Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Lovely Stroll

In our landscape design studio at the U of I, all aspiring horticulturists worked on the same property.  Fourteen drafting tables littered the room, each with a different landscape for the same property.  I loved walking around the room, comparing and contrasting ideas and marveling at the myriad options we cumulatively created.

As I toured the gardens of the 2011 Kankakee Kultivator's Garden walk, I was struck by the same concept.  Had you given me any of those yards, I probably would have come up with something completely different (and assuredly, more weedy) than the homeowners.

What a treat to see the fruits of their creativity and effort.  Each garden had lessons for me.  Let me share a few:

Dave and Becky Williams proved to me that I need to quit whining about my small yard.  For a dedicated gardener, size is no hindrance whatsoever; merely a different kind of challenge.  The passion they share for gardening shines clearly in their innovative vegetable garden.  In contrast, my vegetable garden is not so much a labor of love as a labor of necessity.  And it shows.  If I can pull a red tomato from a field of lamb's quarters, I declare success.  The Williams' garden, however, was nothing short of a retreat.  And believe me, when I look at my own, I'd dearly love to retreat to theirs.

Kathy Bessette's vast woodland landscape filled the shadows with color, texture and creativity.  Over the years, I've encountered many homeowners who are thoroughly flustered with similarly shady backyards.  The combination of tree roots and lack of sunshine provide enough deterrent to keep them from creating beauty.  Kathy was not easily offset.  Her powerful imagination envisioned the world of hosta and perennials residing beneath the shade and a good amount of determination brought it to life.  Where some may have seen limitations, she found possibilities.

As someone who is losing the battle to weeds (yes, I know it's only June) in her current vegetable garden, I have a great appreciation for the immaculate beds of David and Cheryl Bishert.  I love that they simply used grass clippings (naturally nitrogen-rich and notably free!) to mulch and keep interlopers at bay.  Large tomato cages were ready to handle our bulky Illinois growth, unlike the cheap tomato cages I employ, which are overgrown by the end of July.    

A small stroll from the Bishert's brought me to Rick Hoekstra's vineyard.  Lush grapevines abounded.  Here I discovered the easiest of all the take-home-messages: Mmmmmmmm.....Moscato!  I found a wine to enjoy when the work is done.

At this point, let me say that this particular day I had been mislead by the weather forecast (not uncommon for me this year).  I donned blue jeans in the morning, expecting a cooler day.  The resulting 89 degrees of heat and humidity did not agree with my denim.  Babysitting fees were racking up and so was my internal thermometer, and I thought very heavily about heading home after the vineyard.  I'm so glad I didn't.

Don and Cecilia McKay's landscape might have been peeled right off of a gardening brochure.  It was exquisite.  The first thing I noticed was a friend of mine heading to her car.  "Oh, I'm not leaving," said she, "I'm going back to the car for my camera!"  Their impeccable hardscape started in the front, with an entrancing courtyard entrance.  Around back, their patio was nothing short of an architectural extension of their home.  A paver path wove its way back to another patio, poised on the edge of the Kankakee river.  What sets the McKay's apart is the absolute perfect balance with which everything was set.  Some landscapes, heavy on hardscapes, lack the greenspace to justify and soften it.  Not so here.  Their mixture of colors, textures and seasonal interest was fabulous.  I haven't the room here to touch on all the brilliance, but hopefully we can highlight and elaborate on it another day.

The next stop was the LeTourneau Home and Bourbonnais Grove.  What a treasure, this historical flashback tucked into the center of town.  Much of it was freshly planted and maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers.  History comes to life when we can catch glimpses of the past in our everyday,  and this garden affords us that opportunity.  What stood out to me?  The contrasting approach to gardening then versus now.  Modern landscaping is ultra conscious of beauty and design principle and the past is uncluttered by that.  Gardens were for productivity.  For life.  Jewel was not around the corner back in the day.  The kitchen garden sits close to the house, with herbs brimming over the top of its small picket fence.  Today, we tuck our vegetable gardens back, out of view (especially those of us prone to weeds).  A few steps into the home was a room with dried herbs hanging: a testament to the importance and value of the small kitchen garden.

Last stop on this Tour de Fleurs, the home - or more accurately - the grounds of Merlin and Donna Karlock.  Sited with a royal view of the river, this landscape offers picturesque shade gardens and well-planned mass plantings.  Riotous container plantings, with their intense blend of harmonious colors and textures, pour over the edges of their confines.  I particularly liked the fresh approach to tomato staking with iron pillars.  Beautiful and functional.

What a day.  I returned home, sweaty and inspired.  Thank you to each of the gardeners for sharing their labors of love with the rest of us.  Each yard expressed the creativity and effort of dedicated caretakers.  It was a feast for the eyes and incentive for us to bring our garden dreams to reality.

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