The Gardens of Hoot Owl Hill
Brenda and Steve Wrischnik share their philosophy for creating lush gardens at Hoot Owl Hill
By Kirsten Hudson | Photos by William and Jill DiMartino
When you drive up to Hoot Owl Hill in Paola, KS, you’ll leave all stress and worry behind you on the dusty country road. A sea of bright zinnias, colorful coneflowers and white daisies greet you as you pass Brenda and Steve Wrischnik’s stunning A-frame house. The guinea fowl might also come out to say “hello.”
The gardens at this peaceful retreat, which hosts glamping, yoga classes and various workshops throughout the year, grew out of Brenda and Steve’s love of the outdoors. These no fuss gardeners wanted to keep it relaxed. If you can call 14 acres, with two vineyards, a butterfly garden, a fruit tree patio and a large vegetable garden, relaxed. (That’s not to mention the chicken coop, beehives and 116 blueberry bushes.)
From nurturing the garden beds of broccoli, cabbage, kale, tomatoes, carrots, beans, okra and every other imaginable vegetable to tending their vineyards of Concord and Frontenac grapes, the pair manages the gardens all on their own. That really is where it becomes no fuss.
“I wanted it to be something that was fairly carefree because I don’t micromanage my plants,” Brenda said. “If it needed a lot of water, if it needed a lot of pruning, it wasn’t my thing.”
The couple planted flowers that reseed themselves, and they built drip systems to make the gardens as self-sufficient as possible.
Gardening with intent
They may have a laidback attitude, but Brenda and Steve’s gardening philosophy includes crafting their gardens with purpose.
“I wanted it to be purposeful in that I wanted it all to work together and to have a symbiotic relationship,” Brenda said. The couple planted flowers, herbs and trees that bees, butterflies and birds need for food and to lay their eggs on. You can find these host plants—eastern red cedar, hackberry trees, little bluestem, milkweeds, switch grass, violets and wild senna—throughout the property.
“I’ve tried to add those plants faithfully so that I can attract the butterflies and the bees and be a little sanctuary for those insects,” Brenda said.
That focus on creating harmony is also why the couple refuses to spray
any pesticides on their plants. They count on their bees for fresh honey, their chickens for eggs and their guinea fowl to keep ticks at bay. And, they don’t want to interfere with those relationships by using chemicals. (They prevent pests with natural methods, like tobacco and garlic juice.)
Planning, waiting, growing
Managing gardens of this extent is no small challenge, but one Brenda enjoys. She plans the gardens throughout the year. “It never really leaves my thoughts,” she said.
Every season, she pulls out her graph paper and makes notes about what worked and what didn’t. She also draws out all of the garden beds.
“I look at what I did last summer and I’ll shift everything over one or two beds and just keep rotating,” she said. “It’s very important for disease resistance for your plants.”
She also scours dozens of seed catalogs starting in December, looking for anything new or different. “I like to try new things,” she said. “So, I look for things that I think would be fun to grow. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
During the season, she’ll roam the paths in her gardens and just let the creativity flow. “I take a glass of wine and wander,” she said. “I’m always thinking when I do that. That’s how I decide what I want to change or add. I just look around and come up with ideas.”
And then she’ll go inside and add them to list, Steve said of their never-ending “to do” list.
A helping hand
The hardworking couple is quick to point out that they couldn’t have accomplished what they have without the help of friends.
“Why would you reinvent the wheel when you have friends and experts around that love for you to have the knowledge they have?” Brenda said.
From learning how to keep bees to choosing plants that support butterflies, friends have helped the couple along the way.
“I’ve found that other people who garden love to share,”
Brenda said. “Because they’re on a mission and they want you to be on a mission, too.”
Caring for the earth
After a long day of gardening, the couple likes to walk down to their pond. They’ll watch the sunset and feed the fish.
“That’s a really special time of evening because everything’s calming down, and the light is just beautiful,” Brenda said.
Or, you might find them sitting on their fruit tree patio eating dinner or appetizers.
“It’s another good spot to watch the sunset,” Brenda said. “You can just get a good view and rest because usually we’ve been working out there all day.”
That sense of serenity their gardens bring is special to the couple.
“When you come here, I want it to feel like you just get this washing of peace over you,” Brenda said. “And people have told us that really is how it feels.”
Kirsten’s a budding gardener who’s inspired by Brenda and Steve’s gardening philosophy. Check out her vintage decorating ideas, DIY projects and occasional gardening post on her blog, Red Leaf Style, at redleafstyle.com.