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

  • Ann tends her rambling native wildflowers, including pink echinacea and orange and yellow daylilies.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • The plants in her gravel bog help naturally filter Ann's pond, keeping it clean year-round without the use of a single chemical.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • Along with the rambling beds of native perennials, Ann’s garden features a huge array of potted plants. She sets giant pots along garden paths and next to built-in features such as the pergola, and lines up smaller plants along the large back porch’s stairs and on shelves against the barnlike garage.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • Ann Palmer hosts all sorts of gatherings—from large-scale community events to intimate family dinners—in her beautifully designed Kansas garden.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • Ann's garden appeals to neighborhood children, who come to admire the fish, an intricate fairy garden and a kids' hideaway tucked behind the pond.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • Ann uses a variety of materials to create her garden’s patios and pathways. She recommends using similar colors to smoothly transition from one material to the next.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie
  • With huge leaves and striking pink blooms, Giant Victoria lilies act as living décor in Ann's naturally filtered pond garden.
    Photo By Diane Guthrie

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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