McHenry Co. gardens in full bloom for annual garden walk

Chronicle Media
The McHenry County Master Gardener Garden Walk is a self-guided tour featuring eight gardens with various themes and will be held on Saturday, July 9, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Photo courtesy U of I Extension McHenry County)

The McHenry County Master Gardener Garden Walk is a self-guided tour featuring eight gardens with various themes and will be held on Saturday, July 9, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Photo courtesy U of I Extension McHenry County)

Come and visit some of the best home gardens in McHenry County as the University of Illinois Master Gardeners are planning a Garden Walk on July 9.

The self-guided tour, which will feature eight gardens, starts at the McHenry County College Demonstration garden and meanders through Crystal Lake, Marengo and Huntley.

The Demonstration Garden at McHenry County College will serve as the Garden Walk’s starting point. Each of the gardens has its own personality.

At each of the eight gardens, hosts have labeled their plants and will be on hand to answer questions and share their secrets to success. In addition, Master Gardeners will answer questions as well as offer educational materials highlighting each garden’s assets.

As you drive to the destinations, roadside arrow signs will point out gardens as well as designated parking areas. All gardens have a few Master Gardeners onsite to answer your questions.

Tickets are required at each garden for entrance and also for entering your name into a door prize raffle.

Demonstration Garden at McHenry County College

8900 U.S. Route 14, Crystal Lake.

Use Entrance 3 and proceed to the northeast side of the college.

The Demonstration Garden is maintained by the hard work of McHenry County Master Gardener volunteers on the campus of McHenry County College.

Master Gardeners have focused on providing an educationally based theme since 1988. This garden offers the visitor a little bit of everything to showcase gardening for our region. From the practical to whimsical, various types of garden spaces grace this volunteer-kept space.

Eye-popping annuals grown from seed by volunteers in the college greenhouse are prominent throughout the beds. Perennial gardens for both sun and shade, as well as theme gardens showcase hardy plants for our region. Each bed is a display providing ideas and inspiration. This garden is truly designed for “demonstration purposes.”


Trudi Temple’s Cherry Lane Farm

18311 – 18317 Garden Valley Road, Marengo

Trudi Temple is a celebrated gardener, author and speaker. She wrote the book “Trudi’s Garden” (Goblin Fern Press, 2006). At her sustainable Marengo farm, there are a variety of commodities — a little bit of everything. She has organically-grown vegetable gardens, floral cuttings and permaculture crops such as rhubarb and asparagus. She also has numerous types of hydrangea and other ornamental shrubs among several winding woodchip paths.

A huge stone Jens-Jensen-style council ring highlights the grassy side yard near a wooden enclosed gazebo for entertaining.

But Temple is most proud of her organic practices, composting and pit composting methods and overall sustainability.

“This is a sustainable farm,” she explains. “We have solar panels, wind turbines, vegetables, pasture-fed cows, and we also have woody plants from which we harvest branches to sell to the florist trade.”

Howard and Sandra McCarthy

19019 Royal Road, Marengo

In every sense of the word, Howard McCarthy is a plant aficionado.

“I try lots of plants that others may not; some work, some don’t, and that is what makes every garden and every year different,” said McCarthy. “I’m a plant collector and I have labeled everything I have planted — every tree, every flower.”

This colorful garden boasts hydrangeas, dwarf conifers, rare plants as well as 400 different varieties of hosta, 120 types of peony, 180 varieties of daylilies, hundreds of perennials and hundreds of annuals as well.

The garden is 23-years-old this year, and was started on a vacant farm field. Everything there today was planted by the McCarthys in the past two decades.

Recently, Howard has focused on adding more native trees to his landscape; now most of the trees are Illinois natives.

In addition, fruit trees, a vegetable garden, a water feature and a miniature outhouse all have their own niche in this tidy, well-tended garden.

Gretchen and Mike Grant

6196 Lakewood Drive, Marengo

Gretchen and Mike Grant have lived in this house for 20 years, “And we have been gardening all of that time,” said Gretchen Grant. “All gardens evolve — this one is always evolving.”

The highlights of the property are three separate garden spaces: the Secret Garden, Island Garden and Shade Garden. In addition, a large sunny perennial garden lines the front driveway.

The Secret Garden is enclosed by an arborvitae hedge and features the classic four-square garden design. The four, square flowerbeds feature lilac standards surrounded with annual hanging baskets and containers.

Moving toward the backyard, visitors will encounter the Island Garden, which features dozens of types of perennials.

In a sunny spot, Gretchen also will add a pink and purple annual bed in memory of her friend B.J. Jones, a Master Gardener who passed away in May 2014.

Farther into the backyard, the Shade Garden boasts ferns, coral bells, hostas, hellebores and more. Paths draw visitors through the space, and benches beckon them to stop and sit.

The Grants are most proud of the fact that their garden is a calm place to relax and enjoy Nature.

“Most people say to me, ‘Why do you go on vacation when you live in a park?’ That makes me smile,” said Gretchen Grant.

Sharlene and Lloyd Stellmach

15902 Lerita Drive, Huntley

When this couple bought this 1 ½ acre property and built their home on it in 1998, the far back of the yard had been farmed, and other parts had been a dense woodland. After clearing out invasive honeysuckle, garlic mustard and buckthorn from the woodland — with the help of their family and planting the former farm fields to lawn — the real gardening began.

In the sunny lawn areas, the Stellmachs built flowerbeds containing Illinois native prairie forbs and grasses as well as swaths of shrub roses and peonies.

“I created sort of a secret garden by planting tall plants on the outside of these beds,” Sharlene Stellmach said.

In the shade garden are mature oaks, shagbark hickories and sugar maples. Beneath them Sharlene created paths and beds.

Hostas and heucheras make up the majority here — “I love heucheras because they are so colorful. I like to add color and textural interest in the dense shade,” she noted.

Sharlene also planted an assortment of trees, because several mature trees had been lost over the years due to various circumstances.

The Stellmachs have done all the work themselves; but s Stellmach notes, “It’s God’s garden that I’m just tending.”


Sandy and Jeff Harris

560 Stony Hill Lane, Crystal Lake

“I don’t have a certain style or look I am trying to achieve, I just want something blooming the garden all year long,” said Sandy Harris.

Since the Harrises moved in to their home in 2006, Sandy has removed old overgrown shrubs and taken out several pines that succumbed to disease. So, today the property is mostly in full sun.

To achieve constant color she plants a wide variety — irises and tulips in the spring, annuals, daylilies, bee balm and black-eyed Susans in the summer, and asters and hydrangea for the fall. Sandy also grows vegetables and herbs in raised beds.

Sandy is proud that many of her favorite plants have been pass-along plants given to her by family and friends.

In addition, the many rocks in her garden were picked up from her parents’ farm in Woodstock

“I also use manure from their farm in my garden. The farm, and my Mom and Dad, are where I get my gardening roots,” Sandy said.

Mimi and Tom Leineberg

1564 Lilac Drive, Crystal Lake


The Leineberg family moved into this home on a quarter-acre lot in 2009, and brought large chunks of their former home’s garden with them.

“After we bought this home, and as we were selling our last home, I dug up and brought many of the plants with me,” explained Mimi Leineberg. “Some of those plants came from the house we lived in prior to that — so I moved plants from three houses.”

She dug up and moved scores of hostas, daylilies, trees and shrubs to augment the small existing garden and pergola area. And then she, husband Tom and adult son Joshua just kept on planting, and planting some more, every season.

The property is mostly shade or part-shade, and Mimi’s plant palette reflects that , featuring dozens of varieties of hostas, as well as bleeding hearts, astilbe, columbine and more. She also enjoys creating colorful containers of annuals to punctuate spaces. Mimi works hard to ensure the garden offers four seasons of color and interest.

“I hope visitors remember that I have no formal training at this — I just do what I like, I research the plants, and I am not afraid to try new things. I hope visitors leave with different ideas, and perhaps say to themselves, ‘I want to try THAT,” she said.

Diane and Ed Urban

11011 Jani Lane, Marengo

Diane Urban said her garden doesn’t have a lot of flowers — “and I don’t do annuals.” But she has always bought plants that she loved, and over the years the garden has became an expression of her personality.

“I use a lot of shrubs, and I have created areas of conversation, and areas of recreation,” Diane said. “My garden is eclectic for sure — it’s a little quirky.”

The Urbans built their house 24 years ago on a sunny 1 acre property, and Diane began landscaping with shrubs and trees a little at a time.

As she began visiting garden centers regularly, she began purchasing more and more plants she loved. “I buy plants and just see if they work; I often challenge Nature, but in the end, it is up to Nature as to whether or not the plants thrive.”

She noted the garden is not formal; rather, it is natural and just a little “undone” looking. She prunes shrubs and trees into natural forms. Pass-along plants from generous neighbors meander through beds.

Diane even created a new butterfly and bee garden to help Monarch butterflies. She also adds quirky garden art, such as repurposed items like broken pots and industrial materials.



WHAT: The McHenry County Master Gardener Garden Walk

WHEN: Saturday, July 9, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

WHERE: McHenry County (Crystal Lake, Marengo and Huntley).

WHO: Sponsored by McHenry County College and the McHenry County Master Gardeners

COST: $12 early bird (through June 30), $17 at the door

Call (815) 455-8588 for advance tickets. Purchase tickets the day of the walk at the Master Gardeners’ Demonstration Garden at MCC for $17.

For information, call (815) 479-7570, visit or email

Master Gardeners volunteer their expertise

The Master Gardener plant sale will take place at the Demo Garden, and it will feature plants grown by Master Gardeners. The sale will continue as long as quantities last.

The McHenry County Master Gardeners are a group of more than 120 volunteers sponsored by University of Illinois Extension.

U of I Master Gardeners complete rigorous training in horticulture and botany and volunteer a minimum of 30 hours per year.

The mission of a Master Gardener is to share unbiased, reliable, research-based information with home landscapers and gardeners, as well as to encourage people to enjoy gardening and vegetable growing.

Contact the McHenry County Master Gardeners at 1102 McConnell Road, Box 1430, Woodstock, IL 60098, phone 815-338-3737 or visit




— McHenry Co. gardens in full bloom for garden walk —