Couple welcome visitors to backyard oasis
Carol Wooten doesn't have an official name for the idyllic, flora- and fauna-filled landscape behind her home, just a humble one.
"I call it God's garden," Wooten said. "We just take care of it on earth."
Wooten and her husband, Lyle, have been cultivating the 3-acre garden since they built their home 36 years ago at 26725 W. 73rd St., a rural area now part of the city of Shawnee.
The couple freely share their backyard oasis with anyone who wants to stop in, and signs posted along 83rd Street and Mize Road during the past month indicated one of its best features -- "Iris garden, this way."
Several sprawling patches of iris in a rainbow of colors recently reached the apex of their blooming cycles.
Wooten doesn't breed her own iris, a cross-pollination process used by some growers to develop new varieties. The process takes several seasons, way too long for Wooten's attention.
"Nah, I'm too impatient," she said. "I want it now, not four years from now."
Strangers passing through the area, Girl Scouts looking for a taste of nature and fellow members of Wooten's church garden club -- Chapel Oaks Seventh-day Adventist -- alike are invited to browse or plan picnics and activities in the garden.
An occasional tiny gnome or other garden figurine peeks from beneath low-lying leaves. The garden also is home to various birds, both barnyard and exotic.
Wooten sells iris bulbs for just enough money to be able to replace them or buy fertilizer and tries to make sure everyone leaves with something.
"City kids have never gotten eggs before," she said. "So I let 'em come in and pick out an egg and take it home and eat it."
Some eggs are dispensable, but others are for hatching, Wooten said. The latter are labeled 'baby' in permanent marker to indicate they should be left alone.
Wooten said she had about 15 varieties of hens and roosters. She likes raising them because they're funny looking; their differences become especially apparent when grouped together.
Wooten also harbors several geese and a score of pigeons of two varieties. Three peacocks wander through the garden at will.
Wooten filled the inside of her chicken coop with flea-market baskets for laying, a coat of decorative sponge painting and several antique mirrors. Those, she once jokingly told a visitor from England, are so the hens can see what they look like when they get up in the morning.
In truth, roosters might rather admire their reflections more than the hens.
"He thinks he's big stuff," Wooten said, rolling her eyes at one particularly small but proud rooster strutting around like the town dandy.
"Oh yeah, we see you," she cajoled another, crowing persistently from his perch on a low branch.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Lyle toiled in the sun, mulching around tidy row after tidy row of vegetable plants, which would be eaten or taken to the farmers' market. Carol preferred browsing the iris beds and clucking around in the shade with her birds.
Carol said she and her husband favored their own handiwork.
"I stay out of his garden, and he stays out of mine," she laughed.