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The magic worked by green thumbs and abundant spring rains will be on glorious display at the Evanston Garden Walk on June 28.
The walk, which has been inspiring both aspiring and inveterate gardeners for 25 years, this year features one public and eight private gardens. Their locations and styles are as varied as the homes and neighborhoods they grace. A committee of 10 from the Evanston Environmental Association chose the gardens for their “great design and thoughtful selection of plant material” and for their reflection of the diverse architectural and garden styles of Evanston, says Lee Randhava, media relations chairman for the walk.
The gardens are meant to plant ideas, their sweeping vistas and hidden corners enhanced by advice from the gardeners, who enjoy being present at the walk to share what they have learned. “It’s a very friendly event,” Ms. Randhava says.
Scattered throughout Evanston, these garden jewels are accessible by car or bike and can be visited in any order using a self-guided map. As in other years and in keeping with Evanston’s designation as a Tree City, the committee has cited one of the homes for the magnificent trees – in this case, giant katsuras – on its parkway.
An imposing home in south Evanston exemplifies the formal garden. It sits close to the street on a corner lot that lacks the complete privacy of a typical backyard. Yet the grounds are park-like and serene, in part owing to a simplicity of design and plant material that complements the home’s arched doorways and balconies.
Urns and planters pop with the vivid pink of annual flowers. Otherwise, the palette runs to soothing shades of green. Selective plants and trellises partially screen the backyard and patio while not secluding them entirely from the tree-lined street and sidewalk.
This dignified landscape, given to straight lines and upright plants, still leaves room for surprises like the gate to the left of the front door, which affords just a peek at a hidden garden.
On the opposite side of town, guests will encounter a garden as energetic and colloquial as the other is stately and formal. In the small yard behind the house he grew up in, the owner has created an ambitious vegetable garden, an aquatic garden and multiple container gardens. Succulents, perennials, trees and shrubs and edibles flourish, many with the support of wooden structures – tomato cages, a web-like trellis for clematis and another for exotic noodle beans – handcrafted by the gardener.
Touched by his imagination and skills, old things take on new life. He laid the bricks his father rescued from a pile in the once-vacant lot across the alley to make first, a patio, and later, a path that defines the beds of tomatoes, herbs, peppers, and kale. He creates art from fallen tree branches. One sturdy limb forms the base of a birdbath made from a colorful bowl he once bought for a song; other branches adorn his whimsical wooden birdhouses, stained in bright colors and hung on the garage wall like pictures in an exhibition.
His former “bottle tree,” a dead tree that sparkled with the multicolored bottles believed in African tradition to collect evil spirits, has given way to a homemade one abloom with blue glass.
Just as impressive a transformation is the once-barren strip of shady ground beside the house the gardener sculpted into a rock garden lush with hosta and ferns. It is no wonder his garden won the top prize for Best Overall Garden in the 2009 Chicago Tribune Glorious Garden contest.
While this multi-faceted gem epitomizes the personal, one-man garden, the Washington School grounds exemplify an almost rarer phenomenon: the collaborative garden.
Establishing the Washington garden(s) required time, money from a handful of funding sources and the unceasing labor of volunteer Jenni Suvari, who developed a master plan, then cultivated sponsors and corralled and coordinated the efforts of a volunteer organization, neighbors, School District 65, and Washington parents, teachers, and kids.
The results are no less than spectacular: Welcome to Thunderbird Farm. Festive painted signs mark the various sectors of this schoolyard triumph. Fuzzy lamb’s ears (touch), peonies (sight), roses (smell) and grasses (sound) are among the plants in the sensory garden. The rain garden billows with clumped iris and mounded lady’s mantle. Solomon’s seal and cranesbill multiply in the shade garden; tomatillos, tomatoes and jalapenos bud in the pizza and salsa plots; and parsley, kale, spinach, and carrots ripen in the second-grade soup garden.
An outdoor classroom fitted with child-size tree-stump seats and a large blackboard accommodates activities that help kids make the connections between the garden and everything from science to language and art.
The most expansive and celebrated part of the garden is Mendoza Prairie, dedicated to reversing the alarming decline of the monarch butterfly. It is officially designated as a Monarch Waystation by Monarch Watch and as a Schoolyard Habitat Site by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The prairie garden offers nectar and shelter for butterflies and other pollinators as well as food for hungry caterpillars.
Even as visitors discover this year’s gardens, organizers are scouting locations for the 2016 walk. They need to see what prospective gardens look like this time of year, Ms. Randhava says.
Tickets to the walk are available at local vendors or online from evanstonenvironment.org.