Susie’s (Not So) Secret Garden

From the Garden of Eden to the hanging gardens of Babylon, mankind has long appreciated a good garden. Fortunately, one need not channel King Nebuchadnezzar to cultivate an outdoor space.

As the rise in container gardening illustrates, where there’s a will (or a terrace), there’s a way.

Fortunately, many North Shore homes stand on large lots with ample room to create a private patch of paradise. A growing body of evidence confirms anecdotes, which suggest that this “leisure” activity actually provides quite the workout, positively impacting physical and mental health. So before hiring a gardener, consider getting your hands dirty. You might just like it, and you’ll love the guilt-free manicure to which you’ll treat yourself after a job well done.

When I first toured Wilmette resident Susie Dinges‘ home last winter, she brushed off my compliments about the home’s gorgeous interiors and urged me to come back to see her summer garden. Working with Ryan Kettlekamp of Kettlekamp and Kettlekamp, Dinges transformed her home’s large back yard into an exterior great room with spaces for eating, relaxing and playing games.

What do you enjoy most about your garden?

The garden changes week by week and each new plant grouping that blooms is its own celebration.

How has gardening impacted your life?

My garden is an oasis that has given me a sense of retreat and calm. It calls me outside to sit, slow down, watch and listen.

Have you made any mistakes?

When I originally planted my garden I had pored over lots of gardening books and catalogs without a thought to how much sun/shade is in the garden. I preferred all the plants and flowers of a “full sun” garden and took a chance they would root. I wasted a lot of time and money on the wrong plants!

What’s on your gardening wish list?

I would love to put a thin, slate rectangular reflecting pool down the center of the garden. That’s a big wish.

What tools can you not do without?

Every garden shed should have two sizes of hand trowels (a thin one is fabulous for quick planting of annuals), some huge garden clippers for occasional trimming, a bag of good potting soil and a big, long handled shovel for digging, planting and moving perennials. If you can, install underground sprinkler system—it will save you money in the long run on your garden investment.