Morton Arboretum is ready to show off its $16.6 million ‘Grand Garden’


An old hedge garden in the Morton Arboretum had few frills.

The garden made a formal first impression near the main arrival area of ​​the Lisle Arboretum. The symmetry of the sheared hedges directed the gaze to the east, towards four distant columns.

“There weren’t a lot of gathering spaces,” said Susan Jacobson, the arboretum’s site planning and design manager. “It was rows and rows of hedges.”

The arboretum has established a new garden on much the same footprint as the original, preserving the perimeter hedge and unspoiled views of the four pillars. But the $16.6 million “Grand Jardin” is being built for a big occasion: the arboretum’s 100th anniversary.

Open on Sunday, the garden lives up to its name. Laser-cut steel trellises draw sun-dappled leaf patterns across garden paths. There are eight linear fountains – not to mention the 12-foot oval-shaped fountain on a curved limestone wall surrounding a wedding terrace.

The garden – really, a series of gardens – serves as a calming transition between the traffic around the nearby visitor center and the more natural terrain of the arboretum.


“I would say the heart of the garden is just the horticultural wealth,” said Jacobson, the project manager. “And this is the first garden where we have focused so much on water.”

It’s large-scale gardening.

The “long-term view”

After more than a year of construction, the former hedge garden has become a new central attraction.

Some of the classic characteristics of the hedge garden – like pleasing symmetry – remain. The arboretum was also able to save 10 ginkgo trees that were about 25 years old to “emphasize that long view of the garden,” Jacobson said.

“Not only do we have the perimeter hedge, but we have lots of very mature trees that surround the garden,” Jacobson said. “And it really makes it look like it was dropped off in an arboretum.”

The Great Garden spans two acres from east to west, the length of about two football fields. A succession of flower arrangements adds bursts of color to a landscape that lacked it. And LED lighting allows the new garden to host public and private events after sunset.

Blush-toned hydrangeas have already reached hip height at the eastern end of the garden, leading to the arboretum’s collection of evergreens, a fragrant backdrop for weddings and soirees.

“We were able to transplant other larger scale evergreens from the land that had lived its life where it was and was perfect for adding to that garden space,” Jacobson said.

Visitors can make a grand entrance through a circular plaza in the heart of the garden. Vines of wisteria and clematis climb over galvanized steel gates. Raised planters in all four quadrants of the circle house “truly exuberant display beds” of zinnia fuchsia and other annuals, Jacobson said.

An eight-foot-diameter stone floor medallion commemorates the arboretum’s “100 years of planting and protecting trees”.

“The arboretum has long had a vision to add a colorful specialty garden to this space,” said Vice President Alicia LaVire. “It’s been under consideration for many years, and the centenary has really been a milestone and a boost for the project.”

Gardens within a garden

To the west of the square, the arboretum has created six “garden rooms”, three on each side of a central lawn. The rooms are separated by yew and trellis walls.

“It’s almost like a doorway that you walk through as you go from room to room,” Jacobson said.

This west side is nicknamed the “Joy of Plants Garden”. But again, there are mini-gardens within a garden. Each room features a signature ornamental tree – a Japanese maple, for example – and varying plantings. Visitors can sit on benches and appreciate the subtle color differences.

“We have a lot of hibiscus, but we have several different varieties like blue chiffon, pink chiffon, lavender chiffon, white chiffon,” Jacobson said.

The arboretum also used an accessible design.

“We made the aisles a little wider than a normal sidewalk in a city so it would be easy for two wheelchairs or two double strollers to pass each other without one having to step off the sidewalk,” Jacobson said. .

The eastern stretch ends in an upper level wedding terrace with a wide expanse of the rest of the garden. Horticulturalists have stuck to a fairly neutral palette of whites, pale pinks and soft yellows in the “Holiday Garden”.

Kousa dogwoods will develop four-petalled white flowers in late spring, in time to welcome the June brides.

“Eventually, the branches will arch over the walkways in two directions to really frame this view of the wedding ceremony space,” Jacobson said.

The arboretum now reserves ceremonies until 2024.

garden story

The $16.6 million garden project was funded by donors and an endowment for its ongoing maintenance. The arboretum also received a matching grant of $500,000 from the state.

Volunteer guides will answer questions about the garden during an opening event with live music from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday as part of the arboretum’s centennial celebration.

After the death of arboretum founder Joy Morton in 1934, Jean Morton Cudahy undertook projects to commemorate her father. That year, the arboretum planted hedges to create its first French-style garden space.

As a nod to a former crabapple field in the Hedge Garden, more disease-resistant crabapple trees have been planted around Centennial Square.

This is the kind of lasting evolution that Joy Morton would have embraced. In documents incorporating his family estate as an arboretum, Morton expressed his hope for a “great open-air museum organized for the practical study of all the species, varieties, and hybrids of the woody plants of the world”.


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