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.

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