The Historical Society of Forest Park named a home and garden on the 400 block of Thomas Avenue winner of its second-annual House and Garden Walk.
Attendees picked Rob Abernathy and Peter Vamvakas’ coach house at 442 Thomas Ave. — and surrounding garden — as their favorite of the seven properties featured. Abernathy said they bought the house four years ago and “just went to work.”
“People kept saying how they felt really comfortable in my garden. It wasn’t too stiff; it was kind of like a lazy, comfortable place to hang out,” Abernathy said. “Some people stayed a long time [considering] they had seven houses to hit [and] needed to keep moving. I think that was probably the biggest compliment.”
Abernathy described the couple’s garden as “maintained” with a mix of textures, of leaves and colors of flowers. Every morning, he said he wakes up and goes to the garden, because he finds the practice therapeutic. He said he is responsible for more of the design elements of the space, and his husband can take credit for the “meticulous labor.”
“My favorite advice to anyone who’s a gardener: The key to great gardening is to keep pruning all the time,” Abernathy said.
This isn’t the first time the couple’s greenery has been recognized — the couple previously owned a home in Elmhurst and that garden was featured in Better Homes and Gardens magazine’s “Small Gardens” section.
“Our garden is kind of a unique mix of textures of leaves, so some looks like grass, with broad leaves, shiny leaves. We try to balance all these different textures of plants and layer them,” he said.
“It’s not wild; it’s maintained.”
He tries to use salvaged materials to accent the space — a water feature in the back is a combination of two fountains he found in the side alley — and he tried to organize the space into three separate areas, one for each of the families that live on the property to enjoy privately. Two families live in the two-flat at the front of the property, and Abernathy and Vamvakas live in the setback house.
“I like to have space out in the front yard because lots of people walk up our block when they’re going to Madison Street,” he said, adding that one of his favorite activities is to sit in the front yard with his mother-in-law and dogs and greet his neighbors.
“One of the great things about Forest Park is if you try even a little to engage with neighbors, everyone knows each other; it is a really little community.”
The Historical Society presented him with a custom plaque honoring the award at a banquet at Creativita on July 16. Abernathy said he plans to display the award on his front porch.
“It’s not about me; it’s about the garden walk and the appreciation for beautiful spaces,” Abernathy said. “It makes everyone slow down for a minute, look at all these gorgeous spaces we have in Forest Park.”