A Truly English Garden | Midwest Living

A Truly English Garden

After a British intelligence officer fell in love with a Kansas deputy sheriff, they transported the English garden look to their Midwest yard where their joys bloom amidst the roses.


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Getting Started

He's tall and craggy, an english version of Clint Eastwood, a retired British special forces intelligence officer with undercover stories he really can't talk about. He's the rose expert and head gardener.

She's a blonde, gun-toting, 20-year veteran of the Leavenworth County, Kansas, sheriff's office. She's the "artiste" who adds the romantic touches.

They may appear tough on the outside, but John and Connie Anderson need the inner refuge their lush garden provides.

"Gardening is a great diversion from everyday stress, especially the high level of stress I encounter on a daily basis in law enforcement," Connie says. "Inside our white picket fence we find solitude and balance in our hard work."

Their corner yard, located in one of Leavenworth's older neighborhoods, stands out. In season, the white fence and matching arbor bloom profusely with pale pink 'Dr. W. van Fleet' climbing roses. Clusters of upright junipers and golden barberries, plus colorful annuals such as petunias and zinnias, decorate the space outside the fence. Inside, gravel paths meander through bright green patches of lawn and more flowerbeds.

Here, England meets the Midwest outside a home where the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes often hang from opposite porch pillars.

This idyllic garden flourishes here because John wanted to surround himself with a reminder of his native Northumberland, in northern England. (The pair met in Leavenworth through a mutual law enforcement friend, and John moved to Kansas in 1988 to marry Connie.)

"It's a truly English garden," John says in his almost-Scottish burr. "You have to have fragrance, color, upright junipers, an arch, a white picket fence."

He pauses, then adds with authority: "And a weeping cherry. If you don't have a weeping cherry, it's not an English garden."

By the time they moved to the house in 1991, John had swapped intelligence plans for garden catalogs. He spent the first year eradicating invasive trumpet vines and taking cuttings of a soft pink rose rambling on a chain-link fence he replaced with a more traditional English white picket. The rose, 'Dr. W. van Fleet', is still available, though many gardeners today prefer its reblooming descendants such as 'New Dawn' or 'Awakening'. (All are hardy to Zone 5, but 'New Dawn' and 'Dr. W. van Fleet' may survive in Zone 4.)

John's first design strategy was to cut curving paths throughout their corner lot. "In England, you never walk a straight line through the garden," he says. Most of the paths are lined with gravel, while others are grass. "After you create your paths, then you can put your flowerbeds in," says John, who deep-digs each bed every fall to add peat and cow manure. Better soil not only provides nutrients, it retains water during Kansas' hot, dry summers.

Good soil also supports the hundreds of annual flowers the Andersons use to achieve the floriferous English garden look. The annuals vary from year to year, depending on what's on sale at the local nursery, but John and Connie always use osteospermums (also called African daisies), which they love for the form, and petunias for their spicy scent of cloves. "To me, a flower without fragrance isn't worth having," John says. "You might as well have plastic."

Connie usually plans a pastel color scheme. "We always use purples, whites, yellows, pinks, fuchsias, lavenders and whatever else strikes our fancy," she says. "I used zinnias on the outside of the fence one year, and we got hundreds of comments asking us to do that again!"

John, a member of both the American and British ornithologists' unions, planted plenty of trees and shrubs such as 'Newport' plum trees and barberries as cover for birds. "I like being out among my birds," says John, who routinely spots wrens, Baltimore orioles, wood thrushes and goldfinches.

The Andersons' garden, while technically not open to the public, nonetheless has become a magnet for visitors. "We have a following of people that come by every day to see what else is blooming or what we are doing," Connie says. "There are lots of pretty yards around our town, but we feel we're trying to capture a bit of England in an era gone by."

As peace officers, they're spreading serenity in a different way. "We love to share this with others," Connie says. "There ought to be peaceful gardens every mile in town. Maybe the world would mellow out."


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