Sanctuary in the suburbs

Worth couple finds peace, happiness in gardening

By Laura Bollin

A Worth couple known for growing huge pumpkins had to change plans on the fly this year because of the summer drought that left many an area gardener with a disappointing crop.

The backyard at the home of George and Theresa Rebersky became a village-wide attraction the past couple years because of George’s ability to grow pumpkins that tipped the scales at nearly 300 pounds. The green-thumb’s 275-pound pumpkin in 2010 drew neighborhood youths to their garden, and village officials would bring relatives to see it, according to Theresa.

George’s attempt to grow the giant fruits, however, fizzled this summer because of the sweltering heat and lack of rain; but while Mother Nature undermined his pumpkin-growing efforts, it did not stop him from doing one of the things he most enjoys. Rebersky has been gardening for 20 years, and when it became evident his pumpkins weren’t going to grow well he decided to try his hand cultivating another squash known as long-handle gourds. The gourds, which can grow more than three feet long, are typically used for decoration.

“This year, we went to a 153-year-old farm in Arthur, and I saw the gourds, and said, I gotta get me one of these,” he said.

George started planting the gourd seeds as soon as he got home, Theresa said.

“He walked out of there with his magic seeds, and he was just so excited,” she added.

George, who works at a ready-mix concrete company, used rebar and wooden reinforcements to build an arbor, or pergola, for the gourds. The plant’s vines require a structure to climb in order to grow properly.

“I originally just did rebar, but had to go in and put in the wooden frame because they were growing so fast,” George said. “There are now 12 gourds, all different kinds, and the largest one is 38 inches long. They turned out to be monstrous.”

The Rebersky’s garden also has tomatoes, green peppers, basil, cabbage, zucchini, canna flowers and dahlias — the latter for which the couple took home the blue ribbon at the Southtown Dahlia Club’s competition in Crestwood last month.

“That was a big deal for us, because it was our first professional competition,” Theresa said. “The dahlias are just so beautiful.”

Dahlias have a main flower and then smaller flowers, and the key to growing large dahlias is to cut off those smaller flowers so the water and nutrients go to the large one, George explained. The largest dahlia in the Rebersky’s garden was nine inches in diameter.

George learned to garden from his dad, George Sr., who owned 2.5 acres near 102nd Street and Harlem Avenue in Chicago Ridge. George’s father built a home there in 1955.

“My dad was a gardener for his whole life,” George said. “He grew vegetables to sell to people when he went to work at a machinery blade company in Bedford Park. I learned gardening through him. We were always in the garden, and I started weeding when I was 6 years old.”

Gardening is a hobby George and Theresa now enjoy as a couple.

“I water and weed, and he’s in charge of planting,” Theresa said. “We have 800 or 900 tiny white lights throughout the garden that come on at night, so we come and sit outside. We’re out here every night. This is as close to a sanctuary as we can find.”

The couple pans to host a “gourd almighty” garden party later this month for their friends and neighbors, complete with a bonfire and a tour of the flowers and vegetables in the garden. George wants to encourage people to garden, and calls his garden his own personal park.

“I started my garden to show people what you can do with a small suburban garden plot,” George said. “It’s very relaxing here. My dad always used to say, if you can’t be happy in your garden, you can’t be happy anywhere, and we’re happy here.”