Posts Tagged ‘Garden Conservancy Open Days’

IMG_2009Sunflowers, and their kin.

They always give me the urge to glean the seeds and preserve their petals, and capture all the sunshine within them.

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The photos are my own gleanings, taken at Mettawa Manor during a recent Open Day for the Garden Conservancy. The owners of this estate graciously open their property every year for the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days.

Bill Kurtis and Donna LaPietra have a gracefully determined respect for the land and the presence of place. In the 25 or so years they have called Mettawa Manor their  home, they have reclaimed prairie and ponds, added new features and gardens, and have enriched and enhanced those already growing. They are the epitome of what garden conservation can and should be.

Folks go to Mettawa Manor in hopes of seeing Bill Kurtis. They return, again and again, because of the lure of the prairie, the stillness of the ponds, the majesty of the woods, the history of the area, the exquisite formal gardens, and even the hope of a small ice cream cone or tasting of grass-fed beef, one of Bill Kurtis’s many ventures.

You may know who Bill Kurtis is. If you don’t, you likely recognize his voice. He was a reporter for Chicago’s local CBS news for decades and is well-recognized for his investigative reporting for which he has received numerous honors, including a Peabody award. He has reported and anchored news from both coasts, as well as nationally. Bill Kurtis also reached wider audiences through programs he conceived such as “Cold Case Files”, “Investigative Reports”, “The New Explorers”,  “American Greed”, and most recently  “Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!”, for public radio on PBS. I love hearing his voice on Saturday mornings on a radio show I’ve long enjoy.

I admire Bill Kurtis and his partner in life and in business, Donna La Pietra. Ms. La Pietra has an impressive resume and career of her own and is well known for her charitable work. You might be interested in reading about them here.

It is Kurtis and La Pietra’s collaboration in the 65+ acre  Mettawa Manor estate for which I personally have my greatest admiration. At this historical country estate they have shared a vision of what it means to be good stewards of God’s good earth. They have also shared the gift of hospitality as they frequently open the garden and even their home for good causes.

I came home on Sunday renewed, anxious to inch our little prairie forward, seed by seed, and to plant more trees along the way. I have a book on harvesting to read, for the owners generously gave visitors a book from their personal gardening library. Really, dear reader, the gift of gardening and conserving comes in many forms, especially at Mettawa Manor. What more can I say?

Well, I really can say much more, but, this is already getting long in the tooth, and I did want to show you some photos of sunshine. I hope to share the book I brought home with you soon, and to share more photos of this garden and another we visited in future posts.

For now, I’ll just glean a few photos of flowers.

Black Hollyhock:Mettawa Manor Lily:Mettawa Manor


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Folly:pool houseDon’t you just love learning new words? Like folly? Well, of course, I knew that folly was foolishness, but, I didn’t realize that folly could be a thing as well as an action. It is interesting what one can learn while strolling through an Open Days garden.

As we entered the garden whose faces were featured in the previous post, Tom veered to the left, I straight ahead. He was interested in a structure peaking through the hedge, I was lured by the roses and peonies, amazingly still in bloom at the end of June. I’m often amazed at how different the climate can be just off of the lakefront.

Eventually, Tom found me – smelling the roses. Much later, I discovered the folly he found. I’d been wondering what and where it was, this newly constructed folly described in the garden’s description; a replica of a folly built in 1793 in Salem, Massachusetts. A folly is built with no purpose or intention. Some reside on estates of gentry, others on roads or in DSCN2261towns, on farms or wherever man’s folly takes him. There is an interesting article with pictures about follies with some photos and a good explanation here. This lovely folly is actually used, either as a pool house (for it faces an exquisite swimming pool) or an office, depending on who we heard talking. No matter how or if it is employed, it is charming building, with a hidden niche and boy with his pan flute just through the archway. Do you know any follies?


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DSCN2223Last weekend, we visited several gardens on Chicago’s North Shore during one of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days. These days are always a delight and, as many of you know, Tom and I frequent them whenever we can.

Chicago’s North Shore houses magnificent estates with storied, historical pasts and vibrant gardening attributes, including sweeping lawns meticulously groomed by resident gardeners. They hold in their grasp garden rooms more expansive than most of our more humble gardens, with expansive swaths of floral and fauna, as well as amazing sculptures hidden amongst the rose arbors and at the end of plane tree allees.

While I am a bit busy this weekend, I did want to take jus a moment to introduce you to a few faces we met on last weekend’s Open Days adventure, as well as the scenic view of Lake Michigan a short distance from the garden where these photos were taken. Much of this garden was designed by the great garden landscaper, Rosemary Verey. The sculpture of her, below on left, was done by the renowned garden sculptor, Simon Verity. This garden had only one folly, which I hope to show you soon.

Have a great day, wherever you are reading this from, and try to take some time to enjoy the scenery.





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After spending several hours at two of last Sunday’s Garden Conservancy Open Days gardens, we drove into the town of Lake Forest on the north shore of Lake Michigan to find a little something to eat. One of the volunteers suggested a few places in what is considered the oldest shopping center in the country. Market Square. It is a charming block of stores of varying architectural styles that house retail as well as other types of business with living quarters upstairs. The idea of mixed use properties isn’t as novel as we might think these days, as Lake Forest’s Market Square illustrates.

We ate at the Market House. It felt good to sit and relax, sip iced tea, and feel the cooling breeze of overhead fans on the restaurant’s porch. When the waitress said that the salads were made from local produce sold at the small, open air market across the street, we decided to give them a try. My choice was the special of the day, shown above, made with fresh arugula, avocado, heirloom tomato, goat cheese, and toasted walnuts, with warm shrimp and a balsamic vinaigrette on top.

Sated, we took a stroll around the square, which was charming with fountains and towers adorned with clocks and weather vanes, green common space, and all one could imagine in this historic shopping center which made its debut in 1916.

The produce market was closed, but, we were able to see most of what this open air business holds. It is really an alleyway between two building, running through to both sides of  the block.

I couldn’t believe how many plants, produce, and ornamentation was in this rather small space, or how visually appealing it was, not to mention the scents from the herbs and flowers that hinted their presence as we walked by.

Click on some of the pictures to get a better view of all the wonderful things in this small space.

I so love these hidden gems of life that find their way into my own.

Don’t you love these unexpected finds that life sometimes tosses your way?

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The second garden we visited on last Sunday’s Open Days was a mass of color and texture, ponds and walkways. Peonies danced with roses and the poppies were showing off in a profusion of riotous blooms.

In among the flowers, glass artwork caught the sun.

This one brought to mind, for me, Dr. Seuss.

A new use for an old bird cage.

A clambering noise from the pond drew us in, with this fellow making the most racket, as his friends sat or swam nearby.

Of course, I couldn’t resist the clematis now, could I?

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Shortly before our wedding, a shower was had by a friend and bridesmaid, Marlene. Beautifully wrapped boxes were opened and gifts were accepted with gratitude as we anticipated our life together. In the midst of it all at Marlene’s house, a kitten appeared. A darling Calico full of energy and life, rubbing the ankles of those in attendance and otherwise stealing the show. I remembered the kitten as I read Dee’s blog, complete with an excerpt from her newly published book, The Twelve Habits of Highly Successful Cats and Their Humans. The kitten, you see, turned out to be one of our wedding gifts from the hostess, Marlene.

It was 39 years ago that we were gifted that kitten. We named her Zoe, the Greek word for life, as we began our life together.

Zoe was a character of a cat. She didn’t purr, but she loved Greek Kalamata olives and, strangely, Ben Gay. Sore back muscles got a second kneading by Zoe whenever the Ben Gay ointment came out. Imagine, a Calico cat on a very sore back in purr-less ecstasy over someone’s aching muscles?

Zoe really loved us as much we loved her, but she was, shall I say particular with her attentions to others. Our niece Heather, just learning to speak at the time of Zoe’s appearance, would respond when asked after the litany of questions we ask toddlers about animal sounds, “What does Zoe say, Heather?”. Heather would smile  sweetly and say “hisssss”.

Thanks, Dee, for the reminder of such a thoughtful and wonderful gift and joy of life our Zoe brought, and for the announcement of your new book, a companion to your first, all of which you, dear reader,  can find out about here.

The serendipity of Dee’s post and the reminder of Zoe is that Tom and I just celebrated our 39th anniversary this past Sunday. I don’t know where the last 39 years have gone, but I’m so grateful and blessed to have shared them with Tom for so long.

We spent the day in our typically nature kind of way, touring Garden Conservancy Open Day estates, visiting an organic farm, and eating at one of our favorite Francesca restaurants, La Sorella de Francesca in Naperville. We were seated at a window spot we especially like and each of our meals was delicious after a long, busy, inspiring – and very hot day.

The flowers on the ledge outside our window were so lovely, I decided to take a picture, and found my Tom in the reflection as well. I love these moments in life, don’t you?


To life!

(click onto the picture to find Tom)

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It rained before we set out to visit the open gardens for the Garden Conservancy. It wasn’t a heavy downpour or violent storm the likes of which visited us, repeatedly, this summer, it just a gentle rain. It must have been welcomed by the gardeners early that morning. Although the ground was wet, the plants were gleeful. They glistened in the sunlight, clinging pearls of water on the tropical leaves.

Isn’t it amazing how a tiny drop of water can magnify the beauty of a leaf or petal after a rain?

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At the foot of the extravagantly dressed dahlias, which posed for you yesterday, were several serene pools. Formal and exquisite, which contradicts my haphazard style of gardening, they were calming reflections of the sky above. This is one of the things I love about the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program. The many forms that gardens take throughout a region and the many forms a garden takes within its own borders. This garden was originally patterned after England’s famed Sissinghurst Castle gardens. It has since taken on a more tropical plants in a midwestern suburb on the outskirts of Chicago. There is a wonderful article about the in the September/October issue of Chicagoland Gardening Magazine.

It is late summer here. A prelude to Autumn. The waterlilies were few on Saturday, but, the lily pads were like slippers, waiting to slip onto weary feet. They were lovely to see.  The show stoppers were the lotus plants,  turning their unique seed pods to the sun. I had fun for a while with my camera, which is like an extra appendage to me. Duct taped to hold the batteries in and plagued with dust spots at all the wrong moments, it has been faithful to me, for which I am grateful, especially with some of these images, which I hope you will enjoy.

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