At corner of Wornall and Red Bridge lies the enchanted garden
By Jill Draper
Hundreds of cars pass through the intersection of Wornall and Red Bridge roads every day, and many people glance through their windshields toward the southwest corner to wonder—who lives there?
Because there, on a multi-acre residential lot, is a pond with an arched bridge, a scattering of tiny wooden houses, a circle of fire-red canna lilies mingled with pink and white cleome blossoms, and winding brick pathways accented by wrought iron gates.
There is also an unlikely mix of concrete and ceramic deer, toads and long-legged birds alongside real-life animals—swans, ducks, chickens, goats, turkeys, a rabbit and a miniature horse. Oh, and also black and white speckled guinea fowl, a cat and a Great Pyrenees dog named Muffin who is guarded by a fierce, biting goose. A fairy tale quality pervades. It’s hard to tell, from a quick drive-by, what’s alive and what’s a sculpture.
“Animals are my best friends,” says owner Pamela Bowen, who lives in the same house her parents built in 1947 when the property was just outside the Kansas City limits and Wornall was a one-lane road that wound across farmland dotted with cows. “The thing about animals,” she explains, “is they’re always happy and they accept you for what you are.”
Bowen’s father dug the pond where he kept ducks and hunting dogs, while her mother grew flowers and landscaped the grounds. But that was just the beginning. The first farm animal to arrive was a goat named Sweet Pea. They got him from a barber at the Red Bridge Shopping Center. More animals followed, and now Bowen has taken things to a new level.
A relative talked her into buying a little horse, which she turns out to pasture in the front yard every evening. Other animals were acquired or adopted, and buildings followed—places to store hundreds of pounds of corn and hen scratch, a barn for hay, a stable for the horse, houses for chickens and such. Bowen designed and constructed many of them with carpentry, concrete and other skills she learned from her uncles.
“Ever since I was in my 20s, I’ve had a project every year,” she says. She’s particularly proud of a grey and red “gingerbread” house she made with a crooked roof and sloping sides. “It looks like Cinderella lives there.”
Now in her 60s, Bowen works as a special education teacher at Paseo High School. She loves to travel and has visited 120 countries, often picking up ideas and inspiration for her own property, especially the many fountains and birdbaths scattered around her yard. “The sound of dripping water is magical,” she says. “I just love it.”
A small fleet of concrete sailboats by the pond reminds her of children sailing boats on the banks of the Seine near the Louvre Museum in Paris. A sculpture of a woman near a fountain reminds her of the Grand Cascade, a series of 64 fountains at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. “There’s a story behind everything here,” she says.
When holidays come—Halloween, Christmas and Easter—Bowen is an enthusiastic decorator, stringing hundreds of lights on her bridge and gazebo. In October she puts up one of her favorite displays, a witch riding into a tree.
Several years ago in a KCUR radio story Susan Wilson referred to Bowen’s property as an “enchanted garden,” a term later picked up by a savvy realtor who advertised a nearby split-level as “across the street from the enchanted garden.”
At first Bowen was a bit surprised. “I grew up here and I don’t think that much about it. But I guess that’s a good nickname. I can’t believe how much joy my yard brings to people. Every year I get thank you letters from people who say it makes them happy to drive by.”
At the pond are memories of her parents. Her mother’s name, Ana, is painted on a rowboat and her father’s name, Cecil, is etched onto a stone marker. When the time comes, “Pamela Bowen” will be added next to his name and these words she already has chosen: “The world is my playground. My parents, home and animals are my world.”
Until then, the rest of us traveling along Wornall Road will continue to enjoy a glimpse of an enchanted corner, grandfathered into suburbia, while we wait for the stoplight to change.