I am the Goldilocks of garden walks.
I have walked many gardens, in my capacity as garden writer, book author and editor, yet each walk still holds surprises. Unjaded, I've nonetheless become a tad pickier as I walk the primrose paths.
The estate gardens are too big. I have neither the time, money, nor crew of laborers to maintain them. The urban pocket gardens are too small. Kinda hard to get excited over another patch of impatiens and the ubiquitous Zen water feature.
Finally, there's a garden walk that's "just right." The Morton Arboretum's first Best of the West Garden Tour - on Friday and Saturday, July 9 and 10 - offers six gardens with something for everyone. Chosen by the arboretum's own landscape design experts, each garden blossoms with take-home ideas for local gardeners.
"The properties are all very different," says Karla Lynch, the arboretum's manager of horticulture education. "If you go to all six gardens, chances are you'll see one like yours."
The homes, from La Grange to Oswego, include a midcentury ranch, an in-town Victorian, a contemporary home on a slope, a newly built "House on the Cornfield," and other popular styles. Part of the selection criteria for the gardens is their suitability to each architectural style and topographic condition.
Of the ranch-style home, for example, Lynch says the homeowners "really worked at fitting the scale of the house." Smaller garden beds are arranged close to the one-story building with larger spaces sited farther away. Look for the huge organic vegetable garden here, home to 2009's "Best Tomato of the Year," according to a famous Chicago restaurant.
The Victorian home, located only blocks away from the ranch, is nearly a century older with an English-style garden. Lush blooms are restrained by manicured hedges and large and small water features add sparkle and sound. Plant collectors will learn from the artful use of plant combinations repeated throughout.
"Each of the gardens makes very good use of the site to capture views," Lynch said.
These are do-it-yourself gardens; by and large the sites are designed and maintained by the homeowners. With trial and error, these home gardeners have found the right plants for the right place.
The Aurora garden, for example, in a new subdivision near open countryside, features plants chosen for windy sites. These trees and shrubs can withstand the harsh environment and help visually bring the two-story home down to the horizontal lines of the prairie.
In a Lemont garden, visitors will appreciate the homeowners' efforts to preserve mature oak trees during home construction. Sustainability and diversity are key themes here, with many native plants and trees including ironwood, catalpa and tulip trees.
"A lot of summer garden tours are very dependent on perennials and annuals," Lynch says, noting that the Best of the West gardens feature trees and shrubs as well as flowers. Visitors can gain insight on how garden structure, with trees and other architectural elements, supports the design even after flowers lose their blooms.
With two days to tour the gardens, you can do three one day and three the next. In most cases, the owners will be on site, ready to answer your questions. With such diversity of style, plants, size and topography, you're sure to find a garden that's "just right."
• Cathy Maloney writes for the Morton Arboretum. Her columns appear monthly in the Neighbor section.