Green thumb on display

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Charlie Robinson spends upwards of two hours a day watering and working in his back yard garden, and his efforts will be on display this weekend as his home will be part of the annual garden tour.

Charlie Robinson got his passion for gardening from his father. 

"My dad was a gardener and I learned everything from him," Robinson said. "My father would feel very comfortable walking in our back yard. It looks like something he would have done. ... I enjoyed watching him. ... He was into it a little more than I am, he would make his own flowers." 

That passion has landed the home he and Richard Stinnett live in on the Newton Public Library Foundation Garden Tour twice — this year at their new home at 509 Normandy Drive. 

"We just try and have an easy, laid back back yard that is comfortable for people to come into," Robinson said. ""... Everybody seemed to enjoy the style of gardening that we have and it is easily producible in other folks' garden. They asked if we would be on again five years after the first time, at a new location.

The Newton Public Library Foundation will host the 25th annual Newton and North Newton Garden Tour, from 9 a.m. to noon June 12 and 1 to 4 p.m. June 13.

Tickets – suggested donation $10 – will be available at Newton Public Library, 720 N. Oak, or at the gardens during tour hours.

The 2021 garden tour homes belong to Angela and Larry Thompson; Racquel Thiesen and Jason High; Rich Stinnett and Charlie Robinson; and Bonnie and Chuck Neufeld

For Robinson, planning for the garden is all-year long, with Robinson reading magazines through the winter in search of inspiration. 

"This year's garden focus is on colors and using a lot of bright, prmary colors in the pots and the flowers that I am using," he said. 

Robinson and Stinnett moved into this new house in 2019 and once they moved, the work of a new garden began. 

Stinnett said Robinson went to work hard, figuring out where the sun shines the brightest and were the shady spots were, and finding plants for each spot was a lot of work. Stinnett has been building things for the garden, his role. 

For Robinson, however, what takes center stage is his Hosta collection. Hostas are herbaceous perennial plant  with broad  leaves varying in size by species. In his garden there are 150 Hostas, labeled and named with their variety. 

"I love Hostas. I love finding the new varieties and the variety of the year that is out there," Robinson said. 

Hotas take center stage of Charlie Robinson's gardens. He has more than 150 of the plant in different varieties on his property.

Tickets for the garden tour are a  suggested donation $10 – will be available at Newton Public Library, 720 N. Oak, or at the gardens during tour hours.

Tour proceeds go to the Newton Public Library Foundation, an affiliate of Central Kansas Community Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to support Newton Public Library by increasing library resources available to the community.

“For a quarter century now, the annual garden tour has been a significant source of funding and support for the library,” said Dr. Cari Cusick, library director. “We appreciate the homeowners, expert gardeners, and devoted volunteers who have made the tour a mainstay of Newton’s summer calendar.”

About the Gardens

Angela and Larry Thompson, 2016 Briarwood Court, Newton

Angela and Larry Thompson have been creating their own family-friendly, backyard oasis since they built their home in 2008. Their yard has evolved over the years, and they continually add new trees, shrubs, grasses and flowering plants.

In 2015, Larry and his father, the late Larry Thompson, Sr., and Angela’s father, Bob Nattier, installed their swimming pool. Around the pool is a large, stamped-concrete patio area.

The Thompsons’ yard features a variety of large maple trees, a sycamore, arborvitae evergreen, dogwood, rosebud, two crepe myrtles, and a recently-added apple tree. The large rock beds include many perennials such as Rose of Sharon, Karl Foerster grass, maiden grass, butterfly bushes, moonbeam coreopsis, and many potted annuals.

During the warmer months of the year, you will often find the Thompson family and friends gathered poolside, grilling, socializing, and making memories.

Racquel Thiesen and Jason High, 1602 Hillcrest Road, Newton

The Thiesen-High garden isn’t about lush plants and colorful flowers. It isn’t meant to be pristine and untouched. Rather, it’s a place where city life and country living have always been neighbors.

The back yard features grand trees to take shade under and a grassy landscape to play in. In 2019-2020, a fire and water oasis was added, bringing the experience of a mountain stream into an outdoor living space.

An infinity-edge pool with two waterfalls, beautiful evening lighting and fire torches, along with a fireplace and brick pizza oven, create a retreat for all ages to enjoy in every season of the year. Juniper bushes, boxwoods and pampas grass keep the landscape natural-looking and low-maintenance all year.

The front yard includes a well-manicured lawn, shade-loving hostas, and natural stone edging to keep things tidy.

“Some yards and gardens are about vegetables to taste and flowers to smell,” Racquel Thiesen said. “This one is about closing your eyes and basking in sunshine and the sounds of nature.”

Bonnie and Chuck Neufeld, 405 E. 24th Street, North Newton

When Bonnie and Chuck Neufeld moved from Chicago to North Newton six years ago, the house they chose had been vacant for eight years, and the yard had been left in its natural state for many years before that. What grew naturally? Among other things, a lot of honeysuckle.

They removed most of the honeysuckle in the front, but embraced it in the back yard, trimming it up and making paths to create an understory. This wild space provides shelter for the birds the previous owner loved so much.

Since almost nothing of the old gardens remained, the Neufelds created new ones. The front yard now includes a stone walkway and sitting area under a large oak; boxwoods; and a perennial bed with plants from the gardens of many friends.

The back yard had no grass, so they created a winding mulch pathway from the newly-poured patio to the back fence, and began digging beds through very hard clay.

In addition to honeysuckle, the beds include many varieties of hostas and other shade perennials. Each year, the Neufelds add compost along with new plants. A deep layer of bark mulch conserves moisture and amends the soil.

Chuck designed the sitting space and created yard art with rebar and Osage orange disks. A cement tabletop he made sits over two stumps of dead trees that were removed.

“We are grateful for the gift of this space, and welcome folks to come enjoy it with us,” Bonnie said.