Mary Bell, local horticultural artist, in the garden she maintains at Bob & Jeannie Penny's Kenai Riverside home.
Mary Bell says that she is, “Just someone who likes to grow plants.” Yet, a walk through “Mary’s garden” at Bob and Jeannie Penny’s home on the Kenai River is like opening an issue of Better Homes and Gardens. The terraced array of flowers, vegetables, berries, and fruit trees echoes the creativity of an agriculture and landscape architect. Mary has been gardening at the Penny’s for 14 some years, “When Bob put in this place I helped him put in all the landscaping,” said Bell. Mary’s father, Oscar Vogel, was one of the early big game master guides on the Kenai Peninsula, so Mary comes by her love of the Alaskan outdoors naturally. Likewise she has developed her horticultural talents naturally, with no formal training, “I get help, I ask a lot people for their advice and ideas on what works best and I listen to just about anybody who will share their knowledge with me and it’s paid off,” said Mary.
The Penny’s and their riverside home have become famous for hosting the annual Kenai River Classic welcoming reception for dignitaries and guests who travel from all over the country to participate in the prestigious event and contribute to the conservation of the Kenai River. Many first time visitors to the Peninsula are amazed at the array of blossoming flowers and vine ripened tomatoes that greet them in the arctic north, “We start the tomatoes in the greenhouse then move them outside so they are sun ripened when the guests come to the Classic. I don’t think they expect to see and pick vine ripe tomatoes outside in Alaska, its great fun and folks eat them like candy,” says Mary.
The warmer summers recently have contributed to Mary’s success in growing exotic species as well as the profusion of others, but the primary success factor she attributes to just plain hard work, “I’m here every day, pruning, weeding, cutting back the dead blossoms, and fertilizing. It’s a continual process, but it’s worth it to see folks enjoy the beauty of it. I’m really committed to making Bob and Jeannie’s place a beautiful place to be.” The Penny’s give all the credit to Mary and refuse to call it anything other than “Mary’s garden.” She puts so much love into her gardening that you can just see and feel the love when you’re here, agree the Penny’s.
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