Garden tour highlights hidden green spaces
Imagine sitting on a lawn chair on a sunny midsummer afternoon under the shade of an evergreen, ice cubes clinking in a glass of fresh lemonade, and listening to the wind rustle the chimes hanging from a flower box on the sill, bare toes resting on a bright green lawn.
This is Aggie Lie Jack's secret garden.
"Aggie has this tall white fence around her yard and when she opens it it's like entering heaven. It's like the Garden of Eden," said local gardener Annabelle Alvite. "She had this beautiful crystal pitcher of fresh lemonade with lemon slices awaiting us on a white table in her beautiful, grassy, green garden with these beautiful perennials and this huge tree. You can hardly hear the traffic. There is no dust in her yard. She has this windowsill with this beautiful window box and then wind chimes hanging from there above a bed of Johnny Jump-ups."
Not many people know what lies behind Aggie's tall white fence, but those that do think of it as a haven.
"It's really relaxing to me and I've grown flowers for the past 30 years," said Aggie. "They're beautiful and I have a lawn and chairs and some lawn ornaments. I have wind chimes. I like to listen to those in the breeze. It's so nice and quiet in the back."
The crown jewel of her garden, of course, is the lawn—a real, live, manicured, lawn right in the middle of Kotzebue.
"We thought we would try it to see if it would work and it did," she said. "A lot of people don't know I have a lawn but when they toured my place, they didn't know it existed before but they liked it."
Aggie's garden was just one of the eight stops on this year's midsummer garden tour, an unofficial gathering of local green thumbs organized by Annabelle. The tour visited several personal gardens along with those at the Chukchi Campus and long-term care.
"They were all completely different, one from the other. There is a diversity of gardens in Kotzebue that nobody knows about," she said. "You see the front and you might see a pot or two. You don't know the beauty behind that house, the haven, the refuge."
Gardeners often find themselves a solitary bunch, she said. They like to meet at plant sales around town, share tips, ask about each other's progress.
"Then we go back to our respective gardens, homes, windowsills, containers, and we don't see each other or talk for weeks," she said. "You get into a garden and it is such a mental refuge, when you can look into this gorgeous flower and you get lost in it. It's a moment of solitude and reflection."
That's why she's made a point of inviting those who share her passion to open up their gardens for an afternoon or to join the group and head from house to house, taking a peek into what others have cultivated.
Like Aggie, Susan Georgette maintains one of the gardens that was on the tour this year. Unlike Aggie, though, she doesn't really do flowers.
"I've had a garden for many years. I have some outdoor space, so I have three raised boxes. In the outside ones I grow mostly cabbage and potatoes. Then, I have a greenhouse and I grow mostly greens but also some onions and peas, lettuce, carrots, chard, kale, and then maybe one or two tomato plants and some herbs," she explained.
For Susan, gardening is more about being self-sufficient when it comes to food. She doesn't grow many things she can't use, or eat, right away.
"One of the things I love about living in Northwest Alaska is all the great foods we have at our fingertips here—the salmon, the caribou, and the berries. It's all right there and it's super nutritious. I think of the garden as kind of an accompaniment to that," she explained. "My perfect meal would be fresh salmon, a salad from the garden, and berries for dessert. You can really eat meals here that are entirely gathered or grown."
Growing up in the lower 48 and living in California for several years, she used to grow hot weather plants like tomatoes and squash and cucumbers. Since moving to Kotzebue many years ago, she's had to adapt to the northern climate.
"There are a lot of insects and gophers [in California] and it seems hard to protect your garden from other things that want to eat it. That's also true on the Kenai Peninsula. One of the beauties of Kotzebue is you're not challenged very much by the garden pests like bugs and moose. We just don't really have that," she said. "The other thing about the north is that the plants grow really quickly with the 24-hour daylight so there's just this excitement and reward watching these plants grow like crazy. I can plant lettuce seeds the first of June and be eating lettuce by the end of June."
Aggie, on the other hand, keeps several kinds of flowers from Johnny Jump-ups, or violas, to marigolds, pansies, and delphiniums that come back year after year.
"I even have a raspberry patch," she said.
For Annabelle, the joys of gardening are many. It's relaxing, inspiring, and just plain beautiful.
"The other day my husband was out there in the yard when these two guys in Carhartts from the mechanics' shop came by. He gave them a tour of our planter boxes and garden and greenhouse and they were taking pictures and notes. I thought, you know, gardens have such broad appeal. There are a good bunch of gardeners who are the dogcatchers, the heavy equipment guys, the mechanics, and everyone else," she said. "I think, if they love gardening, the elders love gardening, the kids love gardening, and it helps to green Kotzebue, beautifies our community, makes it a happier, healthier community, why shouldn't we do more of this?"
To find out more about the unofficial gardening group or to get on the email list and receive tips on growing plants in Kotzebue, contact Annabelle Alvite, and don't forget to keep an eye out for blooms around town.