Growing BIG AND BEAUTIFUL in a Small Backyard

Flower gardens can grow spectacularly in any sized back or front yard.

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

Great--and absolutely gorgeous -- flower gardens can grow spectacularly in any sized back or front yard.

Beyond that, it is feasible to also fit in a few colorful veggies and herbs, too, to sustainably add in unexpected textures, hues, aromas and, of course, home-grown taste.

That was my BIG take-away from attending Garden Walk 2015, the annual fundraiser that is co-sponsored by Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory (FOPCON) and the Garden Club of Oak Park - River Forest.

Here are 4 good ideas that are my takeaways.  Now, you can make them yours.

GOOD IDEA NUMBER ONE...In her small backyard in north Oak Park, Debora Beckett, a DIY gardener, is growing a sublime, mostly shade loving garden of varietal Hostas.  She is also employing the space-saving design principles of growing trailing vine plants up walls and on fences, plus counting on the precepts of illusion to trick the eye into seeing more yard, rather than less.

This gardener's perennial joke is that "My husband grew up on his family's back 40 acres in South Bend, Indiana.  We now have our back 40 feet in Oak Park," she told me.  "So I added 2,000 pounds of enriched soil to the north garden border to give the impression of depth and height" she says.  "I have used iron arches to give us privacy, while beckoning the eye beyond the garden's border."

Debora, a painter and social worker, says she has accessorized the arches with Mexican Talavera plates, which is a stand out.

She also credits this iteration (her garden oasis) to patience, and hard work (which is her joy of gardening), as well as her green and brown thumb practices:  "I deadhead, deadhead and deadhead (many perennial plants surprise me with a second and even third flowering spurt); compost, compost, compost (I have a hidden bin of compost cooking behind our garage); deep-root water evergreens and trees (especially during droughts); and divide and replant mature and healthy plants (don't be afraid)."

GOOD IDEA NUMBER TWO... in the compact yard/gardens of Oak Parkers Megan and Justin Lewis, they say that it is through the repetition of selected plantings, and the use of complimentary colors and geometric shapes, that has transformed their small yard into a demonstration of a few proven design ideas.

All of it, they say, has been jump started with the advice and assist of several local landscaping pros.

"When you are gardening in small spaces, you have to think creatively and make sure you have a balance of color, texture and height, and then you have to play with it, because with plants, if you do not like where they are you can always move them." Megan says.

The couple gave me the quick tour (okay it is a small space so that was redundant).
While on it I learned how it has taken many different turns along the way, and the final design "was all of our brain power together.  I am a hydrangea lover, so we are heavy on them, and I have a repetition of plants in the front and the back, so you will see an Ivory Halo Dogwood in the front as well as hydrangeas and Hostas, for a unity between the two spaces."
GOOD IDEA NUMBER THREE...A series of stepping stones led me next door to meet Bob Trezevant.  He also enlisted the services of several landscaping pros to help him convert a small backyard that was transformed from a disheveled, pebbled parking pad into a personal paradise where he loves to eat his meals and entertain guests.
"This is a challenging space, because there is a house here, so we don't get early morning sun in the summer.  There is this huge tree, so it does tend to be a shady garden, and I don't get full sun until late afternoon.  I have had the garden in place since the Fall of 2006, so it is a fairly mature garden.  I did not start out being a gardener, but after it was installed, I became very interested, because I love to eat my meals out here, and entertain out here, so I thought, why not have an outdoor living room," Bob says.

GOOD IDEA NUMBER FOUR... Think pond.  After having a gardeners gabfest with William and Martine Warren of River Forest, I am.  Their "water garden" is the focal point of their landscape, which includes other patches of beauty for flowers and herbs that don't like to get their feet wet.

And yes, this backyard has become their peaceful wildlife habitat, thanks to Martine, and the help of a few landscaping professionals.

"It's the sound of running water," says William, adding that their koi ponds were installed a while back, with a screened-in gazebo built to overlook the garden.  "After a long day at work, you come home and hear the rush of the water, and we have fish and tadpoles in the ponds, and we are looking to have some frogs soon enough."

Martine says that is her aim.  This avid gardener has been experimenting with adding a family of frogs to her pond and landscape for three years now.  The biggest reasons for her is that frogs eat a lot of garden insects, and are indicators when an environment is clean, as they are very susceptible to pollution, she said.

"I have bought ten tadpoles a year, and so far we haven't been too successful, so this year our hope is to grow two or three frogs living in our pond,"  she says.  "I don't know if the other tadpoles have been eaten by a (Blue Heron, which William says he's seen preying in the pond).  Last year we only had two."

Whoa.  A sighting of a BIG Blue Heron in a local pond?

Why not?  Nature is as nature does, so if you build it, nature will come, especially if you reside on the edge of Thatcher Woods in River Forest, as these homeowners do, gardening for wildlife in their big backyard.

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Nicole Martin  

Posted: February 28th, 2018 2:06 AM

Great-and absolutely gorgeous - flower gardens can grow spectacularly in any sized back or front yard.GOOD IDEA about DIY pond making is based on Pondpro2000 presence.

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