Dreamy Gardens of Chicago’s North Shore

A book by Benjamin F. Lenhardt Jr. and photographed by Scott Shigley immerses us in the histories and beauty of 25 private gardens along Chicago’s North Shore. We share 12 favorite scenes from its pages
Caption from the book Gardens of the North Shore of Chicago: “The restored Mayflower Ravine [at the Rumsey Estate in Lake Forest] is a defining feature of the landscape. Autumn brings gold, chartreuse, and green foliage to the steep slopes above the streambed.”
Trees in peak autumn color line a restored ravine at the Rumsey Estate in Lake Forest, Illinois, a property where naturalistic gardens reign.

As we relish the yellows, oranges, and reds of fall foliage, still we daydream of spring and summer days of vibrant floral hues and lush greens. Avid gardener and preservationist Benjamin F. Lenhardt Jr. answers our longing with his book, Gardens of the North Shore of Chicago (The Monacelli Press, 2020), immersing us in the rich histories and designs of 25 beautiful private gardens that we have never before had the privilege to explore.

A joy to read with four generous and colorful chapters showing classic, contemporary, country, and naturalistic gardens, this book made it difficult to narrow down which of photographer Scott Shigley’s images to share with you. Finally, we chose 12 that sweep us off our feet. Enjoy.

book cover for Gardens of the North Shore of Chicago by Benjamin F. Lenhardt Jr. with photographs by Scott Shigley (The Monacelli Press, 2020)
Caption from the book Gardens of the North Shore of Chicago: “A sculpture by John Kearney terminates the allée of scaling-bark plane trees.” (Crowe Garden in Lake Forest)
Crowe Garden in Lake Forest

A cross-Atlantic collaboration between English garden designer Rosemary Verey and American landscape architect Craig Bergmann brought to fruition the magnificent restoration of the historic garden above. Owners Peggy Crowe and her late husband, Jack, looked to their travels to inspire plans for their North Shore haven, including an allée of scaling-bark plane trees.

An English-garden style parterre featuring blooming perennial beds and expanses of green lawn surrounded by precisely groomed, curving walls of tall hedges. Camp Rosemary in Lake Forest)
Camp Rosemary in Lake Forest

With its well-appointed parterres brimming with annuals and perennials, Camp Rosemary is a rather casual name for a place that Lenhardt describes as “one of the most exquisite English-style gardens in America.” Originally designed by Rose Standish Nichols for the 1904 home, the grounds have since been shaped by many other renowned names. In contemporary times, Rosemary Camp has even drawn Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf for an overseas visit.

Caption from the book Gardens of the North Shore of Chicago: “A graceful, ancient hawthorn tree is artistically braced for support.” (Garden Hybrid in Highland Park)
Garden Hybrid in Highland Park

How we love an ancient tree given due reverence. Framed by a low circular hedge and braced for support, a venerable hawthorn tree in Highland Park stands majestic against a backdrop of morning mist.

Caption from the book Gardens of the North Shore of Chicago: “Tulips, of various cultivars, colors, and heights, are the stars of spring under the honey locust allée. Terra-cotta pots filled with peony-shaped Angelique tulips line the walkway.” (Beauty Without Boundaries in Winnetka)
Beauty Without Boundaries in Winnetka

A field of tulips designed by Deborah Nevins in the North Shore town of Winnetka re-creates the homeowner’s childhood memories of May pilgrimages to the Tulip Festival in Holland, Michigan. A mix of early, mid-, and late-blooming varieties extends the blooming season.

Read “Tulipomania: How history’s wildly coveted tulip found its way to today’s gardens”

Caption from the book Gardens of the North Shore of Chicago: “A vigorous trumpet vine and pear espalier encircles a poolhouse window. The two-tiered perennial border features betony, coneflower, phlox, summer allium, iris and plumbago.” (Edgecliff in Winnetka)
Edgecliff in Winnetka

A fancifully shaped pear espalier appears to ripple out from a circular window of the pool house at Edgecliff, a 1930 French manor-style estate built on the cliffs overlooking Lake Michigan. Notably, Katherine Brewster, one of the founders of the Garden Club of America in 1913, created the original landscape plan for the home.

Caption from the book Gardens of the North Shore of Chicago: “Three mounds, each with seating, provide views of the prairie with its glowing blazing star (Liatris) and other native plants.” (Mettawa Manor in Mettawa)
Mettawa Manor in Mettawa

A haven for pollinators, this meadow of native flowers is the product of decades of careful stewardship by Chicago couple Donna LaPietra and Bill Kurtis. (Donna is a longtime news producer and Bill is a nationally known broadcaster and documentary maker.) Of their 65 acres at Mettawa Manor, 30 are devoted to restored prairie lands.

Caption from the book Gardens of the North Shore of Chicago: “The centerpiece of the walled garden is a large lead cistern overflowing with sedum facing a lawn panel. Surrounding borders are filled with ferns, epimedium, ligularia, and hydrangeas climbing the stone walls.” (Crab Tree Farm in Lake Bluff)
Crab Tree Farm in Lake Bluff

Founded as a dairy in 1906, Crab Tree Farm today is the last Illinois working farm on Lake Michigan. Follies, forests, and blooming parterres abound on the expansive grounds, but the formal walled garden, a project of the late owner John Bryan and Chicago artist Jo Hormuth, captured our fancy above all. Densely growing sedum carpets the centerpiece, a 17th-century cistern,  and overflows into the spaces between the stone pavers below.

Caption from the book Gardens of the North Shore of Chicago: “An eighteenth-century Scottish thistle finial sits in a bed of sedums in a cutting garden of heirloom annuals and herbs. An antique wrought-iron arbor, found in an Oxford University courtyard, connects to a second cutting garden.” (Kelton House Farm in Fredonia, Wisconsin)
Kelton House Farm in Fredonia, Wisconsin

At Kelton House Farm, preservationist and collector Joe Gromacki has created rural gardens faithful to the designs and plantings one would have found on an early American farmstead. Above, an 18th-century Scottish thistle finial and an antique wrought-iron arbor beyond complete the look of a garden from a bygone era.

Caption from the book Gardens of the North Shore of Chicago: “Squash, beans, tomatoes, and herbs mix with nasturtiums, cosmos, and dahlias in the vegetable garden.” (Old Mill Farm in Lake Forest)
Old Mill Farm in Lake Forest

Now we understand why Beatrix Potter’s mischievous Peter Rabbit was so tempted to squeeze under the gate of Mr. McGregor’s garden. Lush, symmetrical, and blooming with nasturtiums, cosmos, and dahlias, this picturesque vegetable garden at Old Mill Farm takes our imaginations back to the classic children’s story.

Caption from the book Gardens of the North Shore of Chicago: “A weathered arbor entwined with climbing hydrangea marks the beginning of the maple allée leading to the orchard.” (Levin Garden at Highland Park)
Levin Garden at Highland Park

Climbing hydrangea is a favorite wallpaper motif of designer and Flower contributing editor James Farmer (see it in his interiors here and here). Above, real-life climbing hydrangeas clamber up an arbor set in a naturalistic garden in Highland Park, reminding us why the plant has inspired patterns for fine wallpaper companies from Schumacher to Quadrille.

Caption from the book Gardens of the North Shore of Chicago: “Window boxes and urns overflow with pink geraniums and annuals while New Dawn climbing roses and white clematis scamper up a trellis.” (Lenhardt Garden in Winnetka)
Lenhardt Garden in Winnetka

On a closing note, the author and his wife, Cindy, have a fine North Shore garden of their own. At their Nantucket-style home in Winnetka, pink geraniums and purple annuals planted in a charming window box and urn bring a pop of color that complements quieter blooms—New Dawn climbing roses and white clematis.

To see the rest, check out Gardens of the North Shore of Chicago by Benjamin F. Lenhardt Jr. and photographs by Scott Shigley (The Monacelli Press, 2020).

Book review by Terri Robertson