Deb Walser is a longtime gardener whose credentials include hosting a radio gardening show, working at the largest garden center in Cedar Rapids and being an Iowa State University Extension/Linn County Master Gardener.

Despite her passion for plants, her interest never seemed to rub off on her daughter Jenny, now in her 20s.

But two years after Jenny bought a house with a tired landscape, she asked her mother one day what she could do to freshen up the front yard because she was having a party — that weekend.

Short notice, to be sure. But Walser said she “had been waiting two years for her to ask me that question,” so she jumped in with relish.

“Before” and “after” slides of what Walser was able to accomplish in just one day of buying, installing and removing plants will be part of a presentation she makes Saturday, March 16, at a horticulture seminar in Muscatine.

The Art of Gardening in Muscatine County also will include a keynote address by WQAD-TV meteorologist Terry Swails, 19 breakout sessions and four mini-sessions, including how to make a necklace using gourds.

Walser’s presentation is titled “Curb appeal: Where to start,” and it will address questions about new yards with virtually no landscaping to mature yards, such as her daughter’s, that need new life.

Knowing where to start can be the most difficult part, but Walser will guide participants with tips on how to evaluate a site, an overview of design principles and some suggestions on plant selection.

One thing she’ll stress is that a redo doesn’t have to be accomplished all at once. Instead, draw up an overall plan or idea, but then work on it one piece at a time.

Two less-common plants she’s particularly likes right now are:

* Seven son flower (Heptacodium miconioides). This is a large shrub or small tree that grows 15 to 20 feet high. Walser likes it for four-season interest. It has exfoliating bark and beautiful, fragrant (jasmine-like) flowers that bloom in August and September when few other plants are blooming. It also develops fruits that turn purplish-red in October, persisting for several weeks. It can be grown successfully in USDA Hardiness Zone 5.

*“Magic Carpet” spirea (Spiraea japonica). This is a low-maintenance shrub that likes full sun and is hardy in Zones 4-9. It grows in a compact mound 18 to 24 inches high and 2 feet wide, and it can be cut to the ground in spring to maintain its shape, Walser said.  

It will brighten and fill in skimpy beds and borders, adding zest to foundation plantings. It also will neaten up the front of old shrubs that have “bare legs.”

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