Garden State of Mind

George and Sylva Cardenas of Highland Park share their garden retreat with Make It Better.

George and Syliva Cardenas have been landscaping North Shore homes since they founded George Cardenas Landscape Design in Highland Park in 1976.

Although running the business keeps the couple busy, they carve out time to maintain their own garden retreat where paths lined with boxwoods lead visitors through a series of distinct outdoor rooms that have been planted with perennials, annuals and evergreens to ensure year-round interest.

Your back yard is very large, but you’ve created a series of spaces that feel very intimate.

Sylvia: I wanted to experience the garden as different rooms. Near the house is the very regal English garden. The country garden is located back by the cottage, there’s a little Japanese garden by the entrance to the driveway, and there’s a little potting station by the driveway. In the middle is a big open space, which is what you see from the family room.

George: It’s a gradual transition. As you walk on the path, one space flows into the next space.

You have incorporated several sculptures throughout the yard. Why is that important?

George: The sculptures add visual drama to the landscape. The sculpture does not compete with the space, just enhances it by pulling your eye to the space and actually opening it up to all the surrounding plants.  We love art and have tried to place sculptures where we can enjoy them from indoors, as well.

Tell me about the tiny screened-in cottage in the back corner of the yard. Where did you find it?

Sylvia: We bought that from two guys who own a flower shop in Hubbard Woods. They had used it as a playhouse in their store, and they had to sell it when they moved to a smaller location. It’s set perfectly between the two trees that were there already, so it was kind of meant to be.

Did you have to make any repairs?

Sylvia: George built a base for it, and we had it painted and electrified. We also hired a carpenter to make doors and windows for it.

How do you use it?

Sylvia: George smokes his cigars back there, and I love to sit out there and flip through a magazine. In the winter, we board it up. Some people have a second home in Michigan. Ours is in our back yard.

What do you most enjoy about your garden?

Sylvia: It’s so nice to sit on the sofa and just look out. There’s always something in bloom, there’s always something interesting happening.

George: I find it rewarding to see how the garden has changed since we started it 16 years ago. It takes time to maintain, but it’s definitely worth it.