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Grand Tour of a Large Prairie-Style Home in Villa Park, Illinois

Tom and Kerry built their beautiful Prairie-Style home on a sunny one acre site in 2006.

There was no landscaping present in 2011 when I came on the scene. However, Tom and Kerry prepared two large beds, one on the north side which we turned into a raingarden and one surrounding a Basswood Tree on the northeast corner of the lot.

A challenging feature was a big eyesore. The neighbor to the south had a large sump pump discharge pipe that flooded into a one hundred fifty foot long ditch on Tom and Kerry's property. This led down to a storm sewer near the street.

I have learned long ago that the worst challenges can become great opportunities. This ditch would become an active streambed and raingarden on their property -- what a nice gift!!!

The large three car garage houses Tom's extensive workshops. He is a creative engineer and inventor. His hobby is restoring antigue automobiles. He needs all the room he can get.

The large roofs are drained by at least seven downspouts on the south, east and north sides of the house. There is also an active sump pump in the northwest corner. Combined with the continuous discharge from the neighbor's sump pump it is an understatement to say there were many water issues present.

This small raingarden (see the downspout) is less than one year old, seen here in Early Summer of 2012.

In the Spring of 2012 Tom made a surprising discovery. A Canadian Goose made a nest here and laid a clutch of eggs.

The goose laid the eggs in the feather-lined bed and then disappeared. Tom and Kerry never saw her. Soon thereafter the eggs were gone. Perhaps a hungry racoon made a good meal of them.

Although many people regard Canadian Geese as a nuisance (poop all over place and all) I kind of like them. When you do my type of work and are out in the natural world a lot you develop an appreciation for rabbits, deer, mice, geese, etc. They should all live well and be happy.

We put a nice garden in the corner by the front stairs. All of the beds are watered by downspouts which is probably why they look so lush after less than one year.

The south side of the house had a large empty bed and a "path" that led to the front entrance. This bare area was later planted with shrubs and the "path", a drainage swale for a downspout, was converted into a raingarden.

The buried pipe from the downspout leads into the swale (left). We created this nice entranceway with steppers and bricks. It has become a bit weedy. However, it takes only minutes to pull the invasive grass out.

This is the southeast corner and south face of the garage. We planted a variety of native shrubs which will grow three to eight feet tall, filling the empty wall space.

This is the first bed one sees by the house and we want coming home to be a pleasant experience.

The east wall and northest corner of the garage are seen in context. We really don't want to hide any of the brickwork because it is beautiful in its own right. I believe the garden beds and brick walls, when taken together, create a very powerful synergistic experience.

The downspout feeds the small pebble-lined stream which leads into the eastern end of the raingarden. This bed was prepared by Tom and Kerry and needed only minimal effort on our part to create a basin and berm -- essentials for a successful raingarden.

In the background is the Basswood Tree around which Tom and Kerry prepared a second bed. We will direct our attention to that area later.

In the photo on the left (looking west) we see the inlet of the raingarden. We generally like to keep the inlet area sparse and open to better see the stones and pebbles.

Im the photo on the right we are looking east from the middle of the raingarden. The raingarden is about sixty feet long by twelve feet -- an area of about 700 square feet.

Here we are looking west from the middle of the raingarden. See the big old logs that are placed here and there. Bare, barkless and gnarled they add a lot of character and interest. As they decay they provide a nice home for all kinds of insect larvae, fungi and other living things that enhance the garden.

Here is the west end of the raingarden. See the structured brick wall, logs and assorted stonework. These features add a lot of interest, especially when there is nothing flowering -- like from November through April -- about half of the year!!

You can barely see the garden beds on the north side of the house in the background.

Here is the northwest corner of the house before we enter the gate to the backyard.

See all the schmutz back here -- pipes, meters, downspouts, window well, etc. This is really ugly!!! The secret is to plant shrubs and things which will visually hide this stuff while looking good and allowing access to anyone who has work to do there. This is not a difficult task.

Here is a closeup of the area we previously saw in the background. It does not get a lot of sun so we planted here with shade-loving species.

Here are some interesting plants we used on this project.

Purple Milkweed, Asclepias purpurascens (left), resembles the Common Milkweed, Asclepia syriaca. It is shorter, generally two to three feet high, seems to have a more intense color and does well in light shade. Like its cousins, it is extremely fragrant and is loved by butterflies, especially Monarchs.

The Pale Purple Coneflower, Echinacea pallida (right), resembles its cousin the Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, in many respects. Its petals are narrower and more lavender than purple colored. Its stem is hairier, is generally shorter (two to three feet), blooms about one month earlier (June and July) and likes it a bit drier.

The Black Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio polyxenes asterius (left), is a beautfiul and welcome visitor. It is enjoying a meal provided courtesy of a Sand Coreopsis, Coreopsis lanceolata.

Prairie Sundrops, Oenothera pilosella (right), is a close relative of the Common Evening Primerose, Oenothera biennis, which is a biennial and can get weedy. Prairie Sundrops forms a nice short clump about two feet tall. It is a hardy perennial, and likes a dry sunny home. In a raingarden it would always be located on the berm.

Stout Blue-eyed Grass, Sisyrinchaum angustifolium (left), is a great little flower. It forms a dense clump with pretty blue flowers, less than a foot tall, from May to June. It is not a grass at all but is a member of the Iris family. It is easily propagated by division, even by carefully pulling a clump apart with your fingers.

Bush's Coneflower, Echinacea paradoxa (right), closely resembles the Pale Purple Conflower, Echinacea pallida, seen previously. It is yellow, not lavender and not native to Illinois. It grows in the Ozarks.

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