Cassandra Bates has been a big fan of gardening most of her life. She said it's cheaper than therapy — and much more than that.
"It's my church; it's where I can get mad and get glad again; it's my endorphins, my exercise. It's been a great way of life," Bates said.
The Bittersweet Garden Club member of 20 years was recognized as Summer Garden of the Month for her Jefferson City home at 518 Boonville Road.
Bates' home was awarded for its curb appeal, diversity of plants and trees, and the use of her view of the Missouri River, among other aspects, said Heather Brown, of the Bittersweet Garden Club.
A change from previous years, Brown said the club is now choosing garden winners by seasons — one each in spring, summer and fall.
Sue Kauffman's colorful garden on Edgevale Road received the spring recognition.
At her Boonville Road home, Bates has several gardens — some tucked on the side of the house for shade while others are blooming near the pool overlooking the Missouri River. And all of them with a tree nearby.
With 22 species of trees at her home, Bates said her love of trees started 30 years ago.
She was on a trip with her parents and young boys to California when they visited Redwood National Forest. So in awe of the giant trees, she wanted to plant trees at her homes moving forward, three of which have been on Boonville Road.
"As I'm getting older, I do love the trees," she said. "I try to plant more native trees and make wise choices about what tree does the best."
Her affection all things arborous has another practical outcome: At a base level, trees provide shade. Bates noted they can provide 10-20 degrees of relief from the summer heat, which can help plants and visitors to stay cool. It also helps flowers to bloom more vibrantly.
"Everything looks better in the shade. It's wonderful and blocks a lot of the elements; shade is also such a blessing on the skin," she said. "I get to have a little bit of shade because this house doesn't lend itself to it."
Living on a sunny property with a pool, Bates has used both plants and structures to bring in more shade. Trees and other plants enhance her pool space, while a wall of green giant arborvitae provides pool privacy between her and her neighbors' backyards. Bates and her husband, Mike, have built a pergola next to the pool where hanging planters can thrive and visitors can retreat from the rays.
There are other florals she's grown fond of over the years: Vanilla strawberry hydrangeas, allium millenium and daylilies grow in the backyard, while Quick Fire hydrangeas and false indigo "Pink Lemonade" greet visitors at the front. The diversity of her plants and trees is thanks in part to attaining the plants from nurseries all over Missouri.
With all of her plants, maintaining their view of the Missouri River has been a priority for Mike, who has worked with planning and zoning for the city and at all of their homes.
"Being a JC native, he's always loved the city and river," Bates said of her husband. "I've watched him stomp off and survey our three homes, figure out where everything is placed in the yard. We almost always have trees to the left and right (of the river's view)."
'A wonderful surprise'
Bates was surprised the day she heard she had been awarded Summer Garden of the Month. However, she had a few hints it was coming.
After offering a friend some ferns from her garden, her doorbell rang. It was May, and her plants were thriving when Brown asked if some group members could wander through her yard. Bates insisted they'd find prettier gardens, but she got a call a short while after saying she'd won.
Although she had been recognized in 2003 for her garden next door, the club was impressed with how much growth she had brought to the home during her eight years living there.
"It was a wonderful surprise; I've worked very hard on it," Bates said. "I'm thankful. We have this joke in the club where we say, 'The one with the most plants when we die wins.'
"Now I've got the sign up in my yard, so I've officially been awarded an award," she laughed.
Bates has continued to appreciate the community the Bittersweet Garden Club has offered her and hopes to enhance that by planning more events this year in her role as second president. The club has grown to 93 members thanks to many Zoom meetings during the pandemic, where people could show off their plants and stay connected with each other.
Bates' advice for other gardeners: Know a garden always evolves, and look for ways to evolve with it.
For Missouri soil, which normally lacks nutrients, she advised using cotton burr compost to shovel in the soil and create a more fertile base for plants. This way, you will eventually be able to get a shovel into the soil and not come up with clay.
And as always, plant a tree if you have the space.