Although Kim Visokey wasn’t necessarily born with a green thumb, she’d later earn the nickname “Garden Freak”—a term of endearment, of course—from her children after falling in love with the gardens on her family’s one-acre Winnetka property when they moved in 20 years ago. Today, however, she’s a veritable outdoor expert and just last year launched a lifestyle gardening brand, GardenFreak, with a line of functional and fashionable garden goods.
“I had ideas from working in my own garden about how products could be more efficient and forward-thinking,” says Visokey. “I like to use my hands when I work, so I created gloves that dry quickly and are webbed for dexterity, which are now our bestseller.” To fill out her line, Visokey offers some cool innovative product features: sun hats with removable/washable brow bands, gardening leggings with integrated knee pads, a picking pouch for harvesting, clipper cases with advanced neoprene design, and chic tunics for après-garden chill time.
In the spirit of GardenFreak, one that Visokey describes as fun and irreverent, the tunics are named after her gardening heroines: Mary Gibson Henry, Ganna Walska, Emily Whaley, and Ruth Bancroft—each stitched with cheeky phrases sewn into the sleeves and collars. Visokey’s own garden evolved as an extension of her homemaking, and she thought of the outdoors as the next frontier in design.
“I learned to garden by rolling up my sleeves,” says Visokey. “I also went to The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days, which was great inspiration for me. Gardens are meant to be shared. When my garden is having a good hair day, so to speak, I’ll tell my friends to come over because it’s not always like that, and I need to share it with someone.”
But the best part of her garden, Visokey explains, is that it performs well in all seasons. The intersecting spiral labyrinths are cut at two different heights, which then become sculptural with snow accumulation at the varying levels, and the circular shape feels like a warm embrace. It’s an embrace Visokey will miss, as she recently sold the home to move to the city.
“I feel so blessed that the new homeowner loves to garden,” she says. “Although I’ll miss the garden, I’m passing the baton to her and am excited to see how she makes it her own. I’ll be translating the passion I have for my original garden to new garden frontiers. Gardens are forever changing and so are the gardeners who tend them. That’s one of the great things about this pursuit—it’s like installation art— always different from season to season.” That said, Visokey will have to adjust her style for the smaller city spaces—her new home has a balcony, and she also has a new residence in Florida which means learning a whole new vocabulary of plants—a challenge she’s looking forward to. But, she says, there’s actually a trend in container gardening because of both the growing number of people downsizing and of those who want to have smaller, patio-size gardens. She also mentions increasing popularity for clustering pots with repetitions in color and texture to create a cohesive vignette and in native plants that are less maintenance because they’re meant to grow in our climate.
Her expertise means Visokey is often asked to provide tips and tricks for those new to gardening, and she’s quick to say that a garden is never done. “Gardens need constant tending,” she explains. “Every setting is unique with sunlight, soil, and drainage all impacting how well your plants perform. I had to move plants many times in my garden because I’d find they didn’t thrive in the original place. That comes with experience and realizing, as a gardener, that it’s a fluid process.”
Visokey’s children are now grown, but they’ll still call her for advice. Recently, her daughter passed a bodega in New York City and phoned Visokey to ask if the shop’s succulents would work in her north-facing window. Her son Luke, the youngest, texted Visokey to let her know he’d smelled mulch in the air while walking to work and that it reminded him of home.
“Part of the mission of GardenFreak is to inspire young people to garden,” notes Visokey. “Newcomers are afraid they don’t have a green thumb, and I want it to seem more approachable. I hope we appeal to the next generation of gardeners.”
To further support that mission, Visokey supports non-profits that help youth discover the joys of gardening, like KidsGardening.org, an organization that inspires, supports, and connects educators and families by providing garden grants and curriculum to foster the love of gardening from an early age.
“There are a lot of benefits to gardening at a young age,” says Visokey. “You grow more than just plants, you grow self-confidence, and a sense of accomplishment. Seeing how kids react to the Chicago Botanic Garden—they’re skipping and happy—just evokes such a sense of joy.”
Visokey loves to spend time at Glencoe’s Chicago Botanic Garden, especially in the summer months and calls it one of her all-time favorite places.
It’s a place to escape from the craziness of planning for the launch of new GardenFreak gloves in different sizes and colors later this year and from handling distribution in more than 15 states.
“It’s been a labor of love,” she says. “I had no experience … this is just something I believe deeply in. For me, gardening is all about the feeling and ambiance created by combining plants and atmosphere. I just love it!” And we love watching her garden, both literally and metaphorically, grow.
For more information, visit gardenfreak.com.