Sunday, June 24, the Garden Club of Oak Park River Forest and the Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory will host their 25th Annual Garden Walk. 

Eight lush and distinct gardens in Oak Park and River Forest will open their gates to visitors. In some of the gardens, Plein Air painters will be demonstrating their creativity. As the Garden Club celebrates 101 years in the community in 2018, it looks forward to sharing a few special gardens with the public.

All of the gardens promise to showcase the homeowners’ unique personalities as well as the time and care necessary to create a living landscape that complements the styles of their homes. 

In Oak Park, Andrea and Dan Green’s garden is a reflection of Andrea’s lifelong passion. In the 1990’s she went back to school to become a horticulturalist and has used her education to help others create native gardens and invest in the green industry. In 2003, she turned her sights on her own yard, and the project has been a labor of love. 

Noting that her bungalow is on a narrow Oak Park lot, she says her first task was to create an attractive seating area. Eventually, she created three-zones in the exterior space. 

“We started with some small trees to create a sense of privacy in an urban setting,” Andrea Green said. “The front landscaping was informed by the arts-and-crafts approach in which the garden is treated as an extension of the home, like an exterior room.”

She notes that the narrow side yard, which measures roughly 11-by-30 feet, presented a design challenge. She created a meandering path with interesting plantings on both the right and left sides to draw visitors to the rear of the home. Throughout the garden, she utilized native plants that were suited to the conditions of each part of the yard. 

“One of my goals was to have color throughout the garden from earliest spring to late October,” Green said. “The garden is not an intense splash of color, but it’s mixed throughout with varying shades of green.”

Another special feature is a rain garden, which grew out of necessity when she and her husband were trying to divert overflow from their downspouts. Rather than drenching the foundation of their home, the rain water now feeds a garden bed that can stand periods of flood.

Also in Oak Park, Lisa and Steve Green have found that creating a garden is not necessarily a task for those who want to check an item of their to-do list. When they first purchased their home in 1995, they hired a landscaper to come in and do some preliminary work on the yard, but within a few years, Lisa took on the work herself. 

“My mom and both my grandmothers were gardeners, so maybe it’s in my DNA,” Lisa Green said.

She has taken her time to define the space, using hardscaping to create paths and adding a retaining wall to the space. Her plant choices span all the seasons, with some plants chosen for the visual interest they provide during the winter and others chosen for the visitors they attract in the summer.

 “My mom and I both use our gardens for caterpillars and monarchs and swallowtail butterflies,” she said. “I like to garden to attract butterflies and am adding more native plants to bring them in.”

At the end of the day, Lisa Green says she takes a lot of pleasure in gardening but realizes it is a task that will never be completed. 

“It’s a big hobby, and I enjoy doing it, and it’s never done,” she said. “It’s always a work in progress.”

In River Forest, Marylen Marty and her husband, Mike Gentile, have found their backyard to be a work in progress as well. Marty says that their 20-year project started because their backyard was too shady for growing grass.

“We started to eliminate the grass in the back, and then moved that concept to the side yard,” Marty said. “Over the years, we have less and less grass and more plants and trees. It’s not so much a passion as it was necessity.”

She says the backyard is a favorite spot in the summer for gathering with her children and grandchildren. 

“It’s a little piece of forest in a pretty urban area,” Marty said. “It’s usually about 10 degrees cooler back there than it is in the front.” 

The couple worked with Scott McAdam of McAdam landscaping to implement Marty’s idea of creating different “rooms” in the landscaping, but the plan is like nature, constantly changing. 

“Directly in front of the house, we had a huge elm tree,” Marty said. “We lost it last year, so all of the deep shade plants are now in the sun. We’re working on that part now.”

At the end of the day, she calls gardening a personal pleasure that continues to evolve. 

“There was no grand plan, no master plan for how this would unfold,” Marty said. “One of the things I love about gardening is that it’s very organic. You can’t really control and plan. You just let it gown and see what happens.” 

Before you go

The Garden Walk takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 24. Tickets are available online at, at the Oak Park Conservatory, 615 Garfield St., and the Oak Park Visitors Center, 1010 Lake St. 

Tickets purchased in advance cost $15. Tickets purchased the day of the walk cost $20 and must be purchased at the Oak Park Conservatory or the Cheney Mansion, 220 N. Euclid, Oak Park. 

All walk participants should stop by the Conservatory or the Cheney Mansion the day of the walk from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. to pick up booklets for the gardens. 

Booklets act as tickets to each garden and will include descriptions of each garden. Transportation between gardens is not provided, and the Garden Club suggests bicycling as an excellent means to travel between the homes.

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