Shorelines on the Prairie
Two recent projects at the Chicago Botanic Garden showcase new
approaches to shoreline plantings in American gardens.
By Frank Edgerton Martin
Although Chicago is known for its Prairie School architecture and
historic park system, water plays a critical, though much less visible,
role throughout the larger region. Before European settlement, the
area was dotted with a variety of wetlands—sedge meadows,
bogs, and marshes—that were home to a rich variety of plant
and wildlife species.
Evening Island is a
self-contained world of meadows, densely wooded knolls, and
hillsides covered with Whitespire gray birch trees.
Copyright 2002 Lisa Delplace
Taking advantage of the area’s relatively flat contours and
high water tables, the Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) is forging a
new model of placemaking for American garden design that integrates
the horticulturist’s knowledge of plant communities with the
landscape architect’s ability to shape topography, mood, and
space. As the largest cluster of projects ever undertaken by the
CBG, the gardens of the Great Basin, a 7.5 acre lake bounded by
significant new collections, increase display areas by 30 percent.
The basin is planted with more than 100,000 perennials, 13,000 ornamental
grasses, 50,000 aquatic plants, and 2,000 trees. Two years in the
planning, these Aquatic Initiative projects are transforming the
CBG into the country’s premier urban shoreline garden.
Two recent projects at the CBG showcase new possibilities for ponds
and shorelines in American gardens. Evening Island, designed by
Oehme, van Sweden & Associates (OvS) of Washington, D.C., and
the smaller Spider Island, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
of New York City, are the latest in a continuing series of improvements
to the CBG’s nine islands and extensive network of ponds and
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