The gardens of Bryon and Anne Vandenberg are among those featured during Open Gardens Weekend in Iowa City, Iowa. (photo/Project GREEN)

IOWA CITY — Both private and public gardens will be on display as Open Gardens Weekend returns to Iowa City on Saturday, July 8, and Sunday, July 9, 2023.

Hosted by Project GREEN, Open Gardens Weekend debuted in 2019 and returned in 2021 following a hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Read on for more about the weekend from Project GREEN:

Anthophiles (flower lovers) and nature enthusiasts will have an opportunity to participate in a favorite free activity when Project GREEN presents Open Gardens Weekend 2023 on July 8-9.

Like bees to flowers, OGW draws visitors from throughout eastern Iowa. They know these marvelous gardens are worth the trip for beauty and inspiration. Project GREEN has curated 30 host gardens – private and public – that will open to the public on Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Visitors will want to pick up a tour map at any of the local business sponsors that keep this activity free of charge to plan their route: Forever Green, Inc.; Hills Bank and Trust Company; Hy-Vee; Iowa City Landscaping; Lenoch & Cilek Ace Hardware; Rindy Inc.; Sanders Creek Company; and Urban Acres Real Estate.

The maps provide a brief outline of each garden but it does not adequately describe the beauty and creativity in each garden.

Project GREEN Gardens is the headquarters for OGW. These splendid gardens complement the historic Ashton House, owned by the City of Iowa City at 820 Park Road. The gardens reflect Project GREEN founders’ gardening interests. At OGW headquarters, visitors will meet volunteers and find an assortment of attractive garden containers and garden art available for purchase with the proceeds from sales benefiting Project GREEN.

Two eastside neighbors are encore presenters, Bryon and Anne Vandenberg, 373 Boyd Court, and next-door neighbor, Paula Sanan, 361 Boyd Court.

The Vandenbergs have planted giant arborvitae and tall viburnums to surround flower gardens creating a private, park-like setting on their property. Over the years, Byron has planted complementing varieties of daylilies, Shasta daisies, purple coneflowers, yarrow, dahlias, gladiolas and annuals. As the arborvitae grew so did their gardens. Over time, they removed the lawn, three feet at a time, to add more garden space. The Vandenbergs wanted to sequence their English-style, cutting flower garden with blooms throughout the growing season beginning with crocus and daffodils in early spring. “Now, that the bearded iris blooms are done, the daylilies and dahlias are ready to explode with their color,” Bryon says. Eachside yard offer space for hosta and vegetable gardens.

Paula’s adjacent backyard continues the parkland setting in this quiet neighborhood. When the home was purchased, there was nothing but a sloping lawn, she notes. Working with her son-in-law David Selmer, Wood Duck Tree Farm, boulders were brought in to construct a waterfall and pond and create Paula’s special nirvana. In intervening years, more and more have been added to the gardens outgrowing a minimalist modern Asian garden but creating a private zen and a peaceful respite complete with a waterfall, bridge and a Budda. The variety of trees and shrubs is spectacular offering visitors an array greens and purples.

On the westside, Dr. Frank and Gail Zlatnik’s garden at 1531 Phoenix Dr., offers a mosaic of plants, the result of 30 years of experimentation. The 3-acre-plus property is a combination of natural tranquility complete with native prairie, pond, and blooming trees and shrubs that feed the wildlife year round. Patches of Asiatic lilies, daylilies and native plants bring a riot of color to the gardens, while island beds offer whimsy including a special garden where garden tools go to die. Gail can tell you the classification, variety and cultivar of the trees they’ve planted on the property in Iowa City’s Southwest District. The composition of their gardens has evolved over time and as the plants, trees and owners have gracefully aged together.

Longtime Project GREEN volunteers, Shirley and Jack Lekin, 830 Walnut St., offers another garden oasis of peaceful serenity. Two small ponds add beauty and sound to this sequestered cottage garden space. The sun and shade complement the Lekin’s clematis, daylilies, hosta and hellebores found throughout the gardens.

A wooden gazebo is the centerpiece of the North Market Square Park at 600 Fairchild St. Northside volunteers planted and maintain this location. Don’t miss the University of Iowa gardens on the tour – American Conifer Society Reference Garden, 431 Newton Road. It features conifers, several rare deciduous trees and a water fountain. The UI College of Pharmacy Medicinal Garden, 180 South Grand Ave, has 40 beds of historic plants used for medicines.

Iowa City has been a gardening mecca for decades and Project GREEN, an all-volunteer organization, launched in 1968 as a byproduct of an Iowa City subcommittee, Citizens for a Better Iowa City, has been at the forefront of these efforts. The weekend activity boosts tourism to the area. For decades, the all-volunteer, nonprofit organization hosted a Garden Tour for the public which evolved into the first Open Gardens Weekend in 2019. The activity was halted during the COVID-19 pandemic 2020-2021. Organizers say OGW is a marvelous tourist attraction that is often sandwiched between the region’s great music and art festivals held in the summer months.

Approximately 55% of American households garden, totaling around 71.5 million households and over 185 million people – ranking the U.S. No. 3 in the world for gardening. Of those gardeners, 18.3 million are new to the hobby – a result of the pandemic.

See more photos of great Iowa gardens.

Frank and Gail Zlatnik’s garden in Iowa City, a result of 30 years of experimentation, will be featured in the Open Gardens Weekend. (photo/Project GREEN)