The Garden Walk requires hundreds of volunteers in order to be successful, and I volunteered for my usual morning shift--to avoid standing during the heat of the day. The garden I was assigned to was in an older neighborhood with standard 1/4 acre lots. But this relatively small space was a showcase for using found objects as garden art.
The owner half-jokingly told me that when her neighbors want to throw something out, they just toss it over her fence, and she paints or re-purposes it in some other way and finds a place for it in her garden. When her neighbors see how she cleverly uses their "junk," they sometimes ask for it back--but she said she has refused to return anything so far:)
Now this is a real "window" box!
Probably the piece that attracted the most attention in her garden was this new potting shed she built. Located at the back of her house, it is built completely out of old doors with a piece of corrugated tin she salvaged as extra protection on the roof.
Not far away, in an even older neighborhood with modest homes, was the next stop on the Walk, a delight for any no-lawn enthusiasts. I wish I had taken a better photo, but the front "yard" was completely devoid of grass and filled with hostas and other shade-loving plants. Gravel paths meandering through the beds invited visitors to slow down and explore.
The back yard was another oasis of greenery with nary a blade of grass to be found. More gravel paths allowed visitors to roam and see every part of the garden.
A small pond surrounded by a variety of plants provided the soothing sound of water.
Fairy gardens are the ultimate in small gardens. I loved the use of the two old wagons here to create a virtual fairy paradise.
This garden was such a shady retreat, I could see myself sitting in these red chairs every evening. Who needs acres of woodland when this small backyard provided such a peaceful and beautiful place to relax and enjoy nature?
Our next stop was in the heart of town, not exactly a place where you would expect to hear the sound of chickens. In fact, only recently has the town of Champaign allowed residents to keep chickens, so I imagine this was an educational experience for many visitors on the Walk.
This little lady seemed quite eager to pose for the camera, or maybe she was just curious about all the strangers passing through her garden.
Besides the chickens, the big draw of this home was its vegetable garden. Normally, I am prefer touring flower gardens, but the carefully maintained raised beds and trellises provided so many great ideas about how to improve my own tiny vegetable garden. This garden fit the Walk's theme of sustainability so well as the owners incorporate environmentally-friendly practices and enjoy feeding their family what they have grown. I think many "city-dwellers" went away inspired, seeing what can be done on an ordinary city lot.
The most interesting part of this garden for me was the hugelkultur bed by the street corner. I wasn't familiar with this term, but very simply, a hugelkultur bed is one that is built using rotting wood as its base.
It is situated at the street corner for a reason, as you can see by this sign. The owners are not only educating visitors, but they are sharing their bounty with their neighbors as well.
And in case a curious passerby isn't quite sure if that tomato or pepper is quite ready for picking, they provide instructions as well. I just loved this idea!
Not all of the homes on the Garden Walk were in older neighborhoods with smaller homes, however. In one wooded subdivision, the owners learned how to work with nature to develop their garden when they purchased the house. The front yard, where grass struggled to survive under dense shade, has been gradually replaced by groundcovers and woodland plants. Here, by the front walk, a small shade garden demonstrates a great example of mixing colors, textures, and shapes.
A large sunny border in the back yard is filled with hardy perennials that can withstand harsh Midwest winters and the strong winds that often sweep across the open fields nearby. "No tender babies allowed!" says the homeowner.
Another home in one of the "ritziest" subdivisions in C-U featured an absolutely beautiful garden! Why I didn't take more photos of this garden, I don't know. Partly it was because it was the last one we visited and it was getting late. As much as I enjoyed the diverse plantings, the dry streams, and all the different water features, I couldn't help turning to my friend and smugly whispering, "They don't maintain this garden themselves." Indeed, they do have a regular landscaping maintenance service, but I later met the homeowners and discovered that they are in fact knowledgeable gardeners and do work in the gardens themselves. My apologies for being so quick to judge, but still...I'd like to have a crew of strong backs to come in and help me, too:)
A garden in another upscale subdivision was a different story, however. The front garden was lovely, with pots and striking art pieces echoing the colors of this contemporary home.
A repurposed cart in my favorite shade of turquoise added a pop of color in another front area, but still well within any homeowners' association guidelines.
In back, a small pond and more shady plantings created a pleasant backyard retreat.
But beyond these conventional garden areas, we found quite a surprise--a large butterfly garden filled with pollinator-friendly plants.
Nearby was another area filled with even more natives and areas created to attract all kinds of bees. Notice the sign which explains the significant role of native solitary bees and the importance of creating habitats for them.
A nesting house illustrated one way of providing for these important pollinators.
On the other side of the house (no photos) I was also surprised to find a large vegetable garden contained within several raised beds with some of the biggest tomato plants I'd ever seen in June.
This had to be one of my favorite gardens on the walk just because I wasn't expecting to find this in such a setting. I thought it was ironic to look across the lake and see golfers at the country club putting away on their carefully manicured and heavily fertilized grass, totally unaware of the beautiful, natural setting just beyond.
During my morning shift as a garden guide, several visitors remarked to me how much they enjoyed this year's gardens, especially the smaller ones because they seemed more "do-able." Like them, I enjoy visiting public gardens and large private gardens. But such big gardens can seem a bit intimidating, and often any ideas I come away with are plants I'd like to have or small vignettes that I might be able to copy. Small gardens like those on this year's garden walk, however, inspire anyone that no matter how small the space or how limited the time or energy one has, anyone can have a beautiful garden!