Plan your planting

Sonya Embry

With breakout that can be localized.

Roseann Tomko admits she's more apt to be spontaneous in life than to plan.

But while the graphic artist/educator from Morton started her patio courtyard project rather aggressively several years ago by cutting a large hole in her living room wall for a new doorway, that only happened after weeks of planning in two landscape design classes at Illinois Central College.

The classes proved so insightful, Tomko now says she can't imagine embarking on a major gardening project before plotting it out on paper first.

Before, she was like many other gardeners who bought a plant and put it in the ground to see if it worked in that spot.

"You go through hundreds of dollars that way, without much forethought," she said. "You save a lot of money in the long run by doing a little bit of planning.

"Drawing on paper is a great way to get your ideas out. Instead of ripping out a plant, you just take your eraser," Tomko said. "Sitting down and doing your drawing is a good thing to do in winter. It's remarkably relaxing when you learn how to use a scale ruler, which is not that difficult."

Tomko began installing two gardens on the east side of her home about four years ago.

"Post Haste" is the name she gave to the tree-lined pebble walkway leading from the mailbox at the street to her patio, where, behind a white gate, she's developed a private courtyard.

The path is based on the French term "alee," a walkway lined with trees or tall shrubs, which Tomko said is typically used to provide structure in grand, formal gardens.

In her yard, on a much smaller scale, six Leprechaun Green Ash trees line the path, which is rimmed with Stella d'Oro day lilies and a unique, dark cocoa mulch. This year she added liriope to mimic the day lily leaves and provide groundcover. Alyssum edges the walkway.

Laying the Groundwork

When Tomko began her garden plans, she wasn't entirely sure she'd follow through.

"I wasn't sure I could do all this. But I said what the heck. It's just theory. I'll go ahead and dream."

Although many gardeners probably do this informally before planting, Tomko began by examining potential views from various spots in her home and gauging how much sun that section of her yard gets.

Beyond her own views, she also wanted to pique the interest of passers-by. She wanted to make the walk to the gate inviting for visitors. She wanted to build curiosity -- to make them want to peek over the fence.

She also wanted to plan for surprises. An old black iron air register grate serves as a welcome mat to the courtyard. Once inside, tiny plastic bugs, frogs and other figures are strategically tucked into crannies where they'll be visible from seating areas.

Tomko decided to use trees and a trellis -- rather than a fence – to screen between hers and the neighboring property, to avoid potential hassles with lot lines and setbacks. But she opted for fencing toward the street and around her air conditioning unit. By sketching it out, she knew the fence had to be taller than standard.

Advance planning also allowed Tomko to develop her gardens in thoughtful stages. The deck was constructed in fall 2003. In 2004, she made the trellis, installed the walkway to the street and planted the trees that line it. In 2004, she added the day lilies along the walkway as well as spirea shrubs.

Of course, even the best-laid plans can have a glitch or two.

Tomko once cut all the tops off her brassy golden Stella d'Oro day lilies when she decided they clashed with the pinkish-purple blooms of the spirea.

"I'm pretty much a fanatic on color," she said.

She later took out the spirea because they grew too large and disproportionate for the scale of the walkway.

Place of Solace

Development of the gardens coincided with a transitional period in Tomko's life. She had lost her job with the Fondulac Park District after the position was cut from the budget and she was going through a divorce. Immersing herself in nature helped distract her from any sadness, she said. It turned out to be a time of healing and self-exploration.

"I really understand the power that gardening and reaching out to nature has. It really gave me a focus," Tomko said.

Today she teaches graphic design at Peoria High School and spends many evenings entertaining friends in her new outdoor space.

On a weekday morning in late June, a cool breeze rustled the leaves -- still wet from the morning watering -- that envelop Tomko's patio.

"I start my morning from now until the first frost here with a cup of coffee. It's my space for reading. I entertain in the evening. This is a little sanctuary, I'd have to say. It's kind of a little vacation," Tomko said. "If I can just get 10 minutes out here in the morning, I can gather my thoughts and get ready for the day."

The space is secluded by a white picket fence and a curtain of green foliage from several trees and trellis covered with clematis vines. The green provides a backdrop for colorful flowers and produces memories of her grandparents' grape arbor.

"I can remember that feeling of being covered by green. I think those feelings stay with you," Tomko said.

Two redbuds serve as "book ends" on either side of the trellis. One is a traditional redbud; the other a burgundy leafed "Forest Pansy" variety.

"I like repeating leaf shapes. I think it visually takes you through the garden," Tomko said. "Different leaf textures and shapes -- that stays with you the whole season."

One of her must-haves for the courtyard was scented geraniums. This year's color scheme includes plants with dark foliage and bursts of magenta.

Perennials include Coral Bells, Japanese iris, ferns, bleeding heart, crocus and Virginia bluebells. Tomko placed window boxes at floor level around the edge of the deck for a transition, with Purple Heart, oxalis, Persian Shield and German Ivy. She also uses a variety of hanging baskets and containers.

"I like to have color at different levels," she said, adding that she stuffs containers full -- typically eight to 10 plants in each.

"I mulch each container, too," she said, noting "you have to be really mindful of the details" when developing a patio garden where you'll spend time sitting close to flowers.

Put together, the colors, textures, depth and scents of the garden work together to create a certain feeling -- much like a work of art does.

"I can't separate being an artist from anything I do," Tomko said. "I have always been mindful that I'm creating an environment."

Peoria Journal Star

GARDENING CLASSES

Illinois Central College offers a variety of horticultural classes on topics such as Garden Flowers, Landscape Establishment, and Landscape Layout and Design. Prerequisites are required for some classes, but many require no previous course work. Classes are open to anyone, not just students in the horticultural program.

Some classes are offered in the evening as well as the day. The Garden Flowers class, for example, will be held on Wednesday evenings this fall. Cost for this course is $210.

For a list of classes: Visit www.icc.edu. To view course descriptions, click on "Catalog," then scroll down and click on "HORT." For a list of fall classes, click on "Class Schedule."