5 of Chicago’s Most Stunning Landscapes (Plus Tips for Perfecting Yours)

landscape design: ILCA's design tour (Green Bay Road estate)

Some of Chicagoland’s most spectacular and elegant landscapes are sprinkled throughout the North Shore, and on July 13, more than 100 people in the green industry — landscape architects, contractors, designers, stone masons, turf specialists and other pros — toured five such sites as part of the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association’s (ILCA) design education tour.

“It’s really great,” says Tom Selinger, landscape architect at James Martin Associates. “It’s a chance to see some great projects and connect with friends.”

We were able to tag along and are now dealing with some serious landscape envy, which you will likely share once you see these stunning photos.

ILCA member companies were responsible for all of the renovations at each tour site, which kicked off at Lurvey Garden Center in Des Plaines with tours of the store’s fall offerings and its new LEED-certified headquarters.

Landscape architect Carol Yetken gave a tour of the renovated gardens at the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, where nine separate gardens face the nine entryways to this spectacular landmark.

landscape design: ILCA tours Baha'i House of Worship
Baha’i House of Worship (Photo courtesy of ILCA.)

Yetken has worked on the site for 20 years. “The goal is to achieve a harmonious ensemble of plants and that’s very challenging,” Yetken says. “No two gardens here are the same.” In spite of a 24-foot grade change, rabbits, deer, a complicated 25-zone irrigation system, and 250,000 annual visitors strolling the lawns, the landscape is stunning. “The gardens look a bit like a Persian carpet,” Yetken says.

The next stop was an impressive 1923 Tudor-style house on Sheridan Road in Glencoe. “It was a complicated property,” says Jennifer Hoxsie of Greenhaven Landscapes, Inc. “We worked with a civil engineer. The drainage swale helps when there’s an intense rain.” A utility pole was relocated and the brick wall opened and enhanced with espaliered trees. A 16-foot-wide drive was re-centered on the front door and Longshadow limestone planters were used to accent the home and front entry. Outdoor rooms and seat walls surround the in-ground pool. An original garden ornament was integrated into the plantings. “It’s a very lovely setting,” says landscape architect Bob Hursthouse.

landscape design: ILCA tours Sheridan Road residence
Sheridan Road residence (Photo by Hannah Goering Photography.)

At Elawa Farm Foundation in Lake Forest, landscape architect Craig Bergmann explained the significance of the property. It had been a “gentleman’s farm” built for the Armour family in 1917 and the buildings have been preserved and adaptively reused. “When you come here, your heart rate drops,” Bergmann told the landscape pros. “It’s, ‘Where am I?’ The scale here is 10 times anything most of us do.”

Elawa’s 2.2-acre garden features a seasonal garden market. “Our biggest crop is cut flowers and we’re following organic practices,” says Bergmann, who moved to the property six years ago. “We’re next to a beautiful prairie path and oak savanna.”

landscape design: ILCA tours Elawa Farm
Elawa Farm (Photo courtesy of ILCA.)

Later, Mariani Landscape staff gave a tour of a 3-acre Green Bay Road estate in Lake Forest where allees of hawthorns, crab apples, and lindens create beautiful clean lines. The client wanted to maintain a simple plant palette, explains Mariani’s Shari Precht. A moonlight garden filled with white flowers and an original fountain adds to the romance of this historic French Normandy-stye property. “It’s absolutely elegant,” said one tour goer. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

landscape design: ILCA tours Green Bay Road estate
Green Bay Road estate (Photo courtesy of ILCA.)

Lastly, the tour stopped at an “Asian art gallery residence” in Mettawa. The front property was intentionally understated with few shrubs, some shade trees, and lawn. But the 2.25-acre gardens in back feature large Buddha sculptures, oversize pots, and two distinct areas that function as outdoor galleries. Surrounding a climate-controlled museum that contains Chinese artifacts is a serene, Zen-inspired garden that extends the exhibit space into a courtyard. It’s filled with architectural stone elements, plaques, stools and stone columns — most dating from the 16th century. Russell Buvala of Craig Bergmann Landscape Design is responsible for the maintenance of the property. “They used to have 40 to 50 more containers, but that’s been scaled down,” Buvala says. “There’s a lot of serenity here with the repetition of plants.” The prairie was stylized for the homeowner and bamboo grows alongside the gallery space. “You’d never know these gardens existed by looking at the front of the house and that’s the way the clients wanted it.”

landscape design: ILCA tours Asian art gallery residence
Asian art gallery residence (Photo courtesy of ILCA.)

Design Your Own Space

The design process typically begins with a site evaluation — making notes and taking photos of the existing “hardscape” (fences, driveways, paths, stonework), the plants, and often the views from indoors. (You’re not out in the garden 24/7 so enjoying it from within is important.) The owners provide input on what they consider their “ideal” garden as well as how they want to use the space and their budget. Drawings, sample materials and estimates are the next step.

Looking for a landscape professional to help you with your dream garden? Need more inspiration? Visit ILCA’s website.

Tips for Hiring a Landscape Company

Thoughtful, well-planned outdoor renovations can increase a property’s value. Hire a pro to help you get the most out of your outdoor space:

  • Choose a member of the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association (ILCA).
  • Ask to see a portfolio of their work as well as references.
  • Get a written estimate that details the cost of your improvement, the materials being used, and contractual obligations.
  • Make sure they have workers compensation insurance and business liability insurance appropriate to their operation, and for the entire duration of the project. Ask them to produce certificates of insurance. Don’t accept excuses.
  • Find out if they’re appropriately licensed to do the type of work proposed in your community.


More from Make It Better: 

Nina KoziolNina Koziol has taught garden design and horticulture classes at Chicago Botanic Garden and The Morton Arboretum for 20 years. She gardens on a deer-infested acre in unincorporated Cook County. When she’s not weeding, reading, hiking, birdwatching or writing, she’s sure to be outdoors, watching sunsets and pondering the exact names and heights of the cloud formations. Visit her website at thisgardencooks.com 






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