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Garden tour offers beauty, peace on display

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Splashes of color, decorative plants and even fish ponds were part of the Victorian home and garden tour in Pierce City last Sunday. Hardy fish have survived freezing winters and even a tornado in a backyard water garden at the Jay and Betty Bierkortte home, one of five stops on the garden tour. [Times photo by Kristin Nama]
Beautiful gardens awaited those who braved a very warm afternoon last Sunday to visit the five stops on Pierce City's fourth annual Victorian home and garden tour. Local enthusiasts joined visitors from around the four states for the annual event.

The first stop on the tour was the First Congregational Church at the corner of Walnut and Washington. After repairing some damage to their building in the 2003 tornado that damaged much of downtown Pierce City, the church began improving its grounds in 2004. The landscaping and plantings around the foundation of the church were a gift of late church member, June Williams. A yellow rose bush planted shortly after the church was built in 1878 unfortunately was not blooming on the day of the tour.

Gardens at the home of one of Pierce City's founders, LLL Allen, were shown by current owners, Jay and Betty Bierkortte. Features of the tour included a butterfly garden which Betty said was "not in full glory yet." In spite of that a butterfly appeared in the garden and stopped on one of the plants she was pointing out to visitors.

An "eyebrow garden" near the front door of the home features Gilbert Wild lilies. Gilbert H. Wild and Son is a nursery in Reeds, formerly of Sarcoxie, that specializes in lilies, Betty said. The nursery's web site claims they are "America's largest grower of daylilies, iris, and peonies." Betty showed off other flowers around the front of her Victorian home, including black-eyed susans, that she said were all "volunteers."

A backyard water garden had many features to show off. Betty pointed out the dragonflies and hollyhocks.

A number of colorful fish dutifully appeared when their owner threw them some food. The fish come from 10 "really pretty fish" Betty had purchased at a local supercenter for about eight cents a piece, she said. The fish have proven hardy, surviving the winters by staying near the bottom of the pond, which does not freeze when the surface does. Smaller fish did fine after the 2003 tornado, Betty said, but the larger fish were found dead the day after the storm came through.
John and Carmen Archer welcomed garden tour visitors to their 1903 farmhouse and gardens on North Linzee Boulevard and hosted a meeting at their home of the Tri-State Iris Society at the same time. John showed off plants around and a few koi and goldfish in a small pond.

"This is my solar fountain," John said. "I've had fish ponds since I was a kid,"

The fountain only runs when the sun is shining on a solar panel. John said he and his dad dug his first one when he was in junior high school. The Archers shared Hollyhock seeds with visitors. John said there is no secret to planting them. Hollyhock gardens attract a lot of birds that live there year-round. John added he did not mind if the birds ate most of the seeds as part of God's plan in nature. The recycled piano planter did not survive the elements very well. It did not like being outside, John said, and is falling apart. The newest thing the Archers have added this year is a garden encircling their mailbox and several of their neighbors'.
In this fourth year of the garden tour, visitors could see shade plants, herbs, butterfly beds, irises, daylilies, roses, and more. The Archers are members of the Tillers 'n Toilers Garden Club in Verona as well as the Tri-State Iris Society. The iris group includes members from Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri. They get together once a month to discuss irises. Their next big event is an iris sale August 14 at Cunningham Park in Joplin. Maura (Larkin) Sparks welcomed garden tour visitors to her garden on the north side of the old Larkin Farm on Farm Road 2220 (old Powerline Road). She and her late husband Perry built the home and left a large area open for a garden which they both worked in and designed. Maura has added a bird-feeding sanctuary that she calls "Perrydise" in memory of her husband.

A prominent feature that Perry created is a "plant river," complete with bridge that is all red twig dogwood. Maura's dog, Pepe le Pew, does not entirely approve of the feature however and will not walk over the bridge. Another favorite feature is "Bailey," a bear statue perched on the front lawn, a recent addition. Bailey hails from the Lake of the Ozarks, Maura said.

As many as 40 cardinals have been seen in the garden at one time, Maura said. Doves and lots of yellow finches also gather to dine on the seed she provides. Maura pointed out two sets of "bottle trees." She said the idea is originally from Africa and became popular in the United States, especially in the south. Evil spirits are said to go into the bottles at night and when the rising sun kills them off in the morning.

Jim and Evelyn Larkin live in next door to Maura. Jim and Maura are brother and sister. The property is also part of the old Larkin farm. Evelyn said she has been working on the garden since the spring of 1999, about 11 years now.

One feature of Evelyn's garden is a Larkin family marker from St. Patrick's Cemetery. Stone guards were previously used to mark family plots. Some of the large pieces were removed from the cemetery to simplify mowing. A squirrel took advantage of a stone birdbath to help himself to a drink during the tour. The birdbath features a stone squirrel on it and several more on the ground around it. The visiting squirrel knocked over one his stone fellows en route to get his drink. Evelyn had wondered who or what had been knocking them over. An average about four hours a day is spent in the garden watering and other chores, she said. Evelyn is usually out there by 7:30 a.m. but tries to avoid the sun as much as possible.

Another Larkin family heirloom is a fountain stationed near the front door of the home. Originally Jim's grandmother's, the fountain had traveled from Kansas City to Phoenix to Pierce City to St. Louis and back to Pierce City. Jim's mom, Carol Larkin, had it at her house and gave it Jim and Evelyn before she passed away.

A brick pathway runs past the fountain and around part of the home. The path was created at a rate of about six feet a day, Evelyn said, after 2,000 pavers had been delivered for the project. The rocks that can be seen all around the foundation of the home did not need to be delivered. They were all pulled from Larkins' own yard.

No admission is charged for this annual garden tour in and around Pierce City.

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