Glen Ellyn Garden Walk

November 22, 2012

The back yard haven of furniture maker John Smith

A favorite pastime in my hometown is strolling along village streets and admiring the stately Victorians, post WWII ranches and modern-day mansions. But a garden walk invites visitors beyond the sidewalks and into back yards that have been meticulously groomed into fantasy worlds.

At this year’s Glen Ellyn Garden Walk, a vintage trolley transported ticket-holders to seven homeowner gardens. They ranged in size from sprawling to compact, and in ambiance from elegant to whimsical. One back yard was so shallow, the landscaping unfurled upward–with a dramatic two-story waterfall–instead of out.

First on the list was the Smith garden, where outdoor lounging and dining spaces are delineated by a meandering stream and boulder-rimmed koi pond. The small gingerbread house beyond disguises the potting shed. Homeowner John Smith, a furniture maker, fashioned it from a former chicken coop. That part of town used to be a farm, he told his guests.

Behind the Koral home is an 800-square-foot potager, or “kitchen garden,” where vegetables, herbs and cutting flowers are grown for the family. At the rear of the deep lot is a butterfly garden, bordered by a ring of inverted wine bottles. Tina Koral passed out a list of plantings with both common and botanical names as well as her personal philosophies: Use native plants as much as possible. Try to support wildlife. Never use pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Grow organic products and donate the surplus to local food pantries.

Rare in suburbia is the Johnsons’ 4th-floor condominium rooftop garden, which captures distant views of the Chicago skyline. Multiple containers of blossom and green–some sheltered by a pergola, some receiving direct sunlight, often in groupings–soften the functions of outdoor kitchen, bar and hearth.

Inspiration abounds: One gardener collects the many pine cones from her towering evergreens to use as mulch. The Browns eliminated mowing chores by transforming the entire back yard into a model train set-up. And Debbie Helledy turned her front yard into a fairy garden decked with tiny figurines, novelties and glitter. Come back at Christmas when she has the interior decorated for the holidays, she said. We will.

Pine cones are re-purposed as tree mulch.