First you see the brown of the wooden deck extending off the back door of the home where Bill Reid lives. Then, you hear the unmistakable burble of water. As you enter his backyard you can see the water — it is a pond that extends from one end of the property before snaking off out of view. Large exotic Koi fish, white and orange and speckled black, white and gold hunt for food.
You are in Downers Grove, in a backyard surrounded by green and nature and you feel as though you’re somewhere else, somewhere peaceful and far away from the suburbs. Your senses are overwhelmed by the sound of leaves blowing in the wind and birds chirping and you are amazed.
The garden, meticulous and indulgent, took Reid almost two decades to create.
“I started working at the outer edges of the perimeter of the yard and turning over grass, putting shrubs and things in and working our way down, to create a tiered effect, kind of a little privacy-miniature arboretum kind of thing,” Reid said.
He began the project when he and his brother bought and moved into the home back in 1971.
Reid is retired from the outdoor advertising business and has no formal training in landscaping. Rather, he taught himself by taking note of ideas he saw at garden centers, or in gardening catalogues. He taught himself — through trial and error — about plants and which kinds grow best in which conditions.
The result is a backyard like few others. It stands out as an example of what can be done with a little space, a lot of time and even more ambition.
“You just have to be cognizant of space and plants. It’s not easy. You got to read (plants’) labels and see what the potential growth size is. And there’s always the temptation to buy (some plants even though) you know it’s going to get too big,” Reid said.
Once you cross the Koi pond, over a little wooden bridge, a short stone path leads you to the center of the yard and the landscape opens up. Ahead of you the trees grow closer together, are thicker and give the illusion of a small wooded area.
Back at the Koi pond, the fish splash and flop in the shade where Reid has built a private deck. To feed his fish, Reid stomps on the deck with his foot and the Koi rush to him in a huddle of colors, noise and excitement. One of the fish, named Goldie, is 19 years old.
“As long as they have oxygen and they have enough depth so the ice doesn’t freeze too deep on them and suffocate them or freeze them in the ice … they can live a long, long time. They say 35, 40, 50 years. They can go over 100,” Reid said.
Brian Helfrich heads construction for Aquascape, the company that has worked on the Reid brothers’ pond over the years. He said there are only about 10 similar yards in Downers Grove.
The company uses photos of the Reid pond for some of their advertising.
“(The pond) creates a little bit of mystery so you don’t see the entire pond from one area. It really compels you to move throughout the yard,” Helfrich said. “I wouldn’t say it’s the focus, the focal point of the yard. It’s really kind of amongst the entire yard. As you walk along the pond you kind of discover new things so it’s kind of neat.”
Bob Passovoy of the Midwest Pond and Koi Society said he has been to the Reids’ backyard several times over the years.
“The Reids do more beautiful things with simple, affordable filtration solutions than just about anybody in the club. Their setup is beautiful and (as) visitor-friendly as they come,” Passovoy said.
Also, in 2004, the Reid backyard was featured on the cover of a Better Homes and Gardens Magazine.
“They did a special edition on garden ponds. Somebody at their magazine had remembered that they had seen a pond once on one of these pond walks that we’re always on and asked if we would let them do a article in their new magazine. So, we did,” Reid said.
Still, Reid says his backyard is a secret.
“I really don’t know that too many people know about this,” he said.