This summer Connie and I visited a lot of gardens, mostly through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. I love visting gardens to see what other people have created. I’ve seen so many that have taught me a lot over the years. After starting my own garden and quickly realizing a garden is more than just a collection of favorite plants, I’ve learned to look at the gardens I vistit in a way that reveals their secrets – why they work, what makes them special. Always it is because the gardener/designer has taken the entire space into consideration and that often means turning the faults or less than ideal features into assets. So it isn’t the pretty flowers that make the garden, it’s the thought to creating structure (aka the bones) that both hold the garden together without the pretty blooms as well as enhances those pretty flowers while in their glory.
These three gardens are all in the Chicago area and were designed by important garden designers of the early 20th century. They have formal bones in a style you don’t see as much these days, with the current preference for curves in the landscape. I love their strong architecture and geometry softened by exhuberant seasonal displays of perennials, bulbs and annuals. While you might not elect to do this at home there is still a lot of food for thought here!
The Shakespeare Garden at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, 1920. Designed by Jens Jensen. This garden is open to the public year round.
Entering this garden is like walking into another world. It is completely surrounded by hedges so it has the feeling of being hidden away.
The long borders are perfect for strolling and exploring and it’s worth coming here several times during the growing season. The perennials have their moments to shine then fade into the backdrop as the next group to bloom has their peak. These photos are from early May.
Low boxwood hedges, flagstone paths, brick edging, turf paths, and the ornaments – the sundial and benches - all contribute to the simple geometry that makes up the structure of this garden. The flowers are just the icing on the cake.
I love how this photo shows the wide spiky foxglove blooms echoing the gable of the grey stone building beyond the garden. Also, there isn’t a lot blooming in this view but the foxgloves don’t look isolated in a sea of mulch, they have all the different greens and textures of surrounding plants to provide a pleasing scene.
Crabtree Farm – Lake Bluff, Illinois, 1926-28. Residence designed by David Adler, cottage garden by Ellen Biddle Shipman.
Pale pink roses frothing above a stone wall and two pots of purple scaveola flanking the open gate welcome you into this enclosed garden.
This garden tucked in close to the house proves formal can be soft, cozy and welcoming.
Crisply pruned boxwood hedges outlining beds and paths give strong structure no matter what time of the year. This path leads to a place to escape from the sun’s heat, a shaded bench that curves around a circular garden pool.
The side of the house features an entrance charmingly covered with a wisteria draped arbor.
The view from the back terrace and out over Lake Michigan.
House of the Four Winds – Lake Forest, Illinois, 1912. Residence and garden architecture designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw, plantings designed by Rose Standish Nichols, restored in 2002 by Craig Bergmann.
Wavy hedges provide dark contrast to play up the colors of the plants in the bed. The silver Perovskias echo the fountain and sparkling water, the spiky purple Salvias are repeated in the purple leaved beech that takes your eye beyond the hedges.
This espalier, which I think of as a Craig Bergmann signature, dresses up a chimney along with a trough planted with a mounds of colorful and cascading foliage.
Even with a layer of snow and winter’s low light this view must be just as inviting.
The lower garden planted with boxwood cones along the canal. The shimmering water, glossy boxwood leaves, silvery foliage, pale lavender and white blooms all work together to provide a cooling effect that was refreshing on the hot afternoon of our visit.
The long view looking back at the house. You can see the simple geometry that holds the garden together so it will look good all year long.