A grand home in Lake Forest goes formal and nearly flowerless with Euro-style landscape design
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Yoanna Kulas has nothing against Midwestern garden styles. “We have so many gorgeous gardens on the North Shore, and I love them,” she says. But for her own home, in Lake Forest, she wanted nothing of the sort. Multicolored banks of perennials, stands of billowing ornamental grasses, and deciduous trees standing naked for much of the year weren’t going to work with her vision of a French villa.
After building an impressive stone-and-shutters house patterned after the villas they had loved in St. Tropez and elsewhere in Europe, Yoanna and her husband, Mark, worked with a landscape designer who surrounded the house with mulched beds of starter perennials.
Disappointed, Yoanna and Mark started over, this time with Jim Osborne, the head of horticulture for Mariani Landscape. Osborne understood the problem right away. “The house is European, but the landscape was Midwestern,” he says. “There were typical foundation plantings and other fussy things. It needed more formal features and clipped forms, instead of loose, wild, prairie forms.”
He and his clients also agreed on the importance of a simple, primarily green, palette—the house has strong architectural features, and its stone is colorful enough. “We didn’t need to junk up the landscape with more color,” Osborne says.
Or as Kulas puts it, “I can always add more color later if I want some, but you can’t take it off.” The interior of the house sticks mostly with calm grays, light blue, and white, and she wanted the exterior to have a similarly soothing style.
“Bright green is a rich color, and most people have a positive reaction to it,” Osborne says of the plantings. “It makes everything look more alive. Using it throughout the landscape made it harmonious.”
It may be monotone, but it’s not monotonous. Boxwoods neatly shaped into low hedges and globes of various sizes, bolt-upright arborvitae, and languidly climbing vines are just a few of the forms that dark green takes in this meticulously arranged estate garden.
“Because we were staying away from looking at plants by color,” Osborne says, “we could do a lot more with form and with texture.”
1. The style of the house is straight from Provence, but plants that thrive there “are not in our palette here,” notes landscape designer Osborne. “We couldn’t go for a complete match, but we went for the style.” He “aged” the house with vines; on the downspouts are trained vines of akebia (Akebia quinata). “It’s fast-growing and makes an impact,” Osborne says. 2. The garden comes right up to the house, but without traditional (for the Midwest) foundation plantings that hug it and mark a hard transition from indoors to out. 3. Limestone walls and brick laid in a herringbone pattern, installed in the garden in its two different incarnations, work together to make the garden feel older than it really is. 4. Pea gravel and lawn areas provide visual relief from the formal elements of the garden, such as the precisely formed boxwoods and the limestone walls. Each component adds to the rich composition of textures, an important part of a largely monochromatic landscape. 5. Akebia vines produce small purple-brown flowers in May.
Photography: Alan Shortall
Styling: Diane Ewing