116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
From foliage to flower beds, a walk in Wayne Martin’s perennial gardens shows he has good instincts. For more than 40 years, Martin has been tending his garden at the home he and wife Linda built in Central City.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Martin, 77, said of the beginning years. “I knew hostas and wanted to have a lot.”
Martin’s approach to selecting plants — whether he reacts by saying “I like that” — has created a varied yet cohesive garden design. There are multiple areas for plants and flowers, wrapping around his yard. These areas are bordered by pavers or reclaimed wood. There is no black plastic border to be found. Martin is not a fan.
Knowing what he likes has paid off. In 2015, a garden committee named him the winner of Central City’s prettiest flower garden contest.
Martin finds rejuvenation in gardening. He calls the work “nice mental therapy.” It also fulfills his desire to be active. Martin, who retired in 2002 from Kirkwood Community College, is president of the Kirkwood Retirees.
While Martin says he hasn’t had any training, there may have been a budding gardener back in Ambler, Penn., his hometown. Martin’s father grew rhododendrons in three 9-foot lath houses. Made of wood, the structures had 1-foot openings between boards on the side and roof to receive sunlight and water. It was Martin’s job — part of his allowance, he says — to take care of the rhododendrons. Two varieties now grow in his front yard.
Starting in sections
Martin started his garden in the front of the house, which is richly shaded by two red maples. Alternating hosta and holly grow under the eaves. The 2020 derecho spared Central City by stopping about two miles outside of County Home Road. The full canopies of the city’s mature trees are a stark contrast with Cedar Rapids.
As much as Martin is proud of seeing the trees he planted today, he isn’t afraid to remove trees when necessary. He has taken the removal as an opportunity for growth. Four pine trees cleared on the north side this year have created an opening to plant. The lilacs on the south side weren’t thriving so they recently came out. Their stumps remain, which Martin repurposed as a foundation for sedum ground cover.
The backyard is as sunny as the front is shady. The blooms are bigger and brighter. To keep the large hydrangea poms upright, Martin ties a green string around the stems. In addition to the shrubs, Martin’s hydrangea tree with delicate, snow-white flowers that turn pink in the fall provides a focal point.
There is plenty more to see. Fall phlox, larkspur tickseed, tiger lilies, mums, yucca and ornamental grasses.
Lamium, which is deer-resistant and what Martin calls an “aggressive” ground cover, is one he uses throughout the garden and is suited for semi-shady areas. Martin says it stays green through the winter and has small purple flowers in the spring and summer. It is his second-favorite perennial next to hostas, he says.
Martin is a generous gardener. The climbing green bean vines, tomatoes and lettuce growing behind the house are for his wife. Then there are the koi fish in a pond Martin installed about 10 years ago. The gasp (a group of koi fish) began as five but the large fish overwhelmed the pond. The pond has a heater, Martin says, which allows the water to run all winter long. Their feedings stop in October through April because the koi go dormant, Martin says.
Decades later, Martin stands by his plant selection method. He suggests beginning gardeners look at others’ landscaping and identity what they like. Identification has become instantaneous with apps, including PlantSnap. One to two seasons likely will tell gardeners whether their instincts were correct. If not, there are always more perennials to discover and like.