Delights of The Grand Garden

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October 4, 2022

The new Gerard T. Donnelly Grand Garden at The Morton Arboretum sweeps for 255 yards, capturing a rising vista toward the iconic Four Columns and taking in colorful flowers, shrubs, and trees. But this garden is not just about grandeur. Landscape architect Susan Jacobson, the Arboretum’s head of site planning and design, calls it “a stop-and-linger place.” Created to mark the Arboretum’s centennial and named after the CEO who is retiring after leading the Arboretum for 32 years, the garden is designed for gathering, relaxation, inspiration, and beauty throughout the year. Come back often so you discover all the details designed to enrich every experience in every season.

The Grand Garden opened September 18. Here are some sights to look for as you explore and linger.

Color: Guests are welcomed to the garden through the Centennial Plaza, surrounded by beds filled to bursting with colorful annuals, perennials, and shrubs that will be refreshed throughout the growing season. Behind the beds, a latticework structure offers a shady space to sit or stroll. Vines, including clematis, wisteria, and a noninvasive species of honeysuckle, will gradually grow over the metal structure to increase the shade.

Fountains: Water flows throughout the garden, with grand fountains  anchoring the design at either end. The sight of flowing water is soothing and the babble of water creates white noise that enhances the garden’s tranquility. Leaf details in the rectangular fountains make the water dance.

Leaves: True to the Arboretum’s identity as The Champion of Trees, tree leaves are a motif everywhere. They can be seen in the fountains, overhead in the shade structures, and even in stainless-steel leaves set into the paving of the central plaza. 

Ginkgos: Not everything in the garden is new. It has the formal style of grand European gardens and retains the footprint of the former Hedge Garden, which was a display of hedge shrubs and pruning techniques that dated to 1934. Two rows of ginkgo trees (Ginkgo biloba), nearly 20 years old, were kept as visual anchors. 

White:  The Celebration Garden east of the central plaza features a mainly white color palette. White flowers and leaves touched with white are mixed with plants whose leaves have a silver sheen. Touches of chartreuse and yellow provide contrast. The Celebration Garden’s restrained palette provides a sense of peace and a subtle backdrop for wedding parties.

Access: The whole family can gather and enjoy the garden because every part of it is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers, with easy-to-use paved paths and gentle slopes.  

Trees: The Joy of Plants Garden at the west end is designed to show off a wide range of plants suitable for the Midwest, at a residential scale that makes them easy to imagine in a home garden. The space is divided into six garden rooms, each with seating and its own array of plants. Yew hedges will gradually grow up to provide a clear separation between the spaces. Each room is centered on a small tree, such as magnolia, serviceberry, redbud, and Japanese maple, that would fit easily into a residential landscape.

Tranquility:  The garden provides multiple spaces for quiet repose. Among them is the Juniper Terrace, framed by hydrangeas and evergreens at the far east end of the garden. It provides a place of respite overlooking the long vista of the Four Columns and the nearby Juniper Collection. Like the rest of the newly planted garden, it will develop into ever greater beauty through the Arboretum’s next century.

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