I always look forward to the Go Green Wilmette Alternative Yard Tour. This year, its fifth, it took place on July 23rd, a warm sunny day. Each year Go Green Wilmette organizes an Alternative Yard Tour to highlight yards that work hard to manage storm water, produce healthy organic food, compost food and yard waste, and provide critical native habitat for birds and beneficial insects. The tour includes creative and beautifully practical ways in which local residents put their yards to work. The intent of these tours is to enable local gardeners to share their passion and wisdom with neighbors who might, in turn, be inspired to start their own sustainable yards.
I love to participate in these tours because I return to my garden with renewed enthusiasm and I always implement at least one of the ideas that I have seen during the tour. This is what Saima Abbasi envisioned as a new Go Green Wilmette Board member in and she says, “I was inspired to start my own vegetable garden after visiting a friend’s garden in Wilmette. I decided that if I can be inspired to start my own garden by visiting a friend’s garden in the neighborhood then for sure there are other people that can be motivated as well.
Her garden had sustainable features like composting station and pollinator friendly native plants. I created a vegetable garden in my backyard, planted native plants and my very own back yard composting bins that divert so many pounds of vegetable and fruit scraps from landfills.”
This year’s garden hosts seemed especially cordial and knowledgeable. The 200 attendees that enjoyed the tour, were double the number from last year. I brought two visitors with me who live on the South side of Chicago, who were pleased to learn about some new approaches and to have validation about what they are currently doing.
This year the tour was enhanced by the educational signs on stakes in the various gardens- thanks to Rebbeca Williams the Go Green Wilmette’s wonderful intern, for she creating a total of 70 signs! The intent was for people to learn more and to raise awareness about the value of sustainable gardening through these signs.
Our choice for the first stop was Kin Court where Don greeted us and offered information about a wonderful drip system he installed such that he does not even need to water his hanging pots. He also was growing vegetables in old Wilmette recycling bins on his driveway. The plants looked good enough to eat. “A Drip irrigation system, which always includes a timer, insures that plants get a steady, consistent watering they need for optimum health and production. Plus, you won’t worry about watering while you’re on vacation or away from your home.
Drip irrigation systems uses up to 50% less water than conventional ones. Water is delivered slowly and steadily to the plants root zone, where it’s needed and unlike overhead sprinklers, less water is lost to evaporation.”
On Leyden Lane, Patti Greenberg, greeted us and surprised us with a back garden filled with a pond, native plants and edible plants. It was a hidden treasure. “We try to be environmentally conscious by not using chemicals as much as possible, conserving water by using 4 rain barrels for watering the garden and filling the pond, using an electric mower, and making our own compost with kitchen and garden waste. We have a rain garden area to try to mitigate some of the flooding.”
The corner section of the Dinneen’s garden on Romona is a small prairie filled with exotic native plants including a native cactus. The Monarch butterflies all around were magical. Their comments, “our rain garden, installed by Red Stem Landscapers (Monica Buckley) just last year! It is thriving with plants that love the water from the downspout that used to empty directly into the sewer, redirecting water that overflowed onto the concrete path and now is absorbed into the ground and away from the house. Along the sidewalk is a row of different kinds of milkweed that attract Monarch Butterflies. We love our garden, the native plants love our garden and anyone who walks by our house loves our garden. I hope you do too. “
The Altmans garden on Seneca was amazing. “The garden became a Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat in late 1980’s. As part of the Certification requirements, several bird houses and small water containers are placed throughout the garden. A large number of Arborvitae provide shelter for the birds throughout the year. We also planted some native plants.”
Penny Parke had veggies in front on Greenwood “My garden is an evolving one incorporating native plants, old growth trees, and the feeding of birds. Because of the older trees we attract songbirds migrating through, hawks and flying squirrels among others. We’ve added enclosed vegetable beds to sunny areas of the property. In the front we’ve landscaped away from the foundation with a path.
The Gotta’s welcomed us to a place I never knew was there -Thornwood Prairie Preserve. “Welcome to the Village of Wilmette’s Thornwood Park Prairie Preserve! In truth, this Village owned land is a savannah with sun and shade tolerant perennials and shrubs beneath the trees. Please see a full description of our history by going to: The Thornwood prairie website “Our Mission statement for this Trail embraces these three E’s: Education, Environment, and Exercise. While walking, you will be educated by our signs, you will become aware of our efforts to improve a natural environment for wildlife, and you can enjoy exercising safely! “
Amy Keller on Thornwood displayed a rain garden, water barrel “After a large renovation project, we addressed a nagging storm water runoff issue and used this opportunity to begin building a native habitat in our back yard.
Adding native plants and having used no pesticides or chemicals to maintain our turf and perennial beds for the past 5+ years has yielded a thriving habitat for humans and creatures alike. While the front yard is traditional, the back is anything but what you might expect to see in Kenilworth Gardens.”
Rodney and his daughter shared their unusual garden on Washington – no grass, rain garden “The goal was a low-maintenance landscape- ideally a xeriscape (a style of landscape design requiring little or no irrigation or other maintenance.) They hired Pamela Self a landscape architect to help them design their dream sustainable garden.
A rain garden was added in the back. It is made up of water loving perennial plants, a French drain and a huge underground cistern to capture rainwater runoff. Meandering on the west side of the house is a dry pebble creek designed to absorb rainwater. This also serves as a walking path from the side of the house to the back.”
Rick Percifield on Central Street -flood control, edible garden, composting. “The subsurface was trenched to accept three rows of drain tile, with a deep pit in the back of the garden to give the water a place to rest instead of flowing into the alley. In essence, the vegetable garden is a giant French Drain with plants on top of it.
The soil is full of earthworms and is the same dirt/mulch mix the landscaper brings in to the flowerbeds during spring. No fertilizer or pesticides are used. The garden is simply soil and sunlight. Several different kinds of lettuce along with spinach, arugula, kale, snap peas, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, beets, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, tomato and various herbs make up the majority what we plant and eat. Hoop houses are easily made and installed to extend the growing season.”
There is a lot of thought that goes into the selection of the gardens for the tour. The intent is to have gardens with a variety of sustainable ideas and features for our visitors. There are always ideas for how a garden can be a haven for butterflies, bees, birds and other pollinators! Visitors can learn creative ways of growing vegetables and fruits! We always want to have examples of gardens where people can take home ideas about mitigating rainwater runoff and green infrastructure solutions- an issue that many of our communities are facing these days and will in the future. There are lots of opportunities to learn about native plants in different settings and the benefits that they have for our gardens and the environment. Last year at one garden we had caterpillar host plants where visitors saw beautiful Black Swallow tail caterpillars! It is exciting and very rewarding to see the yard hosts and community members engaged in conversations about sustainable gardening.
If you love gardening, you will love this tour. Watch for the date in 2018.
Go Green Wilmette’s website has great information.
Photos: B. Keer