An Eye for Design: An Enchanting, Organic Water Garden

Ann Palmer’s artistic organic water garden cultivates community and showcases the beauty of nature.

| May/June 2012

Huge lily leaves float like fluted saucers atop Ann Palmer’s giant backyard pond while, in the water below, koi flash through their prickly orange stems. Ann selected these Giant Victoria lilies for their bold, “almost primordial” appearance, as well as their unusual blooms. They are but one of many attractions in her captivating earth-friendly garden, one where the beauty of nature is on display and brings together Ann’s historic Kansas neighborhood.

Early on, Ann had no idea she could create such a site.

When she was 33, she decided she wanted to try something other than teaching, and her husband, Jerry, offered sage advice. Don’t consider talent or education, he told her; just write down everything you enjoy.

Ann drew up a list that emphasized physical work, being outdoors, and doing things involving sight, smell and touch. Tying together that wish list, she enrolled in Kansas State University’s landscape architecture program. Seven years later, with a hard-earned degree, she launched the garden that would become her artistic canvas, a test site for her new profession and the heart of her home.

Art and Community

Before beginning her career as a landscape designer, Ann didn’t think of herself as an artist. “If anyone had told me 30 years ago that I would ever do anything artistic, I would have thought they were crazy,” she says. But her long-hidden talent for design has resulted in a stunning home garden that enriches her community and is indeed a work of art. Beauty unfurls with the seasons. In late spring, an archway crowned with purple wisteria gives way to summer roses. Autumn turns hydrangea leaves deep shades of orange and magenta, and an arching red bridge stands stark against winter’s snow.

Ann and Jerry settled in Topeka’s Potwin Place 34 years ago. Victorian homes line brick streets in this historic district near the Kansas state Capitol, but the community is far from staid. Potwin is a vibrant neighborhood that elects its own mayor and runs a busy LISTSERV. “It’s an active place filled with clever, creative people; there’s not a better neighborhood in the world,” Ann says.

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