Inspired by her love for planting, pets, and growing up on the family farm, master gardener Bonnie Duma creates a panorama of natural beauty with the extraordinary gardens that surround her Lenexa home.
Story by Jeanne de Lathouder | Photography by Matthew Anderson
A Johnson County Extension Master Gardener since 2012, Bonnie Duma has turned her passion for planting into a lavish and meandering landscape of exquisite natural beauty that wraps around her entire home. Always a work in progress, her stunning garden nestled among the sprawling Falcon Ridge neighborhood of western Lenexa is an inspiring mixture of science lab, restful retreat, and hub of nonstop education.
“When my husband and I moved into our home in 1998, we initially designed the garden to be dog-friendly” says Bonnie, a former medical technologist at Shawnee Mission Medical Center. “This included planning traffic flow patterns for both people and pets, a dog-door entrance, and strategic placement of obstacles to prevent plant damage,” she adds.
As time progressed, Bonnie’s garden themes have been an evolving labor of love, and after she retired, being outside and planting became her main creative outlet. Striving to highlight her home’s beautiful natural setting, she meticulously followed the form of the space. A stroll through the grounds features multiple winding paths that reveal the garden in stages. Stone walls anchor this majestic outdoor setting, and containers bursting with eye-catching flora are everywhere.
“I would describe my garden as having a natural, casual feel that accommodates children, pets, and has a farm theme here and there,” says Bonnie. “My grandchildren and the neighboring children love to play in the garden and secret pathways — they pretend they are in a hidden forest chasing dragons or hiding from jungle beasts,” she laughs.
Sprinkled throughout her enchanting landscape, unique plant containers and accents made from repurposed objects personalize Bonnie’s garden. Her favorite features include a large fountain planter, hedge-post hand railings, a well pump, a washtub hypertufa water feature, a toolbox, a chicken feeder, and last but not least, a bicycle mounted to a fence that provides a whimsical and unexpected focal point.
“Most of these objects were procured from the family farm where I grew up,” Bonnie says. “I was exposed to gardening almost every day, and my grandparents involved me in their vegetable gardening. I hope to pass this love on to my grandchildren,” she adds.
Another unique garden feature includes a backyard retaining wall that was constructed from the limestone foundation of Bonnie’s great grandparents’ barn in Belleville, Kansas. The stones were quarried over a hundred years ago from that area, and Bonnie and her entire family all pitched in to haul literally tons of the hand-quarried limestone from the farm.
“I loved bringing a part of my family history into the garden,” she recalls. “But after trying to unload it from the trailer, my husband decided we should hire it out” she laughs.
With her hands in the soil for many years, Bonnie has learned the value of trial and error in the garden. After experimenting with numerous plant species and varieties, her preferences now comprise tropical passion flowers for their colorful beauty and lovely scent, panicle and oakleaf hydrangeas, versatile and drought-tolerant sedums, a small tree species called Seven Son Flower, and coleus, which provide wonderful foliage with a wide variety of color selections. Along her pursuit to becoming a master gardener, she also picked up expert tips that have served her well in creating her own magnificent garden spaces. Her favorites include planning before you plant — right plant, right place — and read plant tags and plan for mature plant size; making sure your surroundings blend and flow with the inside of your home, so it feels like an extension of your indoor living space; apply the hide and reveal technique — create a journey in nature by adding paths.
“I like to get creative — don’t be afraid to move things, repurpose newfound items, and let your personality show,” says Bonnie. “And relax and enjoy your garden—as a friend once told me, ‘be’ in the garden,” she adds. “I’ve intentionally designed particular areas or ‘garden rooms’ throughout that allow for various activities like dining, entertaining, and cozy conversations.”
Bonnie’s inviting garden rooms include the patio, where casual get-togethers happen spontaneously around an alluring water and fire feature. The deck offers the perfect spot for intimate gatherings and al fresco meals. Her fragrant kitchen garden brims with raised-bed vegetables and fresh herbs, and the back walkway and steps feature a lush fern garden and a dry creek bed that provides drainage. A bountiful side garden and berm deliver breathtaking views from the kitchen window.
“My enjoyment comes from creating spaces that can be enjoyed by others,” says Bonnie. “It is a joy to see my husband relax in what he says is his garden oasis,” she adds. “I am also thrilled to be co-chairing the upcoming 2020 and 2022 Johnson County Extension Master Gardener tours. Meeting wonderful people has been the highlight of this program.”