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WATERLOO --- Gardens encircle Ann and Jon Olsson’s home at 1972 Newell St. At first glance, it’s a yard filled with hostas, peonies, baptisia and numerous perennials, vines, herbs, raspberries, prairie plants and a few vegetables.

Look closer, and you’ll notice a “food court” garden in which every plant has a food-related name such as “Cotton Candy” hellebore, a patriotic garden featuring hostas with names like “Old Glory,” “Rocket’s Red Glare” and “Independence,” and a critter corner featuring “Godzilla” ferns and “Wooly Mammoth” hosta.

The Olssons are one of seven beautiful gardens that will be open to the public Saturday for Garden Tours, presented by Grout Museum District and Friends of the Grout Historic Houses.

The tour is from 1 to 5 p.m., and participants can view the gardens in any order. Tickets are $10 available at www.gmdistrict.org/GardenTours or at any garden site on tour day. Presenting sponsor is Koch Construction; Matthias Landscaping Co., is contributing sponsor.

Proceeds will support maintenance and upkeep of the 1861 Italianate Rensselaer Russell House Museum and the Snowden House, an Italianate Victorian home built in 1881. Both houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to the Olssons, featured gardens are Doug Castenson and Dean Petersen, 124 Graceline Blvd.; Allaire and Warren George, 448 Loma St.; Ann and Jay Ginther, 101 Lillian Lane; the Johnson garden, 1036 Kern St.; Clarissa and Tom Kunz, 135 Midlothian Blvd.; and Ginny and Randy Platte, 3042 N. Elk Run Road.

The Olssons’ gardens have been established more than 50 years. The property originally was filled with irises and peonies, which are still prominent in spring, including an unusual pink peony with red stamens named “Do Tell.”

Ann Olsson describes herself as a “spring gardener — I don’t like being out in the summer,” although she still walks around her gardens to weed and deadhead flowers.

Randy Platte was raised on the Twin Rocks Farm, once designated as “the Prettiest Farm in Iowa” by Our Iowa magazine, where he and Ginny tend their expansive gardens. Visitors will enjoy three water features, handmade plant containers and garden ornaments, a selection of roses and roughly 240 varieties of hostas. There also are nearly 350 pots of colorful annuals on display, all started from seeds or plugs.

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Watering so many containers may sound like a chore, but Randy said, “It’s my stress relief. Every day after work, I come home and start watering. It takes me about an hour or so, but I love it.”

The garden gate stands open at the English Tudor-style Johnson home. The garden has evolved into a series of garden rooms since it was started in 1994, filled with favorite plants chosen for color, texture, shape and fragrance.

“It’s been a labor of love,” the owner said, particularly a pond located in a space affectionately known as “Central Park.” Several plants, including an heirloom golden iris, have personal significance.

In 29 years, the George garden has evolved from “nothing to outstanding with no master plan,” featuring perennials, potted annuals and about 200 hosta varieties. The Ginthers’ home was designed by Cleve Miller and the deck and multi-tiered garden, filled with perennials, annuals, woodland plants and shurbs is well-suited to entertaining.

Castensen and Petersen moved into their home in 2001 and began transforming the backyard into a shady oasis, focusing attention on beds, border and potted plants. By creating different garden rooms, the owners have expanded the backyard’s character and provided spaces to entertain.

At the Kunz home, the landscaping has gradually become more low maintenance, having been established over 30 years. That doesn’t mean static. New hardscape, including a backyard fire pit with built-in surround seating, has provided an opportunity to redesign garden beds and tuck in newfound favorite plants.

“I love gardening, and I’m always finding new plants I want to try,” Clarissa Kunz said. Borders are filled with a variety of perennials, clematis, “Easy Elegance” roses and garden décor, including a “Sisters Garden” that celebrates shared “likes” between sisters, such as hats and coffee. Iowa Hawkeye-themed yellow, black and white containers are planted with mixtures of the same color annuals, including black petunias.

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Arts/Special Sections Editor

Special Sections Editor for the Courier

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