Article originally appeared in the Grand Island Independent

With flowers blooming and vegetables growing, there’s no better time for a walk outside, and the perfect opportunity is coming next week.

Crisis Center Inc., a nonprofit focused on helping survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, is hosting its second annual Outdoor Explore: Gardens & More! garden tour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 23.

The tour has seven yards and businesses participating, with four in Grand Island and three in Chapman.

Tickets can be purchased at the Crisis Center office on Webb Road, Hy-Vee, Lewis Greenscape, Earl May and Ace Hardware for $15 each.

In addition to the tour, the event includes a silent auction with more than 70 items and a raffle:

New this year, the event has a website where tickets may also be purchased and people can bid on the silent auction items.

All of the money raised stays in the community, which includes Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick counties. It will be used to assist survivors by providing them safety, support and education, according to information from Misty Schaecher, the Crisis Center’s marketing and development coordinator.

Last year, the garden tour had five yards and raised $2,120. Schaecher said the fundraising goal this year is $5,500, and they hope to increase both the number of yards and the amount of money they raise every year.

Schaecher said the Crisis Center finds gardens for the tour by looking for places or hearing from landscaping companies and reaching out to the home or business owners. For one of the houses this year, she remembered a teacher’s yard from when her child was in elementary school, and she reached out to her.

Chyna Hayes, now retired, was a kindergarten teacher at Gates Elementary who brought students to her yard for science field trips. She set up stations in her backyard where the students would observe plants, vegetables and trees to learn how the world works. She has also been part of past garden tours.

“We have our yard set up so it’s a family place,” Hayes said. The Hayeses did all of the landscaping themselves, and Stephen Hayes built most of the structures.

In a spacious backyard, trees and flowers work with structures such as benches and tables to create a landscape full of areas to explore.

Beds of flowers and vegetables, in a concept called potager gardening, share space with 19 trees, 17 of which the Hayeses planted. At the back of the yard is a private shed with a couch, table and knickknacks. Hayes said she uses the shed for napping or reading. In the corner, behind a wooden archway and a gate, is another garden that grows flowers, hops, tomatoes and pumpkins. There’s also a host of bird and rabbit nests mixed with the plants.

But there’s still plenty of open space, too, for yard games such as horseshoes and cornhole.

Every year, Hayes said, they host a Fourth of July party that draws about 80 people. She said they also host school and church events.

She said she and her husband have been gardening at every house they’ve lived in, and though this yard is a big commitment, it’s something she loves.

“It is a lot of work, but you gotta be willing to work hard,” Hayes said. “That’s what feels good.”