How long do you expect your garden to last? (I know, I know...some of us will be happy if
it survives until next week.) But there are
folks on this planet who take a Very Long View
"We are planting for the next 200 years," said a sign at Stourhead, an English landscape
park garden that was designed in the 18th century.
An unusually severe windstorm had felled many
original trees, and they were in the midst of
replanting at the time I visited.
Its a sentiment I found echoed in a passage
from The English Gardening School, a book by
Rosemary Alexander & Anthony du Gard Pasley
(1987, Weidenfeld & Nicholson). Think about
long-term trees, wrote the authors. "They
should be grouped carefully... so whatever development
occurs in the next two hundred years or so they
are likely to be retained as being essential
to the quality of the landscape." (As if
buying a tree wasnt already hard enough.)
Earlier this summer I traveled in France and
Holland, visiting gardens such as the 17th century
Versailles and a Dutch garden it inspired called
Het Loo. Since both were dwellings for kings,
they didnt exactly relate to my own living
situation on the south side of Chicago, but
Giverny, Monets garden west of Paris,
is a cottage garden an American could understand
(and emulate). Another high point was Bagatelle,
a Parisian garden where roses scramble up 15-foot
tall tuteurs and drape over expansive arbors,
framed by boxwood hedges and punctuated by impeccably
coiffed conical yews.
In a garden, theres no beauty without
age. For proof, no need to cross an ocean. Just
visit the Chicago Botanic Garden, which is looking
more beautiful by the minute. And this month,
when it opens its Gardens of the Great Basin,
the Botanic Garden will be making a little history
of its own. Comprised of three new gardens on
a 12-acre site, the Great Basin project was
designed by the internationally renowned landscape
architectural firm Oehme, Van Sweden & Associates.
It is the most extensive garden development
project in the Botanic Gardens history.
The projects central feature is Evening
Island, a five-acre hillside garden featuring
meadow and woodland plantings. On the opposite
shore, the Lakeside Gardens will showcase flowering
trees, shrubs and perennials, including a large
collection of flowering crabapples. In between
is the Great Basin, the projects lake,
which was drained, re-sculpted and then re-planted
to create a naturalistic shoreline environment.
Although most of us hardly realize it, the CBG
is basically a giant water garden, built on
a series of islands that are surrounded by 60
acres of lakes. As such, it is perfectly positioned
to become a model for municipalities, corporate
campuses and homeowners seeking to maintain
wetlands and ponds.
The Gardens of the Great Basin are scheduled
to open September 20, and I, for one, fervently
hope they last 200 years.