BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
There’s nothing like the light and the oak trees. You know that you are here and nowhere else.
—Landscape architect and author Mario Nievara on his return to Glencoe.
Mario Nievara, one of the nation’s top landscape architects and author of Forever Green, told the sold-out audience at the recent Kenilworth Garden Club benefit luncheon that the lush North Shore gardens he observed as a child growing up in Glencoe are his greatest inspirations.
Before showing photographs of stunning landscapes his firm Nievara Williams has created across the country—including for his own homes in Palm Beach and East Hampton—he exhibited a Winnetka estate he saw while he was a New Trier student.
“I worked summers at Rich’s drugstore delivering orders, and my favorite stops were on Indian Hill and Woodley roads. The properties seemed to flow together—you can’t tell where one house ends and the other begins. This is an image I have carried forever. On my block in Glencoe, properties were squares, more or less.”
After his talk Mario sat between two old friends, renowned Chicago landscape architect Maria Smithburg and New Trier classmate Elizabeth Price, and admired a spring centerpiece that reflected the Garden Club’s winning design abilities.
President Lenore Macdonald told guests at the Glen View Club that the event raised funds for current and future projects and programs, including Misericordia, The Charles A. Ware Memorial Garden, and the Chicago Botanic Garden, and presented benefit chairs Sharon Hayes and Kirsten Rider.
Following the luncheon Mario was off to the Kips Bay Show House where he was asked to create an outdoor garden, even with temperatures below freezing at night. He shared his challenge there with the audience:
“It is so early in the season that there are no outdoor plants in the local nurseries, so I had to buy lots of tropical plants and use artificial ivy to create a lattice effect. I added lots of orchids, a Schumacher fabric called Citrus Garden from 1947, and bought plenty of blankets to cover everything at night.”
We asked Mario, who said the he learned critical skills from his graphic artist father and his mother, an entrepreneur, for local gardening tips:
“I am all about bringing joy to your home. I think that espaliered trees can do that, even if the branches aren’t blossoming yet. The leaves of early blooming hellebores are lovely in February and March—they have an almost tropical look.
“For summer gardens, salvia, nicotiana, and hydrangeas grow a long time. I love grassy meadows that re-seed and supply three or four different flowers all summer.
“Window boxes are pockets you can refresh and bring beauty almost instantly. I am definitely not a flower arranger but very loose bouquets, with blooms resembling wildflowers, are apparently very in.”
Mario talked about his recent work on Palm Beach’s familiar Royal Ponciana Plaza, built in the 1960s and vastly in need of landscape design.
“For Palm Beach, the Hamptons, and the suburbs around New York, I like for a minimalist, open, and clean look, and that works everywhere. Even with recently constructed architecture I like creating a feeling of age and that the structure is nestled into the landscape. As much as I love the asymmetrical, at a certain point you have to have balance.”
A fan of the first degree, Lenore described Mario’s gardens:
“What I love about each and every one of Mario’s gardens, whether oceanfront or farm, urban or suburban, is his elegantly creative use of color, light, form, texture, and detail to create a harmoniously usable, approachable, beautiful, and environmentally sound design.”
She summed up the day, which attracted guests and members alike, many of whom do not live in Kenilworth:
“We have come a long way, baby, from that May 28, 1915, day when Mrs. Spicer invited her neighbors for tea to form a garden club. We were invited to join the Garden Club of America in 1923, and we continue to support its efforts in horticulture, floral design, conservation, garden history and design, landscape architecture, and other educational and civic endeavors.”
And breaking news for the Kenilworth Garden Club, Lenore just accepted the Founders Award presented at the Garden Club of America’s annual meeting, a first place $30,000 award for their Therapeutic Garden expansion at Misericordia, which they title “nurturing plants and lifting spirits.” Our congratulations to the club, which has worked on accessible and therapeutic gardens since 1974.