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There is something nearly magical about a display of leaves and flowers that lifts one’s spirit and adds freshness to the day.

 When one thinks “garden,” what comes to mind are large expanses of floral displays in public parks or at the botanic gardens that grace some cities.  They are truly special and a treat to the eyes. However, it is also possible to appreciate smaller offerings that decorate a nearby spot – like an alley.

At the end of an alley in northwest Evanston, two “postage stamp” gardens greet the visitor. On one side, a long, narrow triangle garden contains a profusion of pink and white begonias – more than 700 plants.  Hardy creatures, they bloom from spring planting to the first hard frost.  They are especially cheerful-looking on rainy days.

 Along the stucco wall of this neighbor’s house, vegetables thrive  in a long strip of soil only three feet wide. There, passersby can view a narrow forest of ripening tomatoes, the swelling eggplants and green peppers, and Bibb lettuce, among other crops. When asked how she got the veggies to flourish in that constricted space, she smiled and replied, “sunshine and white walls.” It is a brilliant use of limited space.

 Across the alley, other creative gardeners tend an assortment of roses, lilies, black-eyed Susans, hydrangeas, alyssum, coneflowers, impatiens and more. Tall, spiky grasses provide a contrast to the pinks and yellows of the blooms.  Like its neighbor, the garden takes up minimal space.

These two mini-gardens offer a visual treat that would never by noticed on major streets, but add a surprise of beauty to a quiet byway.