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‘An interesting uncovering’: Davenport garden walk showcases McClellan Heights landscape

‘An interesting uncovering’: Davenport garden walk showcases McClellan Heights landscape

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Rich Clewell and Christine Ameling are still discovering hidden features in the landscape surrounding the McClellan Heights home they bought in March when snow covered the ground. 

Trees provide the outlines of the Davenport property — there is a huge bur oak in the front yard whose branches frame views of the Mississippi River.  Along a path next to the driveway grow a half dozen conifers of various shapes, textures and shades of green. And sprinkled throughout there are more towering oaks, various sumacs with green-yellow leaves and redbuds and dogwoods that bloom white and pink in spring. 

And under these trees, there are all kinds of perennial and bulb plants that are revealing themselves as the season progresses, beginning with a burst of yellow daffodils in the spring. Also coming to the fore: various stone and brick paths, some seeming to lead to nowhere at all, that Clewell is uncovering and rebuilding. 

“I puzzle about the landscape,” Clewell said one recent day, sitting on the brick patio. “It’s been quite an interesting uncovering. There were new colors seemingly every day in spring. A hawthorn bloomed overnight. I think things will be coming up through the year. It’s a panoply of color.” 

The public can see this unfolding horticultural treasure for themselves on Sunday, June 27, when the yard will be one of two open for free tours as part of the annual Garden Party sponsored by Grace Lutheran Church, Davenport. 

The Clewell-Ameling home itself is a 1905 stuccoed house that was built, and occupied, by noted Davenport architect Seth Temple. But Clewell has such high regard for the landscape that he likens the home to “the center of a sunflower.”  

“It wouldn’t be much if it didn’t have all these wonderful petals.” 

Although there is an expanse of mowed grass in the middle, continuous beds of perennial plantings hug the house, the property lines and the numerous paths. In addition to the trees there are a multitude of hostas, some with dinner-plate sized leaves, a cottage garden of climbing roses and a patch of herbs planted by Ann. 

Also: hydrangeas, a purple-leaf elderberry, purple coneflowers, Solomon’s seal, May apples, spiderwort, Jack in the pulpit, Japanese painted ferns, ginger and creeping bellflower. 

Work so far has been concentrated on the paths, and sometime this summer Clewell plans to restore water to what is now a dry creek bed and to build a pergola by the patio.  

Meantime, “we’re having a great time here,” Clewell said. 

A bench under the big bur oak has afforded the couple a front row seat to recent light shows of fireflies, insects drawn to the diversity of plants. “It’s a subsidiary benefit,” Clewell said. “They are drawn to it like crazy.”  

The oak is the property’s single-most dominant feature whether one is inside or out. “On every level (of the house), you can see this tree,” Clewell said. “On the top, you can see the activity of birds and squirrels. It is truly a magnificent tree.” 

And with one branch that dips low to the ground like an outreached arm, “one starts to think of ‘The Hobbit,’” Clewell said.


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Davenport city officials last summer deemed the Crestwood Apartments on E. 37th Street uninhabitable, displacing dozens of renters, after owners and management failed to make repairs to respond to substandard housing conditions. Now, roughly 20 renters face a similar prospect as the same Minnesota-based housing cooperative has failed to make repairs to address substandard housing conditions at another of its Davenport rental properties.

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