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Throughout the summer, the SouthtownStar will tour spectacular gardens and introduce you to the green thumbs behind all that beauty.

If you’ve got a fabulous garden you’d like the SouthtownStar to know about, contact Donna Vickroy at dvickroy@southtownstar.com

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



When Rebecca Palumbo moved into the two-story home 11 years ago, it was known by the neighborhood kids as “that haunted house” because it was all dark and gloomy looking.

Shadowed by overgrown trees and bushes, the siding stained a deep brown, the Tinley Park home was hidden in the semicircle of a cul-de-sac.

“This was all grass and rocks and evergreens,” Rebecca said of the front yard that she has transformed into a bright, multicolored butterfly garden.

Today, the cedar facade is a forest green and the bushes and trees have been replaced by scalloped beds of glorious color.

Among the delphinium, yarrow and milkweed plants are purple liatris, pink coral bells and yellow coreopsis.

The garden attracts a variety of butterflies, including monarchs and swallowtails.

“In late June and early July, it looks like a Disney movie out here, butterflies all over the place,” said Rebecca, who owns Rebecca Palumbo Creative, a graphic design agency.

The waves of color and greenery continue around the house to the back yard, where a flagstone path beckons visitors through a vine-covered arbor toward a pond rimmed with foxglove, a waterfall and a rain garden made up of Jack-in-the-pulpit and astilbe.

The yard is a popular backdrop for homecoming and prom photos. Friends of both of her children, Dominic, 21, and Eliza, 18, have gathered there for photo shoots.

“I try to stick with all native perennials,” Rebecca said. “The maintenance is not as ugly and they help provide habitat for native species.”

She’s also big on conservation, hence the rain barrel system, the compost bin and the many elements of her garden that come with a history.

There are the flagstones that she recycled after her brother reworked his back yard.

There’s the lamb’s ear that came from a friend in Wheaton who recently passed away.

And there’s the yellow oenothera, also known as sun drop, that came from a former neighbor’s garden.

“I grew up in Harvey and Country Club Hills and we had this neighbor who used to pick all kinds of native plants from the area and put them in her garden,” she said. “This was one of them. After we moved here, I went back and she gave me some cuttings.”

The pond has tadpoles and goldfish, which sometimes are swooped up by visiting herons. A wooden bridge spans the center.

Her husband, Tony, put the pond in.

“We open it together in the spring and close it together in the fall,” she said.

The elaborate setup is deceiving, she said.

“Really, it takes us about a weekend to get everything up and running,” she said. “Then it’s just a little weeding here and there.”

By the way, the hammock hanging out back really does get used.

“We’re out here all the time, we just love it,” she said. “This is Tony’s spot on Sunday mornings.”

A birdhouse above the garden attracts sparrows, finches and cardinals.

“Last year, I discovered a whole ant city under the flagstones,” she said. “I think that’s so cool. They could care less about us. We’re living in this symbiotic relationship.”

Flanking the pond are narrow pathways formed by steppingstones. Little kids like to explore, she said.

On the far side of her spacious back yard is a vegetable garden where fingerling potatoes, leeks and bush beans are planted.

For all the pleasure her sculpted floral beds bring, Rebecca is mindful to give back to Mother Nature. Not only is she careful to keep native species thriving, she gives the wildlife a boost every now and then, too. This spring, she took last year’s dried clematis vines and threw them into the crook of a large tree.

“The birds love it,” she said.

Each year, she adds a few annuals “just for color pop.”

Rebecca will be certified by the University of Illinois Extension Service as a master gardener by the end of July. Her gardens are to be featured on the Will County Master Gardener Walk on July 22 and 23.

While some gardeners in the program are experts at the physiology of plants, Rebecca says her strength lies in the visual aspect of gardening, something she says comes from her art background.

“I have more of a design sense of things,” she said. “I look for texture and continuity of color.”

For more information on the 2011 Will County Master Gardener Garden Walk, visit webs.extension.uiuc.edu/registration/?RegistrationID=5701

To read Rebecca’s blogs on gardening, visit thesoulofagardener.wordpress.com and yearinthegarden.wordpress.com.



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