A labor of love for more than 40 years, artist Gayle Faulkner’s whimsical garden is the ultimate happy place of creative expression.
Story by Jeanne de Lathouder | Photography by Matthew Anderson
What was once a milo field has since blossomed into a vibrant paradise of garden beds and charming outdoor entertainment areas that embrace Gayle Faulkner’s Victorian farmhouse–style home. A talented painter, and now a master gardener, her English-style garden in Overland Park takes on what she calls an “arty vibe.” Guided by the elements and principles of design as well as the site conditions, she knows just what to plant and what decorative accents — placed alongside her original art pieces — would best adorn her ever-evolving sanctuary in the city.
“I have always thought of my garden as an heirloom quilt with plants and other pieces contributed by family and friends,” she says. “I have a “Britannia” polyantha heirloom rose that is 92 years old. This rose was introduced in England in 1929, and my grandpa planted it in 1929. As a child, I helped tend it with him, and this is how my love of gardening started,” she reminisces.
Gayle’s interest in gardening grew as she followed her grandfather around the garden, helping him with his vegetables, annuals, and roses. She even had a small flower bed all her own next to his coal bin. By the time she had a home of her own, she was a gardening natural.
“This property is the first place I have lived for an extended time — nearly 40 years — and the first place where I could create a garden of my own,” she notes. “I was taking evening classes with the Extension Center and decided to apply to their Master Gardener program. The first thing I learned was that I really didn’t know very much about gardening,” she laughs. “I have been a master gardener for 11 years now and have made a lot of great friends, worked in public gardens, and continued to learn.”
Much like her art, Gayle’s gardening is a personal expression of creativity. She starts with great soil, the right plant for the right spot, and lots of hard work. Against the advice of most experts, she did not begin this garden with a big plan.
“As an artist, I have the advantage of being able to see the big picture,” she says. “Therefore, I do my research, plant the plants, use colors and textures that I love, and just play. I work within a specific color palette of pink, purple, soft yellow, and a little white, with the exception of my grandpa’s rose, which is red,” she adds. “I many times choose plants with scent and pollinators in mind — I love to watch the butterflies and birds.”
Gayle’s workday in the garden starts before the sun rises and ends with enjoyment on one of the porches or patios with friends, family, or just herself. Her garden is somewhat formal, while other areas offer more of a cottage or Victorian feel with contemporary embellishments mixed in. Having both sun and shaded areas, Gayle has designed and named eight garden rooms — English, Peter Rabbit, Woodland, Parlor, Pigs Fly, Victorian, Veranda, and Sunrise/Sunset. All have charming paths, seating areas, and, of course, artwork. She also has a beautiful art studio that looks out into her English garden.
“I love incorporating paintings and sculpture into the garden,” Gayle says. “I am always looking for the unusual, the playful, and the whimsical. There is a gorgeous traditional fountain outside my studio door where the sound of tinkling water fills the air. Adjacent to this is a contemporary sculpture made of stainless-steel that came from a Louisiana factory that makes Tasty Freeze machines. It is painted a vibrant cobalt blue — a color I repeated in the hardscape of pots and throughout the property,” she adds.
Gayle’s “Victorian” garden features two antique iron chairs that came from the front porch of a historic home in Independence, Missouri. An ivy-covered topiary shaped into a woman with a pot of flowers on her head and a train of pink begonias at the base of her gown creates an eye-catching accent. Nestled into one of her street-facing beds is an old-fashioned arbor found in front of a small-town hardware store. Her “Pigs Fly Garden” houses a beautifully rustic stainless-steel potting table rescued from a dumpster behind a local restaurant, and a “Pigs Fly” painting complements the theme. This garden is also home to vegetables, herbs, and a whimsical metal goat.
“I also have a wonderful ‘she shed’ that is the perfect place for tools and other garden supplies,” says Gayle. “But the best part is sitting here at the end of the day, listening to music or just the quiet of nature.”
The garden has always been a magical place for Gayle’s children and grandchildren as well, and many of their favorite memories were created here. A few years ago, her daughters hosted a birthday party for her, and one of the special reminders of this occasion is a precious rabbit ornament in the “Peter Rabbit” garden.
“One of my daughters was married at the house, and what a fun and beautiful place for a wedding and reception,” she fondly recalls. “Grandchildren are also one of life’s special treasures, and I had four in four years,” she laughs. “My grandkids grew up with this garden. They love broccoli, and every year we would take out the big pruners so that they could cut their own. One eats cucumbers like an apple, and another one loves melons. They always enjoyed running through the arbors, playing games on the lawn, and roasting marshmallows at the fire pit.”
Always the artist, Gayle even repurposed one of her grandchildren’s “Jenny Lind–style” cribs into a settee that now sits on the deck outside her “Woodland Garden.” There is also a statue of a boy and girl playing leapfrog in the front “Veranda Garden” that her oldest granddaughter always knew was supposed to represent her and her brother.
“For me, garden design is much like interior decorating,” says Gayle. “It’s important to pay attention to the floor, the walls, and the ceiling,” she adds. “In many ways, the science of gardening is not a science but a great experiment. As a gardener, I think you have to accept that Mother Nature is untimately in charge. Whether big or small, in the ground or a pot, plant what makes you happy.”
JC Extension Master Gardner
May 21 & 22 | Tour this Garden and Other Beautiful Private Gardens
For tickets and more information: www.johnson.k-state.edu/lawn-garden/public-garden-tour