By Anne Morrissy | Photography by Clint Farlinger
John and Linda Anderson are true garden enthusiasts. For almost 40 years they have worked to build the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Illinois, a passion project that has produced one of the premier Japanese gardens in the country, which is seasonally open to the public and even features a restaurant and event-hosting capabilities.
John first took an interest in Japanese garden design after returning from a trip to Kyoto following his graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Later, when the Andersons built their summer home on the south shore of Geneva Lake, they used that lifetime of landscape experience to create a summer garden haven on their two-acre property. “The Japanese garden influences a lot of our landscaping even though our landscape at Lake Geneva is not strictly a Japanese garden,” John explains.
According to John, the most direct Japanese influence can be seen in the design of their driveway and in the placement of stones, or “boulders” as he calls them, around the driveway to create visual interest. When the Andersons started the landscaping project at their lake house, they brought in one of the landscape experts who had worked on the Anderson Japanese Garden. “He determined the sight line of our driveway that leads from the road down to our home. Then he designed the visual elements of that drive,” John says. “He understands that how you enter a property is very important.”
The landscaping around the circular driveway was designed to create a pleasing view from every angle. “As you begin to come down our driveway from the road, you see our home set off by some trees,” John explains. “Then as you continue down and curve around, you get a glimpse of the lake. That view is intentional.” Adding to the appeal of the setting is a gazebo which overlooks a croquet court. The gazebo, an architectural folly or point of interest, repeats the same design elements as those of the house.
On the east side of the driveway, the Andersons created a shade garden around a stone sculpture that they purchased from a local artist in Lake Geneva. “In that garden, we use a number of native plants,” John says. The native prairie perennials are accented with Monarda, purple coneflowers and lilies, and the garden is framed by a wax begonia border. “In all of our gardens, we use a variety of plants which bloom at different times throughout the growing season,” says John.
Behind the house, Linda keeps a cutting garden and herb garden. “I like to have fresh-cut flowers in the house throughout the summer,” she says. “I wanted to be sure we had a variety of flowers that can be cut; not all flowers can be cut and retain their color and vibrancy. I love lilies and a lot of the annuals, like zinnias and dahlias. I also grow basil, rosemary, thyme and other kitchen herbs.”
Following the tradition of Japanese gardens, John emphasizes that balance is the key to their landscaping plan. “In some places, we’re using very subdued neutral plantings.” Part of the design includes areas of grass to provide a visual break. “You need to have a green lawn or something like that to allow everything else to speak for itself,” he says. “It’s important to have visual balance and scale.” To provide a backdrop and privacy along the lot line, the Andersons planted a “living wall” of arborvitae planted 18 inches apart. More trees and shrubs around the property cleverly disguise other utilitarian elements. The sterile line of a fence on the east property line is broken up with different types of deciduous trees, bushes, yews, serviceberry and hemlocks.
The Andersons agree that their favorite view on the property is their lakefront perennial garden. “Because the Geneva Lake shore path is open to the public, the lakefront garden gets lots of pedestrian traffic, especially on weekends during the summer,” Linda says. “We wanted a nice walk along our property for people to enjoy.” The colorful mass of phlox, tiger lilies, bergamot and other vibrant perennials adds a pop of color to the Andersons’ lake view. According to Linda, the garden design was based off the desire to create a colorful Monet-like garden that could be enjoyed from their front porch. John agrees, and adds that “he sees the lake, which is always changing in color and texture, as the backdrop for all of the color in the garden.” The couple love the view from their front porch.
Although the gardens at their lake property are not technically a Japanese garden, the Andersons are pleased with the way their Illinois Japanese garden has inspired the landscaping here. “So many of our concepts for garden design came from our experience building a Japanese garden,” John says.
The Andersons emphasize that the goal with all of their gardens is to create a pleasing environment for everyone who passes through. At their Lake Geneva home, this begins when guests first turn off of the road onto the property. “We want our home to be a place of hospitality, and we feel that that hospitality begins when you enter our property,” John says. “Another objective is to inspire others to create gardens for their own homes.”
This garden was featured in the Lake Geneva Summer 2017 issue.
The Lakeshore Living publications are published by Nei-Turner Media Group, a full-service agency located in Lake Geneva, WI. Our four publications cover the picturesque lake communities of Lake Geneva, Madison, Lake Country and Northwoods.
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