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The Art Of Fine Gardening

Legendary North Shore landscape architect Craig Bergmann reveals his passion for the art of the garden. – craig bergmann’s Gardens of 900
Lake Forest, IL. Roses and Delphinium in full bloom. PHOTOGRAPHY BY SCOTT SHIGLEY, GINA GRILLO LINDA BRYAN

Nature has always inspired Craig Bergmann, he has felt challenged by the natural world as a contemporary artisan using plants, stone, and wood as the elements of his creative palette. His art practice, working in garden and landscape design, puts him in constant dialogue with the landscape, architecture, horticultural truths and the grand imposition of weather.

Bergmann is Founder and President of Craig Bergmann Landscape Design, Inc. (CBLD). Located (since 2010) at 900 North Waukegan Road in Lake Forest, on the historic A. Watson Armour Estate of Elawa Farm, the site has become a living and working complex for Bergmann and his husband, interior designer Paul Klug.

Bergmann’s landscape architecture firm maintains a unique approach of conceiving of each garden design from plan to reality—providing three tiers of service—from design, to installation, to garden care and maintenance. This philosophy allows ultimate artistic and quality control, ensuring the integrity of each original design, or in Bergmann’s words, “allowing us to control our gardens’ destinies.”

Gardens of 900
Layers of color and texture, from back to front: Popcorn Senna, Giant Allium, Salvia, Evening Primrose, Spirea.
Photograph by Scott Shigley

This contemporary landscape visionary was raised in Glen Ellyn and takes pride in his 40 percent Algonquin Indian heritage, and the fact that he is not happy unless he is outside. Growing up, Bergmann’s father, (who he describes as having a mundane office job), would recite the Mantra, “I am taking my frustrations out on the garden.” Although Bergmann’s artistic collaboration with nature began humbly, first in boyhood, playing in the woods, mowing lawns, and tending to and planting perennials in neighbors’ gardens—nature also became a source of excitement and adventure.

As Bergmann regales a story of the unmasking of a mastodon skeleton in a neighborhood pond near his childhood home, one realizes that this is a signifying tale, a turning point of sorts, confirming that if nature could reveal a dinosaur head in his own “backyard,” then it must hold the promise of many wonders.

Then, another turning point, in 1980, during his junior year at DePaul, while earning his degree in biology and working in a flower shop, Bergmann received his first residential garden commission from a patron who recognized his talent. Since then, abiding by the laws of nature, his reputation has sprouted and grown by word of mouth and proof of work, leafing into words of praise and evolving into a thriving creative business.

Gardens of 900
The sun sets over the west garden in late June.
Photograph by Scott Shigley

Now after 35 years, Bergmann is known nationally, and works primarily with clients across North Shore communities and the Midwest region of the Great Lakes. Intent on quality and aesthetic craftsmanship, he oversees all designs of his horticulturally educated staff of 70 in summer and 40 in winter, maintaining 150 projects per year, each requiring 3-6 months from conception to installation.

“Our work is done a third in our heads and two thirds on the ground.” Bergmann says. “There is a reason that our company logo is ‘The Art of Fine Gardening,’ we are making art with the most successful of our projects.”

Little Orchard Garden by cbld
Lake Forest, IL. A parterre–a traditional formal garden element.
Photograph by Linda Oyama Bryan

Bergmann believes that in today’s mechanized product driven world, having a reason to go outside to see something that you are proud of, or that you aspire to, on your way to the car, or on your way to work is vital. “A garden,” he says, “can change your life.”
At the intersection of art, nature and space at the “Gardens at 900,” one finds evidence of Bergmann’s love for English Country style intermingled with a contemporary structural aesthetic. The landscape is adorned with plantings that reflect the 1917 era of David Adler’s architectural design. Masses of roses—Gallica, Bourbon, Alba, Moss, and Musk—ranging from pink to red to white to brilliant yellow grace the orchard. A varietal selection of plants with traits of the old-style plants with modern amenities allow for the practicality of less maintenance and disease resistance. A 60-foot border of Salvia Wesuii in the deepest Indigo blooms for months during summer along the face of the Blue Border. Clematis vines of purple, red, burgundy, and blue grace the iron fences of the Motor Court and drape through old lilacs, weigela, and arborvitaes in the gardens.

Bergmann is a board member of the Midwest Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, a regular lecturer at the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Garden Committee Chairman on the Elawa Farm Foundation Board (the farm is owned by the City of Lake Forest), and consulting Landscape Architect of the City of Lake Forest.

Craig Bergmann in his garden.
Photograph by Gina Grillo

Nature continues to be Bergmann’s guidepost. “I learned early on,” he says, “that any time I get too big for my britches…, or off the path wondering what’s next, nature is there saying, ‘just ask me.’”

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