100 Years of Beautiful Landscape Design
In celebration of its centennial year, The Morton Arboretum will unveil its newest attraction, The Gerard T. Donnelly Grand Garden, in September 2022. This colorful outdoor landscape garden is a gorgeous example of how the Arboretum is committed to landscape beauty while also planting collections of scientific value. Over the years, each of the Arboretum’s landscape architects have preserved the vision and style begun in 1922 while adding their own influence and design.
When Joy Morton decided to establish an arboretum at his country estate, Thornhill, he had to transform the land that early settlers had used for crops, pastures, and woodlots. To accomplish this aim, Morton turned to O.C. Simonds, one of the country’s foremost landscape architects of the time. Often referring to himself as a landscape “gardener” or “designer,” Simonds focused on maintaining the essence of the native Midwestern landscape, a principle of the Prairie Style, an approach to landscape design that he helped develop. He created the General Plan of [The] Morton Arboretum in 1922. To create the Arboretum landscape, he supervised the excavation of Lake Marmo and Lake Jopamaca, as well as the planting of approximately 138,000 trees and shrubs in that first year. Simonds’ influence on the Arboretum was so significant that the road on the West Side was once named for him.
Clarence Godshalk is known at the Arboretum for being its first superintendent and later director, but he initially came to the Arboretum as an employee of Simonds’ firm, Simonds and West. In those early years of the Arboretum, much of Godshalk’s time was spent designing in the field, supervising planting at a rapid pace. Some of his early designs included a formal flower garden for the Morton family on the Thornhill grounds, plantings along Joy Path, and a garden that displayed plants of interesting shapes. Throughout his many years at the Arboretum, Godshalk oversaw the planting of botanical collections, forestry plots, and formal gardens such as the Hedge Collection. He hired Tony Tyznik in 1953 as landscape architect to assist him in the design of the Arboretum’s grounds.
Tony Tyznik continued the legacy of Simonds and Godshalk, and he incorporated his own design into the naturalistic landscape. Much of his large-scale work was in response to the great amount of development that the Arboretum underwent during his tenure. For example, the Arboretum’s boundaries were heavily affected by the construction of the East-West and North-South tollways, as well as the widening of Route 53. Tyznik’s other projects include work on the rotunda and research wing of the Administration Building, the original gatehouses, the Visitor Center, the Fragrance Garden, and configured waterscapes such as Crabapple Lake and Firefly Pond. Additionally, he taught the popular class, Landscaping the Home Grounds, for over 30 years. He also designed several of The Morton Arboretum’s award-winning entries for the Chicago Flower and Garden Show.
From 1993 to 2005, Scott Mehaffey oversaw landscape design projects at The Morton Arboretum. He was responsible for the landscaping around Thornhill and the Administration and Research Center, the renovation of the Ground Cover and Hedge gardens, and the design of the Route 53 and I-88 identity signs. He also played a principal role in the planning and development of the Arboretum’s 1997 Master Site Plan and the 2002–2005 Branching Out! capital projects such as Arbor Court, the redesigned entrance at Park Boulevard, and the reconstruction of Meadow Lake. Like Tyznik, Mehaffey also taught in the Arboretum’s education program and won awards for his displays at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show.
Peggy Pelkonen joined the Arboretum as assistant landscape architect in 2001 in the midst of preparations for the capital campaign projects. As such, her influence can be seen in areas such as the Maze Garden, Children’s Garden, and Arbor Court. Other large-scale projects of hers include the redevelopment of the South Farm facilities and the road development project on I-88 and Route 53. Pelkonen was promoted to landscape architect in 2006, leading the Arboretum in outdoor planning and landscape, garden, and collection design. In this role, she also worked collaboratively on projects such as tribute and memorial benches, interpretation panels for the Conifer Walk, and the Village of Lisle’s downtown redevelopment project as a consultant.
Susan Jacobson is the Arboretum’s current head of site planning and design. As the sole landscape architect, she oversees the design and construction of projects throughout the Arboretum, including the Grand Garden. Jacobson joined the Arboretum in 2009 in the role of landscape architect and has worked on projects such as the Cudahy Room renovation, the Plant Production support building, the Curatorial and Operations Center at South Farm, and the Gateway to Tree Science living exhibit.
The Morton Arboretum boasts a long history of beautiful landscape design and will add to that legacy with the opening of the Grand Garden, which will serve as a space for celebration and joy into the Arboretum’s second century.