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A garden haven for birds, butterflies, everyone

A garden haven for birds, butterflies, everyone

Richters win June Yard of the Month award

June 15th, 2014 in News

The view from Suzanne and Harry Richter's dining room shows their decades of diligence in their backyard, which is appreciated by bluebirds, butterflies and other natural visitors.

Photo by Kris Wilson

The view from their dining room shows off what can be done with the common hills of Jefferson City backyards.

Harry and Suzanne Richter began their full and well-maintained beds as a way to avoid safety hazards during mowing. And as everything else in the yard, it just kept growing.

Two years ago, when they were featured on the Bittersweet Garden Club Tour, Harry just had completed his tractor shed. At the top of their inclining backyard, the mini-cottage creates a pleasing focal point.

Their home at 420 Meadow Brook Drive is the June 2014 Yard of the Month, selected by the Bittersweet Garden Club and Central Missouri Master Gardeners committee.

"The pop of first impression when you see it makes this the yard of the month!" another judge said.

The committee enjoyed the vertical elements and use of terracing.

"It's always good for gardeners in Jefferson City to see how a hilly landscape can be developed," a judge said.

The selection committee was attracted to the bright yellow plants along the Richter's brick retaining wall. The cotton lavender was one judge's "favorite find." The bed, which runs parallel to their driveway, also includes Russian sage, pink spirea and daylillies.

"The blooms were all around the house, and if that were not showy enough, they even had flowers in window boxes out front," a judge said. "The yard had a nice curb appeal with an inviting flower lined driveway."

The Richters have lived at their Meadow Brook Drive corner lot home for 33 years and another three years in a home just up the road - where they left behind 54 rose bushes.

Wherever the couple has lived, roses and lawn improvements have been their first priorities.

Although more difficult to care for, hybrid tea roses are Harry's favorite. They are bigger, more colorful and more beautiful, he said.

As the years progress, there's always something more to do, they agreed.

"We've learned so much about plants you shouldn't plant," Suzanne joked.

Harry agreed, "Some plants you just can't control unless they're in a pot or you use an underground fence."

For example, ranunculus produces a sweet bloom in the spring, she said. But the rest of the summer, she's fighting to keep it in check. Similarly, campanula spreads swiftly.

The couple spend as much time as they can outdoors.

"We've always been gardening," Suzanne said. "When the kids were little, I could play in the flowers while they played in the sandbox," which is now hidden with vinca and shade trees.

Now with grandchildren, Suzanne said she continues to share her love of the outdoors and gardening with them, just as her grandmother did with her.

For Harry, he's been mowing and caring for lawns since age 13.

While Suzanne said she enjoys the relaxation of tending to her plants, Harry said he values the uninterrupted time to think while he cuts the grass on his tractor.

The couple may have different interests in maintaining their beautiful lawn and gardens, but together they enjoy the travel, tours and shopping that goes along with their hobby.

They have at least nine flowering tree species, which bloom at different times throughout the season. And their ground comes to life early with crocus, daffodils and hyacinths and doesn't stop before frost.

The Richter's decades of development has resulted in a backdrop of awaited perennials accented with annuals for color.

They both love hydrangeas and she likes to play with the soil pH to change the colors from blue to purple to pink.

Most recently, Suzanne's attentions have been on her butterfly garden, opposite their home and separated by a staircase to the bed with a swing nearby.

"I saw about 15 butterflies today and I thought "It's working,'" she said.

The location uphill from her other gardens started with only a couple of butterfly bushes.

"I've found some things are terrible and others take over," Suzanne said.

Each early morning before Harry leaves for work, he sits at their dining table to watch the activity in his bird sanctuary.

Bluebirds and house wrens are nesting in boxes. And a variety of birds snack from a dozen feeders. They've even seen more rare sightings, such as the cedar waxwing, rose-breasted grosbeak and an indigo bunting.

The Richters agreed their flying friends are in part a result of the preserved portion of the Runge Nature Center, which was divided from the grounds by Missouri 179, and now sits untouched behind their subdivision.

But it also brings nuisances, too. Suzanne eventually settled on osteospermum for annual color after the bunnies left no petals on her marigolds and petunias.

The top piece of advice these lifetime gardeners have is soil amendment.

When they moved into the home, two years after it was built, the pasture soil had been overturned to show more rock and clay on the surface. And several original locust trees remained.

The lovely beds they have today are the result of years of adding compost and paying attention to the soil needs.

The Richters depend on the city's composting facility, where they contribute their share of yard waste and return bring the crushed compost and mulch back to their yard.

"I do think it's the key," Suzanne said. "And, it's the best bargain in town."

The gardening couple also encourages fellow gardeners to take time to enjoy their work.

"I tend to be a workaholic," she said. "I have to remind myself."