In the world of fashion, styles change rapidly. All of a sudden this summer, women started walking down the street with their shoulders peeking out from their sleeves. Where did that come from anyway?
In the gardening world, styles change more slowly. But change they do. During the summer as I was driving down 55th Street, I passed the new high-rise dormitory complex Jeanne Gang designed at the University of Chicago. The architecture is striking, but what caught my eye as I whizzed past that day was the mixed plantings in front with tall goldenrods dancing in the breeze, along with grasses and hydrangeas. You wouldn’t have seen anything like this 20, or even 10 years ago. There would have been lines of red geraniums and yellow marigolds for summer and more lines of mounded chrysanthemums for fall. Public garden design and landscaping have now become so much more interesting. The aesthetic has changed.
This is an American development, not something we learned from pilgrimages to England, and we should feel justly proud of ourselves.
Part of this new aesthetic can surely be traced back to the “discovery” of native plants, particularly those of the Midwestern prairie. More than just rah-rah enthusiasm and cheerleading for the beauty of, say, goldenrod and golden alexander, this has developed side by side with new scientific understandings of how ecosystems in different parts of the country function and their value to the wider environment. We have learned that grasses can be part of a garden, that seed pods can be pretty and our gardens will be better if we include some of both along with traditional beauties such as roses and petunias.
Examples of the new style abound. Chicago’s Michigan Avenue planters, which evolved from the sidewalk plantings in front of Crate & Barrel, were an important inspiration. Then Lurie Garden arrived in Millennium Park and made a skyscraper-dominant downtown a haven for pollinators. This garden mixing native plants and imports has spawned spinoffs everywhere, including the front of that dormitory on 55th Street.
So as this year edges to its close, it’s an opportune moment to pause for a look back at where we are. In Chicagoland Gardening we have addressed multiple ways that local gardeners have moved forward into a new aesthetic along with the designers and tastemakers who have led the way. That is our job and we love doing it.
In 2018 we will continue to showcase many examples of the splendid gardens that abound in the region. We will continue spotlighting our excellent professionals in Gardens of the Pros, point out examples of their fine work in Design Tips, visit terrific gardens created by homeowners and continue with our regular columns on native plants, indoor and edible gardens and make a few tweaks here and there. One column will get a name change — New Gardener. Have some friends who think they’d like to join the fun? The holidays are coming. Think gift subscription.