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Be “Inn” On the Secret

Discover a tropical oasis in an unexpected place

Article by Sue Baldani

Photography by Thomas Hall

Originally published in Topeka Lifestyle

In the middle of the country, there is a little slice of the Caribbean. A secret garden and pool that many people don’t even know exists. Where is this faux-island getaway? Right here at the The Woodward Inns in Topeka.

The owner, Elizabeth Taylor, wanted to retire to Belize, but when a hurricane came through, she decided to bring the tropics home. “The pool area has an island getaway kind of feel. It’s lit up at night for socializing and night swimming, which the guests love. We also have a Calypso weekend every summer which is quite fun. With the music and the food, you don’t feel like you’re in the middle of the country.”

The double-level pool garden has a 42x10’ heated lap pool which is open year round, plus a large hot tub. It’s surrounded by stone and cedar walls so it’s very private and hidden, and extremely romantic. A unique feature is the adult tree house that overlooks the pool. Inside, guests can relax and enjoy the view on the double chaise lounge.

Besides the main Inn, which Elizabeth bought 27 years ago, she also owns 13 other properties on the street used for business extended stay. And although the bed and breakfast is reminiscent of old world luxury, it was in dire straits when she found it.

“I bought the main Inn because I believe Jesus told me to save her,” she says. “The former owner had died, a tornado had come through, and it had been used institutionally; it was in need of someone to love it.”

And love it she did! In addition to the pool garden, there are sweet smelling and colorful gardens all around the Inn. Elizabeth has always made sure the gardens had pretty flowers, but they, along with the pool garden area, have been completely renovated earlier this year.

“My friend, James Widman, who owns Cornerstone Landscape Studio, has also come to love the place and wanted to redo all of the gardens,” she says. “He’s quite an artist. For three months he worked to renovate the gardens by taking out the old and putting in the new. Now, they are just gorgeous.”

It wasn’t just the house James was drawn to, but Elizabeth as well. “There’s a reason people call her ‘Mama Bear’; she’s just a beautiful soul,” he says. “I was planning on renting one of her properties three years ago, and she and I started talking about life. There’s a generation between us, but she’s taught me and I’ve taught her. It’s the purest type of friendship I ever had, and it was God who brought us together.”

It really was a match made in heaven. The main features of the The Woodward gardens are the back pergolas that James built over the last couple of years. They are big and tall and wide and gorgeous. The main Inn and the gardens are the perfect place for guests to relax. The comfortable double hammock is a delight, as is the cozy swing.

“I always wanted to have beautiful flowers and a good smell all around,” says Elizabeth. “The yard smells delicious with the honeysuckle and lilac and roses. It brings so much to the senses.”

“My guests love the property and I also have strangers knocking on my door asking to see the gardens. It’s overwhelmingly beautiful. It’s like a fantasy place.”

To find out more, go to www.thewoodward.com/ and then call Elizabeth to make a reservation. “I can tell them what’s going on in town when they plan to visit, and about the different rooms, so people can get excited about coming.” For information about Cornerstone Landscape Studio, go to www.clstopeka.com.

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