North Side couple's pretty patch wins garden contest
John and Beth Kocur's backyard garden won the 2012 Great Gardens Contest in the Fall/Year-Round Small Garden Category.
A covered pergola provides a shady place for evening meals in the Kocurs' backyard.
An elephant ear plant serves as a point of interest in the Kocurs' garden.
A stone path draws the eye to the seating area in the backyard garden of John and Beth Kocur.
Hibiscus helps brighten the backyard garden of John and Beth Kocur.
Blue atlas cedar climbs the fence in the backyard garden of John and Beth Kocur.
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Even when he lived in a rented North Side house, John Kocur gardened.
"People thought we were crazy. We'd spend a couple hundred dollars a year on plants," he said.
Then he and wife Beth bought their first house together, also on the North Side. Because it had no backyard, Mr. Kocur gardened in containers.
Finally, in August 2009, they bought an 1860s row house in the Mexican War Streets with a long skinny backyard filled with concrete and gravel. The only greenery was on a chain-link fence covered with morning glories and unknown vines. The Kocurs were delighted.
Three years later, their "urban oasis" is the small garden winner of the PG Great Gardens Contest, fall/year-round category. And the house isn't too bad either.
"The inside was my project and the outside was his," Mrs. Kocur said. "He maintains the garden. He gets the love."
"My wife has ideas, but I'm the garden guy," he agreed.
A corporate architect, Mrs. Kocur helped work out where the paths and seating areas would be and designed the pergola that shelters an Omni-Stone patio. The clear polycarbonate-paneled roof was her idea, too.
"The back doors let so much light into the house," she said. "I didn't want to lose that. I wanted full light coming through."
Mrs. Kocur left plant selection to her husband, with just one request -- plenty of evergreens. "I didn't want it to be bare in the middle of January," she said.
With help and advice from landscape designer Jeff Knapp of Creative Images, Mr. Kocur complied, planting small-scale, architectural trees and shrubs, including weeping blue Atlas cedar, weeping Norway spruce and three 'Sky Pencil' Japanese hollies. For seasonal color, there is a redbud tree, pink 'Knockout' roses, pink mandevilla and pink and yellow hibiscus. A tiny patch of grass offers the eye a place to rest and highlights the curving edges of the serpentine beds. A corner vegetable garden contains tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, zucchini and cucumbers.
Close to the back of the house, clumps of ornamental grass soften the edge of the path and elephant ear, a tropical plant with huge, ridged leaves, provide an exotic-looking accent by the seating area. Outdoor furniture from JCPenney, curtains from Pottery Barn, and a quirky clock and winged pig from Garden Ridge create a warm, inviting spot where the couple often entertains.
Mr. Kocur has no more space for plants, but he is thinking about small fire and water features. His wife is pleased with their "oasis" just the way it is.
"I think it looks way better than I anticipated," she said. "It's a great gathering place, an amazing addition to our home. We love it."
First Published October 13, 2012 12:00 am