Serenity in the Shade

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Master gardener Cindy Bergmann and her husband, Doug, create a cool and inviting shade garden amidst a sea of lush green hosta.  

Story by Jeanne de Lathouder   |   Photography by Matthew Anderson

Cindy Bergmann grew up with gardening in her blood. Her father worked in a family-owned produce business that started before World War II, and then went on to earn a degree in horticulture from the University of Missouri in Columbia. He eventually managed the grounds of the University of Missouri in Kansas City along with a turf farm partnership. Cindy’s childhood home had a zoysia yard manicured like a golf-course green with pristine hedges and rhododendrons that seemed always in bloom. After obtaining a degree of her own in architecture from K-State, she and her husband, Doug, began to enjoy the garden journey and her passion for planting together on their property in Leawood where they have lived for more than 25 years. 

“The house was situated on a very wooded lot,” says Cindy. “Initially there was an overabundance of trees and shade with a handful of foundation yews across the front of the house. Everything else was a clean slate,” she notes.

Gardening on the Bergmann’s property had to accommodate dense shade, compacted clay soil, construction materials buried just below the sod, stone and boulders from the basement excavation, and the negative effects to plants caused by juglone in the black walnut trees. Always bouncing ideas between them, as well as enjoying the hunt for just the right plant, the couple have forever viewed Cindy’s passion for gardening as a shared adventure. One of their all-time plant favorites is Hosta — the backbone of a shade garden. Their property holds literally hundreds in a variety of shades, variegations, heights, and structures. They also love Helleborus, which are evergreen in winter and yield early spring flowers; Black Bugbane (Cimicifuga ramosa ‘Brunette’), for their dark contrast to the predominance of greens; and the dramatic chartreuse yellow shades of Japanese Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’)and Golden Japanese Spikenard (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’).    

“Cindy’s garden is enjoyed as it is seen, whether from a stationary vantage point such as our deck and patio, or as viewed while walking the grounds,” says Doug. “Inspiration comes from enjoying the aesthetics of other gardens — both private and public, the arboretum, art museums, and urban settings,” he adds.

In 2016, Cindy applied to the Extension Master Gardeners program to be around like-minded    gardeners and to share and learn from this wonderful community. She completed the EMG curriculum in 2017 and in September of 2018, her garden was selected for the May 2020 K-State Extension Master Gardeners Public Garden Tour. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled this spring’s tour. Some of Cindy’s tried-and-true tips for beginners include:

  • Amend your beds. Invest and get good at it. If you don’t, you will limit your possible results. 
  • Make your own compost and get good at it. You can’t buy compost equal to what you make yourself. Your green thumb lies within that “black gold.” 
  • Matchmaking — take the time to know your conditions (soil, light, drainage) and match these with plants that will naturally flourish. 
  • Lighten up — don’t take failure personally. 

“It’s never right the first, or even the second time around,” says Cindy. “When the result isn’t there, put on your detective’s cap, and identify what might have gone wrong and ways to adjust. Repeat over and over again —it’s the joy gardening,” she laughs. 

Through spending so much time in their yard, the Bergmanns have discovered a warmly enjoyable social aspect to gardening. Over the years, Cindy’s passion for gardening has connected them to the neighborhood families, dog walkers, joggers, delivery men, and landscaping crews. 

“Gardeners are a sharing community,” says Cindy. “When someone takes an interest, you get your pitchfork and pull up a specimen to give them. It’s as if you’re saying, ‘this has given me pleasure — it will give you pleasure as well.’ The garden becomes a quilt of origin stories, of common interests, of sharing.”

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