Central City Gardener’s Guide to Growing: Plant What You Love


Wayne Martin started his garden with a lot of hostas and he grew from there. To the right of the hostas is a pink Dixie. Further back is the pink phlox and next to the house is a yucca plant (Wayne Martin)

From foliage to flower beds, a walk through Wayne Martin’s perennial gardens shows he has good instincts. For over 40 years, Martin has tended his garden in the house he and his wife Linda built in Central City.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Martin, 77, said of the early years. “I knew hostas and wanted to have a lot of them. “

Because his side garden is very shaded, he chose plants that don’t like sunlight very much – hosta and lamium. While lamium can be invasive, Martin says, he doesn’t let it get out of hand. (Wayne Martin)

Martin’s approach to plant selection – that he responds by saying “I like it” – created a varied but cohesive garden design. There are several areas for plants and flowers, wrapping around his yard. These areas are lined with paving stones or reclaimed wood. There is no black plastic border to be found. Martin is not a fan.

Knowing what he likes has paid off. In 2015, a garden committee named him the winner of Central City’s most beautiful flower garden competition.

When it comes to plants, Wayne Martin chooses what he likes. Here he has red geranium, lamium, and several types of sedum all surrounded by daylilies and tiger lilies. (Wayne Martin)

Martin finds a rejuvenation in gardening. He calls the work “beautiful mental therapy”. It also responds to his desire to be active. Martin, who retired in 2002 from Kirkwood Community College, is president of the Kirkwood Retirees.

While Martin says he had no training, there may have been a budding gardener in Ambler, Penn., His hometown. Martin’s father grew rhododendrons in three 9 foot slat houses. Made of wood, the structures had 1 foot openings between the boards on the side and the roof to receive sunlight and water. It was Martin’s job – part of his allowance, he says – to take care of the rhododendrons. Two varieties are now growing in his front yard.

Start with sections

Martin has started his garden in front of the house, which is richly shaded by two red maples. Alternately, hosta and holly grow under the eaves. The 2020 derecho spared Central City by stopping about two miles outside of County Home Road. The city’s canopy full of mature trees stands in stark contrast to Cedar Rapids.

Wayne Martin just added this flower bed to his garden this year. It included spirea and yellow coreopis. (Wayne Martin)

As much as Martin is proud to see the trees he planted today, he is not afraid to cut them down if necessary. He took the move as an opportunity for growth. Four pines cut from the north side this year created an opening for planting. Lilacs on the south side weren’t thriving, so they came out recently. Their stumps remain, which Martin reused as the base for the sedum ground cover.

The backyard is as sunny as the facade is shaded. The flowers are larger and brighter. To keep the large hydrangea pom poms upright, Martin ties a green string around the stems. In addition to the shrubs, Martin’s hydrangea with delicate snow-white flowers that turn pink in the fall is a focal point.

There is much more to see. Fall phlox, larkspur, tiger lily, mums, yucca and ornamental grasses.

Lamium, which is deer-resistant and what Martin calls an “aggressive” ground cover, is the one he uses throughout the garden and is suitable for semi-shaded areas. Martin says it stays green all winter and has small purple flowers in the spring and summer. It’s his second favorite perennial after hostas, he says.

Wayne Martin’s Koi Pond is nestled between his home and patio. Surrounding it are hostas, lamiums and potted geraniums. (Wayne Martin)

Martin is a generous gardener. The climbing vines of green beans, tomatoes and lettuce growing behind the house are for his wife. Then there are the koi fish in a Martin Pond that was set up about 10 years ago. The pant (a group of koi fish) started at five but the big fish submerged the pond. The pond has a heater, Martin says, which keeps the water flowing all winter. Their feeding stops from October to April because koi carp go dormant, Martin explains.

Wayne Martin loves his hydrangea tree which takes center stage is this flower bed. (Wayne Martin)

Decades later, Martin sticks to his method of plant breeding. He suggests novice gardeners look at other people’s landscaping and identify what they like. Identification has become instantaneous with applications, including PlantSnap. One to two seasons will likely tell gardeners if their instincts were correct. Otherwise, there are always more perennials to discover and love.

Purple loosestrife demands attention in this garden bed which also includes red geranium and yellow speedwell. (Wayne Martin)

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