Kansas-inspired garden grown in Chicago suburbs
Sooner or later, most of us hearken back to our roots.
For Jill Russell Tumberger of Mount Prospect, those roots involve acres and acres of south central Kansas farm and ranch land. She recalls it dotted with gorgeous, stone-bordered flower gardens planted generations ago by her "foremothers" and tended ever since by succeeding members of the family.
In fact, Tumberger's great-great-grandfather was the third largest landholder in Kansas at one time, so there are still multiple family "homesteads" close to one another, and her father, a fifth-generation Kansas farmer, even owned an evergreen nursery for a while.
Those ancestors (who settled in Kansas in the 1870s) made frequent pilgrimages to Colorado Springs, Colorado, from the 1890s to the 1920s to tent camp and gather varieties of granite, which they carted back to Kansas and stacked up to make walls around the intricate perennial gardens they planted in their free time. The items they were planting largely came from seeds and bulbs they brought with them from earlier homesteads "back East."
"Numerous gardens with a lily pond, windmills, iris, lilies, roses, petunias, marigolds, lilacs, hollyhocks and amazing rock gardens still stand today in my mother's gardens on one of the original homesteads. One of them is as big as a small swimming pool! My father also had fishing ponds and a greenhouse, which I always used to play in. I loved getting my hands dirty," Tumberger said.
So, it is no surprise that an affinity for planting and growing runs deep in Tumberger's veins, even though she moved to Chicago's suburbs over 30 years ago.
"To this day, the sweet smell of petunias, marigolds and lilacs remind me of the farm," she admitted. "My four brothers and I grew up helping on the farm and enjoying being around flowers and the farms on which we grow wheat, corn and soybeans have been passed down to my brothers."
When the Tumbergers moved to Illinois in 1991 and settled in Mount Prospect, they bought a small historic home and dabbled in planting annuals.
It wasn't until 2001, when they bought their current 1947 Cotswold Cottage-style home in southern Mount Prospect, that Tumberger and her husband, Larry, dug in and decided to cultivate a garden showplace on all four sides of their home like those they remembered from Kansas.
The home's original bushes were terribly overgrown so they were torn out relatively quickly. They've gradually added to their incredible horticultural showcase (and enhanced the home's architectural details, as well).
"In the early years we mostly worked on the gardens in the front of the house and then we began working on the sides and back, gradually moving from one section to another. Larry would cut the garden beds for me and take meticulous care of the lawn. I would plant the perennials, bushes and so forth, moving them if one location didn't work as expected," Tumberger said. "My mother even brought a cutting of ageratum in a baggie from Kansas and that gorgeous blue perennial blooms in front of my home every fall. It is my favorite."
Every time she planted, Tumberger planned out the intended plants' textures, color schemes and the timing of their blooms to present year-round color with an interesting appearance. Her aim was to complement the traditional English architecture of the house and create a fairy tale cottage look.
Unfortunately, she recently had to roll with nature's punches and remove from her backyard an 80-year-old silver maple tree that was dying, changing her longtime shade garden into a sunnier one. But she has made it work. Tumberger also has an herb and vegetable garden in a corner of the backyard because she loves freezing and drying the herbs for year-round use and has occasionally been known to can her tomatoes like she learned to do as a child on the farm.
"Working in the garden was something I did for myself while raising my three sons and working as an interior designer. I thoroughly enjoyed sweating and getting my hands dirty and creating beauty outdoors. It is my passion, so I have never been afraid to try something new," she said.
"I also love creating outdoor environments with furniture, wall containers, baskets, trellises and planted pots on the lovely agate stone patio we inherited here. We spend lots of time out there when the weather cooperates because the lavender, lemon balm and other things I have purposely planted keep the biting insects away from us, instead attracting butterflies and birds," Tumberger continued.
She simultaneously volunteered for the Mount Prospect Historical Society where she used both her interior design skills inside the museum and her gardening skills outdoors. She has also been an important part of the society's Holiday Housewalk committee, helping plan the event and often decorating the featured homes with winter containers and greens. The Garden Club of Mount Prospect even featured her garden on their Garden Walk in 2008 and gave her one of their Green Thumb awards in 2011.
Most recently Tumberger enhanced her gardening expertise by spending over eight years working as a container designer, potting class instructor and home and garden display coordinator for a local garden center.
But now she has stepped back and is spending time traveling back to Kansas to help with the farm and spend time with her mother, who recently turned 85. Tumberger relishes this time working on her own garden and creating an enchanting and beautiful outdoor space for all to enjoy while she contemplates her next horticultural venture.