Gardens at cottages and historic Moffitt homes are among the sites showcased in the 2017 Project GREEN garden tour in Iowa City. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Garden walks coming up in Eastern Iowa will showcase some of the most spectacular gardens in the area, both big and small.

The 2017 Project GREEN Garden Tour will be Sunday, June 25, 2017, rain or shine, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Lucas Farms Neighborhood of Iowa City, while the 2017 Linn County Master Gardener Garden Walk is set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 8, at five gardens in Cedar Rapids.

Related: Garden brings community together

Read on for more from Project GREEN and Linn County Extension, below:
The 2017 Project GREEN Garden Tour features eight lovely gardens sprinkled throughout the Lucas Farms neighborhood in Iowa City. Anchoring the tour this year is the Plum Grove Historic Home and Gardens, former residence of Robert Lucas, the first governor of the Territory of Iowa who served from 1838 to 1841.

While some visitors may be inclined to walk or bike the neighborhood, parking will be available on public streets, at Plum Grove, the United Church of Christ (after Church services), Mark Twain Elementary, and Iowa City Marketplace (formerly Sycamore Mall). There is no right or wrong way to tour the gardens: start anywhere you wish! But you must have a ticket to enter the gardens, and they can be purchased at any home on the tour: tickets are $5 each and children 10 and younger are free. One ticket will admit you to all of the gardens.

The theme of this year’s tour is “Bee Friendly!” A table will be set up at Plum Grove with information to help increase awareness about the importance of planting pollinator-friendly native plants.

Also this year, we will be featuring SILENT AUCTIONS at several of the gardens with items for visitors to bid on. All proceeds will benefit future Project GREEN landscaping projects. If you have a silent auction item you would like to donate, please contact Jennifer Wagner at and we can arrange a pick-up.

Gardens in the historic Lucas Farms neighborhood will be showcased in the 2017 Project GREEN Garden Tour. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

The Project GREEN tour this year coincides with “Lucas Farms History Day”, a festival sponsored by the Lucas Farms Neighborhood Association. Plum Grove will feature historical activities; there’s a “Tour De Farms” bike ride; arts activities will take place along Yewell Street, and pony rides will be given at the Iowa City Assembly Church on Highland Avenue.

The 2017 Project GREEN Garden Tour homes, in no particular order, are as follows:

The four-acre Plum Grove lot features a seven-room brick home built in 1844, with historic furnishings. Master Gardeners will be stationed at the historic vegetable and flower gardens, each part of the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens. The gardens grow a variety of foods and flowers that were alive and well in this garden in the late 1800s. Every summer, Johnson County Master Gardeners host “Taste of Plum Grove”, an event where the entire tasting menu is built around the harvests of the historic vegetable garden.

Melissa moved to her “Twilight Cottage” in the fall of 1994, at which time the landscaping included a raised flower bed encircling a 200-year-old chokecherry tree. Melissa and her mother got to work and made an excellent team! Throughout the years, annual and perennial gardens were added to surround the cottage. Sadly, the chokecherry died after the first major flood in Iowa City, so the once deeply shaded area beneath it became an area of full sun. A Purple Beech now welcomes front yard visitors, and a custom-designed fence provides a new backdrop to the flower gardens. The flagstone path to the back yard brings visitors past a babbling fountain to a new flagstone patio. There, Melissa placed slate pieces that once surrounded a fish pond at her childhood home in Newton, Iowa. The backyard showcases climbing hydrangeas adorning the privacy fence with a variety of shade-loving shrubs.

After purchasing the historic Moffitt house in 2009, John and Paula Gay spent many weekends reclaiming the lot from volunteer trees, extensive weeds, and overgrowth. They have since planted unique trees and plants on the property, providing diverse species to the yard and neighborhood, and featuring a variety of fruiting trees and bushes. Other improvements included reconditioning a swell over which a functional stone walled bridge was constructed, as well as adding a fish pond, and winding stone and stamped cement pathways and structures. The west side of the property is home to an extensive annual vegetable garden. Ever a work in progress, the yard continues to accommodate many additions including a new garage/workshop/carriage house and a two-story equipment shed with balcony. Improvements to the property share the primary goal of creating a unique and whimsical landscape to compliment the Moffitt aesthetic.

Lena bought her home 35 years ago, at which time both the garden and structures were in need of much TLC! Lena was only 25, and recalls how such a huge, clean canvas was a daunting project back then! She started by rounding the back corners inward, then added the trees, bushes, and perennials. “I would try to visualize the mature planting and really think about the placement and balance between grass, bushes, trees and flowerbeds to suit my nervous system,” she says.
The adding of the sunroom and losing three major trees to a wind storm also took the garden into another direction. As Lena ages with her garden, she enjoys taking care of it with her dear friend Shanty.

Karen bought the property in 2005 from the Brenneman familywho had owned the home since it was built in the early 1960s. The family used the yard to cultivate inventory for their residential landscaping company. Some were scared off by the yard, says Karen – but she found it to be perfect! The yard has no turf. It is either planted or mulched. It is full of native and ornamental grasses, perennials, annuals, and food, including herbs. “When something we can’t identify lands in our yard, we allow it to grow and flower,” she says. “We then decide if it is a weed or not. This allows our yard to be in a constant state of evolution.”
Other unique features are yard and house art. Karen says “The most popular is our cairn of stones in the front. They stay up through balance. Some designs last longer than
others. The other feature that receives attention from humans, dogs, and
squirrels is our stacks of bones. Our dog Penny chews on bones once in a
while and we stack them on steel rod in the yard. Our yard is a well cared for and maintained wild place. We love it and hope you will enjoy it too!”

Linda purchased her 1940’s Moffitt home in the year of the 1993 flood. When she first moved in there was no privacy fence, lots of grass, one tree that was dying, and one small flower bed. For Linda, this was a positive! As she became acquainted with the area and her neighbors, she enjoyed listening to stories about the homes in the area. She learned that her home was the site of a former ball field where children would play. “Maybe that is why parts of my yard doesn’t grow grass well,” she says… “or maybe I am not a grass person!” Mostly, says Linda, she loves to try all kinds of plants from roses (her favorites), to wild timber plants. “What I like about gardening is that it is always changing!”

Omodt moved to her home in 2012 (the year of the drought and heat wave) and got started in her gardening endeavor by taking out overgrown shrubs. By 2014 all the old shrubs, a declining ash tree and a big rotten 20 x 40′ deck were removed. “My landscaping plan was to provide a sanctuary for myself and a safe haven for pollinators and birds,” she says. The yard has four-season interest with the hardscape and plantings. Brick paths wind around beds, providing easy access (Marlene put down 7000 bricks herself!). The south side is bricked and edged with a berm for water drainage. Two bridges cover the old tree stump sites.
A variety of trees, shrubs and perennials were chosen for hardiness, disease resistance, color, bloom, form, texture and size. Different annuals are planted each year to provide all-summer color and invite pollinators. The trees and shrubs are not full grown, but will eventually provide a nice screen. As the trees grow, the under-plantings will change.

John’s original Moffitt home has been in his family for 60 years, and he now shares it with his mother, Nora. John has spent years working on the home, altering it extensively to reflect his mother’s Japanese heritage> His garden contains many elements from the Japanese culture, including a veritable feast of Japanese maples, grasses and groundcovers. A tiered rear deck overlooks a stone patio and winding grass pathways through maples and evergreens. Unique features include a circular moss walk, a miniature teahouse and bridge, fountain, and sculptures.
Be sure to “save the date” of Sunday, June 25, 2017 to visit these diverse and charming gardens in the historic Lucas Farms neighborhood.

Linn County Master Gardeners Garden Walk:

Please join the Linn County Master Gardeners as you explore 5 diverse urban Linn County properties in the Cedar Rapids area.

You will be inspired by demonstrations of perennials, annuals, container arrangements, raised beds, ornamental grasses, garden art & more.

Master Gardeners will be at all of the gardens to answer your horticulture-related questions. Visit our website for the garden map and directions!

Wellington Heights Community Gardens

Wellington Heights Community Garden

The Wellington Heights Gardens are designed to be inclusive and features both raised and elevated beds which can be used by seated gardeners. Volunteers from Transamerica created the hardscaping, the pergola and raised beds using materials donated by Home Depot and Lowes. The picket fence was painted by students from the Johnson STEAM Academy and installed on the United Way’s Day of Caring in 2015. Under the supervision of Master Gardeners, students from McKinley Middle School and Johnson STEAM Academy are learning garden management skills and planting and tending vegetables. The original Community Garden is located a half block north on 15th St. The perennial garden in the rear yard has been restored over the past 3 years by neighborhood volunteers.

Catherine McAuley Community Garden

The Catherine McAuley Center facilitates this community garden with 12 raised beds, a wild flower bed, and a pollinator center. With the help of various organizations and grantors CMC was able to build 12 raised beds which increased access to gardening to individuals who have physical barriers. For the past two years, we have grown over 800 lbs. of produce which was used by residents and students at the Catherine McAuley Center. Last year we held our first annual Butterfly Release party and started a new adventure in herb gardening. We are looking forward to another year of gardening adventure and experiments.

Elliott Garden

Our yard is our own outdoor living space. As children grow up, our landscape changes with us. Playground space and sandboxes make way for shade beds. The Elliott garden reflects this change, dividing their property into outdoor rooms. The shaded front yard is filled with hostas and other shade loving perennials. To the side, shade gardens surround comfortable outdoor patio living areas and an outdoor oven. While their established yard is predominantly shady, the Elliott’s found a sunny spot for perennials for pollinators, vegetable gardens and a Monarch Zone for raising monarchs and swallowtails.

Nelson Garden

The Nelson Garden

The highly unusual Larry and Julie Nelson garden offers a variety of perennials, annuals, shrubs, small conifers, and ornamental trees. Throw in whimsical, hand crafted garden art, a variety of water features, an amazing garden railway and you will see a very unique approach to gardening. Two hundred tons of rock and large stones were brought in and hand placed by Larry as the garden evolved. He also hand crafted the metal structures and spectacular bridges for the railway. Enjoy wandering the paths which allow for many different vistas of this backyard gem.

Wiesenfeld Garden

To view a garden that has featured on-going experiments, stop by the Wiesenfeld’s garden which sits on about 2 acres and has experienced 27 years of development. The “let’s give it a try” attitude features a landscape and garden that has been designed to fit the natural surroundings. You will find pollinator gardens, shade gardens, and vegetable gardens as well as developed woodland, prairie, and open areas which are shared with a variety of wildlife.