A peek at private gardens

In the late 1920s, when Jean Berry was just 4 or 5 years old, her parents turned over a modest 10-by-12 section of their Columbus backyard to her and told her she could plant her own garden there.

She planted several varieties of vegetable including a row of corn that came in so beautifully she didn’t have the heart to thin the seedlings. So she let them grow until her father told her she’d be lucky to get any corn from her overcrowded plants.

Her mother, an avid gardener, pricked her ears at the challenge, and asked her husband what he’d give Berry if she did produce some corn. His answer: a penny for every grain.

That was plenty of inspiration for Berry and her mother. They tended to her corn rows like master gardeners, and every time they picked corn they’d sit around in the evenings pricking each kernel with a pin, tallying up their harvest one grain at a time.

“He’d get so disgusted when he’d come in and there we’d sit with our corn, and he’d watch us pin every kernel,” Berry said. “Every time we counted he would pay me, and it was bills. I don’t remember how much, but it was hundreds of dollars.”

That corn challenge launched Berry’s college fund and it planted one of the initial seeds that led to her love of gardening as an adult.

Now Berry’s garden is all flowers, and it will be one stop on the Keep Columbus Beautiful Commission’s 2008 Tour of Gardens on May 3.After the storm

The tour features 11 gardens in Green Island Hills and Brookstone, offering tour-goers the opportunity to see how the landscape of the neighborhoods struck by the March 1, 2007, tornado has been rebuilt after the storm.

Only one of the gardens on the tour was actually hit hard by the storm. Al and Gloria Fleming’s backyard — which is a flower-filled oasis with a pool — looked like a disaster zone after the tornado ripped through their Brookstone neighborhood. Fallen trees and debris covered the garden and pool and destroyed many of the flowers and shrubs.

Gloria Fleming, an impassioned gardener, sums up the year-long experience of restoring the garden in three words: “work, work, work.”

“It took us quite a while to get it cleaned up,” Fleming said. “Then I’ve been working trying to get the gardens back in shape — and with the trees gone, you have to dig up things that will not grow in the sun. It’s a problem, but you do what you have to do.”

Highlights on this year’s garden tour will include the stunning, sprawling estates of Sally Foley and Betsy Leebern, along with smaller gardens like Fleming’s and Berry’s that offer a more intimate beauty.

From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 3 the Columbus Flower Workshop will present a standard flower show at Spring Harbor at Green Island, and the gardens there are one stop on the tour. A plant sale at Brookstone School, featuring flowers and plants grown by Blooming Idiot Nursery, will allow inspired tour-goers to take home plants for their own gardens.Garden playground

At 84, Berry says her garden is her playground. With three terraces along the relatively small but sloping backyard, it’s also a lovely illustration of how to build a lot of color, texture and depth into a compact space.

Berry bought the house five years ago from gardener Beverly Kinner — who now lives just down the street and whose home is another stop on the garden tour. So Berry inherited the template for the garden, which was designed by Mary Florence Benson, from Kinner.

But two years ago, after the wind knocked over a big elm tree at the center of the garden, Berry was forced to begin replacing shade-loving plants with sun-loving ones.

Her favorite plants, ferns, are now mostly tucked beside the house under a large arbor draped in Lady Banks rose. Berry also has a collection of about 15 orchids that migrate outside in the summer and that will be on display for the tour.

Creeping gardenia, lavender, pansies, peony, foxglove, penstamen, iris, begonias, geraniums, angel trumpets and many other varieties of flower decorate the terraced garden. And Berry, who loves wildflowers, has planted moss and ferns in between the rocks along the terrace walls.

She treats her gardens, both in Green Island’s Creekside neighborhood and at her home in the country, as laboratories for plant propagation.

“I love to root things. Everything I break or cut or trim, I plant the cuttings,” she said. “I have a lot of boxwood and azaleas and dogwoods in the country, and it is so pretty.”

Even in town, Berry gardens beyond the Boston-ivy covered brick walls that enclose her own garden. As a member and founding president of the Columbus Museum Guild Gardeners, she has been helping to restore the old Olmsted Garden behind the museum since 1991.

And she still devotes “every minute” she can to her own flowered playground.

Gloria Weston-Smart, executive director of the Keep Columbus Beautiful Commission, said each stop on this year’s garden tour should provide inspirational take-home ideas for tour-goers.

“There’s something for everyone as they look to spruce up and beautify their yard,” she said, “because we have very small gardens and very large gardens, and some that are in between.”