Gardener’s Paradise

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Gardener’s Paradise

The result of 30+ years of digging dirt and hauling rocks, Dragonfly Acre is a vision of enchantment brought to fruition by the owners of this lavish property.  

Story by Jeanne de Lathouder    |    Photography by Matthew Anderson

When Joyce Householder and her husband, Jon, moved into their Overland Park home in 1988, there was not one tree in the yard, and the only greenery was overgrown juniper bushes along the front sidewalk. Today, their property is a spectacular, sprawling garden paradise that has been evolving for more than 30 years. 

“Our first project was to plow up a vegetable garden,” remembers Joyce. “We always had vegetable gardens every place we ever lived, but because this property had been a sod farm in its previous life, the ground was hard clay that did not drain well,” she adds. “This area soon became raised beds, and over the years, we’ve spent hours amending the soil by spreading compost, mulch, and garden soil and building up garden areas—outlining them with stones that were   sometimes purchased or brought home from construction sites and the side of the road,” she says.

It took a few years before the Householders began their non-stop gardening fun. During their first five years, Joyce commuted to Lawrence to earn a human biology degree and  then a master’s degree in physical therapy from KU Medical Center. After their three kids graduated from high school, she decided to embark on her next great adventure and joined the Extension Master Gardener program.

“It was pretty quiet around here, so I played with plants to stay busy,” says Joyce, now retired. “I’ve always loved to garden, and over the last 15 years as a master gardener, I have made life-long friendships as I learned about every aspect of gardening. I easily filled that nagging empty-nest feeling with community interactions — volunteering at expos and demonstration gardens,” she adds. 

Over the years, the Householders have developed more and more garden areas and rooms. The front terraces were built to limit the mowing of a steep slope. This particular area started as a cottage garden and, over time, has evolved into a more eclectic collage of native plants and perennials. 

“Plants come and go in our gardens,” says Joyce. “I have been known to buy three of the same plant and place them in different areas of the garden. Where they live is where I will plant more. Generally, I start with an initial plan or idea, and as plants become unhappy and pass on, I fill the space with what has caught my eye at the moment. Plant stores are my happy place,” she laughs. 

A pair of whimsical yin-yang–shaped gardens in the center of the Householders’ backyard feature a vibrant array of flower colors reflecting the energy associated with this enlightening symbol — light and dark, masculine and feminine. The couple also created a rain garden and a bioswale that begins in the backyard and travels down to a drainage ditch in the front yard. This area thrives with native plants that have naturalized as well as various water-loving irises. 

“It’s nice to have an area where the plants can be themselves and grow as they please instead of how we please,” jokes Joyce. “Seed heads from coneflowers and other native flowers are left to feed the birds and other wildlife over the winter. We also added specific plants to attract pollinators, bees, butterflies — and my favorite — dragonflies! After all, we have endearingly named our yard Dragonfly Acre,” she notes.

Beautiful ornamental grasses sprawl across the entire property and dazzle the eye with flowing texture and visual interest throughout the year. Joyce admits to recently going overboard for Vertigo and Fireworks grasses, as their deeper colors provide added interest.  

“I also love hydrangeas,” she adds. “There are many varieties that have managed to survive my gardening style. The big, bold, beautiful flower heads are hard to pass up— and anything that will live for me is a shoo-in,” she laughs.

Joyce also has a fascination with concrete art, and over the years, has made molded leaves, flower pots, birdbaths, fairy cottages, and steppingstones. Last year — with the design help of Kathy Hudson from Red Cedar Gardens — she created a garden that  resembles a little fairy cottage village. Elephant-ear stepping stones appear in every  garden path, and birdbaths are abundant as well. One of Joyce’s all-time favorite garden features is her “thyme out” garden shed that Jon built for her last year with several friends’ help. This long-awaited dream shed is a special retreat where she goes to over-winter plants, start vegetable and flower seeds, and simply relax amid  the beautiful surroundings. An inviting fire pit and sitting space surrounded by green giant arborvitae offer a cozy spot where the couple often enjoys an evening fire and time together.

“Many of the plants here were shared from fellow gardeners, and I am reminded of them as I walk through our garden,” says Joyce. “We have had many events here over the years — birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, neighborhood parties, and potluck dinners,” she reminisces. “The back porch is where we always wind up — to enjoy the peaceful view of the water garden and the soothing sound of the waterfall.”

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