“I hope this doesn’t seem too bizarre,” says artist Michael Onesko, leading the way through his Highland Park garden–past the elephant’s ears, prairie grasses, weeping conifers, amaranths, and Tibetan prayer flags–to the arbor where he regularly sees spirits. Black, opaque, and shaped like the Nike swoosh, these visitors are of unclear origin, though Onesko says he gets an ominous vibe from them. They began appearing two years ago, he says, after his sister (and childhood gardening partner) died. Across the garden, Onesko turned a shed into a shrine for her, complete with animatronic figures and candles, one of which started a fire that left the shrine charred but mostly standing; Onesko dubbed the whole yard Ash Gardens. The thick vegetation surrounding his purple frame house is the result of more than 20 years of work. Other than the shrine, there are blackened dolls’ heads impaled on bamboo sticks, beaded Haitian art, paths made of mirror shards, and enough other wonders to have drawn a tour group from the Chicago Botanic Garden last summer. For this weekend’s free public tour, in conjunction with an opening at Street Level Gallery, Onesko’s adding live music, performance, audio tracks by artist Mark Winner, video by Geoffrey George, and installations on a midwestern Gothic theme. The garden’s open from 7 to 9 PM on Friday, October 17. Directions are available at the gallery, where an opening reception will be held from 6 to 8:30 for “3 Painters: 3 Perspectives,” work by Timothy Burke, Yale Factor, and Sharon Rosenzweig. From the gallery, 9 Highwood in Highwood, it’s a five-minute drive to Ash Gardens. Call 847-432-8340 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bruce Powell.