MATTOON -- Several homeowners opened their backyards to locals for what was the 20th "Gathering at the Gardens" garden walk Saturday.
Partly cloudy skies set the scene for the approximately 150 that participated in the walk. Organized by the United Methodist Women of the First United Methodist Church of Mattoon, the event invites area people to tour the local homes that sport impressive gardens.
Peggy Ropiequet of the United Methodist Women said the event raises funds to help support women in children by donating to various organizations in and around the area.
Locals were able to go to five homes in Mattoon this year.
Dwight and Mary Schilling's garden
The first garden at 3429 Western Avenue on the list was one that was a decade in the making. After retiring, Dwight and Mary Schilling found more time to devote to a project they always envisioned at their home.
Both bred from farm family and flower lovers, the two always saw a nice garden for their home and after a decade of work plant beds stretching out from the home. Other plant beds are scattered across their backyard/driveway with various garden ornaments sitting among the flowers.
At the center of it all, an island of plants sits in the middle of the driveway with large metal Zebra named Fred standing among them. Mary said she simply liked zebras.
Dwight said they did not really plan out their garden. They just put the flowers, where it felt right or they would get the best sunlight. Since they started adding to their garden, it has expanded.
"Every year we say we will cut back, and every year it gets worse," Dwight said.
He added they can't help themselves when plant prices cut in half.
Dwight noted that having a nice garden is as easy as spending an hour to two hours a day on it and overtime it will flourish.
Garrett and Monica Lee's garden
Monica Lee said she had always loved flowers and when Garrett Lee and her bought their home at 3116 Western Avenue she had an avenue to explore that love.
"I have always loved flowers," Monica said. "I took (agriculture classes) in high school so it is kind of my forte."
The previous owners already had a sizable amount of plants around the home when they moved in, so the Lees carried it on.
"I just built off of the old owners and what they did," she said.
Outside their home, numerous pots cover the front porch, a highlight for Monica, and the backyard deck. Of those plants, she noted her perennials that sit in a flower bed overlooking the deck as a favorite at her home.
She said she spends sometime over the weekend working on her plants, but many of the plants don't require too much maintenance for her.
Marilyn Shull's garden
For Marilyn Shull, the garden at 909 N 33rd St. was her oasis born from Savannah, Ga.
Two years ago, Shull went on a trip to Savannah for her birthday and found herself inspired by the landscaping and gardening across the city. She said she wanted to make a garden like the ones she saw before she died.
After two years, she has a backyard that friends of hers called a piece of heaven.
At the corner of a fence, a door opens to a "secret garden" that leads to a nook with two chairs and a small table to sit at. The rest of her garden spans the the edge of her backyard and features various flowers like day lilies and hydrangeas.
Like the Schillings, Shull said there was no rhyme or reason to where these flowers went.
"Whatever works," she said. "I see something I want and I find a place for it."
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Other features like a waterfall and mirror reflecting a statue and pillars sit among the flowers.
Over the past two years, she said her garden has been a daily project for her.
"Every good day, I go outside and work," she said. "If it is not snowing or raining, I am out there."
She said she will do so for the foreseeable future.
Bill and Jeanie Kinnaman's garden
Bill and Jeanie Kinnaman's slice of paradise at 700 Wabash Ave. has been 17 years in the making.
Both grew up around flowers. Bill said they had room for a big garden with a koi pond.
"The whole nine yards," he said.
When they moved to their current home, they brought some plants over and started again.
"It just kind of evolved by taking some of our plants from our previous house and bringing them here and starting," Bill said. "Then we just kept on going."
Surrounding the inside of their backyard fence, the Kinnaman's garden features highlights including a Japanese maple, a waterfall, and what secret touches to ornaments Jeanie made including the hands on one the ornaments.
Bill said their full garden does not cause them much trouble. He said that is the key.
"The more you have, the less weeds you have," he said. "It is only busy twice a year... Otherwise nothing, it just takes care of itself."
There are no plans to expand upon what they have, but Bill noted something changes each year.
Stan and Karen Freeman's garden
Karen Freeman said she was never really around garden's when she was a kid and that transferred into when she was adult.
But, when her father, Doug Meyer was nearing retirement he found a project in her yard. Meyer, described by his family as a "Claude Monet" of the gardening, had already filled up his own with flowers and found a new canvas.
Monet was a famous nature painter.
So, after years, he started adding to Karen and Stan Freeman's home at 18 Chestnut Run. He had designs and grids planned out for the yard.
The focus was initially on creating natural windbreaks around the house but it became more.
Meyer and Karen saw the garden as a piece of art and wanted to treat it as such. Monet, was in fact the inspiration for the construction of the beds.
"I have always been insured by his paintings... the colors and how relaxing they were," Karen said.
When they looked at the garden, they saw a potential painting with plants.
"Oh my gosh, we can create some of those aspects...create that tranquility that I saw in those paintings," Karen said she realized.
He said the placement of each plant, flower was intentional to offer up a specific viewing experiencing.
The garden spans the 3 acres of the property. Beds of native Illinois flowers and plants cover the flower beds scattered across their yard with ornaments and stone making a path throughout.
Karen said they created an oasis they get to enjoy.