The Galva Arts Council, Galva IL will hold a garden walk June 30 - 10 AM - 2 PM. Tickets ($6) will be sold that day at the Arts Council Building for five gardens from Galva to Bishop Hill. My garden here at The Feathered Nest, Bishop Hill will be one of the gardens featured that day. The challenging weather this spring and our decision last fall to build a barn has kept me busy winter through spring moving piles of dirt and construction debris to transform the raw space into what one would call cultivation.
It’s been a fun project. I’m not sure I’m ready for prime time, but it’s a go. I was asked by the organizers of the tour to submit a description and some background to introduce my place in the local paper. I’m not sure which bits will be extracted from my ramble for print so I thought I’d post it here in its entirety.
“All gardeners live in beautiful places because they make them so.”
This quote is from the notebooks of the French philosopher, Joseph Joubert (1754-1824). It is a favorite of mine and one I repeat when someone compliments my landscape. It is true.
I know in my heart that gardeners are born - not made. Our influence on the world is great because we inspire others to plant and nourish but unless one enters the world with a lust to commune with Nature in this way, what is truly bliss for a gardener becomes work by the disinclined since they lack that essential joy.
I’ve gardened in many locations on turf that I owned and ground I’ve borrowed. I’ve always loved it! For as long as I’ve been alive, spring rituals have included seeds and dirt and an act of faith in planting with a vision of harvest in mind. Every year has taught me something about the process, the world, and my place in it. I’ve been humbled by weather and rewarded too. These were important lessons I wanted my two children to learn so, when they were small, my husband and I left our secure situation in New York for rural lives in Geneseo, IL. We launched Windy Corner Farm where we grew ornamental and specialty crops for our roadside market. I applied all my horticultural knowledge to this new venture, and we were a hit! What began as a family operation slowed when my adult children began lives of their own and moved away.
After fifteen years of flower farming, my husband and I moved both home and business to Bishop Hill, IL. It was here that I started a new chapter in my gardening adventures. We bought a small cottage on the west edge of the village. It was constructed of remnants of “Big Brick,” the communal dwelling of the original settlers of the Bishop Hill Colony. When Big Brick burned in 1928, the Spets family salvaged brick and timber to build this bungalow. We acquired it in 2002 and affectionately dubbed it “Little Brick.” We knocked down a dilapidated carriage house and built a two story garage in its footprint. The second story is home to my studio and shop, the Feathered Nest, where I receive guests by appointment. The Nest will be open to visitors during the 2012 Garden Tour.
In 2006 we removed 43 dead and dying trees from the tangled woods that surrounded our cottage. See the process here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esM9U3ipjhM We graded and seeded the area and created island gardens punctuated by trees. It is at this point I met obstacles to gardening I’d never known. Our two acres sit on a rise – just a short stretch from the Edwards River. Once the brush was cleared, a well-traveled centuries old deer path through my yard became evident. From that moment of discovery until today, everything I’ve planted has come tagged with the recommendation “deer resistant.” (I dismiss labels describing plants as “deer proof” as wishful thinking!)
Many of the trees we cut and some we left standing are black walnut trees. These trees produce the chemical juglone, which occurs naturally in its leaves, roots, and bark. It is toxic or growth-stunting to many types of plants. My new hobby has become an ongoing experiment to determine which plants are juglone tolerant and trying to cultivate them!
And so, my new gardens are studded with plants and shrubs that grow in shade, under shallow rooted Maples and toxic Walnuts, and are least likely to be browsed by deer. Plants include many varieties of Daylilies, Hostas, Asters, Hydrangea, and colorful and variegated groundcovers. I’ve created gardens of contrasting textures and hues with an emphasis on foliar display rather than annual flowers. The only exception occurs in a small patch of sunny ground on the north lawn reserved for tomatoes, dried flowers, and herbs. I will offer a list of plant varieties I deem successful and will be on hand to answer any questions on cultivation for interested parties on the Tour.
No garden would be complete without an air of mystery. Dozens of amber fairy lamps hang throughout the garden adding sparkle to the darkest pockets of shade. As if by magic, some time ago, storm strewn branches arranged themselves in what looked like a woodland shelter recessed in the corner of the yard. Over the years I’ve added to this nest, depositing twigs whenever they fell. Today we call it the Fairy Hutch. During the Garden Tour it will be the backdrop for the many woodland fairies and fey foundlings I craft from discarded dolls, moss, and bits of earth. These same creatures will be camouflaged in pots and plants throughout the garden waiting to be discovered by visitors.
Last October we broke ground on a barn project and much of what visitors will find at the time of the Tour has been arranged (and rearranged) since then. The garden has a newness to it as many of the perennials surrounding this building were planted last fall and have not yet spread and matured. But I see this raw canvas as one of the most alluring aspects of any garden: potential soon to be realized. I think my guests will agree. The following quote not only sums up my life with my husband and gardening buddy, but also my relationship with my little patch of earth. A sundial, received as a wedding present in 1978, has since graced every garden we’ve planted. Inscribed on its face is a line from a poem by Robert Browning:
“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.”