This June may offer one of the widest arrays of open local notable gardens and landscapes in recent memory. The June 13 and 14 Lake Forest Garden Club’s centennial benefit “House & Garden Walk,” the oldest tradition of such occasions here, is open to friends and members of other garden clubs and may include members’ newly restored gardens dating back to the 19th century. The Garden Conservancy, where the gardens only and not the house interiors are on view, is a newer tradition here, but nonetheless offers anyone interested access to gardens on Sundays this June 24 and July 22. One of the June 24 open gardens and landscapes also dates back to the 19th century: Crab Tree Farm, an estate whose long history has just become the subject of a fascinating illustrated book by Kim Coventry, available at Lake Forest Book Store.
The Lake Forest Garden Club is celebrating 100 years of service, locally and beyond—promoting beautification, conservation, and education about nature and land stewardship. In 1913, this group was the westernmost founding member of the Garden Club of America (GCA). The gardens on view here for members of garden clubs throughout the area reflect this heritage of leadership, repeating a cycle of garden walks every two or three years and going back to the 1920s. When the GCA held its annual meeting on the North Shore in 1919, the Lake Forester reported an anguished member of the Newport, Rhode Island, garden club saying that the spacious and well-developed gardens here made her fear that her club would have nothing worthy to show to Lake Foresters!
One of this year’s possible garden club showplaces (locations on tour are not revealed in advance) dates back to at least the opening of the Lake Forest Water Company, in 1892, and probably to 1880 or before. The easily accessed fresh water from the lake allowed the locals to create lush flower gardens like those in England then, depending there on nearly daily rains throughout the summers. The fresh lake water here—pumped up the bluff and distributed—allowed these gardens to be oases during the quite hot and dry months of July and August. East Coast gardeners in 1919 were amazed at what this allowed their Midwestern colleagues to accomplish. The old garden has been newly restored by Craig Bergmann, with references back to the era of an earlier renovation by Ferruccio Vitale in 1927. For more information about this walk, visit lakeforestgc.org.
The younger Garden Conservancy has become well established here as well since the 1990s, offering a couple of upper North Shore open days each summer. Gardens bloom here later than near Long Island Sound, where the open days come in May and early June. The pumped fresh lake water that helps so much in July and August retards the arrival of spring while it slowly warms up in May and June. These Sunday events are open without invitation, but a small admission is charged. (Discounted tickets are available at the Chicago Botanic Garden or from the Garden Conservancy website, along with location details (gardenconservancy.org and opendaysprogram.org).
In addition to Crab Tree Farm, there are four other Garden Conservancy on June 24: the House of Four Winds (Ibero-Moorish garden and water features by Rose Standish Nichols, Boston, ca. 1910; restored by Craig Bergmann); Shadow Pond (Italian villa designed under supervision of H. F. Huber & Co., New York designers; Jens Jensen landscape—all much restored recently; Old Mill Farm (another Jensen landscape, restored by the Mariani firm); and Mettawa Manor (a classic English Renaissance 1920s estate recently restored and expanded).
The July 22 Garden Conservancy Open Day adds four more spectacular private Lake Forest gardens, all restored and enhanced. New this year is Fairlawn, re-envisioned in recent years by the artist-owner for a 3.5 acre central parcel, the original dating back to the 1860s with contributions from F. L. Olmsted, Scots landscape gardener Frank Calvert, and, in the 1920s, architect William Delano. Others are: Camp Rosemary, Lake Forest’s own rival to Dumbarton Oaks, Georgetown; Elawa Farms 1910 Gate House Gardens with R. R. Root’s garden amazingly restored and expanded by Craig Bergmann; and a striking West Laurel house and garden that dates from the 1920s and is adjacent to Lake Forest Open Lands. All of these are detailed in the Open Days Directory, also available at the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Conservancy’s website.
This brief summary only begins to describe the richness of these visiting opportunities here, the equivalent of an expensive tour in the Isle de France or around Florence or Rome. The Garden Conservancy, in addition to offering nine world-class private gardens, also will be showcasing local Open Lands and Elawa Farm landscapes and gardens.
—Arthur H. Miller