A Kansas City Garden Celebrates Indoor/Outdoor Living

Top: In the “living room” of the garden, all-weather wicker chairs and a sofa flank the outdoor fireplace. Pennsylvania bluestone pavers define the seating area. Bottom: The outdoor kitchen is equipped with every appliance the chef could desire. All photos by Aaron Leimkuehler

Garden design blooms when the client allows the designer to nudge them—just a little. When a Kansas City couple enlisted Kristopher Dabner, owner of The Greensman, to transform their small yard into an entertainer’s paradise, they knew they had to be open to new ideas.

In 2007, Scott and Robin Boswell moved from Charlotte, North Carolina, back to Robin’s hometown, Kansas City, where Scott had taken a new job as president of Commerce Trust’s West Region. They happily raised their two sons, now grown, and gave Mimi the rescue dog room to roam.

Top: An imposing kinetic sculpture is the focal point of the grassy area in the garden. Bottom: A pair of beds filled with deutzia surrounding dwarf globe blue spruce flank the entrance to the dining area.

Their classic J.C. Nichols house, once an up-and-down duplex, had been reconfigured into a single-family home replete with architectural details, such as brick and limestone arches.

Just before the pandemic, the Boswells home’s front door. Antique bricks from a former family member’s home were too large to incorporate in the fireplace itself, so they now form brackets that help support the stone mantel.

Dabner laid a hardscape of antique brick in a herringbone pattern for walkways and large Pennsylvania bluestone pavers that mimic area rugs. They provide a wordless message: “Brick means move; bluestone means stop,” he says.

Top: Tall, thin, unobtrusive poles gather at the corners of each room to hold the globe lights crisscrossing overhead. Bottom: Tucked behind the living area are more blue spruce and deutzia plantings surrounding a vintage wire planter overflowing with a variety of annuals.

Formal square beds, rimmed with antique brick, feature a dwarf globe blue spruce in the center and lime-green “Chardonnay Pearls” deutzia in the corners, one of the first shrubs to leaf out in spring. Tall hornbeams screen the outdoor area from the neighbors. Snowball and oakleaf hydrangeas add fresh softness accenting the metal kinetic sculpture and the armillary sphere that the Boswells found at Van Liew’s. The red metal poppy sculpture, emblematic of the terrible loss of life immortalized in the poem In Flanders Fields, came from a fundraiser for the National WWI Museum and Memorial.

An herb garden off the kitchen corrals plants in four cold-formed steel-framed raised beds centered around an English Victorian chimney pot. “When I walk the garden every morning with my coffee in hand, I snip herbs, and it makes me happy,” says Robin. Fresh-picked herbs go into her bouquets, salads, and side dishes.

Top: Boxwoods surround the large armillary sphere. Bottom: A closeup of the flower-filled wire planter.

A mix of perennials in containers around the garden help attract pollinators. Here and there, the Boswells also add annuals, such as the daisy-like scaevola, sedum, and impatiens.

A long dining area is adjacent to the outdoor kitchen, which features a Kalamazoo grill (which can crank up to 1,000 degrees) and a Kamado Joe smoker. Everything is right there for the grill master, including a bar area where guests can sit with a glass of wine while Scott smokes slabs of barbecued ribs, rotisserie-grills a Brazilian picanha, or achieves a perfect charry crust on a tomahawk steak. To keep the diminutive Robin comfortable, there’s even a brick footrest under the bar for her, so her feet don’t dangle off the bar stool. Storage underneath keeps wood for the fireplace dry and tidy.

Top: Antique bricks frame the packed pea gravel that surrounds the herb beds. Bottom: The beds are framed in cold-formed steel. 

There’s an intentional flow to Dabner’s design—areas to draw the eye and green squares of lawn “for your eye to rest,” he says. Places to move and places to stop. “Formal and informal areas, sculpted versus loose.”

“I feel strongly about giving people something unique, specifically for them,” says Dabner. “For this garden, I truly had clients who went above and beyond.”

Top: The red metal poppy sculpture recalls the WWI poem In Flanders Fields. Bottom, left: A kinetic sculpture. Bottom, right: A closeup of the bright chartreuse “Chardonnay Pearls” deutzia, which will soon bloom with cascades of white, bell-shaped flowers.
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