Light years ago, when I was a young girl, I learned to play tennis just up the road from Crab Tree Farm. Gazing out the car window, on the way to my lessons, the farm had a storybook quality–like a Tasha Tudor illustration come to life. So I was thrilled when The Garden Conservancy announced that one of the gardens available for viewing on Open Days this year was Crab Tree Farm. At last I would discover what lay beyond the roadside buildings and fields.
The day of the tour dawned bright and warm, with the unusual, but not uncommon, situation that the Lake Michigan shore was fog-bound. This happens typically in early summer when the substantially warmer land temperature confronts the still-cool-from-winter temperature of the lake water. Since Crab Tree is the last remaining Illinois farm located on Lake Michigan, the forest glades and paths and some of the garden areas closest to the lake were shrouded in mist for visitor’s day. Rather than detracting from the experience, the heavily wooded acres near Lake Michigan assumed an ephemeral quality, almost becoming an enchanted forest.
The farm is over 100 years old, and excellent historical information on Crab Tree exists elsewhere on the web (http://www.crabtreefarm.org/), so I won’t belabor the details here. The current farm structures date from the early 1900s; and animals still share the land: geese, sheep and cattle graze in the meadows closest to the road. It’s all very bucolic.
An open field to the rear of the farmland was set aside for parking. It was also the demarcation point where sunny fields turned to shady forest and lawns. Very little of the property is devoted to traditional herbaceous gardens. There is a large potager, complete with clipped boxwood, and an outer border of Rosa rubrifolia, Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’, Salvia ‘May Night’, Heuchera, and a surprising, but welcome, planting of the old-fashioned pale pink Astrantia major. There is also a separate walled garden that is mostly lawn, ferns and more clipped boxwood. Personally, I would have preferred to see the walled garden planted out in double herbaceous or mixed borders as a white garden to offset so much of the shady surroundings and to offer the opportunity for an evening garden.
There are also some especially fine individual plantings on the grounds. In particular, a lush climbing Hydrangea petiolaris scrambles up the side and over the roof of one of the entry garages.
In addition to the farm buildings, there are assorted distinct buildings on the property, several of which were brought in by the current owners. These include a reproduction hermitage and one of the original log cabins from the local area. Attention to architectural detail can be seen in the correctly sized old carriage lamps throughout. Perhaps the most unusual building is the massive, classically designed indoor tennis court, with glass ceiling and live vines growing up the interior walls.
The slide shows are grouped by content, such as buildings, paths and special features. They may be preceded by a few comments on noteworthy elements. Clicking on any of the individual photos will open each slideshow. (If any of the slides appears dark, try pressing the arrow button back then forward again to bring up the correct lighting or start the slideshow again from the darkened photo.) Enjoy.
I Farm Buildings, Caretaker Buildings and Animals
II Glades and Paths
Water plants have been liberally planted on either side of the footbridge.
III Separate Structures
These include caretaker buildings as well as follys. The mantel in the hermitage is from a 14th c. altar.
IV Gardens and Plants
The potager and the walled garden. Very effective use of borrowed scenery in the potager.
V Statues and Ornaments
Throughout the property, statuary and ornaments are used to enhance, delight, surprise, or direct a view. The charming lion’s head fountain is tucked into a corner of the walled garden.