Make the most of what nature gives you, and you can’t go wrong. This simple approach to gardening has yielded beautiful results for Carol Baker, whose yard has become well-known as a colorful cornerstone to the town.
Make the most of what nature gives you, and you can’t go wrong.
This simple approach to gardening has yielded beautiful results for Carol Baker of Dillon, Ill., whose yard has become well-known as a colorful cornerstone to the town.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it seems Baker sees beauty where others might pass it by.
Nestled in among the signature irises that she inherited upon buying her home years ago are persistent plants that offer striking blooms most evident in late summer.
You may have seen them around, but might not have paid them much attention. Technically speaking, they are weeds.
But then, “weed” may be a misnomer in this case.
Weeds, by definition, are plants that pop up in places we humans do not want them. Yet this is far from the truth regarding the cornucopia of botanical offerings found in Baker’s yard.
Consider the batch of chicory that welcomes visitors at the head of her driveway.
It turns out that when cultivated in rich soil, this common weed can grow 6 feet tall and produce a brilliant blue-cone flower. The flower of the chicory, one of the earliest plants cited in literature, inspired Romantic poets. It also has practical applications, is used medicinally, and has long been consumed as a coffee substitute.
Baker, however, simply likes how it looks.
“I’ve always thought it was beautiful,” Baker said, then admitted, “so I transplanted some from a roadside to my yard.”
The bushy perennial herb is not the only plant that has made its way from the highway to the Baker home.
Mallow, she said, has a lovely lavender essence to it, as does bergamot.
“Weeds are beautiful,” she said, “If you look at the blossoms, they are just as pretty as flowers that you would purposely buy.”
Her large mullein plants, also common roadside weeds, add a leafy, green presence to the floor of her flower beds. Mullein displays a tall stalk with a yellow blossom in the fall, and is useful, too. “My grandmother used to make tea with it,” Baker said.
Of course, she added, you have to keep mullein in control, as it tends to spread. One offshoot of mullein has taken up residency in the center of the yard’s sandbox. Since there are no longer children playing in it, Baker said, the wooden square makes a perfect frame for the plant.
Baker took up the habit of researching her transplants while her son, one of three grown children, was studying agriculture in college. She would look them up in his textbooks, taking a keen interest in the plants for reasons much different than your average farmer.
Still, not every sprout in Baker’s yard is exactly welcomed.
“I do have genuine ‘weeds,’” she said, laughing, as she pulled stems from her large vegetable garden. “These are not to be in the asparagus.”
She gave up on the milkweed, which she finds very attractive, due to its attraction of bugs. Yet she just couldn’t part with the Queen Anne’s Lace, although it causes a similar problem.
Bits of the natural world provide inspiration throughout Baker’s home, inside and out. You can find a bird’s nest here and there, simply because she thinks they are “cute.”
And the mere stones in her yard are special to her, not only due to their interesting properties and long history on this earth, but because of sentimental reasons as well.
“These are from my parents’ farm,” she said, pointing to one group of rocks.
Baker was raised on a farm in southwest Wisconsin, and she recognizes the powerful impact the natural world had on her as a child at play. She distinctly remembers, for instance, walking into an empty silo and discovering the ground within was completely covered with lush ferns. The ferns, likely seeded by birds flying in and out of the structure, gave the space a mystical appearance that, to a small girl, was nothing short of magic.
Today, nostalgia is woven into Baker’s garden at every turn.
“I want to be surrounded by the things I thought were beautiful and appreciated when I was growing up,” she said.
The same goes for those things that symbolize the years that she and her husband, Garry, spent raising their own children.
One of the most unique features of Baker’s yard is the ring of old sneakers, overflowing with growing plants, that encircles one tree. The sneaker-planters make her smile and remember, and reusing something others may throw away speaks to her practical side.
“I guess it’s just my personality to make the most of what’s already there,” said Baker.
She does so for the benefit of her loved ones — and also for complete strangers, as part of a church-based charity group who send used Christian literature to other countries.
As for the environmental movement, Baker was a part of it long before it occurred to her that it might be trendy. All her unwanted weeds, for instance, are composted and later used in potting soil.
“It’s just what I do. I’m glad the rest of the world is catching up,” she joked.
Baker calls herself an idea collector, always looking for new ways to make the most of what is available to her and create beauty as a result.
Yet despite her efforts, Baker seems to feel it is inappropriate to take credit for the natural beauty found in her yard. Even her most original ideas, she said, came from a much greater source.
“God is the creator,” she said. “Nature is inspiring because it points to God and leads to wonderful things.”
Pekin (Ill.) Daily Times