Art takes center stage in Garden Gems Tour

Kettering and Oakwood private gardens open to the public June 10.

When she was a child, the youngest of six girls, her family owned an old farmhouse on six acres of land in Milford. On the property was a big barn, a brick outbuilding that her parents turned into a playhouse, a shed for their pony and many areas for gardening.

“My parents had a rock garden behind the house, a garden for herbs and a large vegetable garden,” says Penni Morris. “We used to play tag in the corn before we sat for hours and snapped green beans.”

Eventually her family moved from the farm and they no longer had vegetable gardens, but Morris says her parents continued to build the most beautiful gardens she has ever seen. “Over the years they gave me splits and starts and that is how I began my love of gardening.”

So it’s no surprise that Morris is a member of the Garden Club of Dayton and chairing one of the Miami Valley’s most spectacular annual garden tours. Slated for Saturday, June 10, the Garden Gems Tour invites ticket holders to view six private gardens in Oakwood and Kettering.

Whether you’re an expert gardener looking for fresh ideas or a non-gardener who’s happy to appreciate the love and care that goes into creating magnificent outdoor spaces, it’s a lovely way to spend a summer day. Nestled among the bayberry and lavender bushes, the hydrangeas and perennials, you’ll see ponds and waterfalls, fountains and garden gates.

Each guest will receive a free booklet with descriptions of each garden as well as educational tips and plant suggestions.

Morris, who lives in Kettering, says she’s partial to shade plants because she loves the various shades of green that can flourish in the shade. Her favorite plant? Solomon’s seal. “My dad loved to wander through wooded areas and excitedly point them out to me as if it was a rare gift that was to be celebrated,” she recalls. " Solomon Seal is one of the first transplants I recall digging side by side with my parents to take home for my own garden. It is a must for a shade garden.”

Turtles in the gardens

Morris, an artist herself, says she always appreciates the surprise that art can bring to a garden. “Art can be a hardscape sculpture, an unusual stack of stone or rock or even a fallen tree. There is no better visual surprise than art among nature.”

Expect to meet both real and artistic turtles when you visit Samia Borchers’ Oakwood home. Her yard has six water features in all. “We inherited the original home diaries and old photographs which the Martin Kuntz family members allowed me to copy,” Borchers explains.

The home included a circular driveway with a garden inside it and a three-tiered Venetian fountain. “We decided to re-landscape in 2013 and I wanted something unique so I went online and explored,” says Borchers.

When she discovered Douglas Walker Sculpture on Vancouver Island in Canada, she knew she had found the right artist for the space. Walker uses repurposed musical instruments from California schools to create unusual water fountains of metal, copper and glass. The kinetic motion allows one area to spill water, causing movement in the other areas. He uses old metal vases, placing a marble on their tops to let the water spin around the tops.

“To customize it, I asked him to include a brass turtle and bell and name it ‘Fantasia,’” Borchers says.

Why a turtle? Borchers has a turtle pond, originally created in 2012 after her red-eared pet slider turtle named Nike walked out of the new sliding door in her kitchen balcony and was missing for 10 days. Nike was eventually picked up crossing Far Hills Avenue and her story made the Dayton Daily News and local television stations.

“After that we made her a pond to keep her here,” says Borchers. “At the back driveway as one goes up the steps in the backyard, the land was naturally enclosed on three sides against the home so it was easy to create a fountain and waterfall for the turtle.”

The landscape also includes a new wading pool in the formal garden, another fountain with a lion sculpture and a dolphin fountain.

Another turtle!

You’ll see a giant turtle sculpture in Maura Boesch’s Kettering garden. She says the turtle reflects her goal of enhancing habitat. “I felt it supports our attempts at habitat restoration through pollinators and native plantings,” she explains. “Additionally, it’s a fun piece of garden art for all of us to enjoy, especially my granddaughter!”

Boesch’s garden contains many native plants for pollinators and other creatures. “I have approximately 45 different native species with the intent of making the gardens a place for pollinators – birds, beetles, moths, butterflies and bees,” she explains. “I also have three bird baths – because water is a must for pollinators – and a bench to watch the activity!”

She says her turtle is easy to care for, keeps his hair short and doesn’t party much!

Where the money goes

Money raised from the fourth annual garden tour is being used to beautify public spaces in our community. The local club was founded in 1922 by Katharine Houk Talbott and a group of her gardening friends. In 1926, the Dayton club was invited to become the fifth member of the Garden Club of America.

Over the years the club has made lasting contributions to Dayton and the Miami Valley. Members encouraged the planting of victory gardens during WWII, helped create Cox Arboretum, supported the River Corridor Project, funded the Marie Aull Nature Trail at Wegerzyn Garden Center and helped found MetroParks. “We’ve planted trees in Old North Dayton, helped Kiser School plant a school garden, revitalized Flood Park on Valley Street, and assisted with the cleanup of Pineview Park in west Dayton,” says club member Susan Sauer.

The group’s most recent project is the outdoor art installation that features a sculpture by Michael Bashaw and a wall mural by local artist Jennifer Sayger. This collaborative project with Five Rivers MetroParks is located at the end of the bridge at West Monument Avenue near the Dayton Masonic Center. The project celebrates the garden club’s 100 years of education and community enrichment.

“We chose this location for our art installation because we wanted to create a pleasing place where both sides of the river could come together to view all of the activities that happen on our river,” says Morris.


What: The 2023 Garden Gems, a walking tour of six garden in Oakwood and Kettering.

When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 10. The event will be held rain or shine.

Tickets: $30 in advance and $35 on the day of the tour. Tickets may be purchased online at Tickets must be printed and will be taken at the first garden visited. Tickets are non-refundable. Gardens may be visited in any order.

Parking: Street parking is available outside the gardens. Gardens are NOT wheelchair accessible and some have stairs.

For up to date information on Garden Club of Dayton activities including the Garden Gems Tour, go to and follow GCD on social media:

Yellow Springs garden tour set for June 25

Love garden tours? Here’s another worth checking out. The Yellow Springs Bloom and Bounty Garden Tour is slated from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday June 25, rain or shine. This year’s tour will benefit the Yellow Springs Children’s Center and will feature small and larger gardens, many of which incorporate native plants and trees as well as a garden with a large koi pond.

Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 day of tour. Children under 15 are free. Tickets are on sale at Young’s Jersey Dairy, Yellow Springs Hardware and Rosie’s Natural Foods in Yellow Springs. They can also be purchased using Venmo@ysccc320 . (Please include your name and garden tour with purchase; pick up tickets on day of tour at The Yellow Springs Children’s Center, 320 Corry St).

For more information contact Lynn Sontag at or (937) 269 3826

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