Spring 2018

Craig’s Summer Letter

Dear Fellow Gardeners,
Writing this in the first week of summer sure doesn’t seem like I am in the right season, at least today. This is one of many recent cool rainy days collecting over 4" in a week’s time. Of course, last week we had 95 degree heat and tomorrow there might be a glimmer of summer hope and sunshine. Here in the Midwestern US, we wait so long for our short summers and this year in particular, Mother Nature has been a real tease.

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    I will tell you that with all of our rain and cool temperatures so far, there isn’t a vestige of the brutality of the 2 year drought we had just a year and a half ago. VERDANT is a perfect word to describe our gardens this year. Shade trees are laden with new growth and shade is a common denominator in repurposed shady spots this year. Any plant that is culturally in the right spot is thriving, and those on the edge of “well-drained, moisture retentive soil” we see the oxymoron in so many catalog descriptions are struggling with our saturate sub-soils.

    I am suspect of high summer insect infestations with this mild start to summer but until a problem, we are enjoying the heady fragrance of the Gallica and Bourbon roses this time in our orchard. The rugosa hybrids have been stunning with masses of flowers so I hope for a beautiful rose hip display in the fall.

    As I walk the gardens morning, noon, and night I have come to realize that a happy bird is a singing member of the garden almost all day long. I even heard a hooting owl the other night on the last walk of the day for the dogs. I bet that owl is a happy camper this year when it comes to food since I have yet to see such a robust population of chipmunks and rabbits in our garden the past 7 years. Even our ‘Marjorie Fair’ musk rose had been chewed to the ground after they were fully budded and about to bloom. For safety’s sake, we are keeping the asters caged with chicken wire but lost the poppy seedlings and many delphinium in the Blue Border – darn it!

    Working and living in the garden is always a humbling and gratifying way to live and spend the day. The garden enables me to daydream of things non-work or stress related and fuels me.  For the bumps in my work day, there is nothing quite like seeing a loved terrier as it disappears into a boxwood hedge and pop out 20 feet away: wet, muddy and smiling. Now that’s a sign of good-living for canine and human.

    On this soggy, dark morning, I decided to wear a burgundy, orange and pink plaid shirt to brighten the day and to bring summer cherries and baked goods into the office. As I waited for my venti non-fat latte at the coffee counter after collecting my food goodies, I was told that the manager of the store treated me to my coffee – a sunny moment on this gloomiest of days. This gift of kindness just made my day and caffeinated me for what was to come next!

    May your summer be full of beauty, good health and acts of kindness. Summer bounty yields more than just nice weather and mosquitos, if we keep our minds and hearts open to all that reveals itself to us.

    Be well,

Spring 2018

May Tent Event

Hello all, and thank you to everyone involved in making of our first annual Tent Event a success May 3rd thru 6th. This sale was quite the challenge long before we even opened our doors, but it was all worth it in the end.

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    After days of packing the tent to the brim, a nasty early morning storm split the roof of the tent in half, tossing many of our items to and fro with a few damaged beyond repair…

    Even one of our staff members got hurt in harm’s way, but thankfully he has fully recovered and is back to his normal life and work activities. All of us were shaken, but the show had to go on!

    Our customer’s enthusiasm for our choice in plants was veracious, and as items were swept up each day we had to keep finding more and more things to ornament the display benches. The taco and cupcake vendors were also a huge success, especially for my staff due to our all-you-can-eat policy for those working the event. Amazing what delicious food will do for our crew of physical, hard-working folks.

    This event reminded many of us of the old days when our Country Garden was open in Winthrop Harbor. Many familiar faces of those fond of that place also showed up at our new location for the tent event. Like a good, hardy, locally-grown plant, so do we have our perennial customers: THANK YOU!

    Our next sales event will be at the invitation-only Lake Forest Garden Club House and Garden Walk on June 20th and 21st. It is always a joy to be involved in this popular event and this year’s tour will be no exception. As in previous years, our “boutique” will be in the central courtyard at the Onwentsia Country Club. This year we are featuring not only our fabulously grown plants and special finds we have been saving for this event, but we will also debut the Italian Terrace Collection Ltd of frost-proof terra cotta pots and planters from our friend Elizabeth Goodrich in England. They are stunning and typically only available online and shipped from across the pond. We are very excited to share this great company with our treasured customers…

    Craig Bergmann
    RLA, ASLA, Proprietor


Craig’s Spring Letter

The word ‘vernal’ seems to encapsulate my feelings of late. Definitions include “appearing or occurring in spring”, from the 16th century ‘ver’, meaning spring, and “describing something youthful or fresh”. The light, the temperature variations in a day, the bird activity with high-spirited songs each morning: All are exuberantly telling us times are changing.

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    The snowdrops and winter aconites have been in bloom for a month under our old Norway Maple, but this week heralded the carpets of Scilla siberica starting to create a “blue sea” in the orchard. The daffodils, alliums and naked ladies are robust with foliage and the hellebores are nodding through the purplish foliage of the Virginia bluebells. The last of our dormant pruning is in full swing with hydrangeas and roses getting shaped up and the clematis have received their annual cut backs and training of stems on our fences, arbors and lanky shrubs.

    Since we are never without a garden project on the near horizon around here, this year’s main event will be titled ‘Simplification’. Removal of box-edged rose panels opens up some much-needed space for fêtes and also eases maintenance. The transplanted boxwood will provide edging for a nearby tall box hedge with lanky legs and to face down an existing burgundy-foliaged tapestry hedge in the front yard. At the far end of the west borders we are removing 72 square feet of lawn to expand the garden for a more proportionate face for the old Taxus sentinels that have grown so tall. This larger planting bed will also provide space for more dramatic, large-scaled, foliage plants – giving a stronger end point of the view from the house. And old, rotted oak rounds have recently been replaced in the shade garden with satisfactory “faux-bois” stepping stones for safer traverse through the path after heavy rains.

    As part of my simplification project, I have set a new challenge for myself; less pots all around. Now we’ll see if I will be successful. A plantsman always uses container gardening as an excuse for expanding their garden under the guise of ‘punctuation’, ‘design intent’ or ‘much-needed ornamentation’. But one of the hardest things to do in garden design and the making of an artful space is editing. Knowing when to curb one’s enthusiasm and look at the garden with fresh eyes has often led me to simplifying the plant palette, the color scheme and even the space itself. Just because I might have a set of six matching English cast stone urns doesn’t mean my garden can handle all six – or can it, if I “get creative”? My personal challenge has begun. Now let’s see if I practice what I preach.

    Over the years I have found that the garden with which I am most discontent is my own. These gardens at 900 are my living laboratory, my test kitchen, my dreamscape. Every year the garden changes and, even though my goal is simplification, this year will be no exception. If you have the opportunity, come see our changes by visiting us when we have our select tours at our Lake Forest location. A great time would be during our Open Day for The Garden Conservancy – this year on Sunday, July 22.

    As a direct result of my diverse interests and penchant for collecting interesting plants and objects whenever possible, we now have a wealth of inventory. So I am having our First Annual Tent Event from May 3 through May 6 at our Nursery facility in Wadsworth, IL. We are pitching a large tent to best show off the overstock contents of our “packed to the gills” pole barn, storage lockers and large hoop house. This unique assemblage of objects, plants and curiosities can furnish your home and garden with some one-of-a-kind items that you may not have known you even needed! My innate sense of repurposing good things creates a treasure trove of building materials, tools, pots and furniture; as well as a collection of uncommon and fantastic plants we acquired when one of our favorite nurseries closed last fall. Please come and visit us for this event!

    May our vernal migratory movements inspire you to look at your home and garden in a fresh new light in this glorious time of year.

    Craig Bergmann
    RLA, ASLA, Proprietor


Winter Letter from Craig

During this dormant time of reflection, I have been contemplating what The Art of Fine Gardening really represents in today’s growing world. The phrase has been the mantra of our company since our inception in 1981, but in this tireless era of societal rush, I find it to be the guiding light more pertinent to my approach in the garden than before. My goal for the garden, while linking the home to the land and the plant to the place, is for elements to align and transcend to art. Collaborating with people and nature, the garden becomes an experience, a destination for both mind and body, and ultimately a source for inspiration and abandon. As we look forward towards the potential of the garden in the upcoming year, now is the time to take a moment and reflect on why we must remain mindful of tradition, history, and practice, and then maybe being more referential to the past will lead us towards following a more purposeful and sustainable life in the garden.

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    The popular catch phrases of green, sustainable, organic, and repurposed are in reality a return to an earlier era and the beliefs of an earlier generation. If one lives a natural life, don’t all of these practices become almost effortless? I once saw a bumper sticker that read: Be Green, Buy Antiques. It seems only natural to me to treasure things that have lasted for years because they were conceived and crafted of great ideas and materials. Simulation is just that – an imitation. In our house, we love real wood “brown” furniture that is hand-crafted as functional works of art, and I find myself remaining ever-mindful to apply that concept to our gardens.

    In an effort to capitalize on the aging character of our gardens, I am working towards localizing herbaceous plantings to defined areas and letting the beauty of woody plants stand on their own. Filling every inch under and around shrubs in borders is so labor intensive to maintain and to nurture long term as the plants mature. This growth also brings about changes in both the light levels and moisture access for the smaller plants. I find myself using more brambling, creeping, rhizomatous shrubs that do the work of the shrub and the ground cover in one. Thus, the Salix, Deutzia, Rhus, Rosa, and Contoneaster groups are becoming more prominent in our planting plans.

    “Less is more” in my efforts to reduce long-term maintenance. Leaving empty spaces in herbaceous planting beds makes room for volunteers or seasonal annuals, and it keeps the hardy plants less crowded and less disease-prone. Planting hedges on wider spacing to let growth happen will also reduce disease issues, as well as the need to excessively prune. This strategy will literally add years to the life and health of the plant, and is yet another green practice put in place with its roots in an earlier time. To be sure, it is a novel idea in today’s world of immediate gratification.

    My reflections on the build out of the Gardens at 900 have revealed the good, the bad, and the ugly. I find myself more accustomed to reviewing others’ gardens, but tackling my own personal garden has not been as easy. I always seem to think I will remember what the problems are each season, but that is sadly not the case. This year, I am taking many more photos for my future reference, which helps a great deal. Also, in year’s past if a plant component was struggling, I would quickly try something else without stopping to figure out the real problem. Now, as I’ve learned to settle into my garden, I am trying things repeatedly to discover why it was unsuccessful. Sometimes the simplest tweak in getting a plant established will make all the difference in its thriving. Maybe I am maturing as a gardener, or perhaps I’m trying to justify yet another effort in the name of “the garden needs it”. Either way, I feel headway is accumulating for our next 10-year care program for the gardens.

    A critical part of that progressive care program for our gardens moving forward is shifting to a more organic approach. Switching our lawn care over to an organic regime has been one of our best decisions. The dog’s skin allergies went away, our seasonal allergies seem to be less volatile, and our old trees and shrubs seem much more stable when assessing their needs and health.

    Next year we are going organic for our rose care. Time will tell whether the populations of aphids and Japanese beetles can be controlled by use of IPM practices and even more scrutiny to catch issues in the early stages. I’ve noticed that the mere act of defoliating the shrubs roses of 6” of the basal foliage before the 4th of July has done wonders for controlling black spot fungus. Now the challenge is to control white fly, scale and mealy bugs – our worst nuisance offenders.

    Our compost pile is not as large as it should be, but it allows us to recycle our kitchen organic waste and garden cutbacks in order to generate our vegetable garden soil. This helps with “organic in, organic out” for our garden, our table, and our animal companions – all within the confines of our own home.

    Striving to lead a ‘greener’ life and working more closely with nature in mind can only enhance our garden experiences and strengthen this most inspirational source. The garden has taught me that the keys to my happiness are love, dogs, and the natural world – and what a joy it is to share these blessings with those I spend time.

    I wish you all a good, reflective, dormant time in your garden.

    Craig Bergmann
    RLA, ASLA, Proprietor

Lora_Fallen-Leaves Watson

Fall Letter from Craig

Autumn Greetings!
Being a Fall born baby, I have a real fondness for the spectacle Mother Nature shares with us this time of year. The prairie and oak savannas are ablaze with composites of all shapes, sizes, and colors. The rust, claret, and cerise tinge in the canopies overhead enforces the power and beauty of Autumn through our Fall season here in Midwestern U.S.

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    Cooling evening temperatures are saturating the soft pink blooms in the garden beds and grass seed seems to germinate like magic. The spring-green flush of a new lawn in fall reminds me of the “Tinkerbell Crystals” we used to “plant” into fish bowls of water as kids before bed and the next morning: Voila! Crystal castles of our dreams.

    We experienced an almost dream come true this summer season without many Japanese Beetles ravaging our roses, buddleias (Butterfly bushes), and climbing hydrangea foliage. My guess is that our extremely wet spring must have drowned many of the grubs in the turf zone, therefore less beetles emerged. Whatever happened, we’ll take it! For all the summer roses we normally don’t have, we celebrate the climbers on our walls, fences, and trellises going gangbusters this year.

    For me, that melancholy feeling of years’ end that often starts this month has been detoured for now, with a new addition to our family. Welcome Watson, Norwich Terrier number three. He joins the ranks with Violet and Pepper, our 8 and 7 year old beauties.

    Since we have lived here in Lake Forest, our gardens seem to absorb plants, people, and dogs. I once said that I would love a herd of pups and I guess we’re on the way. This terrier trio will most likely have a career of their own. They are hysterical together and so love a good romp through anything – especially if they hear a chipmunk or rabbit. Though true couch potatoes at night, these kids are up and at ’em as soon as the alarm bolts us all out of bed. They are always excited to see what the new day has to offer: So much fun! The maturity and easy-going nature of our “girls” should be good for little Watson and will hopefully help him to fit into our world before the snow starts to fly. I can’t wait to see him experience the first snowfall…!

    May your reflections of the past year include good memories and accomplishments made in life and in your gardens. And for those folks that were over-powered and overwhelmed by Mother Nature’s wrath of flood, wind, drought or freeze, understand that the cycle will turn. Next year will be full of new experiences and challenges, God willing, to share with those you love and care for.

    Happy Autumn, Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Gardening!

    Craig Bergmann
    RLA, ASLA, Proprietor