Gardens & Landscape

Fifty Shades of Green

Visual Communicator Jan Tracy talks the wonders and woes of nature in her shady Brookside garden.

Story by Andrea Darr  |  Photos by Bill Mathews

Nothing brings Jan Tracy, owner of a Kansas City boutique graphic design firm, more pleasure than a meditative stroll outside. Her senses are heightened in the verdant backyard environment of her Brookside residence by the cool breezes, birds’ songs, light fragrance and popping greens. If only she had enough sun, Tracy could easily satisfy all five senses with the taste of a homegrown salad.

In the shade of towering trees, Tracy’s garden sprouts few blooms but burgeons with lush, leafy greens. “I laugh about it being 50 shades of green, interior to exterior,” Tracy says. The gamut ranges from celery to apple to chartreuse, plus accents of blue.

“It’s a soothing but clean and refreshing color scheme,” she says.

French doors across the back of the kitchen open to this wood deck with wicker seating area, where Tracy often finds herself. Greens and blues soften the transition between inside and outside.

The garden’s fullness belies its size, a smallish lot outside her Craftsman-style bungalow, with separate brick and flagstone patios, wood deck and hidden seating. During the last 20 years, the landscape has continually evolved and grown. “It had absolutely nothing to start with, no stitch of greenery whatsoever,” Tracy recalls. “It goes to show that you can create something from nothing given time, patience and money.”

Tracy has done 75 percent of the labor herself, designing the layout, bedding the plants and laying the brick and flagstone patios, “which is why it’s not perfect, but I like the charm and feel of it that way,” she says.

A wood moon gate Tracy purchased at Costco, of all places, a decade ago creates an impressive focal point and is the transitory element between the brick and flagstone patios.

The piece de resistance is a moon gate; when closed, it completes a circle. Tracy illuminates the shape with string lights and accentuates the theme with white impatiens, lobelia and begonias that glow in the moonlight. Lime-colored sweet potato vines cascade down out of varied pots, while darker-leafed coleus contrasts nicely.

“I like to create visual interest with texture, height and color,” she says.

The garden is at its best in spring and summer, but holds its own even during a cold and bleak Midwest winter. Tracy leaves her pots and statuary in place to provide interest even under snow cover. “For the most part, everything has done OK,” she says. “I have a philosophy that if something can’t survive on its own, it doesn’t belong here.” Of course, she waters, prunes and weeds regularly, but high-maintenance nonnatives aren’t on her plant list. “I don’t tend to plant exotics. I go with what’s proven to work in our good ol’ Midwest summers,” Tracy says knowingly.

The labor she has put in has paid dividends in enjoyment. “I’m out there every day. I go to meditate or even just to pull a weed, which can also be therapeutic. Sometimes if I’m on the phone, I find myself out there wandering,” Tracy says. “It’s my little urban retreat.”

The Philosophy and Pragmatics of Gardening

Gardens deliver both frustration and gratification, but “I don’t think you can go wrong with nature,” Jan Tracy insists. Here are her tips for making the best out of your landscape.

  • Don’t get discouraged because plants will die.
  • To try to prevent plants from dying, make sure you have the right type in the right place.
  • Group things in layers, considering texture, height and color.
  • Proportion your pots to the size of your space: Cottage gardens can have smaller, varied-size pots; modern gardens should have bigger, fewer and similar-looking pots.
  • Choose a focal point, whether it’s a gate, fountain or statuary.
  • Choose three main colors to emphasize for continuity throughout.