Chicago Tribune - Up Against the Wall

Source: Chicago Tribune
March 06, 2005
By Nina A. Koziol

An English walled garden, designed by John Cullen of Celtic Garden Imports in Ann Arbor, Mich., awaits you in the "Gardens of the National Trust" exhibit at the 2005 Chicago Flower & Garden Show. Here, Cullen re-creates the sophisticated ambience of an English country estate with a formal design that sets the stage for a cool-colored floral display.

Many architectural artifacts -- including limestone arches, antique cobblestones, reclaimed bricks and tracery windows, which were salvaged by Cullen's firm on trips to the United Kingdom -- lend an authentic British feeling to the space.

"I look at our garden as a stained-glass window," Cullen says. "The structure is very important. A strong design is necessary to support the plants, which serve as the stained glass."

In this case, 1,000 sun- and shade-loving perennials will create the stained-glass color scheme in shades of plum, lavender, blue, rose, burgundy, pink, white and purple. "I like blending colors," Cullen says, "and this color palette was chosen for simple beauty. It's classical color."

Cullen consulted with Xa Tollemache, an English garden designer who has garnered top awards for her designs at the Chelsea Flower Show. She also has designed gardens for numerous estates in England and France.

"We're looking at new plants and new perennials," Cullen says. "Everything will be hardy here, but you'll find a strong English influence." He characterizes the garden as formal architecture united with the natural landscape movement.

More than a dozen 25-foot-tall European hornbeam trees with their narrow upright form provide a formal structure. Nearly 300 `Green Mountain' boxwood bushes will provide a living outline in the garden's beds.

Espaliered Kieffer pear trees will outline a cloister that leads to a water feature. Peter Thevenot of River Road Farms, a 300-acre nursery in Decatur, Tenn., is providing the pear trees. Thevenot has one of the largest espalier collections in the U.S., Cullen says.

"He's likely the best in the country, if not the world, at training the trees in an espalier style," Cullen says of the style that originated with the French. "It was an art lost in the mid-1800s and [Thevenot is] doing it with the finest plants."

Thevenot's wife, designer Beth Thevenot, who works with metal artisan Bubba Williams at The Anvil Works studio in Decatur, created the "Tree of Life" sculpture that will stand in the center of the garden. "The hardscape will be softened by an abundance of climbers and deep perennial borders," Cullen says. "We're using old favorites such as roses, lavender, catmint and clematis growing alongside some of the newer varieties of campanula, artemisia, euphorbia and allium."

Several varieties of bleeding heart, columbine, saliva, iris, dianthus, penstemon, violas and meconopsis, the blue-flowered poppy, will complete the color scheme.

"We're using garden plants that are common to classical gardens," Cullen says. And hundreds of spring-blooming bulbs will add a subtle carpet of color. The cool color combinations, Cullen says, "will be present from dawn to dusk. It's designed for full splendor all day." Celtic Garden Imports specializes in historic landscape restoration and installation of period-style gardens. The firm blends century-old artifacts and materials from Ireland, England and Scotland to create a timeless beauty in gardens large and small.

"We search the Irish countryside for unique items of stone, iron and timber," Cullen says. He imports hand-chiseled cobblestones that were reclaimed from streets in Dublin along with granite troughs from farms across Ireland.