Cherry on top

Containers of all sizes, flora fill expansive deck

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CEDAR RAPIDS — George Cherry is what you might call a casual gardener. And though he is a passionate gardener as well — creating a deck with more than 50 pots and planters that would make Martha Stewart swoon — the names, well ... the names escape him.

“Basically, I just buy what I like,” he says cheerfully. “I do it by trial and error, what does well in the sun, what doesn’t ... I don’t have any favorites. I like them all. Well, maybe geraniums; I’ve always liked geraniums.”

In fact, Cherry likes gardening so well he’d like to turn it into a job.

“I’m getting bored in my semiretirement,” says Cherry, 63, who has largely left business.

His deck, in the back of a charming Cape Cod-like house off East Post Road SE, sits almost suspended in a bowl of trees that outdoor lovers might call a slice of paradise. It’s the best of two possible worlds: Cocooned in greenery with no clue of urban encroachment, the house still is within a few minutes from the amenities of the city. It’s on two acres: Private, but proximate, you might say.

Cherry built the house in 1978 and expanded the cedar deck in 2007 to a size that defines spaciousness. It is artfully laid out, greeting the eye with a sweeping crescent-shaped array of tiered flowers set off by a beautiful blue “soaking pool” in the center of the floor. It’s such a colorful sight of floral profusion that it could well grace the cover of Better Homes and Gardens.

Five planters top the deck railing at perfect intervals, all with identical scarlet blooms of delicate dimensions. Pristine white alyssum provides a stark color contrast at their feet and is a discreet cover for the planters’ edges.

Small-, mid-size and large containers dot the deck floor, the tiered stands, or tables seating two or four. Bright yellow blossoms, explosive reds, deep purples, pale lavenders and blatant oranges beckon to visitors in a bevy of beauty. The eye glides effortlessly from left to right — always with soaring trees as a restful green backdrop.

Relaxation is spelled out in two comfy chaise lounges, black metal tables with deep-cushioned seats and, of course, the soaking pool. His daughter, Ally, 7, and son, Dylan, 12, love the pool, he notes.

But admittedly, half the charm of the deck is the greenery in which it’s enveloped. Seldom in a city is a house so enclosed in nature. A visitor looks out from the deck and sees only green in all its different hues: light to dark, olive to emerald, and trees reaching so high as to obliterate the sky. They have slender trunks and sturdy trunks, sporting everything from spear-like walnut leaves to broad pin oak leaves. Low-lying vegetation is a veritable carpet at their feet.

One immensely long trunk lies prone on the forest floor, having paid its obeisance to the sky and now, laid to rest on Mother Earth.

Flowers and trees are not the only allure to be found on the deck. On a lovely sun-dappled morning there is the sound of birds calling to one another, probably tipping off their colleagues to the numerous feeders that Cherry has set around. Said feeders even attract the fluttering hummingbird.

“I used to plant a lot of flowers in the front of the house,” says Cherry, “but the deer got to them, so I focused on the deck.”

Birds are a special delight to him.

Perhaps the hanging baskets appeal to them, too. Two baskets of Babylonian dimensions, bulging in colorful profusion, flank two double sliding doors; a third beauty accents the center.

Cherry doesn’t “winter over” his plants. “I get rid of them. I used to have a bunch inside but my cats got to them and I didn’t think it was worth it.” His golden retriever ignores the flowers.

The home gardener buys his flowers “from all over:” Culver’s, Peck’s, Menards, Lowe’s, he says. “I just shop around.” He begins with bedding plants and will tell you that “I always plant too early. I get too eager and then have to bring them in a couple of times before they’re out there permanently. I start at the end of April, the beginning of May. It’s obviously a little early, but I’m always afraid the best ones will be gone.”

He gets everything done in a week or two, then in season, only spends half-an-hour a day maintaining them. “I usually do it by visual means. If they look like they need water, I give them a shot,” he says with a smile.

The deck is not the only point of beauty at the rear of the spacious home. A gate at one end of the deck leads to steps that take one down to a large patio, complete with firepit and lounging chairs.

But it’s the flowers that captivate Cherry. “I love gardening. It’s one of the favorite things I do. It’s very satisfying. I love the color, after a brown winter and all the cold ... it makes me feel good ... it makes me happy.”

Cherry says “I got the bug from my grandfather (Howard Cherry Sr.) He was very particular about his yard on Nassau Street. When I mowed, it had to be just right. He’s always been my inspiration.”

Cherry’s great-grandfather was J.G. Cherry, who founded the J.G. Cherry Co., a maker of dairy equipment, which eventually became Cherry-Burrell, and is now Evergreen Packaging, on the city’s southwest side. His father was Howard Cherry Jr.

George Cherry recalls his days in his grandfather’s yard fondly. As for the present, he looks about his flower-laden deck and says simply, “It’s an accomplishment.”

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