The Reums' House in Kankakee County, Illinois

 
August 16, 2011
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"Before" on the left (April 6, 2010) and "After" on the right (July 26, 2011).
"Before" on the left (April 6, 2010) and "After" on the right (July 26, 2011).

When Ron & Sharon Reum showed up at the nursery in March of 2010 they were only looking for a handful of trees and shrubs and maybe a couple of flowers. What followed over the next 14 months I cannot characterize as anything other than a mild addiction to planting natives and affecting a massive change in their yard. They have worked harder than most in their attempts to change a landscape that was installed 15 years before they moved in. It has been an amazing transformation and I would like to share their story with you.

I first visited the Reums’ home in Kankakee County on the 6th of April 2010 and was not all that surprised at what I found there. It was a standard urban yard that had been dropped from space on a home that had been built in a former corn field. Nothing out of the ordinary. I told them that I almost didn’t make it up the drive because the landscape was so boring it nearly put me to sleep. They informed me that that’s why I was there. It seemed that they wanted something different than what was so common in their neighborhood and, after looking at what we had to offer, we might be able to help.

Before: The Reum's home as it was on April 6, 2010.
Before: The Reum's home as it was on April 6, 2010.

After walking the yard and looking at all the things they wanted to address we started to identify the things that needed to be be done first so as to get the project rolling and start getting the plants in the ground. Ultimately, we all agreed that the large horse-shoe shaped bed in front of the house was the place to make the first big splash. It was far too timid an entry into a home as large as this and made the home look like a bulldozer about to push it under. It had to go.

Before I tell you how we handled the horse-shoe there is a little background information about the Reums that you should know. Ron is one of those people that gets dedicated to a project and sees it through with singleminded determination. He often tells me that he’s done planting for the year only to call me two weeks later to move on to the next spot. Often to the consternation of his wife, though she seems to enjoy the progress. So, the results that they can get will tend to be a gold standard rather that what is typical. Plantings that usually need three years to establish they have gotten done in just less than two. Their dedication to the project and energy in carrying out the plans they have for their yard can impart an enthusiasm that is contagious. Unless, of course, if you’re their neighbors and like the coma inducing landscapes that were likely overpaid for.

After: the Reum's home on July 26, 2011.
After: the Reum's home on July 26, 2011.

Make no mistake, what the Reums did and are doing to their yard takes a bit of bravery. Everything from learning about the natives they’re planting to dealing with neighbors who are or are not understanding. The range of things to learn and do may seem overwhelming, but they’re not. The Reums are proof of that. What most people are scared of when starting to plant with natives is the perception that it will look weedy, but as you’ll see in a bit it is far from the truth.

After we had agreed that the horse-shoe drive was the place to start we set about making preparations for its installation. We stood in the middle of the bed and I told him that all the yews that lined the drive had to go. They both gave me the look of “do we have to kill them?”. I told them that they did not have to but that they and all the other collected foliage producers had to be removed to make room for what we had planned. And remove it they did.

In one of the most thorough workings over of a bed I have ever seen, Ron had the plants removed and then inspected the soil. He did not like the look of it so he replaced that as well. Then he replaced a large part of the irrigation system so the bed got better coverage than the grass. Something I wish more people would do instead of wasting money and water on grass. He then installed a lighting system to light up the trees and grasses to show them off. Then topped it all off with very fancy wood-chips. In other words they went all out.

Ron's Plant Prisons
Ron's Plant Prisons

We then set about planting the bed with a large collection of trees, shrubs and prairie herbs. (I don’t have the room to run a complete list here but if you’d like to know what went in to the bed let me know.) The planting of this bed finished in late Spring of 2010. It immediately took off. The plants doubled and tripled in size before the end of the year and the trees were green and beautiful. Now, in a normal story this is where the conflict arises for the heroes to battle and boy did we ever end up with a conflict. I can only describe them as nuclear deer and rabbit banditos. Being 100 yards from a state park that no longer has a proper predator/prey ratio can open up gardens that are near these areas to devastation. Within days of the planting these four-legged lawn mowers attacked the bed like the huns sweeping in from the plains. At first they tried shooing them away, which worked like you’d expect. It didn’t. Then the fun began.

If ever there was a home to test deer repellant products, the Reums live in it. They have tried it all. Pheromone stakes that shock, liquid fence, soap, industrial strength liquids and sprays, coyote urine, spraying them with a hose and borrowing my two dogs for a couple of hours ever so often to run patrols. Not one of these really worked to keep them off the plants. So we fell back to something that worked for us here at the nursery and on many job sites we planted on. Fencing.

Fencing
Fencing

Now as I’ve said before Ron is very dedicated to making this a success so when I told him he had to fence the plants to keep the deer and rabbits out he may have put a fence up that resembled that of a stockade only without the razor wire. A plant prison if you will. But it worked and worked well. The deer could no longer attack the trees and shrubs and they responded by putting on nearly two feet of new growth that first year. The rabbits remain a problem but they have not been able to keep pace with the growth of the plants. In about two seasons they should be able to remove the fence and not worry too much about the deer.

When it comes to pests of the four legged and, in some cases, the two legged varieties your best defense will always be a fence. It will keep out the most determined intruder that have wire cutters and keep your plants from most harm. Spray chemicals if you must or try fancy do-dads but none will work as well on deer or rabbits as fencing, just ask the Reums. In most cases the fencing is only needed for the first two or three seasons so the plants can get established and to grow the trees so that the crown growth is above browse height.

After we got the drive planted and the plants thriving Ron called me (after he told me it would be some time before he was ready to do more of this) and told me he wanted to plant a drainage area and grassy one acre parcel he had just acquired to the south of his home. After walking it and making a quick plan for controlled madness to create a screen of herbaceous plants mixed with shrubs and trees to give it a more natural look, they set about getting this area ready. Now unlike the drive all he needed to do was to spray the area to kill the grass to make it ready to plant. He did this and in a preemptive move also put up a 6 foot plant prison to be sure the deer and rabbits could not get to the plants yet to be there. A short time later over 800 plugs, 25 shrubs and 10 trees where planted along this 250 foot long swale. In these pictures (see small insets above) you can see that the plants are doing very well, in fact, they have lost only 10 or so plugs as far as we can tell. Remarkable really and a testament to their loving care.

Fencing
Fencing

Shortly after the plants went in, Ron and I had a conversation about the planting. I was concerned that there might be some blow back from the neighbors that he had planted in one of the main drainages of the sub-division and that they might complain and we discussed what he should tell them to assuage their fears. Not two days later a IDNR (Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources) truck rolled up to the planting and parked. Ron tells me that he saw them and approached for a conversation and asked them what the trouble was. They told him that there had been a call from one or a couple of his neighbors that this crazy guy was planting in a waterway and that it was going to cause flooding. He asked if they saw a problem and they said no, that it was nice to see someone planting natives in proper locations to reduce erosion and improve habitat and they were only there so that they could say they looked at the site if someone called again. Have a nice day.

Liatris pycnostachya grows to 6-7 feet tall!
Liatris pycnostachya grows to 6-7 feet tall!

Well, that must have really pumped Ron and Sharon up because I got another call from them. They wanted to get started on planting oak groves in a couple of spots around the open area they had just bought. Two new groups of oak trees are now on site along with a small grove of cypress and one of american linden. All of these groupings have their accompanying shrubs and perennials. The Reums have done a terrific job the whole way through and have not stopped planting yet. I’m getting a call about once every two weeks for more plants and they seem to be gearing up for a big push to finish the main parts of the yard this fall. If it is done with the kind of skill they have developed over the past two years then it should be nothing but a success. It should be the envy of all native junkies. They report to me often about the cool new butterflies, of which Sharon has started a collection of photos, and birds that have started visiting their yard with more regularity. They are and should be very proud of the way the plants have responded to their care. I mean they got Liatris pycnostachya to 6-7 foot in a year and a half! Not to mention the growth of the grasses and other plants. I can honestly say that I have never seen prairie plants respond like this in such a short time. The next step for them is to get a water source in, get their garden listed as habitat and get a plaque for their hard work.

Here are a couple of pictures from around the Reum yard. This is going to be one of those gardens that will really make people slow down as they pass to take a good look.

Close-up of Reums' Native Landscaping in Kankakee County, Illinois.
Close-up of Reums' Native Landscaping in Kankakee County, Illinois.
Close-up of a visiting butterfly in the Reums' native landscaping.
Close-up of a visiting butterfly in the Reums' native landscaping.
Close-up of Reums' Native Landscaping in Kankakee County, Illinois.
Close-up of Reums' Native Landscaping in Kankakee County, Illinois.