A Garden Tour for Wild Ones

Advanced warning: There are no birds in these photographs. Also, as much as I tried to organize this, it jumps around anyway. Hang in there.

The West Cook Wild Ones 2023 Garden Tour took place the afternoon of Saturday, July 22. My garden was one of four in Berwyn. There were also five individual gardens in Riverside, and also two municipal gardens in Riverside. The next day we gardeners got to take a self-guided tour of the other gardens. In all, 350 tickets were sold. I was surprised that some people came from as far away as Indiana. I had two wonderful volunteer docents in two shifts, to greet people and tell them about the front yard – I handled the back.

Luckily we escaped the predicted rain – which graciously came later – and while it was warm, it wasn’t unbearably hot.

The Tour Sign posted in my front garden
The Wild Ones sign I get to keep

Back in 2013 I hired Art and Linda’s Wildflowers to plant a native semi-rain garden in the front yard. At the time there was more shade from one neighbor’s tree on the parkway, but that tree was removed a few years ago. Art was maintaining the garden until he died in 2017. After hiring his helpers once or twice to maintain it, I decided to handle the maintenance myself. The plants have made their preferences known.

My backyard is more complicated than the front, but the front has become wilder over the last few years. I was very busy removing invasive plants from the backyard last fall and in the spring. After all the anticipation and preparation for this event, I feel like I have my work cut out for me next year.

Below is a view of the front yard looking south. The Black-eyed Susans really took over this year. The area underneath the tree, which revealed itself to be an apple tree about five years ago, was sparsely planted until this year.

The tall plants on the other side of the front, mainly Common Milkweed and Canada Goldenrod, were not part of the original design. They came in by themselves and while I tolerate their presence because the pollinators adore them, they are also pretty bossy and I think I’m going to try to contain them going forward more than I was able to this year.

The crazy apple tree – squirrels paradise. If only I was into baking pies…

Below is a little video I took of a Black Swallowtail Butterfly in the garden a few days before the tour.

It seems like the drought we had earlier only inspired more growth than normal as soon as we got some rain. Below are some of the wild petunias that grow along the sidewalk.

Below is a plant that did not do well this year. Normally very abundant, this Prairie Cinquefoil had a hard time of it with the drought conditions.

A favorite of the hummingbirds, the Royal Catchfly, just started to open up right before the tour.

Below is Beak Grass, which I never saw in the yard until a few years ago. Now it seems to be intent on taking over. Since it is rare in the state, I will try to relocate some of that which I remove. But I’m not going to plant it in wild places other than my own backyard. I am trying to offer it to anybody who wants some since it seems I don’t have to worry about it coming back.

Along the side of the house near the front yard, cozying up to the gas meter, Sand Coreopsis seems to have planted itself when the Black-eyed Susans took over in front.

The rest of the walkway on the side of the house is relatively tame. I have left the sumac although it is not native, it is naturalized and relatively harmless. I removed a lot of hostas and planted Prairie Smoke and Rattlesnake Master in between the sumacs. The Prairie Smoke is okay, some of it was even blooming earlier, but the Rattlesnake Master didn’t make it. But I just planted a lot of it in a cleared area of the backyard. All I have to do is defend it from everything else that grows back there…

The gate to the backyard displays my old National Wildlife Federation sign and a new certification from Illinois Audubon as a Bird & Butterfly Sanctuary.

There is no great way to take a photograph of the backyard, as it is just too densely packed with trees and plants vying for sunlight in between them. When I moved into the house over 20 years ago, there was nothing but lawn all the way to the alley, except for a big Ohio Buckeye at the alley. It was a beautiful tree, but it died several years ago and I had most of it removed – cut off level with the fence. Just this past year when my fence fell into the alley and I had to have it repaired, I had the rest of the Ohio Buckeye removed, which left me with a lot of growing material in the form of wood chips.

It’s too hard to describe the placement of the trees in the photos below. I am just including them to give a sense of the density. Basically, I wanted birds in the yard, and I didn’t want a lawn, so I planted trees. Years later, it turns out, the birds were right. I have a sanctuary in the summer. It feels about 10 degrees cooler in temperature walking into the backyard from the front. This has been my biggest selling point with the two garden walks I have participated in. The other selling point, less visible, is that I have never had any flooding in my basement. I just followed the birds. And as always, they were right.

It’s hard to capture the Big Bluestem, a native grass that I planted in the backyard by the sidewalk a long time ago. But it has done exceedingly well and multiplied.

One favorite of the bees is Wild Senna which has grown very tall and expanded in area.

I haven’t seen a lot of Milkweed Beetles yet this year but that could change.

The day of the tour someone noticed this Bold Jumper spider on the Common Milkweed in the front yard. I have never seen one before.

Below is Joe Pye Weed, a real favorite of the bees.

Close to the Joe Pye Weed is the original Bur Sedge plant, which has since cropped up in a couple other spots in the front yard.

Back to the backyard, where at the back of the house I have some Tall Bellflower and Culver’s Root.

This is a lovely wind chime that my friend Linda Rios gave me before my last garden show. I save it for special occasions.
I planted some Short-toothed Mountain Mint by the neighbor’s fence to see if I can prevent the return of Lesser Celandine.

Several visitors were impressed with the currant bushes. I planted three originally and the birds planted a few more under my hawthorn and scotch pine. One day all the berries will magically disappear.

Asters are starting to bloom. The one on the left and below is a Wide Leaf Aster. I only know that because I still have the original marker that came with the plant. I can’t decide what the second one is, might be Heath Aster.

But I was excited to see this beautiful Blue Mud Wasp yesterday and decided to include it in this post.

The flowers from the Cupplant are proving popular with pollinators.

I don’t know what’s more confusing species-wise, goldenrod or asters. Goldenrod might be worst. anyway, whatever variation on Canada Goldenrod this is, it’s starting to bloom.

I had cleared and planted a portion of my back bed weeks ago. The new plants are doing well and I don’t have to water them anymore. Right before the garden tour, I emptied and spread out the rest of my last bag of mulch. to add protection and distinguish the plants. But I didn’t envision anyone walking back there until one elderly man did walk through, albeit carefully. So that evening I decided my strategy in the future would be to fashion a “Managed Area” sign. I put it out on Sunday morning.

The (very) Tall Ironweed is just starting to bloom. It has taken advantage of just about every free inch of soil in the yard. Last year I saw that hummingbirds were attracted to it, so that observation strengthened its case that much more.

What’s coming is the contrast of the Tall Ironweed with the Canada Goldenrod, my favorite August-into-September color combination in the yard.

I have planted several Red Milkweed plants over the past couple years and they are finally starting to thrive.

Below is a sunflower planted from the black oil sunflower seeds I feed to the birds. I used to get a lot of it growing, but the past few years it wasn’t coming up at all. I’m okay with leaving one or two that have nice big flowers as the goldfinches love them.

Planted for me, jalapeño and serrano chiles.

Below is a different variety from the Black-eyed Susan in the front yard. I have to see if I can find the original list that came with this plant which was a gift, so I can identify the variety correctly.

Also new in my “Managed Area” is a little Spikenard, a bush that will provide berries. It’s already trying to do something.

That’s not all, but I’m getting dizzy from all of this. Back to the front yard just for a moment, and then I promise to return with photos from the garden from time to time. Below is some of the Bergamot I put in last year that is doing well in the front yard. I planted some in the back just recently, so I am eager to see what happens.

This was a great year for Purple Coneflower and all the butterflies and bees are still enjoying it.

Thank you for bearing with me through a virtually exhausting garden tour. I was quite exhausted after the weekend but it was great fun to be a part of the tour and to see what other people are up to in the area. There will be much more to explore. I only hope that we reached and inspired more people to get rid of their useless lawns and plant natives for wildlife.

6 thoughts on “A Garden Tour for Wild Ones

  1. As I did the walk on Saturday I saw several gardens with the Royal Catchfly (thanks for telling me the name). I called it the red star flower. It was my favorite flower in the yards I visited.

    Some very nice shots of butterflies and other plants I know nothing about.

    The walk was very a very nice and worthwhile way to spend some time on Saturday. Oh, I was looking for Tarzan in the backyard forest.

    • Thanks so much for coming, Bob, it was a very pleasant surprise. Which reminds me I forgot to mention that several people I am acquainted with or who know me from somewhere showed up, so I guess that speaks for the reach of Wild Ones.
      I couldn’t have Tarzan and Linda’s wind chime in the same space… Sorry. 🙂

  2. Wow!
    I loved this tour of your garden and I’m so impressed by the variety and lushness of the plantings! We have many of the same species here in our Maine garden.

    I’m sure your garden encouraged others to add natives after they visited you.

    • Thanks so much, Ann! It’s funny, I don’t consider myself a gardener per se, and I’ve had perhaps too much of a laissez-faire approach to natives in the yard, but I did notice that some of my plants were blooming before other participants’ – so there must be some fine line of balance somewhere that I will keep trying to find.
      I did hear one man say he was taking photos of the front yard to convince his wife that this could be done. And there was a lot of enthusiasm in general. I’m so glad we got it in before the current heat wave too. 🙂

  3. You have done very well to convert a large lawn to such a friendly environment. I hope that you have inspired others to do the same. We still have two lawns but they are getting wilder all the time.

    • Thank you, Tom. I give credit to the birds and the plants, and my not knowing any better, so to speak. I’m continually amazed that the arc of what is acceptable is starting to bend in my direction. Especially because I am just not interested in cutting grass. 🙂

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