WORDS BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
PHOTOS BY TODD SCHWEBEL
For more than 30 years, well-known designer Todd Schwebel has been creating houses and gardens in Hyde Park, where he resides. While his grand residential design work across the country keeps him busy, someone recently said that his cumulative work in his own neighborhood has breathed a new life into the historic university area, with dreamy hidden gardens that rival those found in Georgetown or Cambridge.
Early spring on Professor’s Row in Hyde Park climaxes with the “white moment” when star magnolias, viburnum, and crabapples all bloom simultaneously.
The “ballroom” at Todd’s.
A redbud beyond the pergola brightens early spring.
With a loyal national and international clientele, his projects in Hyde Park are often on a smaller scale for his many appreciative neighbors who have benefitted from his nearby consultation, and they have enjoyed watching the impact his beautiful work has brought to add much needed green space to their urban neighborhood.
He might be considered the Johnny Appleseed of flowers: urns and gardens have proliferated around the University of Chicago campus and its surroundings since his arrival there in 1982. See an urn by a front door and it’s very likely there’s a Schwebel Garden over those hedges or behind that fence or garden wall.
A Longshadow Urn (a special design created for the Freer Gallery in D.C.) centers a Victorian bay window on Blackstone Avenue.
Jens Jensen originally formatted these North Shore Chicago groundcovering crab apples.
Spring mix carpets the flower beds. Note the Virginia bluebells happily naturalizing in Hyde Park’s sandy beachside soil; Tardiva or Turkish tulips naturalize along a stone wall.
New to a corner near Lab School, a Longshadow Urn is visted by a monarch butterfly.
This half block of 56th Street was just landscaped by The Schwebel Company; Red brick, limestone, and – rare to Chicago – brownstone, anchor this front garden with fresh summer green and white accents.
As he says, “I have a vested interest in looking out the window or driving down the street and seeing something beautiful.I never say no when a neighbor asks for advice.”
He even adopted a neglected nearby institution landscape, filling it with 1,000 daffodils and many orphaned treasures from other projects, like peonies, roses, and hydrangeas. If he were the alderman, there wouldn’t be a weedy corner left in the neighborhood!
Clockwise from top left: This group of Sarah Bernhardt peonies stops picture takers every year during the Hyde Park Art Fair along Professor’s Row; everyone’s early spring favorite, Icelandic poppies take frost and snow; one of Todd’s favorite spring bulb mixes; and the classic of classics, old-fashioned orange red geranium, joyfully blooming on stone steps.
We asked Todd to brighten the dark days of winter with some photographs of his work around Hyde Park. Time to start planning, dreaming, and scheming about a Schwebel Garden for your future when spring finally arrives in our fair city!
Todd is unabashed about using color to accent the sedate green bones framing his gardens.
A new carriage garage, complete with cupola and weathervane, commands this back courtyard paved with reclaimed flagstone and newly-planted blooming trees and shrubs; one garden magazine writer called this “perhaps the prettiest alley in all of Chicago,” with its snowball viburnum spilling into view.
France’s best kept secret, the easy, thornless, and powerfully-scented Zephrin Drouhin, scampers up an antique Florentine-style column; a Georgian Wellhead, c. 1780, commands vista of the sunken garden.
The garden pool with its deep water is an oasis on a summer day.
Diamonds or Xs? Todd loves playing with shapes; a front courtyard paved with reclaimed slates and brick street pavers.
Antique limestone finials with McKinnon and Harris garden furniture, made-to-order in Virginia.
A matched set of four Longshadow urns flanks an leaded glass entry along 56th Street; this beautifully moody shade garden can only be accessed through a private alley.