Faux flowers better than real thing

By Regina Villiers. Originally published October 9, 1996 in The Suburban Life, added October 16, 2019.

Kay Faux stands beside a rock wall garden, just one of the many beauty spots she has created and maintains around the Madeira library.

     If you’ve ever enjoyed and admired the flowers and plantings around the Madeira Indian Hill Kenwood Branch Library, you can thank Kathleen Faux.  It’s mostly a one-woman job, but it’s not a high-salaried job.  Actually, it’s a no-salary job.

     Kay Faux is a volunteer, who has volunteered herself right into a full-time occupation.  She is part of a volunteer committee to take care of the library grounds.  Since the other members are not up to gardening, Kay does all the physical work herself.

When the library was remodeled and expanded a few years ago, the grounds were landscaped by Kay’s daughter, Patricia Faux, who is a landscape architect.  At that time, the grasses along the front, the vinca along the stone walls, and other planting were put in.

     Since then, Kay has put in flowers and various gardens all around the library.  The varieties tucked into every corner and cranny are too numerous to mention, without writing a book.  She has brought many of the plants from her own yard, and she has scrounged up others wherever she could.

     She salvaged many of the old plants from the old library grounds.  A Dr. Van Fleet rose, a pink climber, brought there years ago from his own yard by Ellis Burch, a custodian who retired in 1980, still flourishes.  Kay moved it so that it now trails over the concrete wall along the parking lot.  An azalea, lavender iris, and money plants from Mr. Burch also still thrive and bloom in the library gardens.

     Kay can take you on a circular tour around the library grounds and explain every plant to you, tell you how to take care of it, and where it came from.

     The peonies mixed in the daylilies along the sidewalk on Miami Avenue came from the yard of the house in back, which was torn down to make room for the library expansion.

     “When they were bull-dozing it up, I just went back there and saved the plants,” Kay said.

     Down on the corner by the traffic light at Miami and Euclid, a gorgeous yellow iris blooms.  And blooms, and blooms.  It can be seen in bloom in late fall, just before the last hard frost.

     Kay explains that this is a rare plant, a “reblooming” iris.  It blooms in regular iris season and tends to bloom again in the fall.  She has researched it at the Civic Garden Center Library and knows about it and one other rebloomer, a purple variety.

     She brought this one to the library from her own yard, and she says she received it quite by accident.  As she drove along one day, she spotted a man digging up an iris bed and tossing them aside.  Se stopped and asked if she could but one.  The man told her she could have all she wanted, for he was getting rid of them.  When she took them home and planted them, they turned out to be the rare reblooming iris.

     Along the sidewalk, up the hill on Euclid, blooms a never-ending pathway of purple coneflowers, Autumn Joy sedum, and other plants.  This is a butterfly path, and Kay says it’s the idea of Estella Yungblut, a librarian at the Madeira Library, who is an adept gardener.

     “This is Estella’s interest,” Kay said.  “She told me about the plants, and she said that butterflies tend to follow a path when they’re feeding.”

     On a recent, golden September day, Monarch butterflies could be spotted, leisurely floating along the flowered pathway.

     Kay Faux is a modest person.  As she walks and talks among the gardens, she continually drops names, giving credit to this person or that person.

     She says that the custodians are most helpful to her.  Bill Wagner, who retired last February, and the current custodian, Allen Bell.  “Bill helped, and now, Allen is so good to help and to do the watering,” she said.

     Around in back, she has planted a shade garden filled with such plants as pulmonaria, wood hyacinths, and Peruvian daffodils, which have to be dug up in the fall and replanted in the spring.  Kay takes them home and stores them and other bulbs around the house.  This prompts “What’s in the closet?” jokes from her husband.

     The wall along the parking lot is a thing of beauty from season to season.  Roses drape over the wall in continuous bloom.  In back, tall hollyhocks, dame’s rocket, and other plants bring up the rear.  Kay encourages and cultivates wildflowers and has an ironweed or two tucked in for fall color.  “Estella is going to get me some Joe Pye weed,” she said.

     Her aim for the library is to have a sequence of blooms, with a subdued color scheme appropriate for library grounds.

     Her immediate goal is to plant bulbs, and she really needs some volunteer help with this.  She also needs help to move a fragrant Viburnum Carlesi that she wants to get near an entrance, so that library patrons can enjoy its fragrance.

     Her other need is a stop to vandalism.  She says that the irrigation heads around the library are repeatedly broken, and that kids with dirt bikes have made a path through her plantings on the banks.  Paths are dug out, and many plants are destroyed.

     “Kay is the most generous person,” said Janie Pyle, head librarian at the Madeira branch.  “She gives her time, her labor, and her own plants from her own garden.  And she’s always giving credit to everyone else.”

     So the next time you enjoy the library grounds, thank Kathleen Faux.  Your appreciation and her joy in the doing are her only pay checks.