A Real Showstopper: A Colorful Country Garden

A costume artist brings her talent for dressing the stage to a colorful country garden in Lawrence, Kansas.

| May/June 2011

  • Doug and Susan Rendall
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • A rustic garden bench backed by tall cannas provides an inviting place to sit and take in the rich garden scenes.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • A pergola built with 4-by-4 posts supports a mesh screen over Susan’s shade garden.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • Pretty clusters of purple pulmonaria lend softness to the garden.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • A large archway built from cattle panels and planted with clematis offers a dramatic transition from cultivated gardens to prairie.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • Susan chooses plants in different shades of one color to create unity and interest.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • A path meanders through beds of flowers and foliage, leading guests to the fields beyond.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • Shapely monarda ‘Jacob Kline’ provides strong color and structure.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • Tall red hot pokers top lower-growing lavender.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • Puffs of Annabelle hydrangeas bloom amid deep green autumn clematis foliage.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • Susan “casts” her gardens with flashy stars—such as this astilbe—surrounded by supporting characters.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • Archways are a recurring theme in Susan’s gardens.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • These yellow spider-type day lilies burst out among a similar-color backdrop thanks to differing textures.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • Blazing red crocosmia, yellow day lilies and orange rudbeckia create a bold palette.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • Susan Rendall’s lush front yard offers a glimpse of the abundance of her 5-acre farm. Drifts of pink shrub roses, purple penstemon and lavender accent a wide range of foliage.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • The bright orange stamen of foxtail lily provide a burst of color in one of Susan’s white gardens.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie

Creating a garden is like costuming a show for Susan Rendall, head of the University of Kansas’ theater department costume shop. It’s all about drama, color and good taste. In her country garden, Susan designs colorful scenes that delight, entertain and soothe.

Susan and her husband, Doug, had a family farm in Wisconsin when, in 2000, Susan landed a dream job as the head of the KU costume shop. Susan headed south to Lawrence, Kansas, renting an apartment while Doug stayed behind so the youngest of their three children could finish high school with his classmates. A passionate gardener, Susan spent the transition time touring local gardens, plotting her dream garden. After Doug took a farming job and joined Susan in Lawrence, the couple bought a home on 5 acres of rich, loamy soil.

Staging the Scenes 

After touring local gardens and learning about the best plants for the area, Susan was ready to map out her garden scenes. She envisioned windbreaks, native prairie and cultivated gardens framed by snow fence, rock benches and archways. The couple built a rambling wall out of dry-stacked concrete blocks to define a large part of the garden and provide seating. They also built a wooden pergola to cover a shade garden.

On nights and weekends, the couple steadily planted trees, constructed trellises and established paths. But when their oldest daughter announced she wanted to be wed in the garden, they started to improvise, hurrying to set the perfect stage for the wedding. Today, nearly eight years later, the scene Susan created for the ceremony remains climactic: Blazing stands of roses, zinnias and lilies in shades of red, orange and yellow surround an archway that frames the prairie beyond.

Building Colorful Sets 



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