|The Sullivan-inspired Pomona Oak Planter (top) fresh from the mold. Peters and Ward (above left) also offer neoclassical pieces, like this Georgian-style University Urn (above right).|
On misty mornings, if you squint just right, Longshadow Gardens does a convincing impression of an English country estate. And its owners, Charlotte Peters and Daniel Ward, decked out in barn jackets and wellies, easily pass for gentry as they hike through vivid green hills and woods dotted with stone troughs and urns.
Open your eyes wide, though, and visions of Sussex vaporize. This is country all right, but its southern Illinois's Little Egypt region, where the Mississippi meets the Ohio, fried catfish rules, and the spring snake migration attracts spectators the way the Chelsea Flower Show draws royals.
Here in the town of Pomona, on a 103-acre farm overlooking Shawnee National Forest, Peters and Ward practice the old-world craft of dry-casting stone----with a new twist. Their Longshadow Planters, inspired by Midwestern architectural traditions and native limestone they're made from.
On this particular misty morning, in a barn-cum-factory, artisans hand-pack a crumbly mixture containing crushed limestone into fiberglass molds. One man, wooden mallet in hand, sits inside a five-foot-wide mold that will take him all day to pack.
Sleek fiberglass aside, cast-stone craft has changed little since it gained popularity in 18th-century Britain as a less expensive alternative to carved stone. Today, poured concrete is cheaper still (a Longshadow piece that runs $500 would cost half that in concrete, ten times as much in carved stone), but cast stone is more porous, so it can better withstand extreme temperatures.
|Porous cast stone does more than help planters survive freezing temperatures; it also keeps plant roots cool and moist on hot, dry days. For the pots above, Peters and Ward (a former curator of perennials at the Chicago Botanic Garden) worked with local nurserywoman Merlien Wilder to select short-rooted natives that are suited to containers. 1. The Glencoe Planter, based on an early-1900's original from its namesake Chicago suburb, holds Eupatorium Purpureum SSP. Maculatum 'Gateway', Cimicifuga 'Hillside Black Beauty', Athyrium Filix Femina, Osmunda Regalis, Miscanthus Sinensis, and Amsonia Tabernaemontana. 2.Cimicifuga "Hillside Black Beauty", Asarum Canadense, and Adiantum Pedatum peer over the Egg-And-Berry band of the Sullivan Planter (on a Cabinet Pedestal).3. Inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and his apprentice Walter Burley Griffin, the Prairie Planter (on a Prairie Pedestal) holds Sporobolus Heterolepis, Liatris Spicata, and Baptisia Australis. 4. Substitute water, and the Glencoe Bowl becomes a birdbath.|
It was that durability that attracted Peters and Ward to the material in the early 1990's, when they worked as garden designers on Chicago's affluent but weather beaten North Shore. Though the couple's clients could afford imported cast-stone ornaments from Europe, the pieces----perfect for Norman farmhouses or Tudor manors----looked silly near the ranch, craftsman, and prairie-style houses Peters and Ward were often landscaping.
"No one," says Peters, "was making low, wide American bowls," planters like the turn-of-the-century ones she had seen in Evanston, the Chicago suburb where she and Ward were living at the time. She asked a manufacturer in England to cast simpler designs, but he declined. When Peters pursued the subject with a British friend, he retorted, "We don't understand why Americans can't make their own." That remark she says, "was an epiphany for us."
She and Ward set about mastering the subtleties of reconstruction limestone in their garage and, in 1993 moved 370 miles south to their Permian farmstead, which provides enough elbowroom for a team of pattern and mold makers, including recruits from the sculpture department at nearby Southern Illinois University.
Today, Peters and Ward still produce their earliest designs----a planter emblazoned with the branches o a native oak, sharp geometric containers that pay homage to Frank Lloyd Wright, bowls with egg-and-berry bands drawn from the work of Wright's mentor, Chicago architect Louis Sullivan----in addition to a new line by Atlanta garden designer Ryan Gainey. And, in response to a customer base that includes other parts of the country where older architecture styles prevail, they continue to offer a few neoclassical pieces.
|When a couple in Lake Bluff, Illinois, asked Peters and Ward to mend their original arts and crafts planter, it led to the creation of the Lake Bluff. Sited in a woodland, this one is home to non-native but shade-loving Athyrium Niponicum var. Pictum, Astilbe Arendsii, and A. Chinensis var. Pumila.|
As a result of all of this expansion, Peters and Ward were so busy last spring that they missed the snakes migrate across the a nearby gravel road, on their way out of a swamp and up into the limestone bluffs of Shawnee National Forest. But this year, they hope to stop and enjoy the pleasures of Longshadow----not just the pots, but the farm they named for the silhouettes cast by tulip, oak, and hickory trees."What we're doing here is inspired by nature, by the Prairie school and the Arts and Crafts movement," Peters says."We're producing pieces that work in American gardens. This is where we need to be."
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