Thirty years ago, when Karen and Bob Noyes purchased their Brentwood home, the house needed some TLC. But oh, that row of hostas along the back fence; they caught Karen's eye and it was love at first sight. "I think I wanted the hostas more than I wanted the house," she ruefully admits.
Fast forward to the present. "I don't think any of those original hostas are still in my garden," she sheepishly confesses. "I gave some away, and I got interested in different, more unusual varieties." While the hostas may have made their way to other gardens or gardening heaven, hundreds of other trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals are alive and living spectacularly well in Karen's amazing landscape.
It is a landscape she has personally planted from the ground up with seeds of ideas gathered studying untold gardening articles in magazines and, later, online. "I looked at magazines and researched English gardens," she explains. "I liked the cottage gardens because they are able to put a lot in a small space. But I also like the formal English gardens with the regular shapes and the boxwoods."
From the stacked-stone edging around the garden to the water feature with its lovely lilies and bubbling brook, Karen has selected, carried and stacked every rock. "My husband dug the fish pond, but I did the waterfall," she notes.
Doing a lot with a small space was important because their entire yard, including the house, is just over a third of an acre. "I used to call it my jam garden because there were so many things I loved, and I was always trying to jam in one more thing," Karen says laughing. "I also learned to garden upward," she adds, noting the vines, trellises and plant stands that add a vertical element and additional plants to the garden.
While the profusion of plants could have been chaotic, Karen's love of the more formal English style has tempered any chaos and provided structure and flow to the space. "It is really a combination of informal and formal gardening," she explains. "I like to think of the evergreens and the boxwoods as my furniture and everything else as my accessories."
Throughout the years, the garden has changed and evolved, particularly 18 years ago when Karen and Bob put an addition on their home. A self-taught gardener, Karen notes that she is not afraid of moving plants to a new spot. "I am definitely good at relocating plants, and I am forever changing the color palette," she says, pointing out that conditions are always changing. "You lose a tree, or something bushes out. I have also probably killed at least one of every plant in the garden."
"Gardening is really a lot of trial and error," she points out. "It takes a while to figure out what blooms when to get color throughout the season. No matter what they tell you on the plant tag as to the height or when it blooms, it is never quite right." Nevertheless, Karen has saved the tags of every plant she has purchased, but to insure accuracy she also keeps a journal and some years has created a diagram of the garden and when plants have bloomed. Her spectacular plantsmanship and design skills resulted in her garden being selected to be on last year's prestigious Missouri Botanical Garden garden tour. Thrilled for their mother, her two grown children flew in from Atlanta and California.
Karen began her love of gardening working with her father who was a vegetable gardener but also grew flowers, primarily marigolds, she recalls. She was helped along in that interest in college at William Woods in Fulton, MO, where she formed a fast friendship with a sorority sister Donna Steinhoff, who also loved gardening. The two women have stayed close throughout the years, with Donna creating her own garden in nearby Richmond Heights. "We joke that our husbands never have to worry about our buying expensive jewelry or shoes," Karen says. "We are out shopping for plants, rocks and mulch."
For gardeners just starting out, Karen suggests beginning with hydrangeas and Knock Out roses as the backbone of the garden to provide season-long color and structure. Plants she could not be without in her garden include:
• 'Lady in Red' hydrangeas with pinkish white lacecap flowers that mature to rose burgundy and have the bonus of distinctive red stems and leaf veins
• Snowy white phlox 'David' that blooms from mid-summer through September on tall sturdy stems and is far more mildew resistant than other phlox
• Purple-stemmed hyacinth bean vine with its purple sweet pea-like flowers and pods
• A butterfly bush or two for their sweet scent and the butteflies they bring to the garden
• Bedding annuals angelonia and pentas, which Karen intersperses throughout her landscape for their season-long blooms in a variety of colors and their heat tolerance throughout the summer.
She also considers the sound of flowing water and a birdhouse or a birdbath a landscape essential.
A summer day in the garden begins early for Karen. It starts on the brick patio, surrounded by a slightly dimmed, cottage-style landscape overflowing with what will shortly be brightly colored perennials and annuals. A canopy of lacy porcelain vine intertwined with tiny white lights enhances the setting. With coffee in hand, she and Bob watch the sun rise. "Bob is a great supporter of my gardening and he does garden with me a bit," Karen says. "The only thing he has ever picked out for the garden is a 'Sunkist' arborvitae (with bright, yellow tinged foliage). It is about 5-feet tall and when we watch the sun come upon it, it just glows."
Often Karen's coffee cup ends up making it around the garden to see how everything is doing. "It is so relaxing; such wonderful therapy. It is a calming, peaceful, reflective time. After coffee, I get my gloves on and my shoes on and tackle whatever needs to be tackled."