Day one of the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s Chicago Garden Dialogues took place yesterday, with two excellent gardens being featured in two lush towns just north of the city. The first was in Winnetka, and the second was in Highland Park. Both were designed by Maria Smithburg of Artemesia (who served as tour guide along with the property owners), both had frontage on Lake Michigan, and both could be considered to be examples of modern landscapes surrounding modern houses.
But that is where the similarities ended. Entering the grounds at the Winnetka residence, one was met with a relatively former landscape. Massed plantings surrounded the driveway that led to the garage. A putting green and pool provided outdoor recreation which, being located on the west side of the house, took advantage of afternoon sun.
But the same couldn’t be said of the whole grounds. One of the driving concepts of the garden’s designer was that of discovery; it was her intent to have areas that are discovered as one moved through the grounds previously unseen areas would become visible. And that is exactly what happened when one walked beside the pool towards the house. There was a little path leading downhill surrounded by plantings and leading to an outdoor seating area with a sculptural water feature.
As you moved towards what is essentially the front of the house facing Lake Michigan, the planting scheme becomes increasingly naturalistic. That aesthetic was intentional, the overall landscape scheme transitions from the more formal streetside to the more natural lakeside. The house itself afforded plenty of opportunity for all-season gazing upon the landscape, as it was a very modern house with glass being a major part of the building envelope.
The second Highland Park property had its own surprises. The owners purchased a previously-owned house, and the front entry area was much the same as they bought it. The driveway was brick paved with a turnaround and some sculptures. Most of this area was pre-existing, with some new understory plantings being the main contribution by the Smithburg and the current owner. A narrow shrub-lined path leads back to the rear of the house, revealing a surprisingly grand sculpture garden.
The layout of the new garden, which was installed where an unused swimming pool used to be, used dynamic curvilinear forms, with the idea of making it to represent motion. There was one major sculptural water feature, with some striking sculptures scattered throughout the space. Some curved planting beds carved their way through the paved patio and fountain space, with lush plantings around the sides. The plantings along the path leading to the lake were less intentional, as regulations protect existing plantings to provide erosion control.
Both gardens were impressive, and each had its own unique character and identity. The tour itself was a good experience as well, giving the opportunity for the small group of participants to engage in dialogue with the designer and property owner (hence the event’s name).