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Sunday, January 29, 2023

Greatness in the Garden

A certain wildness — or lack of order — rules Tim Black’s garden. “There’s never been a vision or a map,” he says. Black’s grand plan for the garden at his home near the University of Evansville is a wavering spectacle of whatever looks good to him.

It’s become a parade of perennials, and though beautiful, the order-less array of plants surrounding a small pond beneath a giant maple tree might not work for fans of neatly trimmed boxwoods. But it works for an enthusiast like Black, the WEVV 44 general manager, who claims inexperience: Last year, he planted tomatoes for the first time. “We don’t have much sun in our backyard,” Black says, “so I kept the tomato plants in pots and chased the sun around.”

Still, the allure of Black’s garden filled with spiky, red bee balm, yellow yarrow, butterfly bushes, and rhododendrons spread by word of mouth, and a few Master Gardeners (a group of 350 gardeners who have passed an intensive, 14-week course at Ivy Tech Community College) heard about his backyard. They asked Black to join this year’s Master Gardeners’ Garden Walk Tour de Fleur.

The longtime event, headed by the Southwestern Indiana Master Gardener Association, returns June 11-12. The idea is to raise scholarship funds for students studying horticulture, but the Master Gardeners raise the fun by showcasing landscapes from casual hobbyists like Black and passionate gardeners. Here, we reveal the diversity of garden expertise and the beauty throughout every experience.

Black credits his late grandmother for the aesthetic appeal. “She was a huge plant lover, but she never had a formal garden at all,” Black says. “If she saw a plant at a friend’s house, though, she asked for a portion of it to plant at her house.” One such plant is his blooming cactus. For the three days every June, the weather conditions are just right for the red leaves on the cactus to bloom and shine as a tribute to Black’s grandmother.

All the gardens on the tour shine, and visitors — who may have a lighthearted curiosity about gardening like Black or ferocious passion like Cynthia and Raymond Nicholson — have the opportunity to discover new ideas among the local gardens.

Among the rolling hills in an East Side neighborhood, the Nicholsons had one vision for the empty lot next to their home: a hillside garden. The fear was a new home could mean boring views. “We just didn’t want to be staring at more cars and tools,” says Cynthia. Fifteen years later, the couple’s floral oasis has been on Garden Walk several times.

Though the Nicholsons are a perennial on the garden walk tour, the love of their garden keeps the couple adding new features each year, including the 3-foot blue heron fence surrounding the coy pond. Old favorites remain staples of the garden: An antique, rod iron gate welcomes visitors from the road, and a winding bedrock path leads them through a succession of purple, pink, and blue hues blanketing the garden floor and producing a fragrance that is “simply scrumptious,” Cynthia says.

Beyond the smell is the sight. The Nicholsons have accumulated more than 560 variations of grasses, plants, and flowers that bloom from the first of February to after the first snow. They also move the tropical plants from their greenhouse outside every April.

The result of greenhouse goods mixed with perennials stems from a calculated plan, but there’s sense of wildness about their garden due to birds. The winged creatures have a habit of carrying and dropping seeds during migration. (Don’t believe it? Charles Darwin recorded finding a 6.5-ounce ball of earth with enough seeds to grow 32 plants not native to the area. He credited birds for the occurrence.) The Nicholsons’ large garden is a convenient resting place, a bird sanctuary of sorts, so every year the couple discovers species they didn’t plant. “I can hardly wait to get up in the morning,” says Cynthia.  “I just want to rush out and see what’s blooming because every day is something new and different.”

On June 11-12, the Master Gardeners’ Garden Walk Tour de Fleur will be held at various locations throughout the Tri-State. Tickets are $15 before June 11, $20 on June 11-12, and are available at Schnucks locations or by calling 812-490-2199. For more information, visit www.swimga.org.

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