A requirement during my horticulture education was an internship at a public garden. I did mine at Cantigny Park in Winfield. After a very hot, humid summer I was left with no illusions about how many endless hours, the number of people, and how much work it takes to plant and maintain a public garden. This experience was invaluable.
Recently Cantigny’s Project New Leaf has been all the buzz in the gardening community. I recently had the opportunity to tour the grounds with the Director of Horticulture, Scott Witte and Senior Manager of Communications, Jeff Reiter.
“The renovation will take four to five years to complete,” said Reiter. “Phase one consists of the Upper and Lower gardens, the First Division Museum and the Visitors Center. Phase I will be complete by mid-July.” He explained that they have also relocated the Rose Garden, now a part of the Upper Garden, so that it will lie within a few steps of the Le Jardin Restaurant.
“The whole idea behind the new design is to give the 350,000+ annual visitors ease of movement with comfortable, wide, newly paved paths leading from one garden display and public building to the next,” continued Reiter. “Once all the phases are complete, you will be able to see out to wide vistas and gardens beyond where you are standing.”
“We are also introducing the new Pond Garden,” added Witte. “We’ve included stone steps which will allow visitors to sit right at the water’s edge and enjoy the natural shoreline and native aquatic plants.”
Cantigny Park is being completely being renovated from top to bottom. I learned that ‘bottom’ part of the renovation is truly under your feet. Just below the paved paths is a newly designed water retention system that will direct all of the runoff to detention areas that will in turn be used for irrigation and water features such as the creek that runs near the Museum and the Fountain Gardens.
New yew (Taxus) windbreak walls will provide structure and privacy to various gardens. Littleleaf linden trees (Tilia cordata), trimmed to towering box hedges, will give the upper garden some unique architectural features. In addition, huge arched arbors covered in flowering vines will provide shady spots for visitors to rest.
One of the features Witte and Reiter are most excited about is the colonade. Fashioned with a double row of oak trees, it will create a canopy and obvious pathway from the parking lot to the visitors’ center.
“As part of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, established in 1958, Colonel McCormick donated 500 acres and his home to the public and dedicated it to education, recreation and community engagement. For decades this property has been open to the public to enjoy its many display gardens, main house and museum. His gift to our community has largely remained the same since its opening. This is one of the reasons we are so enthusiastic and can’t wait to share the renovated gardens,” explained Witte.
Originally called Red Oak Farm, Cantigny derives its current name from a French village where McCormick fought a battle during World War I. “He was so affected by the battle and the liberation of the village that he renamed his property,” said Witte. “He was a man whose service to his country and community were very important aspects of his life.“The First Division Museum was originally located in the visitors’ center and then in 1992 moved to its current location. This is its first major update since that time. A new gallery called Duty First is devoted to the 1st Infantry Division’s contribution to our country. McCormick was a true believer in duty first. The First Division Museum is home to the American Legion Post 556. We are proud to sponsor The Honor Club, which is open and free to all veterans,” said Witte.
Personally, I can’t wait for a tour of Phase 2, which will consist of renovations of the gardens from the fountain down to the prairie areas toward the east end of the property.
Cantigny’s innovation and new garden concept is truly a sight to behold.
Debbie Notaro is a certified horticulturist and landscape designer, freelance writer, coordinator for Gardenology Geneva, a member of the American Horticulture Society, Geneva Garden Club and a former master gardener. She gardens in Campton Hills. firstname.lastname@example.org