It was a hot day for May, but the ladies who hosted the annual Sun City Garden Tour wore large flower-adorned hats that provided shade. Their smiles as they greeted us reflected the large crowd that had come to admire the six private gardens on show.
First, we visited the garden of Aileen Jaczko. From the Japanese-styled courtyard that offered serenity to the standard Yaupon Holly that was artistically pruned into a magnificent bonsai, the garden reflected the time Jaczko spent living in Japan. She has the placement of stones down pat, each looking as though it has grown from the earth. An Arizona cypress is a show stopper, and where is the air conditioner? It's hidden behind a screen of bamboo.
Then it was on to the "Art and Flower" garden of Mary Watson and Virginia Hernandez, where ornamental bunnies and frogs were perched around a water lily-filled pool. Unusual urns, furniture and walls hung with artwork set off a collection of "Knock Out" roses.
Next up was Helen Gilbert's garden. "I feel romance in my heart," she told me. The grassy lawn in back is in the shape of a heart. We sat and swung in the hammock as Gilbert pointed out indigenous plants that make her garden a haven for birds and bees. Not to be forgotten here are my first sight of a variegated bougainvillea in bloom and a summer-flowering chaste tree blooming blue in May.
We then headed over to Riverbend where the gardens of Rona and Toni LaRose-Gerken were. There was a profusion of hydrangeas at the front-door entry. And the purple mop head is from Walmart; Toni said she has not added anything to it to retain its color. The backyard arbor gate is hung with flowering baskets, and there's a "seed" garden and the largest staghorn fern I've seen.
Tour guide Carol TeVault introduced me to Cal and Jodie Swan and their garden, which contained more then 300 trees, shrubs and plants.
Question. I understand, Cal, that besides this enormous garden to care for, that you golf and maintain a garden plot at the Sun City farms.
Answer. True. I began planting these gardens 11 years ago. We're from Greenburg, N.C.; I was an engineering and soils expert with an engineering company. My style is not to be taken by new plant specimens but to wait until they are on sale. The podocarpus tree you see is one of my few exceptions.
Q. Your hydrangeas may have the largest flowers I've seen. What do you feed them?
A. I don't fertilize much. Small amounts of 10-10-10. I call the soil lean clay.
Q. Do you have favorite flowers?
A. My first love is veronica. Right behind it are scabiosa and obedient plants. And I like "Swan" iris for its spreading quality.
Q. Your backyard is open. Do deer visit?
A. Not anymore. We run a radio on the patio 24/7.
Q. Jodie, does Cal bring you vegetables from his farm plot?
A. Yes, way too many. He has a big heart. He piles them in a golf cart and goes around the neighborhood with tomatoes and zucchini, kohlrabi and more.
Q. Do you have plant favorites?
A. Yes; our fig tree and our camellia "Pink Perfection." It had more then 300 blooms this year.
The "deer-proof" garden of Dan and Jo Kimberlin is filled with deer resistant plants. A combo of art and nature; Jo has an art degree in textiles; Dan's an engineer.
Question. Jo, I love the planter filled with ageratum and marigolds and a sign that reads "Rabbit Food." Where did you and Dan live before here?
Answer. We're from Charlotte; we've been married 51 years. Dan plans the garden; he says I have the senses. We call our garden "The Winghouse Garden and Bird Sanctuary."
Q. There are many unusual plant specimens here. Where do you find them?
A. The Cryptomeria japonica is from Woodlanders nursery, as is the citrus tree, a cross between clementine and bitter orange. We've also ordered from Forest Farm in Oregon.
Q. Dan, your lawn is beautiful and feels so healthy. What grass variety is it?
A. It's a new grass variety that I'm testing called R.T.F. (Rhizomes Tall Fescue) has been Clemson University tested and approved. I figure we're about the same climate, it should do well here. It spreads like bluegrass and did not die this past winter.