This past Saturday, Judy and I picked up Beckee and Daniel to go see the trolls at the Morton Arboretum. The trolls, up to 30′ tall, are creations of the Danish artist Thomas Dambo.

However, when we got off at our exit, we discovered a long line of cars stretching down the road waiting to get in. We sat in the line for 15 minutes or so, then decided that the trolls would have to wait for another day.

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An impressively large patch of Blue Grama grass (Bouteloua gracilis) outside the visitor center.

We thought about alternatives in the area, which was Chicago’s western suburbs, and remembered Cantigny, which none of us had ever visited. Cantigny is the former estate of Col. Robert S. McCormick, a wealthy politician and former owner of the Chicago Tribune. His reactionary spirit lives on in the Trib’s more rabid editorials. But it’s nice that his estate is now open to the public.

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Unfortunately, we learned that most of Cantigny’s gardens were closed for renovations until next year. A formal garden was still open to the public, so we spent some time wandering around.

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Here’s a picture of Daniel taking a picture of Beckee.

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Overall, the garden was pleasant, but not too exciting. Many beds filled with colorful annuals. There was too much boxwood for my taste, and that boxwood smell was distinctly noticeable. I did like the borders lined with profusely flowering Geranium ‘Rozanne’.

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And we were impressed by this big old oak tree, though stumped as to the species.

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The Oak’s underplanting was very nice – variegated sedge (maybe Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’?), together with urns filled with colorful Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides).

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Orange Zinnias and blue Salvia – have to love the colors. That’s McCormick’s mansion in the background. There’s a tour every 30 minutes. Daniel and Judy really like that sort of thing, but we decided it was getting too late in the day. This decision caused me to quietly rejoice.

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This planting of Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) surrounded by Boxwood does not work. Not because most of the Little Bluestem has fallen over – I kind of like the windswept look, but it doesn’t go with the Boxwood. Maybe it would if the grass stayed rigidly upright, but obviously you can’t count on that.

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The corner with Prairie Dropseed (Sporobulus heterolepis) combined with Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is much more effective.

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A very pleasant pond with a gazebo in the distance. I appreciated the naturalistic shoreline with aquatic plants.

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I like Coleus, but I wonder at the amount of time it must take to maintain these smoothly clipped paramecium-shaped Coleus beds.

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Cantigny includes a military museum (dedicated to the Colonel’s unit from World War I), which we didn’t see, but we did visit the Tank Park. The Tank Park is a park full of … tanks. Little kids were climbing all over most of them. Beckee thought that looked like fun.

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Coincidentally, the day we visited was the day when Cantigny was hosting a gathering of amateur Revolutionary War reenactors. Here they are getting ready to demonstrate firing replicas of two cannons from that era. There was a full-scale battle scheduled for 3 PM, but we didn’t want to stay that long.

It was kind of fun to see the park and gardens full of people in 18th century dress. There were men, women, and children – at least it was an inclusive family activity. For thousands of Americans, this is a hobby pursued with devotion. I wonder if the same is true elsewhere. Do people in Europe get together to reenact the English Civil War or the Battle of Waterloo?

We didn’t get to see the trolls, or the main gardens at Cantigny, or the mansion, but we got to spend a few hours with Beckee and Daniel, which was the main purpose of the day. What we saw of Cantigny makes me feel a second visit would be worthwhile, at least next year when the main gardens are ready. And the trolls are around through 2020, so we will definitely make another attempt to see them.

26 Comments on “Things We Saw, Things We Didn’t See

  1. I like the gardens for the most part but I agree that little bluestem doesn’t really go with a neatly trimmed boxwood hedge. I’ve never seen that grass fall over like that until very late in the fall.

  2. I am intrigued about the ‘trolls’… will look out for a post on them if you do visit. When I was a child we often went to re-enacted battles of our civil war as my grandad was interested in history and a lot of the big battles took place in our local region. I was actually more interested in seeing the costumes and horses than learning about the technical details of battles though. 😉

  3. I love those big arches that form an allee. It is too bad the vines growing on it didn’t create a tunnel. If I had room I would do that. I keep making my plantings lean toward each other to make arches in my little garden. ha… I am a dreamer.
    I have never seen little blue grass fall over like that. Strange.
    I hate the smell of boxwood. It smells like a cat has marked its territory to me. yuck. I do like the clipped look though, if one is trying for that neat formal look.
    There is a Civil War reenactment here in Vincennes each Memorial Day weekend. The people dress accordingly, there are battle reenactments etc… Even the vendors have to be in period dress. Interesting to see every so often. We also have a military museum here. It grows yearly and they have a WWII reenactment every year.

  4. If at first you don’t succeed…Those coleuses are amazing. Yes, it must have taken quite a bit of work to get them to look that way. In the end, you had a good day with Beckee and Daniel, which no doubt was the best part of all.

  5. Any boxwood is “too much” for me! Looks like it was lovely weather. I do look forward to trolls sometime in the future though!

  6. Lovely to see those gardens on a summer’s day.. and definitely worth a visit in 2020. Australians do have some historical re-enactments and a dedicated group who do medieval British battles .. I guess it’s a a way of learning history..

  7. My first thought on seeing the little bluestem was, “What’s with that?” Our prairies are filled with that grass, and I’ve never seen it look like that: not the color, and not the behavior. It’s much odder than the trolls! I had no idea what kind of trolls were lurking, so I looked them up. What a fun addition to the place, for children of every age.

    • Little Bluestem naturally grows in short grass prairies with less rainfall or with very well drained soil. Not too surprising that it tends to flop in a garden.

  8. Such a creative title–I had to check it out. 🙂 I remember visiting Cantigny many years ago. It seems to me I really liked it, but it sounds like it’s gone through some changes and is about to go through more. I’ll have to put it on the re-visit list, since we’re in the Chicago area often. Too bad the Troll exhibit was too busy to get in.

  9. That looks like a beautiful garden, I can see how some of the planting works, while others (like the grass bordered by box) doesn’t. The underplanting with sedge looks very effective. One of our borders needs a lot of ground cover to stop weeds so a single expanse of this might work. I like going to places where you can take away ideas based on what you do or don’t like.

  10. Looking forward to seeing those trolls. What a wonderful old oak, loved the pond and thw zinnia and salvia arrangement.xxx

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