Pond tour for a cause

Sue Spece (left) and JoAnn Johnston arrange a garden ornament at Johnston's home Friday, June 22, 2012, in Independence, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)
Sue Spece (left) and JoAnn Johnston arrange a garden ornament at Johnston's home Friday, June 22, 2012, in Independence, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

QUASQUETON — Soothing sounds from a water wheel provide perfect accompaniment to the tranquil gardens at a stop on the Eastern Iowa Pond Society’s upcoming tour.

But this is no ordinary stop.

The family that tends the gardens is the beneficiary of this year’s event, which features its largest tour ever on July 8, showcasing 22 water gardens.

“It’s just very touching, all of the support from everyone who’s helping,” says Sue Spece of Independence. “It’s just amazing all the stuff that people are willing to do.”

Spece, 54, gardens the property with her son, Josh Spece, 32, and her mother, JoAnn Johnston.

Johnston, 74, lives on the acreage northwest of Quasqueton where Sue and Josh moved their business this spring, called In the Country Garden & Gifts.

The goal is that in a year or so, the Spece family will have a new home on the property, too.

Josh and his brother, Jacob, 23, and sister, Jackie Heinz, 31, have spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic condition that causes muscle damage. All three use wheelchairs and operate businesses.

Heinz owns two dance studios and Jacob Spece raises heifers.

The family was passed over after being nominated for the show, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” but community members started their own fundraiser for a wheelchair-accessible house.

“They are amazing and inspiring, which is why so many have stepped up to help them get a new home,” says Kathy Finholt, co-chairwoman of “Building a Dream in the Country.”


The group was formed to raise money for a house for the Spece family that will include lifts and other devices to assist in their care. Jackie’s husband, Jim, helps with the lifting, but Sue Spece has long been the primary caregiver.

Finholt says the pond society is the 19th group to step forward with fundraising for the home.

The self-guided pond tour — double the size of last year’s tour — is split into north and south regions in the Cedar Rapids and Independence areas.

Owner-designed features to professionally planned landscapes with ponds, meandering streams and tumbling waterfalls will be featured. Pond owners will be on-site for information about ponds, plants and fish.

Josh Spece credits his grandmother for his love of gardening.

“I always blame it on grandma,” he jokes.

Johnston would often buy one hosta for herself and another for him.

“For a long time, she had more hostas than I did, but somewhere along the line, that flip-flopped,” he says, estimating he has 700 varieties between his business and gardens.

While he prefers not to name a favorite, Josh points to “Liberty,” the 2012 Hosta of the Year, and the dark-blue/creamy gold “June,” as among his top choices.

Hosta, water plants and succulents are the focus of the business, along with pond and garden products, such as statues, birdhouses and papercrete art made with a mix of paper, vermiculite and cement.

Garden art, including two succulent planters made from disc blades and hung with barbed wire, dot the lush hills of the acreage.

Purple coneflower and blue larkspur thrive in partial sun with other perennials.

The pond and water wheel are surrounded by shade-loving hosta.

Hosta also dominate a new shade garden built under a pergola.

“Hosta people are kind of backwards, I guess,” Josh says. “We never have enough shade.”


Pond and Water Garden 2012 Tour

•             WHAT: Eastern Iowa Pond Society 2012 Water Garden Tour

•             WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, July 8, rain or shine.

•             WHERE: Start at any site for maps, tickets and information.

•             ADMISSION: $5; children under 18, free.

•             INFORMATION:

Recommended southern tour starting point: 1323 34th St., SE, Cedar Rapids, where an aquatic plant sale will be held. This 1,600-gallon koi and goldfish pond is rimmed with multicolored rocks, native grasses, and ferns. An overlooking deck and quaint English garden complete the landscaped backyard filled with mini-venues.


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Recommended northern tour starting point: 206 N. Third St., Quasqueton. Three ponds with connecting streams highlight this site’s parklike setting. Surrounding the ponds are lush shade plants and a massive walnut tree. Stroll down the wandering pathways to the roaring waterfall.

Building a Dream in the Country has raised more than $61,000 so far, with a goal of $200,000.

Donations can be made at any BankIowa location or mailed to BankIowa, PO Box 229, Independence, Iowa 50644.





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