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Carol and Clark Esarey’s home on Lake Springfield features extensive gardens.
By Justin L. Fowler | SJ-R
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Making garden magic
By Carol Sponagle

Clark and Carol Esarey's Springfield home boasts a captivating view. From their Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired and recently renovated cottage porch, you can gaze upon Lake Springfield. The scene captures the essence of prairie-style gardening.

In spring, the gently sloping yard blooms with lush perennials and mature trees. A stamped concrete sidewalk, bordered with hostas and numerous other perennials, leads to a lakeside deck and boathouse. Another pathway leads to sloped gardens adjacent to the Esareys' home, dotted with flagstones and outcropping rocks. Everywhere you turn, there is more for the eye to behold - and it's only early May on this visit.  

Pamela O'Neill, landscape designer for Green View Nursery and designer of approximately half of the Esarey garden, says that a landscape like the Esareys' can be accomplished with effort. Planning is the key to success, especially if you want year-round interest.

The current plan for the Esarey garden took root about four years ago, when the couple expanded and remodeled their home. Clark, who is retired from the state university system, and Carol, grant manager for the Illinois Institute for Legal and Legislative Policy Studies, craved a more stylish, updated and entertainment-friendly home. As part of the renovation plan, they installed a deck, patio and concrete stepping path - expanding their entertaining space the full measure of the lawn. These new features provided an anchor for the evolving garden plan. 

"We built (the garden) from what we already had," Carol says, "and Pam helped me find plants that persist through fall, mostly perennials."

O'Neill says that knowing what kinds of plants you like, what will grow in your yard and timing for foliage and color are an important part of any garden plan. Plant a variety of trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers for year-round appeal - and if you live in a suburban neighborhood, don't plant things that rabbits and squirrels like to eat. If you live on the edge of an open field, only plant things that can withstand extreme winds and cold.

Carol says, "We have to plant things that can withstand the wildlife, shade and the kind of soil we have here on the lake. I have notebooks to keep track of what I like and what grows here."

The Esareys also meet with a group of neighborhood gardeners monthly to discuss the challenges of gardening by a lake. They often come up with creative and humane ways to keep geese and deer from making meals of their gardens.

Knowing what grows in your yard and what kinds of wildlife may eat your garden isn't the only consideration when planting. Jumping in without a plan can become expensive, especially if you rely heavily on annuals. 

O'Neill advises, "Be frugal with the size of plant materials you install. Put in one or two nice-sized plants as the accents of your garden, then use smaller shrubs, container plants or bulb and burlap plants. For interest year-round, use perennials."

Plants are an important part of a garden, but they don't have to be the only element, O'Neill says.

"For spring, fall and winter, plant evergreens, deciduous holly, sculpture, or (add) hardscape (structures)," she explains. "Think about using statues, stone elements or water features. Consider a focal point, like an outdoor kitchen or a piece of artwork."

The Esareys' garden exemplifies this advice. A brick fireplace, concrete paths, brass lanterns, copper sculptures and two small fish ponds add depth, interest and unification to the array. 

O'Neill also advises to make it cohesive, adding, "The prairie theme of this garden is what ties it together."



The Esarey garden


  • Landscape design: Pamela O'Neill and Green View Nursery 
  • Patio and furniture design: Copper Tree Outdoor Lifestyles
  • Home remodeling, patio design, sidewalks: Michael Von Behren Builder, Inc.




Gardening guide
Green View Nursery has a free gardening calendar, plant care fact sheets and plant library at www.greenview.com.

Tips for landscaping
Tips for buying landscape plants from the University of Illinois Extension website:


  • Invest in quality plants - inspect plants and roots before purchase. Do not buy root-bound plants or plants without enough roots.
  • Roots should be white to buff brown and not shrunken. Dark brown or black roots indicate poor plant health.
  • Look for shrubs that have full and healthy-looking heads with low-branching. 
  • Buy trees that have straight trunks and even branching.
  • Consider container gardening for manageability.
  • Ask nursery professionals about plant growth habits and needs.







Story published Friday, July 1, 2011 ( Volume 6, Number 4 )

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