Feature Article - November 2007
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Parks with Purpose

Preserving the Past, Designing the Future

By Emily Tipping

From Gardens to Greens

At Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Ill., trees and lawns—and gardens created by landscape architect Franz Lipp in the late 1960s—are sufficient for most visitors, in addition to the dose of history they can get from the park's museums and events.

Developed on the grounds of a mansion built by Joseph Medill, who became the owner of the Chicago Tribune newspaper in 1874, Cantigny Park includes multiple museums, formal gardens, a lawn that hosts concerts and other events, a hiking trail and an award-winning golf course. It's all open to the public, thanks to Medill's grandson Robert McCormick, who took possession of the mansion, now the Robert R. McCormick museum, in 1920 and lived there until his death in 1955.

Col. McCormick instructed in his will that the 500-acre estate be used "…for the recreation, instruction and welfare of the people of the State of Illinois." Now, the Cantigny Foundation, a branch of the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation, maintains the mansion as a historic house museum, and the grounds of the house became a park that incorporates beautifully designed landscapes and wilder areas. Visitors to the park can get a dose of education about military and local history, bask in beautifully designed gardens, be entertained by symphonies performed by local musicians or engage in a challenging round of golf.

It was in 1967 that Lipp, one of the country's foremost landscape architects, was hired to design the Formal Gardens at Cantigny. Now consisting of about 40 acres, the gardens showcase a wide range of plants, including annuals, perennials, groundcovers, flowering bulbs and a variety of trees and shrubs.

"This combination makes for a horticultural masterpiece," states the Cantigny Park Web site. "What Lipp designed with his use of hardy plant material is a Midwest Garden where both the amateur and professional landscape planner would have the opportunity to obtain valuable information on plant life. His purpose for the gardens was to provide a place for the testing of plants, demonstrating their growth habits, blooming periods, color qualities in composition with other plants, as well as their hardiness and life span in the climate of the Midwest."

Local gardeners can find a great deal of inspiration, as well as places to gather with others or sit alone with a good book, in the Formal Garden. Or they can visit the Idea Garden, designed specifically to provide a classroom of sorts. Visitors can "walk through the seasons" to discover plantings that show their best colors at various times of the year. The Idea Garden also highlights a selection of herbs, the most recent AAS (All American Selection) winners and food plants. In 2007, the food garden demonstration took a Southern slant, featuring collards, lima beans, sweet potatoes, melons and pumpkins, in addition to longtime favorites. The Idea Garden also features a children's section, with a gourd tunnel, a small waterfall and pond with fish and a bridge to cross, as well as a Loch Ness Monster topiary and a yellow and red smiley-face planting. A staff of volunteer master gardeners is on hand to answer visitors' questions as they wander this creative area.

The 27-hole championship golf course at Cantigny Park opened in 1989, and was named the Best New Public Course in America by Golf Digest magazine. Designed by Roger Packard, the tees, greens and fairways are bent grass accompanied by lakes, creeks, more than 70 sand bunkers and thousands of flowers, oak, ask and hardwood trees.