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Blue Island garden  a haven for wildlife

Elizabeth Pizzher garden her home Blue IslIllinois Wednesday July 6 2011. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

Elizabeth Pizza in her garden at her home in Blue Island, Illinois, Wednesday, July, 6, 2011. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 23, 2012 2:58AM



Over the past decade, Liz Pizza has turned three stone-and-weed-covered city lots into a garden paradise.

Last year, her L-shaped Blue Island property, which comprises a butterfly, herb and shade garden, earned certification from the National Wildlife Federation as a garden for wildlife.

“It’s my pride and joy,” Liz said one morning while pouring chai tea on a patio surrounded by every shade of green imaginable.

Light green ferns, dark green hostas, blue green ivy. And let’s not overlook the yellow-green finches, one of 10 species of birds that flutter about.

“People call this my secret garden,” she said.

And it’s easy to see why. You can’t even tell Eisenhower High School is just across the street — except when the band practices, Liz said.

A walk through Liz’s bucolic landscape begins on the east side of her corner bilevel home, where visitors encounter the butterfly garden.

Butterfly bushes and pokeweed beckon swallowtails and monarchs to hang out. There also are roses, including one bush original to the house built 52 years ago. Its intoxicating scent is almost bewitching in the evening, Liz said.

“I called the original owner to ask what kind of rose it is, but she doesn’t remember,” Liz said.

Turn the corner to find a Zen pond and cozy outdoor seating area, which leads, through a Japanese pergola, into the shade garden. There, hostas, lilies, hyssop, bridal veil and hydrangea coexist tranquilly, the only sounds coming from a gurgling fountain and the occasional rustling of a squirrel through the plant life.

The rose of Sharon are descendants of her grandmother’s trees.

“My mom lives kitty-corner from here and she has all the babies from these trees,” Liz said.

Her mom also provides space upstairs in her home for Liz to winter her ferns.

The vegetable and herb garden brings you back to the front of the house.

Liz grows chives, lettuce, oregano and peppers in containers that line the ivy-covered cement fence. Bushes, ferns and morning glories flush out the perimeter.

To be certified with the Wildlife Federation, a gardener must provide both natural and handmade elements, as well as food, water, cover and places for wildlife to raise their young.

Liz has spied squirrels, raccoons and the occasional opossum flitting about her sanctuary.

As a neutralist, Liz also avoids pesticides.

When she discovered an invasion of Asian beetles last summer, she fought back with soapy water. It didn’t kill them, just discouraged them from hanging around.

“We use so many pesticides today that to be able to provide a place where birds and small animals can just exist is important,” she said.

Liz is a special education teacher and social worker at Morgan Park High School. Her husband, Al, is a licensed clinical social worker.

They have two kids, 29 and 30.

“This is our kickback place,” Liz said. “I love it because it’s calm. It’s a peace you look for when you deal with children and people who have so many problems. Here, I feel like the earth is talking to me.”

Though they recently lost their beloved Dalmatian, their other two dogs, Henry and Shiloh, make the most of their lush back yard. They love to romp through the winding walkways.

“Everything is very dog-friendly,” Liz said.

Maybe a little too dog friendly, sometimes. Henry is suspected of eating the sunflowers, which is why all of the vegetables are in containers.

While other gardeners strive for big splashes of color, Liz’s garden is a blanket of green.

“I only spend $100 to $150 a year on annuals, most of what I have is perennials,” she said.

“I just like the naturalness of the green.”

So do others.

When a minor injury brought paramedics to her home recently, they became enchanted by the garden.

Like a lot of people, they told her, “You’d never know this place was back here.”

Liz traces her love for gardening back to society’s farming roots.

“To put my hands in the dirt is very natural. It’s also very peaceful,” she said. “The dirt doesn’t talk back to me. Plus, I like to see the fruits of my labor.”

When she moved there 11 years ago, the yard was entirely weeds. The previous owners had died and other family members were simply trying to sell the property.

“I just started, one step at a time,” Liz said.

“I begged, borrowed and bought plants from friends, neighbors and at garage and plant sales.”



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