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Project GREEN celebrating its 50th anniversary with garden walk

Philip Mears

The Mears' garden includes many spring bulbs as well as hostas, daylilies, blue scilla and blubells, epime
Philip Mears The Mears’ garden includes many spring bulbs as well as hostas, daylilies, blue scilla and blubells, epimedium, or barrenwort, and epiphyllum.

IOWA CITY — Project GREEN celebrates its golden anniversary with its annual Garden Tour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Three “walkable” neighborhoods close to downtown will be featured. Cost is $10 for those ages 13 and up, which helps fund maintenance for Project GREEN projects.

The theme initiated last year, “bee-friendly” to support local pollinators continues, and the tour showcases homes with beautiful vistas, hand-built and engaging hardscapes and edible gardens. Bring the children because scavenger hunt sheets will be distributed at each garden for them to complete.

This year, in partnership with Old Capitol Quilters Guild, quilts will be showcased in the gardens. A quilt also will be raffled off as a fundraiser.

Descriptions of host gardeners on the tour are as follows.

Neighborhood 1: Fairview/East Court/East College neighborhood (near City High)

l Philip and Julia Mears, 1507 E. College St.

The Mears moved to East College Street in 1983 and their garden has been growing and evolving since. Now the visible corner lot is a mix of sun, shade and mature trees.

“The garden is best in April with so many spring bulbs,” Mears said. “Followed by a wonderful sequence of blue scilla followed by bluebells. The hosta are particularly nice amid the bluebells.”

The garden now extends to the curb and the Mears are taking the garden vertical, hanging plants in trees. Looking up, visitors will find epiphyllum, or orchid cactuses, a cousin of the Christmas cactus that have much larger flowers and bloom in the summer.

The couple has started expanding garden paths to make the gardens more accessible, allowing visitors to see a yellow toad lily in bloom.


The Mears encourage visitors to walk by the property from early spring on to see how the garden progresses throughout the year. Most of the garden can be seen from the street and sidewalk.

l Mary Morrison and Libby Kestle, 1402 E. Court St.

“I want our garden to be a tranquil escape and be bird and bee friendly,” Morrison said. “We have tried to focus on native perennials, bee-friendly plants, hardy and easy to care for plants. I love hydrangea-like blossoms, so I have a few varieties and purple flowers.”

The couple incorporates Seed Saver’s bee-friendly plants and seeds in the vegetable garden. The edible garden features blueberries, thornless blackberries, rhubarb and two dwarf cherry trees. But a water feature is the star of this dog-friendly garden that feels much like an escape hideaway.

Neighborhood 2: Windsor Heights, just west of Regina

l Ginny and Bryan Clemons, 518 Woodridge Ave.

The Clemons enjoy gardening for the beauty and because they find it a relaxing, peaceful activity. They also enjoy the challenge each season offers. The front garden is highlighted with a berm featuring low-growing evergreen shrubs interspersed with perennial “Iris cristata,” a ground cover. Annuals provide color. The front walkway features perennial wintercreeper (Euonymus) ground cover and boxwood shrubs.

A row of hardy architectural Easter Hornbeam trees add shade.

The backyard has a mix of spirea, cypress, hydrangeas, viburnum and shady perennials. Wintercreeper is featured around the sitting patio. The fenced cutting garden contains a mixture of sunny perennials and many annuals started mostly from seed. Zinnias are a favorite feature because of the bright color and because they are a great cutting flower. Living next door to Hickory Hill Park, deer are constant visitors, so outside the fence the Clemons have planted deer resistant species.

l Blossom Perkins Shaw and Jay Shaw, 309 Windsor Dr.

Blossom Perkins Shaw designed the landscape and did most of the work herself with help from her husband and students. The design features a native woodland garden, hosta hill, shade terrace, wood chip island, prairie garden and four butterfly and bee gardens. She built small walls using native rocks to hold and outline some beds, saving leaves for mulch. She uses fallen branches to build a brush pile for wildlife.

Birds are well cared for with feeders, water, plantings and nest boxes. The property has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation, the North America Butterfly Association, and the Bee Friendly program.

l Scott and Sheri Swartzendruber, 1741 Winston Dr., Iowa City

The Swartzendruber backyard invites you to relax with a glass of lemonade under the pergola. The focus is a gigantic white pine with a Japanese bird bath resting beneath it. The white pine is surrounded by many varieties of hostas and astilbes. The tiered flower garden contains natural tall grasses and a variety of annual and perennial flowers to splash color here and there.

Neighborhood 3: South Seventh Avenue

l Martha Norbeck, 906 S. Seventh Avenue


“As a green architect, my first task with this property was to redo the building — formerly a shed — into a livable space with proper ‘green’ materials including a solar panel,” Norbeck said. “Ten years ago the first fruit tree was planted followed by green beans strung on the porch. Now there are many kinds of berries, various vegetables, two nut trees, and apple tree and many varieties of flowers and herbs.”

l Jon Yagla and Wren Almitra, 911 S. Seventh Ave.

Jon Yagla has been growing food on small-scale rural and urban farms for more than eight years. The name “Jagla” is Polish for millet, which is one of the oldest human foods and believed to be the first domesticated grain. Wren Almitra works for Women, Food & Agriculture Network.

Together, the couple operates The Millet Seed. All of the gardens are approximately 4- by 25-foot to maximize the efficiency of planning, planting and harvesting food crops.

“We grow a large variety of fruits and vegetables for home use and for CSA shares from May to October. One of my favorite vegetables to grow is the Egyptian walking onion,” Yagla said. “This perennial onion has alien like top sets and we eat the delicious green onions and shallot like bulbs. Our goal is to grow healthy food for our community while taking excellent care of the soil and using as little fossil fuels as possible.”

They follow organic practices, no-till and deep mulching. Visit www.themilletseed.com to learn more about The Millet Seed CSA and what they grow.

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