Antique pieces blend with fledgling flowers to create sanctuary

Nicole Milstead

On Laura Ryan’s back porch, petunias grow out of an old fashioned rolling ice chest. It is an odd place to find such a delicate flower, but the contrast of soft and rustic make for a beautiful garden. 

Ryan makes a habit of planting flowers in antiques that she and husband, Marc, find. She has flowers in old red wagons that no longer roll, in heavy kettles that no longer cook and even planted on a tricycle. 

The Ryans’ home, outside of Pleasant Plains, Ill., boasts a garden that is continuously developing. 

“They both are extremely talented, having done all the work themselves from designing to planting,” said friend Edie McCollister, a co-worker of Laura Ryan at the Illinois Department of Employment Security Revenue Division in Springfield. 

In 1997, the area that is now the backyard was only grass. McCollister gave Laura Ryan a few plants from her garden to get the backyard started. 

“I was intimidated, too, but once you get going it is fun,” Ryan said.

She started with a few bee balm and three purple coneflower plants; today, that fledgling garden has grown into a beautiful area in both the back and front of the house. 

Her purple coneflowers are among her favorites, but her top pick is the bee balm because it has gorgeous red blossoms and doesn’t need a lot of care. Bee balm is a member of the mint family, and Ryan say it blooms for most of the summer.

“Our goal is for the entire garden to be maintenance-free,” she said. 

She and her husband, with the help of a friend, laid a flagstone path around the back of the house. Their friend brought out a sod cutter, and they were able to lay the flag stone on the dirt and fill in the holes with sand. 

However, like many central Illinois residents, they have had trouble this year with Japanese beetles. Ryan said she thinks she has picked about 10 gallons of them out of the flagstone path. 

While the garden may seem complete when viewing it, the couple spends most weekends adding to their “private oasis.” 

Ryan constantly finds herself adjusting and adding new things to her garden. She is inspired by things she sees on HGTV, DIY Network and locally at such places as Washington Park. 

“I see them and I think, ‘I can do that,’ I’ve just needed a little help along the way,” Ryan said.

Nicole Milstead can be reached at 788.1532. 

All about flowers

Name: Allium ornamental onion (“Allium Schubertii”)

Bloom information: Early summer

Growth: 12 to 24 inches

Growing tips: Full sun; ordinary gardening soil mixed with sand to ensure good drainage, water in only exceptional dry condition

Tip: Makes wonderful cut and dried flowers

Name: Purple coneflower (Rudbeckia)

Bloom information: Late summer-early autumn

Growth: 3 to 4 feet

Growing tips: Full sun; rich but well-drained soil

Tip: Takes off if allowed to seed through winter.

Name: Bee balm, Oswego Tea (Monarda didyma)

Bloom information: summer

Growth: 2 to 3 feet

Growing tips: Full sun or partial shade; moist area

Tip: Attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies; easy maintenance; drought resistant