Open Gardens Weekend offers an escape from the bustle of Iowa City

Over the weekend, Project Green hosted Open Gardens Weekend to show off residential gardens throughout Iowa City and Coralville.


Jeff Sigmund

Mike Farran, far left, talks with visitors during a Project Green event in Iowa City on Saturday, July, 9, 2021.

Bruce Bartlam, Jr., News Reporter

During most of the year, residents are encouraged to stay on the sidewalk and only peer from afar at their neighbor’s curbside projects, but Open Gardens Weekend, an event from Project Green, invites the community to open up their gardens to the public.

Project Green, founded in 1968, is an offshoot of the Iowa City Urban Renewal Process.

Over half a century ago, Project Green’s first project was to transform the medians on Iowa Avenue. Now, Cindy Parsons, a co-president of Project Green, explained its mission is to beautify the city.

“We focus on beautification projects around the city and educating the community on gardening and landscaping,” Parsons said. “Since 1968, we’ve spent about $2.2 million on projects.”

On July 11 and 12, Project Green ran its second annual Open Gardens Weekend, two years removed from its inaugural event. The pandemic delayed follow-up events planned for last year. The event allows the Iowa City community to host tours of their private gardens.

Beth Cody, the event’s chair, said a similar event in New York became her inspiration for starting Iowa City’s tours.

“We previously had a similar garden tour in which we charged admission and only a handful of gardens were hosting at the time,” Cody said. “Then, I found out about Garden Walk Buffalo in New York state. “Instead of charging admission, they allow local businesses to sponsor the event. This has allowed us to open the event to the entire community for free and raise money.”

The money raised goes toward funding future beautification projects, such as the Ashton House, a private home built in 1947 by Edward L. “Ned” Ashton.

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Ashton was a civil engineer and professor at the University of Iowa. In 2001, the Ashton House was included in the National Register of Historic Places.

“After the flood in 2008, the city bought the Ashton House and we are working with the city to develop it further as a place to host community events, like weddings, parties, and reunions,” Parsons said.

She added that these tours can be beneficial to inspiring the community to make an effort to improve the landscaping around the city.

“It’s not necessarily the large gardens, but the little quirky ones that can inspire,” she said.
“Guests will see ideas they can incorporate into their own gardens.”

One of the garden hosts on the tour, John and Kim Anderson, fit the quirky description. They moved into their Iowa City downtown home in 1998, and they started working on the garden then.

When asked when her garden had been completed, Kim Anderson said, “it’s never complete.”

In the Anderson garden, aka The Indignant Chicken, there are tropical-influenced ornaments throughout the back of the property. There are signs pointing in the direction of different islands – Easter, Hawaii, etc.

There are several spots for entertaining, Kim Anderson said, including the wraparound porch facing the street. In the garden, one feels secluded away from the busy street at the front of the property, she said.

“I would love to live in a tropical location and I can’t,” she said. “Also, [I like] the escapism of places like Tiki in Vegas and the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disney World, taking ideas from each and making them into my own. It’s like this little secluded hideaway. From the street, you have no idea there’s even a backyard to this house.”