Move here from Chicago sparks green thumb

Published 6:28 pm Wednesday, August 1, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – It's amazing what a difference 105 miles can make – for gardening that is.
Lorie Leonard and her husband, Brian, along with their children, moved to Niles four years ago from Chicago. Lorie has always liked gardening and since moving here, she has had to adjust to the difference in the soil and flowers in general.
From the looks of her gardens, she has had no problems thus far.
"It's been a learning process, I'm just so amazed at how the flowers reseed themselves. The soil here is so much better. I'm not sure what it is, but it makes planting and gardening a lot better," she said.
Lorie really started her gardening process at the family's old house in Chicago. "It was a 1950s ranch style home, but the whole thing – inside and out – had to be redone. It was completely neglected. There was really nothing to the yard, just some bushes that desperately needed trimmed, so I knew I wanted to do something," she explained.
That's when Lorie noticed a house in the neighborhood being torn down.
"It had a stone front porch and I thought it would be really neat to use for landscaping, so I used some of that and started my project."
Though she enjoyed being outside and adding beauty to the house, Lorie found out the tough way that it was not an easy hobby.
"I was going to Home Depot every day. I just kept seeing things I liked and buying them. But when the credit card bill came in I knew I was in trouble," she said.
And that's when Lorie began studying flowers and ways to make your dollar extend.
After creating a garden in Chicago, Lorie had the chance to start all over again when the family moved to Niles.
"There was nothing when we moved here. The yard was just bare. I didn't really know what to expect at first. I brought some seeds with me from the house in Illinois, just to see how they would do here. It turns out they actually did better," she said.
Lorie began work on her garden and has been addicted since. She talked about how flowers differ between the two states, and how some perennials – like snap dragons – are actually considered annuals in Illinois.
"They never came back. You had to replant them every year, so that was a pleasant surprise to find that they come back here year after year."
One unique feature is the that the upstairs loft in their home has become somewhat of a greenhouse.
"I plant all of my seeds inside in January and tend to them until they are ready to be planted outside."
Lorie takes seeds from actual plants in her garden, places them in envelopes and keeps them for the following year. Patonia's, for example, are one flower you can find plenty of seeds in. "You just open the dead heads and out flows little brown seeds," she said. "All of the flowers have seeds hiding in them, you just have to know where to find them."
A very smart idea for those looking to save their wallets when planting time comes around.
"I don't go out and spend a lot of money on plants. You see people who have $30, $40, $50 plants. They are very pretty, but I like the idea of creating my own planters and saving money in the process. I get to buy one new plant every year and that is on Mother's Day. So I pick something out that I don't already have, see how it does and usually can get the seeds from it for the next year," Lorie explained.
Lorie's backyard getaway features different flowers and bushes, including flocks, pussywillows and globe thistles. "Not too many people plant the globe thissels because they are considered a weed, but I think they have a great color, plus the deer don't like them so it keeps them away," she said.
Though it is a weed, the flowers attract many insects, who use them as a sweet treat.
"The bees and butterflies really like them, which is fine with us because we don't mind watching them. My husband and I really enjoy watching everything. We sit on our deck and enjoy the different insects, bunnies and birds that visit the yard."
Lorie said her husband really enjoys finches and watching the Ruby Red Throat Hummingbirds, which feed right on the back deck.
"They're so fun to watch and they don't seem too bothered by us, but we need to buy some safety goggles to put next to the chairs," she said with a laugh. "There are two that come around a lot, but we've seen as many as five out here," and it's easy to see why as two hummingbirds – one male and one female – would come up for a drink every few minutes.
"They are so funny. In the spring, they let us know when they are back because I get bombed by them when I am outside. So my husband and I either bring the old feeder out or, if we can't find it, we rush to the store to buy one," she said.
Another treat that Lorie and her husband enjoyed last year was the Marbled Orb Weaver spider, which made its home in the flower gardens in the front of the house.
"I do not like insects at all, but this spider just amazed me. We actually watched a bee get tangled in its web and this spider killed the bee, even with the bee fighting back and trying to sting it. It was just amazing," she said.
The orb weaver spiders are colorful and known for their web-building techniques as they are builders of the wheel-shaped webs. They are often found in gardens, fields and forests.
"Gardening has given me a true appreciation of how nature works. I always take time to appreciate every flower I see and I enjoy the different colors and what each one has to offer. It's fascinating to me," she said.
What's more fascinating is what she's learned and how she's learned to budget this expensive hobby.
"All you have to do is take time to learn about the flowers. You'll be amazed at what you find."
Lorie also said it's nice to be able to trade with people.
"I'll never forget the day we went to Wal-Mart to look for Rose of Sharons. The guy told me they didn't have any, but said he had a ton of them at his house that we could come get. So we did and they came in milk jugs and now they are growing next to the shed and the side yard. They are beautiful. It's nice to be able to share flowers with other people," she said.
And others seem to enjoy Lorie's garden as well.
Along with the gardens are a side patio, a deck, which features a fountain and the stained glasses and recycled steel, which runs along the railing.
"A friend of mine does stained glass and she mentioned one day that glass blocks would be a neat feature to the deck, so she made these and I love them," she said.
Lorie hopes to continue adding to her garden in the feature when her children are grown, but in the meantime wants to keep the yard opened for them to be able to play. "I could do a lot more, like extend the garden, but we enjoy watching them kick the soccer ball or throw the football, so I don't want to take away from that," she said.
In the meantime, Lorie will continue to add new flowers to her garden and enjoy the old ones as well.
"This is relaxing to us. To come on our deck, sit in the chairs and just watch nature. It's like our relaxing time," she added.