Oak Lawn Garden Club highlights five homes on annual walk

For a look at the creative and quirky in garden design, visit the Oak Lawn Garden Club’s Garden Walk Sunday.

The five gardens offer beautiful flowers and foliage, but handmade decorations and recycled objects are also highlights of some, like that of the Smiths.

Their interest in gardening started when the couple wanted to move a lilac bush that was growing too close to their driveway. They transplanted the bush, which was over 5 feet high, to the rear of their yard.

“I couldn’t believe it survived,” Cindie Smith said. Encouraged, she continued working on the yard. “It got more and more and more, as time went on,” she said.

Her sister and brother-in-law, who are gardening enthusiasts, recommended the hobby, saying it was easy and fun.

“I can’t say it has been easy, but it is fun,” Smith said. “I can spend all day out here. It’s so relaxing.”

When she and her husband, Mike, bought their house on the 10300 block of South Keeler Avenue more than 25 years ago, it came with a lot of hostas in the backyard. She has continued with those leafy perennials, surprised by the different varieties available.

She also has created themes for sections of her garden. So in the sci-fi section, she has planted a Godzilla fern and Vulcan, Captain Kirk and twilight varieties of hostas.

Her western-themed corner has Bonanza day lilies, hostas called blazing saddles and wide brim, and little cowboy statues.

Her favorite element, however, is a tri-color beech tree, which has pink and green and white leaves simultaneously.

Their plantings are not all successful, Cindie admitted.

“If every plant I ever bought for the garden was still alive, it would be spectacular,” she said.

Her husband could not find a plant that could survive the hot sun on the south side of the house.

“Everything burned,” Mike said. It was another gardener who suggested he plant a prickly pear cactus. It withstands not only the heat, but the cold winter temperatures, too, and produces a beautiful yellow flower each year.

They also had to give up on the idea of having a hydrangea bush in front of their house.

“We were hoping the hydrangea would be the focal point,” Mike said.

“But I cannot get hydrangea to grow,” Cindie said.

That is how an old wood-burning stove ended up in their front landscaping.

The Smiths take things they or someone else no longer needs, some might say trash, cut or paint it and then place the objects liberally throughout their yard. They provide visual interest, fill in bare spots and some add Cindie’s favorite color, blue, to the scenery.

“My sister always said, ‘Use what you have,’” Cindie said.

So blue glass jars are strung in the tree in the front yard and china pitchers hang from the lilac bush once its blossoms have faded.

When a baby grand piano no longer worked and they could not find anyone who wanted it, they took it apart. The inside metal harp of the piano serves as the centerpiece of a planting bed.

Cindie had saved an old wooden door.

“I knew I wanted to do something with it, but I didn’t know what,” she said.

Later, her husband found pink wooden spindles that became the door frame. Cindy placed a little bench her grandfather had made for her grandmother’s garden in front of the door and placed the set in corner of her yard.

“Now it’s a photo op spot,” she said.

Cindie asked her husband to look for old hubcaps when she came up with the idea of painting them to add splashes of color.

“I found 10 in one weekend,” Mike said, and about 30 in all. “There is stuff all the time on the side of the road.”

Allan Edquist, whose yard also is featured, uses his own creativity and skill to enhance nature’s handiwork.

He has made all sorts of signs, anchors, fish and buoys to give his home and yard on the 9600 block of South Menard a fishing and maritime theme.

“I’ve walked into some backyards exploding with flowers,” Edquist said. “There’s not a lot of flowers here.”

Instead, visitors to his backyard first find a haven of ferns, coral bells, hostas and trees draped in Boston ivy. They hear the sound of running water and can follow a path of river stones to the source: a pond with orange and white koi fish and lily pads.

People are always surprised by what they find when they go farther back in the yard, Edquist said. “The more you look, the more you see.”

Edquist’s yard also has its quirky side: a patch of blue and gray and caramel-colored bowling balls. With Christmas bulbs for eyes, the balls appear to have faces.

Once people saw how Edquist was reusing the balls, they started dropping them off.

“We’d come out in the morning and find bowling balls on the lawn,” said his wife, Janet.

Allan Edquist will let visitors see another hobby of his, model trains. In his basement, he has an elaborate setup of a G-gauge train running through 1920s Chicago with shops, churches, homes, a Moose lodge, a freight yard, a coal yard, a nearby farm, trucks, cars, families and workers.

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“It’s all based on what I saw growing up,” Edquist said. “Seventy years ago, this is the way the city was.”

Everything in the display he made himself, he said, either from scratch or a kit.

“It’s about 25 years of work,” he said. But he still thinks of more things he could add.

When he can show it to visitors who enjoy it and relate to what they see, “that really makes my day,” Edquist said.

The Oak Lawn Garden Walk is from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $10 and will be sold between 10 a.m. and noon, the day of the walk at the Village Green Gazebo, next to the Oak Lawn Public Library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave., or by calling 708-577-3366. The five homes are spread apart, so people will need to drive or bike from one to the other.

Tickets also will be sold at the New Magnolia Garden Center, 9620 S. Ridgeland, near the Aldi store in Chicago Ridge Mall. New Magnolia is open limited hours, so call 773-240-7361, to confirm when it’s open.

Kimberly Fornek is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.