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Eye candy
Color and whimsy create visual sensation in Shorewood garden


July 2006

Life moves fast along Lake Drive. A few twists and turns try to slow down the hustle and bustle of the city and suburb dwellers, and though many speed by, overlooking the natural beauty of the area’s landscape, few have missed a pink-trimmed 1928 Italian style home. The stately architectural presence comes to life with its colorful trim and is accentuated with numerous topiaries and a manicured landscape. Shirley Kostich is an unabashed garden lover, and from front to back, her landscape design brings this home alive.

Friends, family and critters of all shapes and sizes are welcome to enjoy Kostich’s garden. No matter the season, she complements her beautiful home with the perfect cultured landscape, but in the summer flowers abound, and it is a feast for the senses.

"My garden is a peaceful space you can be in and be in nature," Kostich says. "In the middle of the bustling city, you can have a different existence within that space. For me it is a spiritual retreat, something I can create for myself, my friends, my family and nature’s critters," she says.

For the front yard, Kostich tries to keep things simple. In keeping with the Italian architecture, she takes a more formal approach. She is guided by the home’s pink trim and finds yellow, pink and white flowers to be the best choices, along with numerous topiaries. Sculpted junipers and 100-year-old silver maples dominate the landscape, acknowledging the history of the home.

A 20-year-old deep purple clematis and a honeysuckle vine with predominantly pink flowers add touches of interest and attract some beautiful visitors, such as hummingbirds and butterflies. Watch your step as well-placed chipmunk feeding stations are kept full for her friend, Chippy.

A pink mandevilla climbs the side of the house to the roof, while purple clematis climbs around the window. Yellow and pink climbing rose bushes join in the upward motion, while birdhouses fill the spaces in between. The pink rose bush has even been home to a nest of baby finches. As the abundant flowers bloom, grow and climb around to the back of the house, a statue of Venus, wire cats and other decorative objects find a home amidst the stems and vines. Frogs, bunnies, birdhouses, bird feeders and statues of saints help bless the garden and inspire growth. The hand-sized president clematis is evidence of how blessed this garden is.

The Kostich backyard is a series of colorful vignettes from which to take in the visual feast and enjoy nature.

The backyard is scalloped with numerous gardens, each with its own theme and floral identity. One in particular is a garden dug as a birthday gift from her son. A hydrangea vine, honeysuckle vine, climbing rose bush and dahlias the size of dinner plates fill the space along with an ivy-covered fence and a few frogs and lizards. An herb garden is also part of this area. It infuses the floral-scented air with aromas of lavender, thyme, sage, chives, basil and various kinds of mint.

A charming garden house stands tall and pink as an eye-catching element surrounded by the blooming garden. Home to a collection of birdhouses as well as a little work space, it serves as one of the many focal points in the heart of the backyard. A fountain from Florence, Italy, with its white and pink floral and hummingbird design is another key feature. A pool of pink begonias surrounds the base and the pink flamingo sprinkler stands nearby. A lilac tree, weeping larch, 100-year-old blue spruce, forsythia-covered fence and a special cactus propagated for use in northern climates flourish from year to year, making their identifiable mark on the landscape.

A patio area with an arched entry covered in vines is the perfect hideaway for guests to relax on a summer night. At night they sit within the lush space with more than 500 white lights twinkling all around, while by day they are sure to see something new from every angle. Old fences from New Orleans, numerous terra cotta pots, a raspberry patch and garden décor such as armadillos, tea cups, cats and frogs playing instruments live among the flowers.

Bunnies, squirrels, chipmunks, cardinals, goldfinches, wrens, woodpeckers, orioles and even a red-winged blackbird, a hawk and some doves have passed through the Kostich garden. The critters are as impressed as friends and family by the plethora of ivy, roses, Virginia blue bells, clematis and numerous other flowers.

Kostich works toward a balance of annuals and perennials and does all the potting herself. "The color comes from the annuals because the perennials come and go. The June garden looks different from the July and August gardens," she says. "It gets bigger and bigger until it is ready to burst." With more than 100 and sometimes 200 different pots, Kostich is plenty busy in the garden.

Terra cotta pots of all shapes and sizes circle the backyard patio. A fountain from Florence, Italy, is surrounded by begonias.

"When we moved in 25 years ago there was not one thing growing," she says. "There was grass and a fence. It has taken me 25 years to design it, and it is a work in progress. I redo it every year; it never has been the same way twice."

For Kostich, one of the secrets to a good garden is to have things climbing high, growing low and cascading to make your eye go everywhere. "Your eyes should be dancing and racing from one movement to another, just like a symphony."