Waterside Garden Retreat

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A master gardener and patron of the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Geri Padley creates a captivating oasis in her own backyard.  

Story by Jeanne de Lathouder     |     Photography by Matthew Anderson

When Geri and Ron Padley discovered this scenic Overland Park setting in 2011, they were immediately smitten by the area’s natural beauty and its potential for a sprawling garden landscape. Once pastureland from an old farm, the site was developing into a charming neighborhood and had a pond along the back of the property. Geri, a master gardener and former design student, quickly began to visualize endless possibilities for the sweeping views surrounding their home. 

“I have always been so intrigued with color and the idea of designing with trees and shrubs,” she says. “They are the bones of   the garden and provide backdrop so that smaller hints of color and texture from perennials, annuals, and tropical plants are visually magnified. Evergreens and deciduous plants are crucial for seasonality,” she adds.  

At the Padley’s previous dwelling, Geri concentrated more on formality in her garden. But when the couple decided to build this home, a more casual idea of gardening started to develop. Their children were grown and starting families of their own, and they wanted the freedom to travel. They divided 200 perennials to take along to their new property and Geri asked a friend who had a farm to keep her pots in a pasture while they were building. Thankfully, everything made it through the winter. 

“I started working with the contour of the land to create gentle curving lines to form the boundary of the patio and garden beds,” says Geri. “The patio is a little below the grade of the garden beyond, so the taller plantings embrace the space. The use of tall, bold plants above the wall is intentional and makes the patio feel like an enclosed retreat without the need for walls on both sides. The plants serve as a colorful backdrop,” she notes.

Green—the color in all gardens—is opposite to red on the color wheel, so red became an obvious choice for Geri’s vibrant plantings. Some of her favorites include hydrangeas, cranesbill, clematis, and coral bells, all complemented with green gem boxwood.

“Just as green balances out red, I like yellow-green and chartreuse to provide brightness,” says the gardener. “I planted evergreens with threadlike texture so it would add color in the winter, and lastly came blue to tone down the brighter spectrum and meld the colors together. I discovered that foliage color is far more rewarding year-round. Textures and colors become the spotlight in the offseason after the flowers have long faded, so the garden design can be enjoyed in all four seasons,” she adds.

Striking features in the Padley’s garden include a cascading waterfall that attracts all kinds of wildlife—birds, frogs, dragonflies, herons eating fish, and geese flying in and out. With its close vicinity to the house, it offers a never-ending show. A magnificent metal gazebo also takes the spotlight and was formerly a display piece at a furniture store that Geri spotted while shopping. She brought it along from her old garden and it is a cherished piece she has planted around to honor the memory of her father. 

As a certified master gardener since 2007 from the Extension Master Gardner Program, Geri’s most tried and true design tips include planting in odd numbers and incorporating color combinations throughout the entire garden to bring harmony to all areas. She also advises gardeners to amend their soil and improve texture with compost and mulch to help with aeration, nutrition, and drainage. And first and foremost, gardening should always be fun—enjoy the process.

“Ron and I look forward to many years of passing on the love of our garden and the outdoors to our family and grandchildren,” says Geri. “We love to entertain and have many friends who enjoy the relaxation of this outdoor setting,” she adds. “It’s like being on vacation in our own backyard.”

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