Just as the low-maintenance personal garden is mostly myth, the low-maintenance public landscape is even less possible. Such was the case with Alfred Caldwell’s Lily Pool (built 1936-38) in Lincoln Park. As recently as 1998, the pool, its surrounding stonework, and its plantings was “a dead world,” according to the designer when he visited it just before his death. The formerly pristine masterpiece was choked with weed trees, the stonework was damaged, and the lagoon was filled with trash.
Too bad Caldwell never lived to see the restoration that I was lucky enough to view during our garden blogger meet-up in Chicago last weekend. The lily pool is gorgeous once more, thanks to a public/private partnership that raised funds and galvanized volunteers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many aquilegia canadensis, geranium maculatum, thalictrium dasycarpum (not sure of exact plant here), and wild phlox all together in one place before. There were also many native trees and shrubs. The stonework has been restored and the water was clear; it would be wonderful to have such a retreat in the middle of any city.
It’s interesting how this landscape—which is meant to appear natural, even wild—requires almost as much regular maintenance as any of the more contrived institutional gardens, such as the Chicago Botanic Garden or any of the conservatories in the city. Certainly the Lurie Gardens, another favorite of the group, must also require a massive amount of tending. And after listening to and reading many accounts about how native meadows must be developed and tweaked into shape, I can’t imagine making the attempt.
So all the more kudos to Chicago for being able to keep these natural places looking as they should.
Check here for a selection of pictures from the Chicago trip.