Metro-East Living

Gardens in Bloom tour: Family swims with the fishes

Kevin and Kandy Behn, of Swansea, have three koi ponds in their plant-filled backyard, including a natural swimming pond. The yard, front and back is filled with flowering plants and shrubs.
Kevin and Kandy Behn, of Swansea, have three koi ponds in their plant-filled backyard, including a natural swimming pond. The yard, front and back is filled with flowering plants and shrubs. News-Democrat

The koi aren’t the only swimmers in Kandy and Kevin Behn’s manmade pond.

“We swim in there. The kids are in there all summer,” said Kevin of the natural pond he had built in the family’s backyard.

Kandy smiled. “The fish go and hide.” It’s easy to do when there are natural rock outcroppings in the water that form “fish caves” where they can hide. And, the water is 8-feet deep at one end.

It’s actually the largest of three connecting ponds on the property, with waterfalls, a stream flowing into it from a smaller pond and several bog areas filled and surrounded with perennial and tropical water plants. On a recent cool morning, water lilies were in bloom on the water’s surface and red canna and papyrus grew along the edges.

The Behn family’s home garden in Swansea is one of eight gardens that can be seen Saturday on the 2015 Gardens in Bloom tour put on by the St. Clair County Extension and Education Foundation to benefit University of Illinois Extension programs. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the tour is self-guided.

The Behns are both gardeners who enjoy looking for the unusual to plant around their 9-year-old home. You’ll find exotic leather leaf mahonia near the front walkway; its berries looking almost pale blue. Kandy said her favorite purchase this year has been the sunny yellow perennial called trollius. Its color mimics that of the oranges hanging from a big potted orange tree on the front porch.

“It was a mail-order plant that my mother bought 40 years ago,” said Kevin, 50. He is a dentist with a practice in Marissa.

A circular garden on the side of the property includes not just vivid pink azaleas that are background to show off white allyum puff balls on tall stalks, but also airy-leafed ironweed waving in the breeze. It’s a native Illinois wildflower that blooms purple in the fall.

“We have tons of bees, butterfiles and dragonflies,” said Kandy, 47, a former banker who now is a stay-at-home mom for Chase, 11, and Ella, 9. “We’ve already seen hummingbirds.”

Classics are numerous, too, and include Shasta daisies, salvia, roses, violas, globe thistle, pineapple sage and coreopsis. Creeping Jenny and forget-me-nots meander alongside the path of the stream. A big vegetable garden sits at the back of the property. On the side of the house gooseberries grow.

“That’s my favorite pie,” Kevin said.

By the back patio, a fairy garden created by Kandy and Ella fills a pretty pot, not far from a tall grapefruit tree.

Until they moved from West Frankfort and built the Swansea home, the couple had no experience with ponds, water plants or koi.

The creation of the waterways, included the building of berms, three trucks full of bolders weighing 7,000 pounds and a special pumping system. It was designed and built by Todd Rundquist of Westwinds Earthscaping in Chesterfield, Mo. No chemicals are needed to keep it clean.

“The bogs’ purpose is filtration for the pond,” said Kevin. “It takes care of itself. I do have to vacuum the bottom (of the big pond) because it can get slick.”

Chase and Ella enjoy swimming there. But, when they no longer use it, Kevin said, he won’t mind.

“I’ve always been anti-pool. Growing up, we went to the lake, not the pool,” he said. “The beauty is that it’s not a slab of concrete that we’ll be stuck with. This is so much more pleasing.”

Also on the tour

Barry Slaughenhaup, of Swansea — Beautiful perennials of bee balm and annual flowers. The front yard has Japanese maple and perennials. Grapevines and honeysuckle line the back fence, which leads to the community garden.

Gary and Joy Cline, of Swansea — Step from the deck and pergola down into a blend of native plants. Areas include an organic garden, fruit trees with a shady hammock and hostas, roses and hydrangeas at the back of the house.

James and Cheryl Thomas, of Swansea — Look for the suspended birdhouse in a plum bush, scenic areas with tropical pines, a trickling fountain and a wide assortment of weeping cherries, crepe myrtle and more.

Dave and Arla Chevess, of Swansea — Enter this garden through an 8-foot-tall arch and enjoy a meadow of fruit and nut trees, two vegetable gardens and sitting areas with a view of ponds.

Jan Mahoney, of Belleville — As you enter the back deck, you will see and hear a waterfall cascading down large boulders and rocks. Cross a bridge over a second waterfall to a garden; take paths to a gazebo, swim deck and another waterfall.

James and Carol Eichholz, of Belleville — Various outdoor areas show off a mix of perennials and annuals and overlook the neighborhood lake.

Gardens in Bloom Tour

What: Seven residential and one community garden can be toured in any order.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: The homes are concentrated in two areas of Swansea and Belleville, the Stonefield Crossing development off Frank Scott Parkway and the Ravenwood development off Hartman Lane.

Cost: $10 in advance; $12 day of tour. A map is included on the ticket.

Purchase tickets: in Belleville at Effinger Garden Center (Swansea location, too), Sandy’s Back Porch, Star Florist & Greenhouse, Hometown Ace Hardware and Eckert’s Country Store; Creative Landscapes Garden Center, Fairview Heights; Ace Hardware, O’Fallon; Terry’s Home & Garden Center, Centreville; University of Illinois Extension offices, Waterloo and Collinsville.

Plant sale and raffle: TWM Corporate office, 4940 Old Collinsville Road, Swansea. Garden tickets are not required. Raffle drawn at 2 p.m.

Information: 618-939-3434 or 618-344-4230.