1. A Sun Powered Garden
The front yard of this charming Cape Cod has a small Japanese maple tree and some pots for color. The real show is in the backyard. Follow the driveway to the right of the house. Empty nesters Mike and Sue have lived in this house for 42 years. When they moved in the backyard was filled with mature trees, many of which had Dutch Elm disease. 13 or 14 trees died and were removed from the property. The only two trees left in the backyard are a stately silver maple that shades the back deck briefly during the day and a smaller maple at the back of the property.
Mike and Sue built the deck themselves 36 years ago. It wraps around the back of the house and contains a table and chairs on one side and a gas fire pit on the other end. A trellis smothered with clematis provides privacy on this side of the deck. There is also an automatic overhead shade that rolls out from the house when the sun’s rays become too brutal. A brick paved area frames the entrance to the deck and a potting bench/liquor stand is conveniently located next to the garage door.
This neighborhood is a tight knit community. The backyard is open on two sides with their neighbors’ yards and they share the planting beds. It is difficult to tell where one planting bed ends and the other begins. The fenced side of the yard was the home of Sue’s gardening mentor, Anne. Before she moved, Anne taught Sue the joys and heartaches of gardening. Right now, Sue is dealing with the heartache of rabbits and a vole that moved in during the winter. Sue and Mike have only been gardening in earnest for about 20 years...previously they were too busy working and raising 3 kids.
This house was part of the Arlington Farms years ago. The location of the garage was the horse barn. When they excavated, they found a plethora of horseshoes. This might explain the wonderful garden soil. Behind the garage is an awesome vegetable garden. Within the fence they plant tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and zucchini. Around the fence and throughout the yard peeking out from the flowers they have pots with more vegetables. Mike grows a variety of peppers in these pots such as poblano, shishito, banana, and green peppers. Mike and Sue freeze the tomatoes whole and they use a vacuum sealer for the other veggies. They enjoy home grown produce all winter long.
This is mostly a full sun yard which means Sue and Mike have many plant options from which to choose. The flower borders are filled with sun loving bee balm, Shasta daisy, ‘Becky’ clematis, coneflowers, balloon flowers, wild daisies, milkweed, and black-eyed Susan. Pink primrose started out in Anne’s yard, but decided they liked Sue’s soil better and moved in. The primrose is sprinkled throughout the beds and sometimes the vegetable garden as well. Sue has several forsythia shrubs (or do they belong to her neighbor?) and two varieties of large ornamental grass. Next to the vegetable garden is zebra grass and at the back of the yard is porcupine grass. They also enjoy the shared view of their neighbor’s hydrangeas and other flowers.
Notice the stand of lilac bushes that surround a water feature. There is another water feature on the corner of the garage. There are 5 hummingbird feeders around the yard which are visited frequently by the birds. Keep an eye out for these little beauties as they flit around the flower
2. A Multi Generation Garden
Val and Mark have lived in this home on a corner lot for 33 years, but they have only been gardening for 5 years. Hmmmm….how does that work? They both grew up in the city and did not garden at all. Val’s mother was an avid gardener. Mom squeezed as many plants as she could on her city lot in Chicago. Any hole was immediately filled. When Val and Mark moved to a house in the suburbs her parents moved in with them. Val gave her parents free rein to do whatever they wanted in the garden which mainly consisted of evergreens. The majority of the evergreens were ripped out and Val’s mom created most of the beds that exist today.
After Val’s father passed and her mother developed some health issues, Val and Mark decided they needed to start helping in the yard. With the occasional advice of her neighbor who is an avid gardener they have been putting their own stamp on the garden for 5 years now.
Mark rescues plants the way some people rescue cats and dogs. He discovered many plants are thrown out after garden shows, and nurseries throw out plants that do not look healthy enough to sell. These plants flourish in Mark and Val’s garden where they are showered with love and attention. Plant rescues are scattered about the garden, but the majority are in the enclosed side yard.
The front of the house faces west. Last year a large tree was removed by the city so they are now enjoying full afternoon sun. The front porch is framed by Karl Forrester ornamental grass, lavender, a purple smoke bush, Elijah blue fescue, euonymus, and ‘Diablo’ ninebark.
To the left on the north side of the yard is a peanut shaped island bed. Her neighbor pruned an evergreen which appeared to be dying, into a beautiful shape. There are barberry shrubs, and ornamental grasses here. Next to the house is a large burning bush surrounded by ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea, more ornamental grasses, barberry and hellebores. The corner of the house is anchored by a ‘Miss Kim’ lilac and a Scotch broom evergreen.
To the right of the front entrance is a sidewalk that leads to their side yard. It is surrounded by a Cheyenne privet hedge for privacy. This yard slopes down from the sidewalk. Visitors are encouraged to watch their step. Mark did the stonework all around the house and laid all the brick borders and paths in this area. There is a concrete patio which holds their table, chairs and a fire pit. A charming path leads to the neighbor’s garden.
This area behind the privet hedge is dominated by a dwarf pear tree planted 30 years ago by Val’s father when Val’s daughter was born. There are sedum, yuccas, heuchera, catmint, ‘Limelight’ hydrangea, ‘Endless summer’ hydrangea, ‘Vanilla strawberry’ hydrangea, peonies, and Val’s favorite plant -- tickseed. A heathy looking ninebark cost them $5. An arbor holds hanging flower boxes also rescued from a garden show. There is a bird bath and two trellises.
Val insists she does not know what she is doing, but her garden says otherwise. Somehow, she picked up her mother’s green thumb by osmosis.
3. Hosta Heaven
Andy and Wendy are retired schoolteachers who have been gardening for 32 years. When Andy’s mother died many years ago, the faculty gave him a gift card from a garden center. He thinks this is when his garden journey began. Their west facing colonial home is surrounded by many planting beds bordered with rocks purchased here and there over the years.
The front yard was dominated by a maple tree which was recently removed by the city. It had chlorosis for much of its life. The house is west facing, but it is still protected from afternoon sun by the neighbor’s tree. There are 5 beds in the front containing burning bush, azalea, pachysandra, zinnias, and hostas. There are approximately 200 hostas scattered around this property! Many of them were purchased through mail order.
Since this is a corner lot, the garden wraps around the right of the house and then into the backyard. Along the side of the house are many, many hellebores that will not be in bloom during the walk, but create a wonderful display in the spring. A brick patio circles the back of the house, and a planting bed with a majestic redbud circles the patio. Andy and Wendy like to feed the birds and watch them nesting in their many evergreens, pine trees and fir trees.
They also have wonderful structure in the garden created by ‘Miss Kim’ lilac, roses, serviceberry, witch hazel, viburnum carlesii, and a very unusual blue prostrate evergreen that is 20 years old. There are several copper tubs for displaying annuals placed around the patio to keep the rabbits from munching on the flowers.
The north side of the backyard has a storage shed and a vegetable garden tucked in the corner. Andy mostly grows tomatoes and peppers. A patch of sunflowers anchors this veggie garden; many of the sunflowers were grown from seed by Andy. Andy has compost piles throughout his yard tucked under the trees. They also have statues and other found objects displayed in the yard amongst the hostas. A metal base of an old tub provides support for phlox. Andy’s latest find was a cupola complete with weathervane that a neighbor was throwing out.
Andy and Wendy have created a truly beautiful and restful place.
4. Conifer Kingdom
This 100-year-old bungalow is home to Jerry and Cheryl. They moved here 3 years ago. Jerry loves color and his wife Cheryl is a French country gardener in her heart of hearts. Cheryl met her friend Victoria at the 2021 Garden Walk and everything changed. Victoria was the inspiration for the “Poet’s Conifer Garden” on that walk; she and Cheryl hit it off immediately. They took a trip to the Anderson Japanese garden in Rockford, and stopped off in Woodstock at Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery. After seeing all of the conifers and the beauty of a Japanese type landscape, Cheryl was hooked. She and Jerry ripped out all of the plants in their new home and gave most of them to their friends and neighbors. She kept a select few on the west side of the property where she can indulge her French style vibe. For the rest of property, Victoria came up with a vision that both Jerry and Cheryl love. It is amazing.
The front yard has a rare dwarf pinus parviflora White Pine called ‘Aoba jo’. This is the rock star of the front yard (she has two more parviflora in the backyard). There is a two-tone Serbian spruce, and a Japanese maple tree they are training to live in a pot.
Along the driveway leading to the backyard, is an area where they typically grow tomatoes. There are also perennials and annuals lining the driveway which leads to a backyard styled in a Japanese type landscape. Cheryl says there are 5 elements needed to be considered a true Japanese garden: 1. water, 2. rocks, 3. plantings (of course), 4. sand, and 5. an architectural item—usually a pagoda. Cheryl has 3 of the 5 right now.
Most of the conifers were planted 3 years ago, but they were purchased as more mature specimens so Cheryl could enjoy their size in this lifetime. There is a patio area directly behind the house and another one behind the garage where she and Jerry can sit and enjoy their sea of green. Every morning Cheryl takes her coffee outside and sits and lets the serenity of the garden wash over her.
There are some rare conifers in this yard. Most of them used a witch’s broom technique (named because of its different & unusual shape) where a branch mutation is grafted onto a seedling tree of the same species. Next to the garage is a very rare Weeping Norway Spruce trained to grow upright, which has both male and female cones: the red male pollen cones fertilize the female cones which form seeds like pine nuts – the seeds take 2 years to form! Behind the garage there is a beautiful Indian arbor which use to be in Cheryl’s home. There is also a wooden ball covered in metal which is ageing nicely out in the elements. A 30 year old “Bush’s Lace” Engelmann Spruce tree anchors this space.
In the back yard between the beautiful stones, please notice the Japanese columnar Arborvitae ‘Degroot’s spire’”, Twombly’s Red Sentinel Japanese Maple tree, White Pine ‘Domingo’, Juniper ‘Grey Owl’, Chamaecyparis ‘Nana’, and Korean Pine ‘Morris blue’. Cheryl’s favorite is a Japanese red pine called ‘Jane Kluis’. There are too many conifers to list here; Cheryl and her friend Victoria will be available during the walk to answer any questions and provide inspiration to all.
5. How Green Was My Garden?
This charming home is on a corner lot that faces south. The garden is in the front, and on each side of the house. Craig and Jackie have lived here for 20 plus years. Craig is the gardener, and he likes to have green all year round. The majority of plants are evergreens and conifers. Jackie likes to see flower color, so Craig made sure to include some flowering groundcovers and flowering shrubs to make Jackie happy. Jackie has also dotted sweet garden décor throughout the beds to add her own touch.
Craig has been honing the garden for 20 years, but a little over 10 years ago he met Todd, who owned a nursery in Harvard. Todd came out to the house and surveyed the lot. He has made many recommendations over the years of unusual conifers and evergreens to suit Craig’s craving for green.
The beds on either side of the front door contain a white pine, Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’, and a magnificent bright yellow Chamaecyparis ‘Golden Mop’. There are also small round evergreens with a bluish cast that are very prickly. When Jackie decorates them with Christmas lights, she has to wear gloves to avoid getting pricked. A brick walkway runs the length of the house and ends to the right in a circle where they have a table and chairs to sit and enjoy the garden. This circular area is surrounded by a bed containing mounds of alliums, a ground cover with sweet purple flowers, and a few ornamental grasses.
There used to be 3 large pine trees on the east corner of the lot. One fell down, and the other 2 were removed by the city due to disease. Craig replaced them with another pine tree, and three small evergreen trees one of which is a type of blue spruce they named Charlie Brown because he looks so sad. These evergreens are surrounded by flowering shrubs such as forsythia and azalea. There are also heuchera, lilies, and some hostas in this bed.
Around the right of the house are large evergreens, and a deciduous tree with purple leaves. The tree is surrounded by a ring of evergreens with yellow tipped branches.
To the left of the house there are several peonies, flowering shrubs, flowering trees, a Korean fir ‘silberlocke’, and a weeping variety of mulberry tree. This area fulfills Jackie’s wish for color while still supporting many more evergreens to satisfy Craig’s craving for green.
Craig and Jackie have filled their yard with beautiful and unusual plants that give them pleasure (and anyone who drives by their house). That is what gardening is all about!
6. Four Season Garden
Bob and Dorothy have lived in this home for 35 years. Dorothy is the planner and gardener. Bob describes himself as the mulch guy and insists his wife is the boss of the garden yet he knows the name of every plant on the property. They live in a corner lot with plantings around the entire home.
The front yard has mostly shade during the day, there is a beautiful river birch, an evergreen hedge, a holly bush and a burning bush. The side door of the home is framed by beds with spring blooms of bleeding heart, tulips, and toad lilies. There is a katsura tree, a rhododendron, and a redbud tree located here also. An oakleaf hydrangea is to left of the driveway near the entrance to the side yard which is the star of the show.
A large bed along the street contained a tree taken down by the city this year. Bob is working with the city to have it replaced with another Serbian spruce. There is also a Heritage oak tree, variegated Solomon’s seal, Staghorn sumac, ‘Miss Kim’ lilac, ninebark, weigela, peonies and bleeding heart.
Several columnar white pine trees frame large lilies which put on a magnificent show in the summer. They lead to an adorable tool shed/playhouse built 25 years ago for their children, and now enjoyed by their grandchildren. A mini-Dutch door is used by the kiddos, and a larger adult door is on the side for Bob and Dorothy. Behind the playhouse is Bob’s compost pile, and to the right are 3 columnar European beech trees.
A beautiful koi pond with a small waterfall was added to the back of the property 25 years ago after a giant silver maple was removed when a large branch fell (fortunately it did not land on anyone). Neighborhood friends of their children were playing a game and broke a window. As payment, all the children were put to work for a couple of weeks to dig the koi pond. Flash forward to 2020, and Bob and Dorothy’s pandemic project was to create a new paved patio to complement the koi pond. A cedar overhang can be closed off with curtains to keep out the winter chill with the aid of a few heating units. It has been the source of great pleasure for the family.
The koi pond has several koi and many generations of goldfish won by their children at Frontier
Days when they were young. Bob has tried to raise different types of frogs, but without success. The pond is surrounded by beautiful trees and evergreens such as ‘Prince Osier’ weeping willow, weeping white pine, Serbian spruce, and Hinoki false cypress. Bob took a pruning class years ago which helps him keep some of the plants to a manageable size.
Between the spring flower show, summer flowering shrubs and ornamental grasses, and the fall display of the oakleaf hydrangea and the sumac, there is something blooming or evergreen to enjoy in this garden all year round.
7. Native Haven
6 years ago, a group of volunteers from the St. James Earth Shepards ministry decided to create a native plant garden in the back of their school parking lot. It was a case of “if you plan it donations will come”. The Maryknoll Sisters gave them a $1,000 grant which was used to purchase pavers, sand, bricks, edging, and a pillar cap. A volunteer supplied most of the seeds, Sisters of the Living Word allowed them to take milkweed plants from their garden, and various members supplied miscellaneous other plants; the Laudato Si’ garden was born. “Laudato Si” means “Praise be to You” which was inspired by the words of St. Francis of Assisi who believed all life on earth is sacred.
Many hands are responsible for the labor and upkeep of this 15 by 100-foot garden. So many, that they wish to remain anonymous lest we leave someone’s name out. When the garden requires attention, an email is sent out announcing a workday, and whoever can make it shows up with children, grandchildren, and friends. The garden needs very little care other than cutting out invasive saplings, eliminating ragweed, and cleaning out trash that may have blown in from the parking lot. They only water when new plants are added. Native plants have roots that can reach down into the soil many feet depending on the species, so very little watering is needed. Seed spreading events are also hosted at the garden. The children come out and scatter native seeds by hand.
The most recent addition to the garden will be an Eagle scout project of posts holding a scalloped rope border to enclose the garden, a paver area that will hold 2 benches, and a platform with a statue of St. Francis. The statue will be in front of 3 native shrubs and the benches will be made from the reclaimed wood of a bowling alley lane saved from a landfill by the father of one of the volunteers.
The garden holds native stalwarts such as milkweed, yarrow, white asters, native daisies, native grasses, and columbine. There are also non-native plants such as Shasta daisy, salvia, spirea and 3 Bradford pear trees which were in place before the garden was created.
The garden shines in June through August. There is no raking involved. The volunteers let it go natural, so leaf litter decomposes and enriches the soil. Welcome to Laudato Si Garden!