If you’re like me, as you go about your day, you’re always on the lookout for plantings that are out of the ordinary. You may have noticed these on the west side of Ward Parkway at 64th Terrace.
Isn’t this spectacular? This is from June. Each month something different has bloomed: red monarda, gold rudbeckia, magenta liatris, and now purple obedient plant—topped off by a fountain of opulent pink mandevillas in the urns. (Google tells me a common name for these is rocktrumpet, which I love.) At times even zinnias and marigolds have bloomed around the base. I love these plantings so much I jog to visit them twice a week.
I’m not their only fan. I’ve seen traffic slow as people pass by, admiring these. I mentioned them to a friend whose interest in gardening has deepened this year, like my own. She not only knew which ones I meant, she said this:
(You can understand why we are friends.)
These plantings are the work of gardener Jacques Bredius, who lives nearby. The Master Gardeners of Greater Kansas City featured his and Danny Bowman’s lush, spectacular garden on their 2015 tour. Their large backyard has several different areas, a mix of sun and shade, which allows them lots of variety. Its centerpiece is a water feature surrounded by pollarded Bradford pear trees. I’ve seen trees trimmed like this in France, but not so often here: the foliage is cut dramatically to prevent limbs from splitting but allow for show-stopping blooms in spring.
Bredius says he’s been taking care of the entrance plantings for thirty-one years, fine tuning them into a satisfying mix that doesn’t change much from year to year. He says it doesn’t change much, but I suspect that his “maintaining” would be “major renovation” for me. This year he added marigolds, and when he didn’t like the effect, he then took out. He seems to approach gardening with a spirit of experimentation. He’s not afraid to move stuff, cut things back, or change things around—whereas I’m always worried about making mistakes.
How did he get interested in gardening? He says it was in the air. He grew up in the Netherlands, and he praises its fertile, sandy soils and mild climate that lacks the temperature extremes we have here: “Everything grows there.” However, since he lived in an apartment, he had no opportunity to garden until his family purchased a seaside cottage when he was twelve years old. It was two hours away, and he describes going there with his sister on Friday afternoons, riding their bikes, taking the ferry. He began spending his allowance on plants, and says, “That’s when I began to live.”
Isn’t that wonderful? How many people start gardening when they’re kids? I remember planting some vegetable seeds in a rocky bed behind of our house—basically tossing them on the ground and hoping they’d sprout, like the hippies in Easy Rider. No one in Bredius’ family taught or inspired him, as they were all apartment dwellers. He learned by trial and error, not by visiting gardens or looking at photographs. When he travels, he prefers to visit the beach.
I like that this entrance planting uses native perennials that are well adapted to our area and beneficial to pollinators, but it doesn’t look like a prairie planting. The style isn’t country. Instead, it’s sumptuous and formal, like a Dutch still life.
I think the urn and mandevilla are key. They’re an example of the unifying power of the focal point. There’s something energizing about the tension between the upright things and the other foliage. And what are those pink flowers dripping down the side of the urn?
Last week I was feeling a little low after some sad things happened, and suddenly I felt very close to the many people around us who are suffering from sadness. Spots of beauty like this literally give a physical feeling of relief. I’m grateful that I got to talk to Jacques Bredius, too. Our conversation was wide-ranging, touching on travel, exercise, family, career. I learned more about gardening and plants than I would have in months on my own. I came away thinking, this man knows how to live. It was also the first time I’ve talked to someone new in six months.
Unexpected generosity can cast a warm glow. You don’t really know who it will touch, or how. Later that evening I drove by the plantings again and saw a woman get out of her parked car and move toward them, holding her camera.