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Charming Secret Garden

Near Chicago, a charming secret garden features lovely old-fashioned flowers 

Written by Kari Richardson
  • Linda Oyama Bryan

    Front-yard gardens take center stage, welcoming guests with bursts of color or drawing the eyes of passerby with showy beauty.Those kinds of garden have their place, but the Winnetka, Illinois, garden of Sandra and Richard Forsythe serves a different purpose: It’s the view Sandra Forsythe drinks in each time she looks out a kitchen window facing a private area to the back of her home. Sandra, who got her start as a gardener by tending the roses that were growing when she moved into her 1920s-era home, always lamented that her primary view wasn’t prettier – it was mostly just grass.

    That changed in 2006, when she enlisted help from landscape designer Craig Bergmann, of Lake Forest, Illinois-based Craig Bergmann Landscape Design. Craig designed a cutting garden that yields plentiful stems of colorful flowers from early spring through late fall. “It’s a delightful thing to look at,” Sandra says of the rectangular-shaped, symmetrical space that resulted from her collaboration with Craig Bergmann, and also serves as a palette for her cut-flower arrangements. This favorite pastime keeps the inside of her home looking beautiful too.

    In the colorful mix here, Craig included annuals and perennials in the garden’s design to give Sandra ample material for her cut-flower arrangements. She even uses dried stems and seed heads. Flowers in coral hues, Sandra’s favorite color, were a must-have. They include ‘Swan’s Desert Storm’ dahlia and ‘Crichton Honey’ dahlia. Blue delphinium, tangerine-colored nasturtium and other plants in shades of blue, purple and yellow complement the pale-pink shades.  

    Produced by Rebecca Christian
    Photography: Linda Oyama Bryan

  • Linda Oyama Bryan

    Tidy Path  

    Purple ‘Jackmanii Superba’ clematis scales a garden wall, greeting the Forsythes as they enter through a private entrance at the rear of the house. Boxwood hedges help contain flowering plants and keep paths free of dirt and mulch after heavy rains. Sandra’s kitchen window is to the left of the door.  

  • Linda Oyama Bryan

    Sun Worshippers

    “This was a great spot for a cutting garden thanks to all of the sun,” says Craig. ‘Summer Sun’ helianthus basks in July’s searing rays. Craig took care to choose flowers that matched the vintage of the 1920s house and reflected Sandra’s classic sensibilities, such as yarrow, snapdragon and hydrangeas. “These old-fashioned flowers might have been in the garden if it was planted in the 1920s,” he says.

  • Linda Oyama Bryan

    Repurposed Playhouse 

    A charming playhouse with cedar-shake roofing and white clapboard once beckoned children for hours of make-believe fun. With children grown, Sandra turned the house into a storage area for gardening tools and implements. Adults must duck to enter through a pint-sized door, but once inside, they can stand upright. Bergmann used antique door-stops shaped like baskets of flowers to adorn either side of the shed’s door. Seen in the foreground, spring tulips provide material for Sandra’s arrangements as soon as the ground thaws.


  • Linda Oyama Bryan

    Reach For the Sky

    Craig chose statuesque plants so they could be seen from afar ... through Sandra’s kitchen window. ‘Sunset’ coneflowers, ‘Terra Cotta’ yarrow and delphiniums have the necessary height

  • Linda Oyama Bryan

    Brilliant Hues 

    “The garden provides ideas of forms and colors that might look good together in a vase,” Craig says. ‘King Arthur’ and ‘Yankee Series’ delphinium mingle with coneflowers in Sandra’s favorite color – coral.


  • Linda Oyama Bryan

    Blending In  

    A soft, creamy, pinkish dahlia softens a stalk of bright purple delphinium.

    A soft pink dahlia softens a stalk of delphinium’s bright color.


  • Linda Oyama Bryan

    Antique Irises 

    These heirloom bearded irises were found languishing on another part of the property, where they weren’t getting enough sunlight, and moved to a more appropriate spot as part of the project. Craig says they may date to the 1920s, when the house was first built.

  • Linda Oyama Bryan

    Beckoning Gate 

    Robert Walker of Design Alternatives built the fence and gates for the Forsythe garden, which include custom hinges to allow this curved door to open smoothly. A circular-shaped gate pull lends an old-timey feel to the space. Wire mesh on the white fencing keeps rabbits and deer from feasting on the flowers, preserving them for Sandra’s arrangements.

  • Linda Oyama Bryan

    What a View

    The view from Sandra Forsythe’s kitchen window now encompasses a brilliant cutting garden framed by orderly rows of boxwood. The change, Sandra says, makes everyday chores like doing dishes feel like a luxury. Classic flowers and stately boxwood complement her 1920s home.