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Oliver: Garden walk blooms with new ideas to try

Published: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

For a lot of people, gardening is a labor of love, where the work involved is more than made up for in the beauty that results.

Every master gardener had to start somewhere, or at least that’s what I told myself Saturday as I toured the nine gardens featured on this year’s McHenry County Garden Walk, hosted by the University of Illinois Master Gardeners in McHenry County and McHenry County College.

This year’s walk featured gardens in Woodstock, Richmond, Spring Grove and McHenry, as well as the demonstration garden at MCC in Crystal Lake.

The gardens ranged from a colorful and casual quarter-acre city lot in McHenry to a 5-acre farm in Spring Grove with goats, chickens and sheep, as well as grapes, herbs and vegetables.

So what’s an amateur gardener like me supposed to take away from these magnificent, out-of-my-league gardens?

I asked a couple of the hosts what tips they would offer to newbies.

“Give it time. Good gardens take time. It’s an evolution,” said Matt Olk, who along with DeAnne Warner has turned a corner lot in McHenry into a relaxing oasis.

Sometimes things have to be moved, Olk said, or the soil needs to be amended.

Wendy Wu, whose Spring Grove garden features perennials and a spectacular waterfall and pond, emphasized that gardens are a work in progress.

But what if I plant something in the wrong place, I asked.

“Don’t be afraid to try new plants,” she said. “You can always dig them up and move them.”

Even the experts “fail,” she assured me. “We all do it.”

Of course, one wouldn’t come to that conclusion by looking at any of the gardens on the tour, which offered picture-perfect examples of many types of gardening.

A Victorian vegetable garden with brick pathways? Check.

A cottagelike garden outside an 1883 Victorian home with whimsical touches from a retired Woodstock art teacher? Check.

A wine press passed down through generations converted into a focal planter in the garden of former local restaurateurs? Check. (So good to see you, Joey Tallurico and Steve Scully, and how I miss Joey T’s.)

Why, there even was a chance to meet a gardening celebrity. While touring Lou Emmons’ lovely garden in Richmond, my group ran into Trudi Temple, who is the founder of Market Day. She was more than happy to regale us with her methods of composting and keeping the insects away from her broccoli.

That’s the beauty of master gardeners. Most are more than happy to share their wealth of knowledge.

If you get a chance, the McHenry County Garden Walk is a wonderful way to collect ideas and learn a few tricks.

I’m told that it’s going to be even bigger next year, in honor of the 35th anniversary of the Master Gardeners program.

So I just might have to bring a bigger notebook.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at joliver@shawmedia.com.

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