Indian Head Park gardener brings life to Heritage Center
"All these hostas I found under weeds," says Susan Kiley, a volunteer gardener at the Heritage Center in Indian Head Park. Many other plants were donated from other people's gardens. | Kimberly Fornek—Sun-Times Media
Heritage Center: 6250 S. Wolf Road, Indian Head Park
To help: Call Sue Kiley at (708) 246-2328
Sue Kiley’s real job: works for the Illinois International Port District in Chicago
Updated: October 5, 2012 1:05PM
INDIAN HEAD PARK — When Susan Kiley and her husband downsized to a town house, she missed her garden.
The couple had moved from a house in south suburban Flossmoor with a large back yard.
Without a garden to tend, “I was having a hard time,” Kiley said. When she read a notice in Indian Head Park’s newsletter, Smoke Signals, seeking volunteers to improve the grounds of the village-owned Heritage Center at 6250 S. Wolf Road, Kiley thought she had found a solution.
After the notice ran, however, Kiley learned she was “the volunteer,” as in the one and only who responded to the ad.
“They emptied out the kitty for donations and there was $8. That was my budget,” she said.
To make matters worse, the Kileys had given away or sold all their gardening equipment. Her only tools were a manual hedge trimmer and an old rusty rake an elderly resident had donated to the cause.
The first and perhaps most difficult job was cutting back the overgrown trees and bushes pulling weeds.
“A lot of people didn’t want to help because the building looked so terrible,” Kiley said.
She began to scrounge around for perennials and bought some plants on her own.
“I had to stop on my way home from work everyday to water,” Kiley said.
Kiley found half-buried flagstones on the property that she unearthed and moved to make a walkway, and used old bricks to make borders.”
When she heard workers at Oakbrook Center were pulling out the chrysanthemums in the landscaped beds and throwing them away, Kiley and her granddaughter found the Dumpster.
Her granddaughter climbed up, reached in and started handing ’mums down to her grandmother. They rescued about three dozen.
“Some survived and some didn’t,” Kiley said.
In the spring, Kiley persuaded the village to place more ads in Smoke Signals, asking for volunteers and donations of plants or money. The donations were much more plentiful than the volunteers.
“People have these big, old yards,” Kiley said. “I told them if you donate (a plant) I will dig it up.”
In March and April, she removed flowers and plants at 11 different addresses. The variety grew: tulip bulbs, canna bulbs, daisies, grasses, ferns, sedum, a holly bush and two little evergreens.
A group of students from Highlands Middle School, under the guidance of Joan Metz, spent a day in May gardening at the center for their service project.While Kiley was at work, they planted at least 20 hostas, tons of day lilies, pampas grass and shoots Riley did not recognize, but which have since produced beautiful blossoms.
“They did a fabulous job,” Kiley said.
She also has three volunteers, Joan McNamara, Shirley Lundin and Marie Di-Meo, who come and water reliably three days a week. Some help weed, too.
Most of the planting was done at the rear of the building, because that’s the entrance people use. Kiley’s goal is “to get the front to look as good as the back does. By next spring, it should be gorgeous.”