Nunnelee last Saturday, to visit his cousins in their new home and garden. Louisburg is about 40 miles due south of Kansas City, essentially a bedroom community, home to the locally famed Louisburg Cider Mill. Mulled cider corrected with spirits is a popular winter drink in these parts.

We pass the Cider Mill on Main Street, drive through the industrial district and then onto a dirt road for a mile or so into the country, pulling up to a massive, medieval-looking gate. Shelley punches the entry code, the gate swings open and we head down the drive, past an acre-sized pond, to this:

house from pond looking west

Aime and Kevin Bybee rented this property in January of this year, looking to get out of the city and expose their three young sons to the joys of country living. They got a great deal on the rent but this winter’s heating bills were staggering. The house and grounds came fully and handsomely outfitted. The owners built this place as their dream home but eventually moved on, leaving, it seems, everything but their clothes.

house weeping willow

The house sits on 60 acres, heavily wooded with a lot of oak. There’s plentiful water on the property, several creeks and springs, and the ground around the house is often boggy–hence the happy weeping willow.

1drive court

The drive court with island of spruce and box. Blue slate on the roof.

2front door

The front entry gets scorching afternoon sun but there are 30-foot oaks on the other side of the drive. Once the trees leaf out, the entry will be mostly shady and cool. The ivy on the wall might be a mistake in the long run–it can tear up shingles–but the foundation plantings have good bones. I wouldn’t do much here but prune and clean up, take away the planter boxes (too much watering), and plant something low and chartreuse along the walkway, maybe Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia “Aurea,” or miniature Hosta. The Hosta is Kansas’ unofficial State Plant.

3carriage house

I’ve never seen so many urns in a private garden, starting with the pair flanking the portico. Some hefty, ball-clipped box would play well off the arched braces and all the straight lines.

animal alpaca paddock & greenhouse looking north

Looking north from the drive. The paddock on the right used to house alpacas, but what’s that on the left? Oh, yes indeed.


The property lay vacant for six years so things are looking a little rumpled–a look I mostly like. This area certainly needs some editing and clean-up, particularly inside, but to my eyes this is a beautiful sight to behold.

greenhouse cold frame

Magnolia, juniper and box around the cold frame.

greenhouse outdoor shower

Outdoor shower? Of course.

greenhouse planter box

A nice place for dwarf lavenders.

greenhouse chandelier 2

Think of how this looks at night.

pool & greenhouse

The greenhouse from the north side of the pool. I count five urns in this view and there are two on plinths behind me. Turns out, there’s a method to the urn madness. They act as visual barriers to the unfenced, 10-foot drop to the recirculating moat below–essential, as the owners did a lot of entertaining. As I hate to see a good urn go wasted, I’d plant each of these with a single  Sporobolus heterolepis, our native Prairie Dropseed, whose fine-leaved, two-foot mounds would echo the surrounding landscape and require infrequent watering. A strong mid-green in spring and summer, airy flower spikes in late summer, golden color in fall and their moptops mounded with snow in winter.

pool pots pond

This is an infinity pool, merging seamlessly with the pond in the distance, carefully thought out and beautifully executed. Hardy rosemary in the pots would look like miniature versions of the Eastern Red Cedars, Juniperus virginiana (not a cedar at all), dotted throughout the woods. Most of the pots and urns around the pool currently contain Sedum spurium “Voodoo,” a very useful plant.

pool & pond

Pool and pond.

pool urn of sedum

I enjoy the irony of a groundcover in a massive urn–in such cases, the urn is the subject, not the plant. But as this urn stands on the stairs between patio and pool–a heavily trafficked area with morning sun and dappled afternoon shade–it calls for a small, fragrant shrub. No thorns.

wisteria arbor looking north

How’s this for a Wisteria-proof arbor? Wisteria sinensis, I believe, but the cultivar remains a mystery  until bloom. The curved box hedges need a touch up next winter and the roses, identities unknown, are a bit shaggy, but this solid and restrained arrangement perfectly complements the house and has a nice patina of age.

wisteria patio

The lower level of the patio. The Rhododendron at left is swelling in bud.

wisteria patio fireplace

Fireplace and grill on the upper patio level.

wisteria garden ornaments

Garden ornaments on the patio sideboard. Behind, the pergola in the side yard.

side yard

Lots of plants coming up in the side yard where the ornamentation is heaviest, the remnants of a wedding hosted by the owners many years ago.

side yard rose & box

Side yard looking west to a grove of red cedars.

side yard urns

Curly parsley would echo the box and amp up the green, blue-flowered Browallia americana would cool things down and coral-orange Coleus “Sedona” would grab the eye but those plants require frequent watering. The Bybees are a family on the go and the full-time gardening staff was dismissed when the owners departed. Perhaps the best bet would be to fill the urns with soil mounded slightly above the rims and transplant some of the abundant native moss, yellowish olive green in color, that grows under the red cedars in the woods. Tuck in a few small bulbs–pale blue Ipheon uniflorum; species tulips in many shapes and colors; tall and wiry Tritelia “Rudy” with white flowers pinstriped in violet; or fall-blooming Crocus sativus, the source of saffron–for close-up viewing and discreet patches of color.

side yard urn & box 2

For the centerpiece, if there is enough sun, a cardoon, Cynara cardunculus, a relative of the artichoke. Or a tall and arching grass suggesting a fountain. A purple grass might read somber in this shady copse, but a shimmering, slender-leaved grass–Miscanthus sinensis “Morning Light” comes to mind–might fit the bill, extending the “grasses in urns” theme established by the pool. We need to be wary of the prairie-gobbling Miscanthus clan in Kansas but there are many grassy options–blue-leaved Panicum virgatum “Heavy Metal,” for example. If too shady for cardoon or grass, perhaps a hardy Acanthus with deeply incised, dark green leaves and tall summer stalks of purple-spotted, silvery foxglove flowers.


The pond is stocked with largemouth bass, crappie and catfish.

dock ben fishing

Ben, eight years old, is a catch-and-release angler.

vegetable garden

An eight-foot fence surrounds the 14 beds in the vegetable garden. This property is paradise for deer.

animal coop

This, my friends, is a chicken coop. Look closely at the fence on the porch.

animal coop fence

Detail of coop porch fence.

front loader

As essential as a shovel in a garden of this scale.

animal barn bridge

The bridge to the barn spans a deep gully.

animal barn

Inside, the barn doubles as a regulation basketball court. Horse stables and a paddock rich with aged manure are on the north side.

A lengthy tour, I admit, but much remains to be shown. Future trips will document the changes in this fine garden. Thanks to Aime, Kevin and the boys, and Aunt Sharon, for a delightful field trip, and to Shelley for making it happen. The best picture was saved for last:

animal mess of kittens

A mess of kittens on the dining room porch.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: