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Omaha Magazine

Her Own Private Paradise

Aug 27, 2021 04:03PM ● By Kamrin Baker
drone shot of backyard pool with yellow umbrellas

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

Carmen Tapio’s backyard, in a neighborhood off North 168th Street, feels a bit like a hidden tropical resort. 

Concealed by cottonwoods, there’s no way to know of the hundreds of species of plants that thrive in her northwest Omaha garden without an invitation.   

  But a closer look reveals the bounty of flora, along with a large, rectangular saltwater pool lined with yellow umbrellas and perfectly folded nautical beach towels. Two cocker spaniels weave through the yard, dodging elements and keeping in tow with Tapio, who begins each day with a plant check. Despite her busy schedule, the president and CEO of North End Teleservices finds time in her morning routine for the survey.

Photo Bill Sitzmann

 “Every morning, it’s like Christmas when I come to see my plants,” Tapio said. “It’s amazing to see how much the garden changes every day. It’s been 20 years, and the garden evolves over time. I could pick weeds from morning until night. It’s very therapeutic, spiritual…it’s very expressive.”

Tapio is quite the collector, with each of her plants telling a story. There are too many to count, from an heirloom peony bush that dates back 120 years, to 77 varieties of hostas, to an abundance of roses and clematis.

The leaves and blooms of the individual plants remain mostly in the perimeter of the yard, framing the pool with abundant greenery and intoxicating natural scents.

While Tapio admits some neighbors may see her as the “crazy plant lady,” she’s found a nature-loving community in the two decades she’s spent tending her garden. Her neighbors-turned-good-friends, Lori Kohl and Debra Brown, have their own impressive gardens. 

“When we moved into the neighborhood, many of the houses were still being built. But I remember walking up the street and seeing this lady encroaching on an empty lot with her big, beautiful garden. I thought, ‘Well, that one’s serious,’” Kohl said about meeting Tapio for the first time.

Kohl loves her hostas and lilies, having created a lush, emerald yard kitty-corner to Tapio’s home. However, it was Kohl’s bulbs and annuals that got the attention of Brown, and from there, the friendships blossomed.

Brown entered the gardener’s circle, her own collection of bulbs wowing her two friends. Her daffodils and tulips consistently stun her fellow homeowners, with over 2,000 bulbs blooming every year. While the trio tours one another’s gardens on a regular basis, Tapio’s yard is the one designed to entertain. 

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

Comfortable outdoor furniture fills any free square footage, providing cozy places to land and constant side tables for a bottle of bourbon, glass of wine, or an iced latte. Virtually every spot is gifted a gorgeous vista, from a bird’s-eye view of the aquamarine pool to an eye-level scene of colorful hydrangea bushes.

“I want people to come here and be able to put their feet up,” Tapio said. “My husband, Bob, and I love to entertain, but we also love to care for people here, too. It’s nice to have neighbors who really care about each other. You watch kids grow up and get married, see babies get born, neighbors pass away, flowers grow. You become friends.”

Tapio learned to garden years ago, mentored by two neighborhood friends— “crazy plant ladies” of her own—who instilled in her a passion for nature and community.

“Carmen could become friends with a brick wall,” Kohl joked.  

  While the plants are Tapio’s main source of connection to her space, she has scattered garden statues about, fairies and gnomes befriending the greenery and tapping into the spiritual energy she finds in nature. Humans aren’t the only beings enjoying her yard. Pollinators and fauna appreciate it as well. The ecosystem of Tapio’s backyard allows for hummingbirds, bees, foxes, raccoons, wild turkeys, and more to take a vacation in her nature reserve. 

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

 While abundant wildlife often takes a pitstop at the Tapio residence (and who could blame them?), nothing in the yard seems untidy or disturbed. Garden beds are clean and well-tended, flowers are pruned and in bloom, and not even a splash dares to sprinkle outside of the pool. It’s a gardener’s paradise, intended to bring peace, healing, and relaxation to all who inhabit it. 

Kohl and Brown feel the same of their gardens.

“Every time I go out to my garden, I am just in awe of God’s grace and wonder,” Brown said. “I am just filled with joy. Just look what the Lord has made me.” 

“To me, it’s total peace and tranquility,” Kohl added. 

The plants seem grateful, open to the sun, and receptive to the warmth and regard of their caretakers.

“When the plants are happy, I’m happy,” Tapio said contentedly.

This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Omaha Home Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.