Where Playing in the Dirt Becomes a True Labor of Love

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If mastering the art of gardening is a superpower, then Master Gardener Leslie Reichel is on full throttle.

Story by Ann Butenas      |      Photography by Matthew Anderson

Even though Leslie Reichel may spend countless hours tending to her elaborate gardens around her yard, nurturing and tending to each plant, bloom, flower, tree, shrub and more, it is a safe bet to assume this garden spot truly nurtures her soul. It is a place that grounds her and provides an outlet for her creative instincts.

Reichel began honing her green thumb as an avid perennial gardener several years ago, taking classes at Red Cedar Gardens. She then worked alongside a friend but eventually was inspired to establish her own business, Potscape, in 2005.

“I did container gardening for others, and it just sort of grew,” Reichel recalled.

Recognizing her gardening prowess, a friend encouraged Reichel to apply to become a Master Gardener, so Reichel rose to the challenge, worked through the necessary steps to accomplish this goal, and began a new phase in her gardening adventures, becoming a Certified Master Gardener in 2010. In order to maintain her status, Reichel must volunteer 40 hours a year. She does this primarily by working as a bed captain at Monet Garden within the Overland Park Arboretum.

“We work with an individual who helped design it and respond to her input. We have a color scheme and we decide what goes in annually,” noted Reichel, who also works within the Allée Section at the Arboretum. “It is fun working in other gardens, exploring new plans and different schemes.”

However, Reichel is also committed to the grounds around her home, a noteworthy garden spot in and of itself. This is a place to which one retreats to cast all cares away and feel as if he or she has suddenly been transported to a soothing European landscape.

Although Reichel describes the gardens around her house as “a work in progress,” the beauty that surrounds the space is undeniable. She has lived in this Leawood Forest Estates home for 10 years and continually tends to the eye-catching attractions of her Master Gardener’s artist palette. When she and her family first moved in, though, she did have her work cut out for her, as it was originally largely a perennial garden, but she was also blessed with a few anchor pieces to set the tone.

“When we bought this house, we inherited two large formal fountains and some garden statuary,” noted Reichel, whose fondness for European formal gardens inspired her to apply that look to the grounds around her home.

“There are definitely more challenges here than in Europe as far as the weather goes,” she indicated. “It is more temperate and more rain falls over there. Plus, a true formal garden lends itself to a very flat surface to create rosettes with boxwood. My area is not flat, so I had to adapt. As a result, I have dealt with some drainage issues.”

To that end, Reichel installed a French drain on the back side. Further, the front yard sloped down appreciably, so she had an expansive masonry wall built to create a flatter surface area from which to work and so that she could create a parterre in which all the boxwood are similarly hedged. Reichel indicated that hornbeams will lose leaves late but boxwood do not. As such, a lovely garden structure can exist year-round.

Reichel has an obvious penchant for color, but also appreciates the importance of drawing one’s eye to the appropriate places. Reichel explained that with a formal garden, the color scheme should be minimal to allow for structure and geometry to arise.

“I have a lot of white with some color,” she noted. “It gives your eye something to rest on, and the annuals with the boxwood help soften the structure, offering a bit less formality. I accent with low-maintenance annuals and just a few perennials.”

Reichel also integrated clematis, a climbing vine, to provide vertical lift, as well as a lot of peonies from her former home. Additionally, she has installed about 350 boxwood all around.

“I definitely have a lot of hedging,” she smiled.

On the side of the house is an allée area richly accented with hornbeams, which provide one with the feeling they are walking into something exquisite. Reichel delights in the use of high and low elements, just like in a traditional European garden.

“I used the European hornbeams to draw you into the garden entrance,” she noted.

The courtyard in the front of the house is another talking point.  Reichel refers to the space behind the wall as her secret garden, as the beauty and wonder behind it is not visible from the street. The obelisk statue further down in the front yard is accented by boxwood and annuals, the look of which varies depending upon what Reichel installs.

“I currently have 200 white tulips,” she said.

The rear patio of the home is contiguously accented with a natural staircase consisting of alternating surfaces of stepping-stones and grass, similar to those found in European gardens.

While this year-round beauty does require regular maintenance, Reichel does take time to just sit back and enjoy the view.

“We like to sit out in the garden and relax with a glass of wine,” said Reichel. “But then that can lead to one of my bad habits: looking out over the garden and thinking I need to something here and I need to do something there!”

Reichel noted her husband especially enjoys the garden in the evening.

“He will walk the perimeter and just look at everything,” she said. “It changes daily, as something new is always blooming.”

Reichel enjoys the creating aspect of gardening and is always up for a visit to the garden store, as putting colors and textures together is her passion.

“Gardeners like to show off what they have created and have brought to nature,” she reflected.

Reichel’s gardens will be displayed as part of the Johnson County Extension Master Gardeners Tour is currently cancelled but may be rescheduled in the future this year.

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