Metro-East Living

Here’s your chance to tour some of the best gardens in Belleville

“Somebody” likes to change his mind. To prevent his overthinking garden design of their Belleville home, Tim Gore and Steven Wilson used water hoses to mark out the garden beds and dig quickly rather than sketch ideas to paper first.

And “Somebody” wanted circular beds and curving lines in those garden beds, to offset the stark lines of the 1929 home.

And that same person doesn’t much mind what it means to mow grass around those beds, because he isn’t doing the mowing.

“We just wanted to maintain the idea of circles and geometric shapes, since the house is stick-straight lines,” said Tim, whom Steven frequently called “Somebody.”

The gardens that Tim and Steven have debated, planted and tended since they bought the home in 2014 will be part of the Gardens In Bloom tour on June 3. Produced by the St. Clair County Extension and Education Foundation, proceeds from the garden tour benefit the University of Illinois Extension programs. Five other Belleville homes are on the tour as well.

Steven, who mows, knew the curved lines would make lawn maintenance more time-consuming, but is happy with the outcome even with added care it requires.

“You can see a lot of bricks are moved because I run into them,” he says of the edging. Steven says he could happily “take all day” mowing the lawn.

Tim also sees gardening as “very relaxing” and says their gardens aren’t really all that much work.

“Some might disagree, but it’s not work to us,” he said.

They’ve had the home not quite three years, but have replaced entire swaths of grass with mature hostas gleaned from neighbor’s yards and enough flowering annuals and perennials to fill a color wheel. Red impatiens peek out from the shades of green hostas, including those with variegated leaves, that fill an area between mature trees out front.

Coral drift roses and bright yellow coreopsis draw attention to the pond, which until late last fall was a grassy area with a tree that had to be removed. Shades of violet climb a small trellis toward the back yard near crepe myrtles, which leads to a rose garden opposite a woodland garden. Around the corner of the garage is a fairy garden, complete with Lego structures Steven allowed Tim to use, criss-crossed with sedum from another neighbor’s yard.

While planting areas are beautiful, there’s also a practical reason for where some of the beds were placed.

“We’ve got to do something with that, because I’m mowing over dirt,” Steven remembers saying, referring to the shady patch between the trees where hostas now reign.

They had some existing hostas that they divided; neighbors also quickly volunteered more of their own. Tall grasses that stand in lines came from another neighbor. Other plants, and cow manure, appeared on their lawn and driveway as more neighbors saw what they were doing and shared their surplus.

A planting bed that features a small pond with water pouring gently from a pot was another fix to a problem. A large tree needed to be removed, and the resulting hole needed to be filled.

“We were going to put a tree in, but somebody wanted a pond,” Steven said, adding that it was quite the challenge to get the water to pour into the pond correctly, and not overshoot.

Tim described the plants around the pond, including the Contorted Filbert, which sometimes has small fruits, “kind of like dangling earrings.”

“I like the architectural shape. Even in winter you have something to look at.”

Tim and Steven don’t have an irrigation system yet — “Somebody wants that for his birthday,” Steven said — but instead use sprinklers on most of the gardens.

Especially on hot days, Tim will turn the sprinklers on go inside. Forty-five minutes later, he turns the water off, he says. It’s no trouble.

Container plants, mostly holding annuals, are grouped so that he isn’t dragging a hose around to water those plants.

When they moved into the home, euonymus ruled the beds closest to the house. Tim pulled and pulled it, but lets it live at a corner of the house that receives deep shade.

“Nothing is going to grow here, but this was in every bed and all over the house.”

“Oh, please. I’m still taking it out of the yard,” he said.

Tim is always thinking ahead for the garden, watching what neighbors’ trees are doing and wondering when they might grow to provide more shade or be cut down and make areas sunny overnight. He also has “spare” plants already in the ground.

“I have spaces for spare hostas, so if anything dies I can transplant,” he said, indicating a mature hosta in an out-of-the-way spot.

He’s already planning what to do along the back.

“I want something so when the Rose of Sharon dies,” he says, indicating young holly trees and other plants that will form a “secret garden” in coming years.

Steven’s specialty is the lights around the home, he likes changing the light scheme regularly to reflect holidays or other events.

At a glance

This is what you need to know about 2017 Gardens In Bloom:

  • Tickets: $10 in advance, or $12 the day of. Available at Sandy’s Back Porch, Effinger’s Garden Center, Creative Landscapes Garden Center, Terry’s Home & Garden Center, Ace Hardware in O’Fallon, Dintelmann Nursery & Garden Center, Eckert’s Country Store, Hometown Ace Hardware on West Main Street in Belleville, Star Florist & Greenhouses and the University of Illinois Extension Offices in Waterloo and Collinsville.
  • When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 3, rain or shine
  • Where: Six gardens in Belleville
  • Expect to see: An easy-care garden, a shady perennial garden, bird and butterfly gardens, and examples of privacy and spaces for entertaining
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