DeKalb County Garden Walk features six serene spaces

The University of Illinois Extension DeKalb County Master Gardeners’ 13th Garden Walk will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 10, rain or shine. Five beautiful private gardens showcasing various styles and one DeKalb County Community Garden have been chosen for this year’s event.

The featured gardens are located in DeKalb, Sycamore and Clare. Tickets, which will consist of a wristband and list of gardens, will be available at the University of Illinois Extension Office in the DeKalb County Farm Bureau, 1350 W. Prairie Drive in Sycamore on weekdays and the morning of the walk.

Tickets are also available online with a credit card at Additionally, tickets may be purchased at Blumen Gardens and Glidden Florist with cash or check. No tickets will be sold at individual gardens.

Tickets cost $10. All proceeds support U of I Extension programs. Master Gardeners will follow current CDC guidelines in regards to COVID-19 restrictions. Be prepared to wear face coverings when visiting the gardens, if requested. There is a “no pets” policy.

For more information on the Garden Walk, call the U of I Extension Office at 815-758-8194.

A brief description of each garden follows.

Dolce Vita/Northwestern Medicine Garden

Dolce Vita Salon & Day Spa and Northwestern Medicine have graciously allowed this organic two-acre urban garden to operate on the joint properties since 2012. All planting, maintenance and harvesting is done by volunteers led by Lori Brown. Individuals, families and groups are welcome to volunteer, visit and participate in the gardening programs.

The Dolce Garden is an official Certified Wildlife Habitat site with the National Wildlife Federation and Prairie Rivers Network. It is certified as a Monarch Waystation and is an active participant in Aveda Corporation’s Sustainability Mission. In addition, the garden is part of the Food Needs program of DeKalb County Community Gardens and the University of Illinois Extension’s Master Gardener Program.

Brown and the volunteers work diligently to be mindful of their footprint in nature. Environmental sustainability is demonstrated in the daily habit of returning materials to the earth. By composting, they “close the loop” of the packaging lifecycle. Cardboard boxes, packing paper, hair clippings, food scraps, coffee grounds, and dryer lint are added to the compost system. The field features 36+ raised vegetable beds, 24 unique feature garden beds, six composting areas (Hugelkultur, lasagna, open pile and bin methods), two hoop houses, a Little Library, and walking paths.

All crops harvested at the garden – about 8,000 pounds each season – are distributed directly to local residents through DCCG’s Grow Mobile and Pick Your Own Days.

Cardella Garden

Cate Cardella refers to her garden as “a hodge podge of butterfly and bee-friendly plants. It’s eclectic, creative and I don’t take myself too seriously.” Cardella has been gardening for 10 years, seven of which have been spent at her current location. She credits the previous owner for leaving her with an amazing garden and, over the years, has made it her own by adding a lot of butterfly-attracting plants to her collection of bee balms. Other plants of note include sage, lavender, coneflower, yarrow and donations from friends. Cardella loves to fill containers with amazing finds from the DeKalb High School plant sale and from Walnut Grove Vocational Farm. Hostas, ferns and shade ground cover complete the vision.

Cardella confesses to being a part-time “trash pirate,” picking up pieces to refinish. Many of her yard decorations are found curbside items which have been repurposed into art. She has also included her mother-in-law’s bicycle, iron stools found in the basement of their 1853-built first home, and window frames from their home.

Cardella finds her inspiration from her mother, Ruth Maher, from friends and from nature itself.

Dailey Garden

Nancy Dailey’s interest in gardening began with plant cultivation in middle school, and her passion has continued to grow. Dailey describes hers as “an eclectic cottage garden with a variety of perennial plants on an average size city lot.” Her goal is to have something blooming in each bed throughout the growing season. She takes inspiration from every garden center, and professional and private gardens. One of her favorites is Huntington Gardens and Museum in San Marino, California.

Nancy and her husband Bob started their garden from scratch in 2002, removing weeds and trees and enlarging flower beds each year. She likes to allow plants to reseed and spread naturally. There is an abundance of daylilies and hostas accented with cement planters and bird baths. The side yard contains a small pond constructed by the couple’s son David as a Boy Scout project. Bob built the stone patio, summer home to houseplants. The Daileys enjoy sitting in the back yard to enjoy a view of Mason Park and Larson Lake beyond.

Gorchels Garden

Jerry and Lisa Gorchels have resided for 28 years in a home built in 1870 as the original farmhouse in northeastern DeKalb. The street in front of their home was installed in 1906. Appropriately, their garden is in a country style.

Jerry has been gardening for more than 50 years, inspired by his grandparents and fine-tuned by his profession.

A hosta collection surrounds the house, accentuated by daylilies and tiger lilies, as well as vintage iris. Many of the beds are shaded, and sun beds occupy the terrace. This picture is completed by a limbed up tree, which provides the backdrop for the rose and white themed hanging baskets.

Hepker Garden

Stewart Hepker has been gardening diligently for about 10 years, seven of which have been at his current location. Stewart’s biggest inspiration as a gardener is Mother Nature. He does his best to emulate the energy of “wild” places. His earliest gardening influences were his grandparents who taught him about growing vegetables and curating a flower garden. Other influences include the work of Roy Diblik, Piet Oudolf, Nigel Dunnett, and others who have contributed to the naturalistic gardening and sustainable agriculture movements.

The Hepker property is small, yet high in biodiversity. In less than 1,000 square feet of flower beds, there are more than 120 varieties of perennial plants, most of which are native to the Midwest. In addition to a dynamic collection of perennials, there are also several raised beds that grow a casual rotation of seasonal vegetables. Potted herbs, annuals and a handful of figs are informally scattered throughout the property, a naturalistic garden that is constantly changing both in purpose and by accident.

The property is unique because it demonstrates a modern and sustainable approach to gardening in small suburban/urban spaces. Where room is limited, diversity is accomplished through planting density and intricate layers. The garden sits adjacent to commercial development, so it has been a challenge to work with the visual limitations of the property, yet accomplishing a sense of natural beauty. Despite limitations, the garden exudes a refreshing and playful energy and even provides supplemental produce. As a bonus, visitors to the Hepker garden will be treated to a high-tech plant identification option.

Paulsen Garden

The Paulsen gardens are a mix of many styles, but probably best described as cottage. Locations range from deep shade to full sun and contain native plants mixed with colorful shrubs and less common perennials. Much of the color comes from foliage, the blossoms being a bonus. There are many annuals spread throughout, including many posts and containers. Each garden is constantly changing and has something in bloom from the beginning of spring until frost. The flowers are Lauri’s passion, and the vegetables are mainly Jeff’s project. Lauri has promised herself for the last 10 years that she was done creating new gardens, yet somehow more grass is turned into flower beds every year. Most of the fence lines, buildings and evergreen wind block have flowers planted around them. The edible gardens include large berry patches, vegetables and ornamental plants. The most fun feature in the main garden is a tunnel structure for gourds that the Paulsens enjoy with their grandkids as they train the vines to climb.

The Paulsens have been gardening for about 30 years, 26 of which have been at their current location, a farm that provides inspiration for the gardener. The space allows Lauri to keep creating new areas of interest. She loves to take old items and pieces of machinery and incorporate them into the garden. Many of the decorations are repurposed items otherwise destined for the junk pile. If Lauri can’t make it herself, Jeff indulges her by building these projects. Additionally, an abundance of rocks of all sizes from the farm fields have been incorporated into many of the gardens. One flower garden is a raised rock bed, while others use rocks to maintain year-round interest. A couple of simple fountains and a bubbling rock fountain add interest.

It should be noted that the Paulsen gardens are spread over a large space so seeing them all will require some walking.