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updated: 6/21/2012 10:34 AM

From blank slate to lush oasis: How an artist created a garden

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  • The garden of Jean Pechtel at 597 N. Lyle Ave., Elgin, will be featured in the Elgin Area American Association of University Women's garden walk, set for Saturday, June 23.

      The garden of Jean Pechtel at 597 N. Lyle Ave., Elgin, will be featured in the Elgin Area American Association of University Women's garden walk, set for Saturday, June 23.
    Courtesy of Jean Pechtel

 
By Jean Pechtel

While I have gardened for more than 30 years, this garden is a fairly "young" garden -- this summer being its sixth year in existence.

Starting with a nearly blank slate was an exciting project for me. It began with an existing brick patio, sloping away to a large expanse of lawn surrounded by a fence.

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The foundation plantings were burning bush in the back of the house, and yews, barberries, arborvitaes and a crab tree around the front porch.

My goals were a bit of privacy in the back yard, level planting beds around the patio, and color. I built the retaining wall around the patio, studied "Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs," and drew up a preliminary plan. Then, I went shopping, and friends started bringing "pass-along" plants.

After marking the edges of the borders with a hose, I sprayed roundup to kill the grass. Two weeks later, I was digging and planting.

Over 30-plus years of gardening, I have become more and more aware of the importance of foliage color and texture in creating the "painting" that is my garden. After all, you have the leaves a lot longer than the flowers, so you need some variety. You will notice many of the plants have chartreuse or "purple" (bronze) foliage.

The garden is mostly organized in groups of colors, with a blue and yellow border along the left fence, hotter reds and oranges across the back, and pinks and purples along the right border. The "bones" of the garden are the trees and shrubs which also give winter interest.

I have borrowed design ideas from the books of Pamela Harper, Gertrude Jekyll and Piet Oudolf.

As an artist, I am always trying to make it prettier and more interesting, or taking risks with color combinations, while as a gardener, I have to try every new plant that comes along. This is how I ended up with more than 90 varieties of day lilies and far more than 300 varieties of plants, trees, shrubs and grasses overall.

While this is not a low-maintenance garden, nothing here gets watered unless it is in a pot. There are many native plants, and varieties developed from our native plants. Birds, bees and butterflies enjoy it here. If you pay attention, you're likely to be "buzzed" by a hummingbird.

It is also a work in progress, constantly evolving. You are likely to find changes every time you visit.

Jean Pechtel's garden at 597 N. Lyle Ave., Elgin, will be featured in the Elgin Area AAUW's Fox Valley Garden Walk, set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 23. For ticket information, visit aauwelginarea.org or call (847) 742-3205.

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