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Glorious in its sophistication: Inspired by Jens Jensen, Bruce Hochstadter's 12-year-old garden captures contest's top honor

Scientific ResearchScienceHobbiesLifestyle and LeisureGardeningJens JensenChicago Botanic Garden

"A native crabapple, a group of violets, a bird bath with a cardinal flower, a virgin's bower clinging to the crabapple, and perhaps a dash of iris or phlox, or lilies if you please, make a garden full of song and poetry."

--"Siftings" by landscape architect Jens Jensen (1850-1951)They prepped and they primped. Watered and fertilized. Tweaked, pinched, coddled and cajoled their plants into stunning, expansive gardenscapes or small, sweet retreats not much larger than a compact car. Show us your gardens, we implored all summer. And you did.

The entries for this year's Glorious Gardens contest came from downtown Chicago to Olympia Fields, Winnetka, Elgin, Naperville, Orland Park, Crystal Lake, Indianapolis and points in between.

Entrants' letters were moving and eloquent, sometimes humorous, but always passionate. Entries were open to nine areas of the Chicago metropolitan region and one garden from elsewhere in the Midwest. Picking the best wasn't easy.

Because there were so many diverse entries from Chicago, the judges decided to award three prizes for the city.

But in the end, it was Bruce Hochstadter's Highland Park garden, inspired by Jens Jensen, that garnered the Best Overall Garden award.

As the Best Overall Garden Winner, Hoch-stadter will receive a $500 gift certificate to the Chalet Nursery & Garden Shops in Wilmette; a $100 gift certificate to the Chicago Botanic Garden's Garden Shop in Glencoe; a one-year Priority membership to the Chicago Botanic Garden (worth $100), and a Glorious Gardens Contest 2002 award and coffee mug.

"It's an elegant, sophisticated garden with a great use of space," says Kris Jarantoski, executive vice president at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. Jarantoski was one of eight judges--others included Lee Randhava, a writer for the botanic garden; William Aldrich, publisher of Chicagoland Gardening magazine; writer Cathy Maloney of The Morton Arboretum in Lisle; horticulturist Barbara Bridges of Sid's Greenhouses in Palos Hills; garden writer Nina Koziol; Home&Garden editor Elaine Matsushita, and assistant editor Beth Botts--who examined hundreds of slides showing the impressive gardening efforts of our readers.

"His use of stone and lawn pathways to emphasize curves in the garden was definitely effective. There's a sense of enclosure created through layering that really made a nice effect," added Maloney.

By the seat of his pants

Hochstadter, 56, an oral surgeon who keeps his hands and nails immaculate by wearing disposable surgical gloves while gardening, was surprised by the honor. "I've never entered a contest. I've attended a few [garden] lectures, but mostly I've learned by the seat of my pants," he says.

Hochstadter and his wife, Marcia, moved to their home about 15 years ago. It was a dozen years ago when he decided to start a garden. "My wife didn't want flower beds where the kids were playing, so I started with a little garden by the ravine."

He bought about a dozen perennials by mail order. It was a process of trial and error because of all the shade, but since then, he has transformed his early plantings--small circles--into sweeping borders that envelope the 1 1/4-acre property.

His inspiration came from the writings and designs of Jensen, the Chicago landscape architect (1860-1951).

More than a century ago, Jensen created a Midwestern style of public parks and private gardens now known as the Prairie Style of landscape architecture, emphasizing natural features and native plants. Besides designing numerous Chicago parks and championing conservation of natural space, Jensen landscaped dozens of North Shore estates.

"I attended a lecture about his work and toured one of his local gardens and was really inspired by it," Hochstadter says. "I've read his books and books about him and have tried to learn as much about his philosophy and natural style as possible."

He has toured Jensen-designed gardens including the Lincoln Memorial Garden in Springfield, Ill., and the Henry Ford estate in Dearborn, Mich., as well as private, residential gardens. "I'm interested in his forms, the use of flagstone and the way his elevations change."

Hochstadter explains that his garden is a loose interpretation of a Jensen design. "I use my own plant material; he liked more native plants." The garden's bones, however, do come from a nearby Jensen-designed landscape.

Hochstadter would pass the garden on his early morning jogs and one day stopped to measure it. "I'm not a draftsman and [the drawing] was really primitive. The measurements were the basis for my beds."

Rooms to grow

Layers of trees and shrubs, including hawthorns, magnolias, crab apples, fringe tree, seven son flower, and redbud now share the stage with mature maples, oaks, beech and ash.

After developing his shade and sun gardens, Hochstadter discovered that deer were devastating his plants. "I had beautiful buds ready to open, and the next morning, they were gone." He ordered a fence made from heavy-duty netting and installed it himself. An antique gate across the driveway seals off the garden from the four-legged marauders.

Outdoor rooms abound here. "The sun garden defines one room and there's a little grassy breakfast area that's enclosed by the arms of the garden," Hochstadter says.

The gentle trickling of water can be heard from the hidden garden, which was created around a fountain. He unearthed the decorative concrete fountain base about 10 years ago while digging around a circle of pansies. He purchased a new top for it and planted astilbes as a ground cover that tolerates some of the fountain's spray. "The house was built in 1909 and I think it's original to the house. It looks like it's been there forever."

A path and much of the stone edgings are recycled lannon stone. "I'd get it from tear-downs around Highland Park; otherwise, they go to a landfill. I love the patina of old stone."

"There's a sense of mystery with a path into the woods. It doesn't look overly contrived or overly designed," says Randhava.

Texture and contrast

Some of Hochstadter's favorite shade plants are hostas such as `Janet,' `Patriot' and `Great Expectations.'

"`Sum and Substance' can reach 6 feet or more in diameter. It's a great specimen plant," he says. Hochstadter looks for texture and contrast, especially in the shady areas where flower color is at a premium. "Next to a hosta," he says, "I might put a spiky plant like Japanese sedge grass or a wonderful golden sedge." Japanese anemones, hellebores and several types of ligularia brighten these shady spots.

Phlox, heliopsis, daylilies and other sun-lovers fill other sweeping beds.

His plants are treated to a special soil mix of a third each of garden soil, torpedo sand and compost. Leaf mold is spread on the beds in fall.

As his garden has evolved, he redesigned the plantings. "I bought tarps, dug out the plants and placed them on the tarps," he says. He then was able to take his time rearranging them in the borders.

Hochstadter spends between 8 and 15 hours a week in the garden, though he notes that it's most intensive in May. "I don't realize that the hours pass when I'm gardening. I lose my sense of time and I'm very happy like that," he says.

He does all the "grunt" work of soil preparation and planting. And until five years ago, he cut all the grass with a riding mower; now he has someone do it for him.

One thing leads to another, and he is slowly running out of room, he says, joking. "It's the phenomenon of the shrinking lawn. You can still throw a football or play soccer, but I'm digging one more bed next to the pavers.

"Extending the season is one of my new things," Hochstadter says. "I'm working on early and later bloomers."

He ordered 45 new daylilies for planting this fall. "They're mostly pest-free, easy-to-grow, and in most every color. Different heights and bloom times let you extend the season."

But it's not just the growing season that has made him appreciate his garden. "In the winter when everything's died back, I just love to stand and look. I love the flow of the whole garden, even without the plants."

Gardening tips from a winner

Bruce Hochstadter, the Best Overall Garden winner in the Glorious Gardens Contest 2002, shares some thoughts and tips:

It's a learning experience, so do it your way. Plant what you like, where you like it. Except for his interest in Jens Jensen's landscape designs, Hochstadter calls his garden his own. "My garden is not really inbred. There's not much cross-fertilization. I don't belong to any clubs or subscribe to any magazines and I've ignored books that talk about complementary colors."

Go natural. He's planted some of Jensen's favorites--native trees and shrubs adapted to our soil and climate--such as his signature tree, the hawthorn. It's wonderful horizontal branching mimics the flat Midwestern prairie as does his native pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia). He enjoys both in winter when they are particularly beautiful with a light dusting of snow on their branches.

Choose ornamental trees for disease resistance and multiseason color. Hochstadter is fond of crab apples for spring flowers and fall berries. "I've put in some magnificent crab apples like Red Jewel, Winter King and Sargent Crab. Underneath the monstrous-leaved Japanese buttercup covers the ground.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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