Story collected by Karl Novak
AFTER my family had moved into our new home, we were joined by our new neighbors who took the house across the street about a year later. The new family immediately became good family friends of ours and we continue to enjoy each other’s company to this day. I noticed my neighbor’s garden across the street and asked the mother of the family if I may interview her about the garden, but she suggested I interview her sister, Donna Currie, about her garden instead since she was a passionate gardener. After scheduling a time to meet, I visited Mrs. Currie’s house in Prospect Heights to collect stories and view her garden. The garden encompassed her entire house and looked amazing. It was obvious that the landscape was carefully tended and the placement of different plants was thoughtfully planned.
We first started outside in the back of her house where aloe, basil, cilantro and other useful plants (for practical medicines and cooking herbs) were grown. Ornamental flowers such as hibiscus, stella d’oros, coneflowers, black-eyed susans, geraniums, daisies, liatris among others made the garden look colorful, bright and inviting. In addition to the ornamental flowers and herbs grown in the garden, Mrs. Currie also grows vegetables and fruits to provide delicious, home-grown food used in her recipes. She mentioned how her yard has two apple trees that produce sweet apples every other year and when they fruit, their family picks them for apple cranberry bread before the local wildlife can get to them. Geese, squirrels, deer, and even groundhogs gather around the apple trees to check for remainders after the leftover apples had fallen.
After I saw the apple trees, I noticed a very tall evergreen and I asked Mrs. Currie about it. She was excited to tell me that it was a redwood – specifically a Golden Metasequoia. I was amazed! Previously, I had believed that the redwoods were specific to their native area in Northern California and could not survive elsewhere, but evidence to the contrary was growing right in front of me. Mrs. Currie explained that she purchased it for fun from a pine and fir vendor called “Rich’s Fox Willow Farm” in Woodstock. Growing the redwood in her backyard inspired a few of her neighbors to do the same, and so now there is a small section of Prospect Heights with very large redwood trees!
Mrs. Currie’s father first sparked his daughter’s interest in gardening at a very young age. He grew milkweed to show his family the monarch butterfly and their different stages of growth and transformation. Donna Currie recollected how fun it was to see the butterflies lay eggs under the leaves (to prevent birds from eating them) and watch the eggs hatch into tiny larvae, then eventually grow into caterpillars. Mrs. Currie continued this tradition in her garden and has consequently planted many flowers to attract butterflies. In 2001, Donna Currie was awarded the “best butterfly garden in the Chicagoland area” from the Chicago Tribune, and uses flowers such as milkweed, veronica, and catmint to attract different butterflies. Mrs. Currie also likes to attract birds to her garden and creates bird feeders out of large pine cones from her evergreen trees. She covers the cones in sticky honey and then rolls them in bird seed. The finished feeders are then hung from branches on her trees and she watches as the birds arrive for a tasty treat. A cup plant in the garden also collects rain water near the stem that the birds often bathe in. Mrs. Currie has created a lovely garden for viewing as well as an animal friendly space that invites local wildlife to interact with the garden, promoting the diversity of the space. It was a pleasure to collect this story from her and also to view her beautiful garden.