Secret Garden | The Reader's Guide Feature | Chicago Reader

Secret Garden 

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"People used to come here from Chicago to vacation," says Doug Mains of the area in unincorporated West Chicago where he lives. "It was like going to the countryside in Wisconsin or Michigan. They would put a cabin on the land and come out for a few days at a time to relax." Mains and his wife, Fran, have been living at the place they call Swan Oaks & Gardens for 18 years--ever since they fell in love with its stands of red and white oaks. When they bought it, along with the oak trees they got a cabin, a small house, and ten acres of buckthorn that took them several years to clear. They expanded the house, added ten acres of neighboring land to the property, and hired a friend, former Morton Arboretum landscape architect Anthony Tyznik, to help whip it into shape. They solved a "hopeless" deer problem with an electric wire fence around the entire 20 acres, turned the cabin into a chicken coop, and installed a pair of mute swans on the water. Now Swan Oaks includes a terraced perennial garden, a shady woodland wildflower garden, and a pond garden of sun-loving perennials, plus five cygnets hatched earlier this month. Swan Oaks & Gardens, 1 N. 352 Indian Knoll Road in West Chicago, will be open to the public from 10 to 4 on Saturday, June 21, as part of the Garden Conservancy's Open Days program. Admission is $5; proceeds will be used by the nonprofit conservancy to preserve exceptional private gardens and make them available to the public. Directions to Swan Oaks and other Chicago-area gardens open in June and July can be found in the conservancy's Open Days Directory. It's available for $15.95 at the Chicago Botanic Garden and most local bookstores, or by mail. Call 888-842-2442 or see www.gardenconservancy.org.

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