Garden Photo of the Day

Rachel’s Illinois Garden

Making beauty all year

close up of pink allium and coneflowers

Today we’re visiting with Rachel, a gardener and artist living in Elgin, Illinois (Zone 5b). She moved in 2022 to 1.5 acres and is in the process of designing and planting a fabulous front garden. She’s also diving into forest restoration for the back half-acre—making it beautiful for wildlife and her kiddos.

She also visits and draws beautiful gardens whenever she can, and designs and installs gardens for clients.

close up of red nasturtium flowerIt is the question every gardener gets asked: What’s your favorite plant? Rachel says hers is probably nasturtium (Tropaeolu majus, Zones 9–11 or as an annual). She loves it because the big seeds are easy to sow; it’s easy for her kids to handle and help plant; it vines and trails, helping to pull a new garden together; and every part of the plant is edible.

sketch of arbor covered in thick vinesRachel took a trip to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania recently and sketched some of the beautiful garden sights she took in.

close up of mulched garden bed with pink flowers and colorful foliage This spot of Rachel’s garden is starting to come together. It has been a difficult spot because of her clay soil, but mulch has improved conditions, and things are starting to thrive.

children playing at edge of forest The kids make tiny houses while Rachel pulls out invasive weeds to help the forest thrive. She says that the time spent out in nature is so worth it, even with the checks for ticks and showers in case of poison ivy.

gardener holding large spire of pink GladiolusRachel holds a stunning gladiolus (Gladiolus hybrid, Zones 9–11 or as a tender bulb). It’s amazing how something so gorgeous can grow from a small, unassuming corm.

seed starting in milk cartons on snow covered deckSpeaking of growing something wonderful from something unassuming, here’s a shot from February of winter sowing—seeds of native perennials, planted out. The cold weather will signal the seeds to germinate come spring, and the old milk cartons give them protection.

milk cartons full of plant seedlings Fast-forward to May. The seeds have germinated and the milk jugs are full of seedlings. Winter sowing is an easy, cost-effective way to get lots of new plants for your garden.

small vase of pink flowers on a craft tableA sweet, fragrant little bouquet of sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus, annual) adds some perfume to the work space. Rachel says to remember to cut the flowers from your sweet peas so they’ll keep blooming. If you let them go to seed, they’ll fizzle out and stop flowering.

close up of pink allium and coneflowers Summer is Rachel’s happiest time. It’s easy to see why from this beautiful scene of coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea, Zones 3–8) and ornamental onions (Allium hybrid, Zones 4–8) from August.

monarch butterfly caterpillar eating a large plant leafThe big bold leaves of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca, Zones 5–9) look great in the garden, and there is a little monarch butterfly caterpillar chomping away on them.

close up of various flowers in springIn spring these cool-season flowers in a planter really showed off: pansies (Viola × wittrockiana, cool-season annual or short-lived perennial), ranunculus (Ranunculus asiaticus, Zones 8–11 or as an annual), and a some grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum, Zones 3–9).

If you want to see more from Rachel, check out her Instagram: @gardenrach


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View Comments


  1. User avater
    simplesue 10/10/2023

    I love what you're doing! Restoring the woodlands with good soil and more plants for wildlife.
    Great photo of the Monarch caterpillar- I really hope you reply- to tell me what month they come around to eat Milkweed, since my growing zone is pretty close to yours.
    You have inspired me to plant some Nasturtiums next spring!
    Your milk bottles for seeds are a great idea, and so nice that you make garden art, and created such a cool play-environment for your kids!
    Great job!

  2. User avater
    treasuresmom 10/10/2023

    I winter sowed for the first time last winter. I am zone 8b in the deep deep south but strangely the snapdragons I grew are still blooming.
    BTW, I also have clay soil & it can be a real demon to grow in.

  3. Hisch1952 05/06/2024

    Thank you for inspiring Badland, I really have more faith in my plants.

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