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posted: 7/8/2012 6:00 AM

Bull Valley gardens open for a rare peek by visitors for one day

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  • Here's an example of what awaits visitors at Tranquility Trails on the Bull Valley garden walk.

       Here's an example of what awaits visitors at Tranquility Trails on the Bull Valley garden walk.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • This graceful meadow rue is called Lavender Mist. It is at Tranquility Trails in Bull Valley.

       This graceful meadow rue is called Lavender Mist. It is at Tranquility Trails in Bull Valley.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Astilbe Fanal and hostas are great in a woodland garden at Tranquility Trails.

       Astilbe Fanal and hostas are great in a woodland garden at Tranquility Trails.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Hostas brighten the gardens of Tranquility Trails.

       Hostas brighten the gardens of Tranquility Trails.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • You don't see many arches fashioned with copper beech.

       You don't see many arches fashioned with copper beech.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • This is what it's all about for many Bull Valley gardeners -- encouraging bees and other animals.

       This is what it's all about for many Bull Valley gardeners -- encouraging bees and other animals.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • If you have a shade garden you know heuchera.

       If you have a shade garden you know heuchera.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Debby Staley, co-chair of Bull Valley's Garden Treasures garden walk, and Nancy Jung, one of the garden coordinators, show off one of many hydrangeas in Tranquility Trails.

       Debby Staley, co-chair of Bull Valley's Garden Treasures garden walk, and Nancy Jung, one of the garden coordinators, show off one of many hydrangeas in Tranquility Trails.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • And what's a garden without day lilies? This is Sammy Russell Red at Private Pompousness, Poetry and Playfulness.

       And what's a garden without day lilies? This is Sammy Russell Red at Private Pompousness, Poetry and Playfulness.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • It's easy to see why organizers of the Bull Valley garden walk selected this estate with three ponds.

       It's easy to see why organizers of the Bull Valley garden walk selected this estate with three ponds.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Ligularia Little Rocket glows in the woodland garden called Tranquility Trails.

       Ligularia Little Rocket glows in the woodland garden called Tranquility Trails.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

If you believe that Bull Valley is a magical place, you will want to visit its garden walk Saturday, July 14. After all, the garden club opens its lovely estates only once a decade.

Six gardens in this sprawling rural town of hills, fens and conservationists unfold their beauties, and volunteers will be happy to answer questions and impart gardening information.

Visitors can drive through the rural McHenry County community that legend says was named for the bulls that early settlers let graze in the valley tucked between Woodstock, Crystal Lake and McHenry. And they will view extensive gardens often carved from much larger land holdings.

Tranquillity Trails offers contemplative winding paths through the woods. The homeowner, a Master gardener, does much of the work herself, and is known for splitting and nurturing plants so that every year her gardens grow.

"She finds a little sprig and finds a space for it," said Chris Curtis, one of the garden coordinators for the walk.

The homeowner shows a bed of 60 hostas that she divided from six plants, impressed with what nature provides.

Here are her favorite hostas: Praying Hands because the folded crinkled leaves look so different; Sun Power that lights up a garden; Gold Standard maturing from green to gold with a green edge; and the gigantic Sum and Substance.

Pagoda dogwood is one of her specialties, and she's gotten 10 or 15 from one tree. Visitors will also see many redbuds, and baby oaks seem to be everywhere with an occasional baby hickory that just dropped in.

All kinds of plants thrive in the woodland with its sunny spots: Cranesbill geraniums with variegated leaves; the blue blooms of tradescantia; monarda in blue, pink and lavender; Carol Mackie Daphne that at least one fan says smells like lilacs; golden tickseed coreopsis; and yellow ligularia Little Rocket.

Caramel's apricot foliage makes it her favorite heuchera. And of course there are the hydrangeas: Nikko Blue, Annabelle, Endless Summer and oak leaf.

And like many woodland gardens, sun lovers find their spots, including coneflowers, roses like Red Ribbons and the popular Knock Outs, and sedums.

A second garden, Private Pompousness, Poetry and Playfulness, presents three ponds on its 7 acres, At the edge of the first, visitors see a tall, densely planted berm whose inhabitants include Scotch pine, a 30-foot magnolia and a crabapple tree. The homeowners designed this to protect the home from road noise,

Beavers active in the ponds felled three trees while the homeowners were on a recent vacation, and one remains for visitors to see what these favorite rodents do. When beavers get to be too destructive, the only alternative is to destroy their home, and then they move on, the homeowner said.

One important lesson for homeowners who want to encourage wildlife is "don't clean up so much."

This couple leaves dead trees on the east side of the east pond so herons will have a place where they can watch over their offspring when they check out the pond.

After passing through the two front ponds, the walk circles the house, starting on limestone pavers under an arch of copper beech trees. Across a deep lawn rimmed with native trees is a deck on another pond that holds bass, blue gill and koi.

The whole idea is living with nature, said the homeowner, who does not use pesticides.

Trees in the old forest are pruned to provide sunlit spots where an understory of plants like viburnum, dogwood and perennial hibiscus can grow. And flowers find that six hours of daily sun is plenty.

Around on the west side of the house is the rose garden, moved closer to be safe from deer. A ginkgo, tricolor beech and Japanese maple add charm to the spot, along with a hedge of burning bush. The wall of hedera helix or English ivy growing on a metal trellis blocks the view of furnace and air conditioning. Even here trees are wrapped in wire to protect them.

Across the path a Zen garden built around a red floribunda rose and a weeping spruce provides a quiet space.

Tip: Mixing Silver Mound artemisia with lamb's ear can help the soft, fuzzy plants grow taller and less scruffy.

If you notice a plant in a surprising spot, remember squirrels and chipmunks rearrange this landscape every year!

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