A Kennewick couple traded a Fuji cherry tree and mature evergreen bushes growing in a grassy corner of their front yard for native grasses and plants like sagebrush, bitterbrush and blanket flower.
It was part of their plan hatched about nine years ago to reduce water use, get rid of green grass and transform their yard into a more “putter-able,” less labor-intensive garden, said Reg Unterseher of Kennewick.
“It’s about the enjoyment of the garden without the stress of the garden,” he said.
Unterseher said he and his wife Dr. Sheila Dunlop are no longer spring chickens — they’re both 62 year old — and they didn’t want to spend all their free time weeding and mowing anymore.
Their certified Heritage Garden is one of five gardens to visit during this year’s Academy of Children’s Theatre Garden Arts Tour fundraiser on Saturday, June 16.
This year’s 20th annual self-guided tour runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A finale garden party is from 3 to 5 p.m. in a historic Richland riverfront home.
It’s a popular annual event, too, said Anne Spilman, interim executive director at ACT. About 200 tickets are sold each year for the tour and all proceeds raised go back into ACT’s operating budget to support year-round classes and workshops in theatre arts, drama and more.
“It’s one of two main fundraisers we have every year and a great way to reach a population who don’t always come to our productions,” Spilman said.
Throughout the day, a variety of artists and performers will showcase their talents at the gardens.
Dunlop and Unterseher, who live in the Panoramic Heights area, turned to the Benton Conservation District for help in transforming their traditional front yard into a certified Heritage Garden.
“I’m not a great gardener but I like plants. I ask for help from people who know,” Unterseher said.
The Benton and Franklin Conservation Districts partner with the Columbia Basin Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society to help those interested in planting one.
Volunteers from the group visited Unterseher’s home and sketched out a plan for the grassy corner spot.
Three springs later, his front corner garden is full of an array of colorful plants that are a magnet for butterflies and bees.
“We love this. It’s so much fun,” Unterseher said. He said he’s enjoyed learning about the native plants and seeing them take root.
The garden also provided some life lessons along the way, he said. Patience and time are needed for gardens to grow, and, he said, you can’t push anything to grow in a direction they don’t want to — sometimes encouragement is better than a push.
“I can’t make them do anything,” he said.
His advice for someone interested in a yard transformation?
“The whole key is not to do too much at a time because it’s overwhelming,” he said.
This will be Unterseher’s first time to be featured in the garden tour. The composer and voice teacher said places like ACT are vital to communities and in shaping the area’s young people.
Also included in the garden tour are a xeriscape defined front yard garden, a classic European-style landscape garden and a formal Asian-inspired estate setting.
The tour ends with the garden party at a historic home in north Richland, built circa 1912. It served as a boarding house for teachers as well as a home for Col. Franklin Matthias, who founded the Hanford site, and W. E. Johnson, a General Electric general manager at Hanford as well as a member of Atomic Energy Commission.
For the past year it’s been home to Dr. Brian Lawenda of Northwest Cancer Clinic in Kennewick, Jenni Rodriquez, his significant other, and their teenage son, who has been cast in ACT’s fall production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
“To come here and see quality of drama has been amazing,” Rodriquez said. “We’re happy to support them.”
Rodriquez said she and Lawenda are happy to share the historic property with the community. It features 200 irises and established trees overlooking the Columbia River and the volleyball court in Leslie Groves Park.
Tickets for the garden tour, including the party, are $30 each and may be bought online at academyofchildrenstheatre.org.
They also may be bought at ACT, 213 Wellsian Way, Richland; McCurley Integrity Honda, 1775 Fowler St., Richland; Beaver Bark, 607 Aaron Drive, Richland; and Wild Birds Unlimited, 474 Keene Road, Richland.
The major sponsor of the Garden Arts tour is McCurley Integrity Honda.
ACT served more than 6,000 students last year.
For more information, call 509-943-6027 or visit academyofchildrenstheatre.org.
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