Horticultural delights like hydrangeas simultaneously producing both pink and blue blooms, a grass labyrinth, a vine-and-rose entwined pergola garden, a bed of Italian figs and even a tunnel of petunias are just a sampling of the sights to be enjoyed over the next two weekends when six of the most breathtaking and unique private gardens in the Chicago area will be open for tour as part of the Garden Conservancy's Open Days program.
Established in 1995, the Open Days program is the Garden Conservancy's way of introducing the public to gardening by providing easy access to outstanding examples of design and horticultural practice. Open Days is the only national private garden-visiting program, opening scores of gardens to the public over the years. In 2012, for instance, more than 300 private gardens in 19 states were opened through the program to allow thousands of visitors to explore beautiful spaces that are not normally open to the public.
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Sunday, July 20
On Sunday, July 20, private gardens in Elburn and West Chicago will welcome visitors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. No reservations are required, but a $5 admission for everyone over 12 will be charged at the entrance to each garden, according to Stephanie Werskey of the Garden Conservancy. Discount tickets ($25 for six) are available in advance at the Chicago Botanic Garden or from The Garden Conservancy at (888) 842-2442.
The Gardens at Ball, West Chicago
Access to The Gardens at Ball in West Chicago are usually reserved for the wholesale customers of the 109-year-old Ball Horticultural Company, a leader in the breeding, production, distribution and marketing of horticultural products. Located at 622 Town Road, there will be more than 10 acres of gardens to view, featuring thousands of new and prototype annuals, perennials, vegetables and shrubs, showcased in trial beds, containers and wall gardens. Master Gardeners from the University of Illinois Extensions in DuPage and Kane counties will give tours and answer questions, according to Susan Schmitz, trials and education manager for the gardens.
"This is the 12th year that we have participated in the Open Days program and it is a perfect fit for us. We are not usually open to the public, but we will do special tours for garden clubs, senior groups and church groups, but this is the only weekend day we are ever open to the public," Schmitz stated.
The Gardens at Ball are always filled with Ball's latest creations which this year includes spreading "wave petunias" in beautiful new velour colors; Marquee Coleus in three new textures and colors; vegetables tailored to grow in containers and small spaces like the new Indigo Fireball tomato, Emerald Frills and Ruby Frills basil and Tangerine Dream peppers; downy mildew-resistant hybrid impatiens; Endura Scape verbena that can survive cooler temperatures; and the gorgeous LA Dreamin' hydrangeas which produce pink and blue blooms at the same time.
"Because we are displaying our latest developments, our gardens are almost totally different every year," Schmitz acknowledged. "But we always feature annuals, perennials, vegetables and shrubs in containers, beds, vertical walls, water gardens and unique displays like our tunnel of wave petunias and our carousel of color featuring painted horses alongside containers of plants. There will be lots to see since we showcase over 3,000 varieties of plants."
She suggests that you allow at least two hours to tour The Gardens at Ball.
Hummer Haven, Elburn
Hummer Haven is also open for tour July 20 for an entrance fee of $5. Located in Elburn at 43W712 Willow Creek Drive, this privately owned garden is a riot of color that begins in early spring with tens of thousands of blooming bulbs and continues through November with several hundred species of perennials, lilies, bulbs, and shrubs.
"We grow many unusual plants that are normally found in warmer climates and have three landscaped ponds with waterfalls, the largest has a stream that leads to our swimming pond," the owner wrote in a description for the Garden Conservancy. "One hundred and twenty tons of quarry rock were used in building the ponds. Our gardens are host to butterflies, birds, dragonflies, and amphibians, a colony of bats and other wildlife. The back gardens are interlaced with winding stone paths, where we are continually adding new planting areas populated with unusual and new plants."
For those who enjoy bird watching, they also have an assortment of birds that frequent the gardens so can expect to see many Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Hummer Haven has been a Certified National Wildlife Habitat since 1991 and is also a certified Monarch Waystation, and a Xerces Society Pollinator Habitat.
Sunday, July 27
The following Sunday, on July 27, the focus will turn to Lake County and the North Shore. Two of the gardens will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. while the other two will remain open until 4 p.m. The entrance fee for each garden is $7 for those over 12 but discount tickets ($35 for six) will be available at the Chicago Botanic Garden and through the Garden Conservancy.
Mettawa Manor at 25779 N. St. Marys Road, Mettawa, was built in 1927 as a family compound. Donna LaPietra and television journalist Bill Kurtis are only the second owners in the manor's rich history and have been working for the past 23 years to refurbish some garden areas and create new ones.
The centerpiece is a walled English-style garden with 40-foot perennial borders on either side of a sunken lawn that leads to a spring walk and rose room centered on an old fountain. Outside the east gate is a golden garden and an orchard/meadow bordered by a fenced potager (kitchen garden), a cutting garden and circular herb garden. The 65-acre property has two ponds, a 15-acre prairie, a parkland of specimen trees and is surrounded by a newly reclaimed oak-hickory forest.
The most recent additions include a silver garden, a bronze garden, an ornamental lily pool, aqua-theater, a three-tiered mound, a grass labyrinth with central fire pit with a tree house overlook, and a shrubbery with island beds. There will be activities and festivities throughout the grounds during the Open Days event.
You also won't want to miss the Magic Garden at 2219 Egandale Road, Highland Park. There you will be able to stroll through the enchanted grounds of a Tudor-style house built overlooking Lake Michigan. Along with extraordinary views of the lake, tranquillity is reflected throughout three acres of trees, gardens and terraces designed by Jens Jensen 77 years ago and updated by Douglas Hoerr. Meander through the West Garden and Woodland Garden, then enjoy the Jens Jensen Fountain Terrace, views of the lake and the colorful container gardens on the East Rose Garden and Pool Terraces. It will close at 2 p.m.
Two additional gardens, both located in Lake Forest, will also be open July 27 but their exact locations can only be gleaned by getting directions that day at either Mettawa Manor or the Magic Garden, or by phoning the Garden Conservancy at (888) 842-2442 during weekday office hours.
Old Mill Farm, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., was once a working dairy farm siring, championship bulls. It originally consisted of a 1929 English Tudor-style house and several outbuildings with the latter eventually being demolished by the original owner when selling a large portion of the property. Jens Jensen designed the original master plan for the entire property, the Garden Conservancy website (www.gardenconservancy.org) states.
The current owners purchased the property from the original owner's estate with the dream of restoring the property and house. Collaborating with John Mariani and Jim Osborne of Mariani Landscape, they've created a truly magical garden.
Old Mill Farm focuses on the potager garden of boxwood partitions filled spring to fall with bulbs and annuals for flower arranging and herbs and vegetables for cooking. Next to this garden is a berry patch and, unusual for this northern climate, a bed of Italian figs. Two perennial borders are adjacent to the potager garden. One border features perennials with annuals added for seasonal color. The other border is a butterfly garden surrounded by yew hedges. Other garden features include an orchard, a woodland garden and a prairie restoration.
Camp Rosemary is the final featured garden of the day and it is open until 4 p.m. Designed by Rose Standish Nichols in the 1920s, this garden is made up of wonderful garden rooms partitioned by pines, yews, and boxwood hedges.
A sweeping lawn and luscious container plantings at the front steps are the first hints of delightful discoveries inside: a charming box-edged parterre, a thyme garden, and an urn brimming with roses, perennials, and annuals set against an ancient yew hedge affectionately called "the couch."
Other areas include a chapel-like white garden with two reflecting pools and a vine-and-rose entwined pergola garden with three exuberant borders surrounding a small pool, the Garden Conservancy states on its website.
During the spring of 1998, work began in earnest on the walled garden, which now graces the area surrounding the pool house. Elegant wide grass steps, paired rose borders, a linden allée, intricately patterned knot gardens, and four well-planted perennial borders are all key elements of this new landscape.
In contrast to the softer colors of the perennial beds near the pergola, these borders reflect a stronger palette of red, orange, violet, and blue. Some wonderful burgundy and silver foliage plants complement the whole scheme.
Beyond the walled garden is a lush wooded ravine. A meandering path traces the ravine's edge beginning at the grass labyrinth and ending in the small glade, which overlooks the ravine. From this vantage point, a statue of Diana, the huntress, watches over the whole garden.