4:36 p.m. CDT, April 26, 2012
Although the mild winter and unusually warm spring have many gardeners scratching their heads wondering what to expect this summer, Ted Nyquist is not concerned: “I watch the weather, but I don’t agonize over it.”
He and his wife, Gidget, have followed the whims of weather — including a devastating lightning strike that damaged a very large oak — in their rambling Bartlett garden for 24 years.
“There’s always something to see, and it’s always changing,” Gidget says.
They’re opening their garden to the public May 20, part of this year’s Garden Conservancy Open Days program. (It will be one of four private, stunning gardens on display that day; the Illinois series officially begins May 6. See “Open Days, glory days,” next page, for information.)
Four of the property’s gently rolling seven acres feature spectacular views, including beds of rhododendrons, a free-standing bed of conifers (some with green, gold or blue needles) and three types of cacti, more than 100 roses, a cutting garden, woodland paths, a meandering creek and much more.
Ted Nyquist, president of the Midwest Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, prides himself on designing the garden’s ever-expanding beds and borders and planting ornamental trees, such as Kousa dogwood, Korean maples and magnolias, as well as countless shrubs, perennials and annuals. He also built the pergola, playhouse and several arbors. The garden rooms they’ve created offer a place for their 14 grandchildren to play and for adults to relax when they’re not strolling among the plants.
Spring in the couple’s garden begins with Virginia bluebells and other native wildflowers, narcissus and hellebores carpeting the ground under redbuds, hickories and oak trees. The rhododendrons — several varieties include many from the Northern Lights series — come into bloom next, along with iris, ligularia, weigela, butterfly bushes, and drifts of sun- and shade-loving perennials.
“When we moved here, the land was equal or more important than the house,” says Ted, who often travels to Michigan nurseries for unusual plants for his ever-expanding collection of rhododendrons and azaleas. “One of my passions is trying to show people that you can grow rhododendrons here. You don’t see many private gardens with them.”
Deer, raccoons, ducks, hawks, herons and songbirds are regular visitors. Dragonflies dart over the pond where a lone muskrat routinely glides across the surface. A towering blue spruce is a focal point in a side border.
“The very first year we were here, I was so gung-ho,” Gidget recalls. “We were going to have a real Christmas tree — it was balled and burlapped and dirty and messy (indoors), but we eventually planted it, and I can’t believe it’s grown so well.”
Their first gardening efforts began in the front yard with daffodils. Over the past two decades many plants have come and gone. In recent years, gypsy moths did irreparable damage to several towering oaks. Once the trees were removed, more sun reached the ground, which created a perfect spot for the circular rose garden. A fountain sits at the center of the circle surrounded by Lady Elsie May, Easy Elegance, “Nearly Wild” and Knock Out roses.
A cutting garden not far from the front door of their midcentury modern house features zinnias, sunflowers and other annuals. Primroses, astilbes and many varieties of hosta (including some like “Elatior” and “Empress Wu” with wingspans of 4 to 5 feet) along with epimedium, ferns, ornamental grasses and other perennials provide contrasting textures and colors throughout the woodland and along the pond’s edge.
“I had perennials by the driveway but got frustrated,” Ted says. “I wanted something to draw the eye, and the “Limelight” hydrangeas did that. They’re big, they bloom nicely, they change color — so it works.”
Native cup plant (Silphium) is one of their favorites. “One reason I like it is that it’s a favorite of the goldfinches,” he says.
“I think if you stood here (for a few minutes), you could almost see it growing,” Gidget adds.
Spring, which arrived very early this year, is the couple’s favorite time in the garden. “I try to design the garden for all seasons,” Ted says. “But in spring, there’s the anticipation. Life is renewed.”
Glory Days: Gardeners open their gates for gazingThe Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program provides a peek at some of the loveliest private gardens in the country. Ted and Gidget Nyquist’s Bartlett garden, along with three other gardens in Barrington Hills and Elburn, will be open to the public 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 20.
The Conservancy’s Illinois program begins next week, with a Winnetka garden on view 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 6. Additional dates are June 23-24, July 22 and 29.
For a list of all the gardens, and driving directions, visit opendaysprogram.org. Admission is $5 per garden (cash or check), payable at each site; a booklet of six tickets can be purchased in advance for $25 at the Chicago Botanic Garden or by visiting the Conservancy website; for additional information, call 888-842-2442.