48 unique gardens at Tallgrass Creek provide peace, purpose and tranquility at retirement community

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Betty Coughenour is well known among Tallgrass Creek neighbors for her daylilies. She tends the plants and their blossoms respond. (Photo by Mary Bush).

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Walkers strolling through Tallgrass Creek’s campus on a sunny morning in Overland Park, Kan., are often drawn to a fenced area located just north of the community’s main entrance. A quick peek behind the wooden fence will usually find several residents planting, weeding or harvesting in several gardens.

The 48 garden spaces measure 10 feet by 10 feet. Tallgrass Creek is responsible for the soil, water and rototilling, while residents take care of the design, planting and maintenance of their individual gardens. The result is an eye-popping plethora of unique garden spaces, one tended by gardening enthusiast Al Schwandt.

“Gardening is good for the soul,” says Al, who has gardened since he was a child. “I think it’s just in my blood.”

Al’s gardening roots run deep. He grew up on his family’s dairy farm in Wisconsin, which produced flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees.

“As a high schooler, I plowed the soil with a team of horses,” says Al, a retired pastor, who, along with wife Mary, moved to Tallgrass Creek in 2011 from Lincoln, Neb. “I can remember when tractors first began being used—a huge step forward for farming.”

Al is well known to Tallgrass Creek gardeners not only for his homegrown vegetables, but also for his woodworking skills. He oversaw the construction of more than 320 feet of “rabbit” fence that fellow gardeners have used to keep the pesky critters away from their plants. The fences are chicken wire framed in wood with latch gates for easy access. Al, assisted by other residents, cut and fashioned the fencing in Tallgrass Creek’s spacious woodshop located behind the Sunflower Bistro and finished them in the garden area.

“As a child, I was always the one my dad chose to do the carpentry projects, so when rabbits became a problem, I was the natural one to help make rabbit fences,” says Al.

A year ago, Al also helped stain the entire fence that surrounds all the gardens.

“Several other residents pitched in so it wasn’t difficult,” says Al. “It’s something we felt we could do, and it made a big difference.”

Tasty vegetables, pretty blooms, and woodworking projects are only part of the reason Al gardens.

“I’m a practical person,” notes Al. “I like to see the results of my labor, and gardening fits right into that.”

Betty Coughenour’s daylilies make a stunning statement in her garden. Betty has loved daylilies for as long as she can remember. From her former Overland Park home, she moved 35 daylilies (some more than 25 years old), to her Tallgrass Creek gardening space before she moved furniture into her new residence.

Her love for the elegant flowers runs in the family.

“My mother grew day daylilies, and I fell in love with them as a little girl,” she said. “At one point, I had about 450 plants.”

Everyone at Tallgrass Creek loves her daylilies thanks to neighbor Lila Martin, who made a video montage of the colorful, luxurious blooms. The video is set to music and plays on the community’s television station throughout the day.

Lila, an avid photographer and retired teacher, has made other nature-oriented videos for the community’s television station, including one about the many native wildflowers on Tallgrass Creek’s 65-acre campus. She took about 200 photos of Betty’s daylilies to capture their uncommon beauty.

“I didn’t include words because these wonderful blooms speak for themselves,” says Lila, who is rarely without her camera. “Each one is beautifully unique, and together they are just breathtaking.”

Lila and husband Jerry also have a garden space. Lila grows zinnias, and Jerry grows tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, okra, green beans, and for the first time this season, apple melons.

Each resident’s garden has its own unique look and personality. There are cutting gardens of gorgeous blooms, vegetable gardens of ripening produce, gardens full of wandering vines heavy with pumpkins and squash, even a troll garden populated with the funny, mythical people.

“Just like people, every garden is different,” notes Al. “Which is another wonderful thing about gardening.”

Betty notes all gardens have one thing in common. “They are planted and cared for with love, optimism, and anticipation,” she says. “There’s nothing like seeing those first shoots come up in the spring. It’s always magical—and wonderful therapy!”