By Eric Herman
Before attending the American Society of Landscape Architects’ Expo in Chicago last fall, I arrived in town a couple days early to spend some quality time with my great friends and long-time WaterShapes contributors Suzanne and Ron Dirsmith, who live and work in Oak Park, a suburb famous for a number of Prairie-style homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
The Dirsmiths, of course, are accomplished artists in their own right, having distinguished themselves with their work on Playboy Mansion West as well as a number of other wonderful interior and exterior spaces. They graciously offered to put me up in their studio, a beautiful structure located in the garden behind their home and let me have the run of the place while I was there.
I had seen pictures of both the studio and the gardens, but I wasn’t prepared for the dynamism packed into the composition. Their use of stone, wood, concrete, glass, plants and wonderful open spaces impressed me greatly – a stimulating, persuasive environment and the perfect place to let an eager visitor bask in the gorgeous surroundings.
While we were together, they treated me to a very personal tour of the city, which cooperated by serving up spectacular fall weather. We worked our way through the Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park as well as a number of Suzanne’s and Ron’s favorite neighborhoods and buildings, and I have to say that my respect and admiration for the place grew with every stop. Through their eyes, I could see how the “City of Big Shoulders” earned its high-flying reputation.
On our last day together before the conference, we paused for lunch and then an all-too-brief tour of the Chicago Botanic Garden. I already knew a fair bit about the place, having covered a renovation of its Grand Basin in WaterShapes several years back and enjoyed accounts and photos the Dirsmiths have shared with me through the years. Still, I was not prepared for the totality of my experience there.
In rapid order, we moved through gardens of various styles, all unified by means of water and the lakes, ponds and basins woven through the space. At just about every turn, we encountered a new and beautiful view – a veritable laboratory for the arts and crafts of landscape architecture, horticulture, environmental design and watershaping.
Being an opportunistic magazine editor, I asked Ron if he and Suzanne would consider compiling an article about the facility and how it has influenced their lives and work. They agreed and now, a year later, we’re pleased to present the result: “Everyone’s Garden.” Without stealing any of their thunder, suffice it to say that this is a story of just how great landscape and watershape design can be and how much it can mean to people who make such places parts of their lives.
For my part, I can’t wait to pay another visit to Chicago to see my friends and their favorite garden complex once again. Here’s hoping you find their discussion every bit as inspiring as I do!