West Cook Wild Ones’ annual garden walk, “Birds, Bees & Butterflies: A Native Garden Walk” returns July 22 from 1 to 5 p.m. This year, for the first time, the featured gardens and gardeners hail from Riverside and Berwyn, Illinois.

The walk will feature 11 gardens, and homeowners and gardeners will be on hand to answer participants’ questions about plant names, favorite plants and other aspect of their native gardens.

Laura Hartwell Berlin, who co-chairs the West Cook Wild Ones Garden Walk Committee with Adrian Ayres Fisher, says that in previous years, the walk has been focused on Oak Park and River Forest, and calls this year’s move to the south and west an exciting one.

A few Berwyn gardens have been featured in the past, but Berlin says Riverside is “all new” to the tour.

“Members of the Wild Ones community from Riverside came to us,” she said. “Riverside is such a lovely community. It’s especially meaningful to Adrian because she is the site steward for the National Grove Woods, a Cook County Forest Preserve that is adjacent to Berwyn and Riverside.”

Fisher says that expanding the walk to other suburbs makes sense, given the growing membership of West Cook Wild Ones. There are more than 250 members throughout the western suburbs, and the membership spans as far north as Evanston and east into Chicago.

By including Riverside and Berwyn in 2023, the West Cook Wild Ones Garden Walk has both large and small spaces, ones incorporating varying proportions of native species. | West Cook Wild Ones Garden Walk

Fisher notes that interest in native gardening picked up during the pandemic when people had more time to focus on their gardens, but the growth has continued in recent years.

“It’s kind of remarkable,” she said. “This year, we sold the most plants ever at our native plant sale. People are becoming more interested in attracting native pollinators and birds.”

This year’s garden roster includes sunny prairie gardens, a spring ephemeral garden, a cutting garden, shade gardens, an edible garden and two rain gardens. Some gardeners have lovingly designed every square inch of their yards themselves. Others have hired top native garden designers.

 In one garden owned by two artists, unusual objects play with the garden plants.

“There’s a lot of artistic flair that really shows off,” Berlin said.

In another garden, the owners lunch and dine everyday al fresco. Several gardeners have chosen and arranged plants for their lovely scents. 

In Riverside, two traffic triangles are included in the walk. Known for its winding streets designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Riverside has curved streets with large areas of green space between the streets. Local scout troops installed plants on the triangles featured on the walk. 

“The kids are our future,” Berlin said. “It’s inspiring that they are thinking about this.”

If Riverside’s large lawns and lush green spaces illustrate what can be done with plenty of space, Fisher says Berwyn is equally as compelling, because it shows what can be done on a smaller plot of land.

“People are very creative,” Fisher said. “It doesn’t really matter how big your yard is, you can make a difference.”

Fisher notes that West Cook Wild Ones has embraced Climate Ready Oak Park and the Global Campaign for Nature’s 30 x 30 initiative and explains, “Over 190 nations have embraced the global initiative to have 30% of land planted with native plantings.”

She notes that the simple formula for letting 30% of local yards go native is tied to the principles of noted conservationist and ecologist Doug Tallamy, who counsels that converting lawns to native plants nationwide could have a dramatic impact on the environment.

While some might be intimidated at the idea of converting a yard to native plantings, Fisher points out that focusing on a portion of your yard can make a big difference. Berlin agrees and notes that’s why the garden walk is so inspiring. 

“There are varying degrees of native-ness. It’s a spectrum,” Berlin said. “There’s no right way to do it.”

This garden walk is $10 for West Cook Wild Ones members and $15 for non-members. Kids attend for free. Ticket holders will receive a tour map two days before the event. Visit westcook.wildones.org to register.

Proceeds from the walk and the West Cook Wild Ones annual plant sale, which takes place every spring, are used to fund the organization’s grants, which allow Cook County nonprofits such as schools and churches to create their own native garden spaces.