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posted: 7/3/2010 12:01 AM

Organic, formal gardens two of 5 diverse stops on Pottawatomie tour

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  • The floating tea cups are created by John Griffith.

      The floating tea cups are created by John Griffith.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer


Julie Griffith acts like organic gardening is easy.

"The good bugs thrive and take care of the bad bugs," she says.

And if you don't believe her, she wants you to come see for yourself when her cozy, in-town garden is one of five open Saturday, July 10, as part of the annual tour sponsored by the Pottawatomie Garden Club of St. Charles.

Highlighting the diversity in this community's gardens, a more formal look accented by incredible container plantings is achieved at the home of Susan and Brian Cook in the Persimmon Woods neighborhood.

The three other gardens on the tour are a young one at a newer home; an eco-friendly yard in the historic section where the club will stage a boutique; and a shade garden with a pond where visitors can enjoy refreshments.

Griffith estimates she grows at least 200, maybe 250 varieties of plants in her yard, which is certified as a wildlife habitat.

"I love the nestled look of abundance," she said. "And if they don't get along without fertilizer or sprays, it's easier to get rid of them than to buy chemicals and threaten the Earth."

Except in the vegetable garden where she spreads straw, Griffith doesn't mulch much either, preferring to cover the ground with plants instead.

Even her vegetable garden is pretty. To label the plants she writes their names with black marker on small clay pots and perches them upside down on tall stakes.

Her husband, John, built the deck and he also contributes whimsy to the garden. This includes antique tea cups that appear to float through the garden. Actually each is attached to the top of a tall copper pipe inserted in the ground. In the vegetable garden a few plates perch on pipes, which Julie appreciates as a place to set the vegetables she harvests.

Here's Julie's inside info:

•Gorgeous pink lilies. "Lilies aren't bothered by bugs, but I have to order them because friends don't give you lilies; they keep them."

•Bottle Brush buckeye. One of Julie's stars this year is a 10-year-old bottle brush buckeye that she has moved twice as neighbors have removed trees. Now the sprawling shrub with long white blooms that look like bottle brushes is so happy she is going to have to prune it. "It needs some shade and likes it cozy and protected." And that's the kind of plant that thrives in Griffith's garden.

•The Carefree Beauty pink rose. This was developed earlier than the popular Knockout, and she likes it as well.

•A fabulous Schubertii allium. With rays resembling a spaceship or fireworks, this plant demonstrates a good reason to go to garden walks. It was while touring that Griffith first saw one.

•Of course her hydrangea blooms pink - the soil is very basic here, and it would take a lot of additives to get blue flowers.

•A Bloodgood Japanese maple. She bought this popular tree because it was a real bargain at Aldi's, but it is too crowded by Julie's gardening style to grow large and showy.

•Ramblin red rose. This hardy climber is so happy along a fence that she has to cut it back so it doesn't attack her neighbor when he mows the law. Her fences are also graced with clematis, including a new Rosemoor that is supposed to bloom all summer, and climbing hydrangea.

•Butterflies love dill. Griffith plants some just for them.

•Use containers under maple trees. Red maples suck moisture and nutrients form the soil, and who can dig around a maple tree anyway.

•Fertilizer. Although Griffith is adamant about not allowing chemicals in her garden, she does use compost and organic fertilizer from a company called Dr. Earth.

"I try to pick up on what nature tells me and go from there," she said.

The home the Cooks have owned for 21 years recently got a new look with antique Chicago brick pavers on the circular driveway and a coat of white paint for the house.

"When we wanted to pick out pavers for the driveway we drove around Hinsdale and decided that was the look we liked," said Susan Cook, "the Purington bricks and a white house."

She likes to think of it as a southern, Charleston look.

Hydrangeas are a favorite of Susan's, and she grows them in white and pink - her favorite color.

In the back yard, arborvitae provide privacy around the pool.

"I like a neat, tidy look - manicured like you see in Europe," she said.

The family spends much of their time on the bluestone patio between the house and the pool, and a climbing hydrangea is starting on a trellis there.

Some of the Austrian pines bordering the less formal side yard have died, but the survivors mix well with the new river birch, maples and crab apples chosen to replace the old trees.

A bench on this side yard is framed by two oleander topiaries planted with petunias and geraniums.

Susan worked with Scentimental Gardens of Geneva to select stunning plantings for antique urns throughout the rear garden. Don't miss the twining, viny mandevilla, planted with geraniums, petunias and some sweet potato vine.

Here's a secret of this garden: There are sound system speakers hidden in planters on the deck, so music can accompany entertaining on the space off the dining and sun rooms.