The Morton Arboretum to Open 2-Acre Grand Garden

The Morton Arboretum in west suburban Lisle, Illinois will open the new two-acre Grand Garden with a ceremony next Sunday afternoon as part of its centennial celebration.  In a press release, The Morton Arboretum described it as “lush” and “colorful.” 

Notably, this will occur a few days before Gerald T. Donnelly, Ph.D., President & Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.) of The Morton Arboretum, retires after thirty-four years in office. Dr. Donnelly retires on Friday, September 30, A.D. 2022.  According to the press release, Dr. Donnelly “spearheaded the vision and fundraising for the project.”

As The Morton Arboretum recently announced, Jill C. Koski will succeed him as President & C.E.O. on Monday, November 28, A.D. 2022.  [In the gap, James S. Fawley, The Morton Arboretum’s Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer (C.F.O.), will serve as Interim President and C.E.O.]  The Morton Arboretum Board of Trustees felt Ms. Koski was qualified to succeed Dr. Donnelly because she is a former Morton Arboretum executive who has been President of the Holden Forests & Gardens in northwestern Ohio since November of 2017.

Figure 1 Credit: The Morton Arboretum Caption: This is The Morton Arboretum’s Grand Garden, which will open on Sunday, September 18, A.D. 2022.

According to the press release, Dr. Donnelly “explained that the garden was designed to showcase the beauty and diversity of plants as a masterful horticultural display.  It will be a central attraction for Arboretum guests, located just steps away from the Visitor Center, spanning the length of two football fields and reimagining the footprint of the Arboretum’s former Hedge Garden dating back to 1934.” The press release explained that the last time The Morton Arboretum created a “major specialty garden” was the Children’s Garden, which opened in 2005.

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The Morton Arboretum, located in Lisle, Illinois (a western suburb of Chicago in DuPage County), was the brainchild of Joy Morton (1855-1934), the founder of the Morton Salt Company and eldest son of U. S. Agriculture Secretary Julius Sterling Morton (1832-1902).  Julius Sterling Morton had created the civic holiday of Arbor Day in Nebraska.  In 1921, Joy Morton began the process of converting his estate in what is now Lisle, Thornhill, into an arboretum.  The Thornhill estate became the core of what is now a 1,700-acre arboretum.  For this project, he sought advice from Dr. Charles Sprague Sargent (1841–1927), Director of The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University for fifty-four years.

In December, Dr. Sargent recommended John van Gemert, an Austrian who was an experienced propagator at the Arnold Arboretum, and Joy hired van Germert on January 3, 1922.[1]     Young Mr. van Gemert was scheduled to arrive at Thornhill in April after he completed his studies at the Arnold Arboretum.[2]       

            In early January of 1922, as Joy and his second wife, Margaret, prepared for a vacation in Hawaii that would last through March, he wrote Dr. Sargent to explain he hoped The Morton Arboretum could be incorporated without a special act of the Illinois General Assembly, and made out a will that provided 400 acres of land and an “ample endowment” for The Morton Arboretum.[3]  While en route to Hawaii, Joy wrote Sterling that thanks to Dr. Sargent he had hired the German botanist Henry Teuscher, who had trained at the Arnold Arboretum and was then back in Germany. [4]  

             In late January, Sterling wrote his father he had commissioned John Root of Holabird & Roche (the architectural firm of which Simonds had formerly been a partner) to design a gatehouse and cottages for the propagator, botanist, and prospective superintendant.[5]  Root had also begun to design the research library, which was to be attached to the Thornhill mansion.[6]  Sterling approved of this idea, he wrote on February 28th because he felt with the library the mansion would make a superb educational center.[7]  The expectation was that construction of the library would be finished in May of 1923. [8]  Construction also began on a road and bridge west from Joliet Road, and across the DuPage River’s channelled east branch, around the larger Lake Marmo, and lead to the smaller Lake Jopamaca (named after the lake J. Sterling Morton had made at Arbor Lodge and named in honor of his four sons: Joy, Paul, Mark, and Carl).[9]  The arboretum would open as separate from the estate, and Joy Morton would enjoy the view from his Thornhill mansion.[10]     

            When Joy returned to Thornhill, he planned for The Morton Arboretum to open in the spring of 1923, and gave two men interim appointments as superintendant, before he finally gave the job to Clarence Godshalk on June 1, 1922.[11]  Godshalk had recently overseen the planting of 138,000 trees and shrubs, and the successful relocation of a large elm tree.[12]  In April, van Gemert joined Godshalk, and in January of 1923 they were joined by Teuscher. [13]

            On December 14, A.D. 1922, Joy signed the indenture with six of his relatives and two employees who would form the charter members of the self-perpetuating board of trustees, of which Joy would serve as chairman for the remainder of his life.[14]  The six relatives were Joy’s wife Margaret, his son Sterling, his daughter Jean and son-in-law Joseph Cudahy, his only surviving brother Mark, and his nephew Wirt (son of his late brother Carl).[15]  The employees were Daniel Peterkin, Senior, whom Joy had employed since 1896 and would succeed Joy on the latter’s death as president of Morton Salt, and Edward Stearns, the legal counsel for Morton Salt.[16]  They dedicated The Morton Arboretum to “…scientific research work in horticulture and agriculture, particularly in the growth and culture of trees, shrubs, vines and grasses by means of a great outdoor museum arranged for convenient study of every species, variety, and hybrid of the woody plants of the world, able to support the climate of Illinois, such museum to be equipped with an herbarium, a reference library, and laboratories by the officials and students of the arboretum, in order to increase and improve in their growth and culture.” [17]     

Joy wrote Dr. Sargent that the arboretum’s growth would be incremental, primarily for tax reasons.[18]  The first parcel of the Thornhill estate to be transferred to The Morton Arboretum, Section A, was 175 acres. [19]  “The other sections will be deeded as we reach them with the development work, and I should not be surprised if the total area were considerably greater than I had originally expected to make it.  The trust will be perpetual.” [20]

Regarding the Hedge Garden, in anticipation of 260 acres being added to The Morton Arboretum in 1932, which would bring the total acreage to 435, E. L. Kammerer oversaw the planting of trial hedges, which led up a hedge garden feature on the 260-acre addition.[21]  The hedge garden was complete in 1934 and became the oldest hedge garden in the United States.[22]     

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“The Grand Garden will have great appeal to the public with vibrant plantings, delightful water features and spaces designed for celebration and joy,” Dr. Donnelly stated.  “The garden adds a significant new dimension to the Arboretum guest experience.  It is brimming with beautiful blooms, bright vistas and the alluring sounds of falling water.”

The Grand Garden will consist of three spaces: the Centennial Plaza, the Celebration Garden, and the Joy of Plants Garden.  One of these spaces will be comprised of “rooms” defined by hedges.  The press release stated, “Each [space] provides guests with a different experience, from a series of plant-filled rooms… near a large, shimmering fountain and plaza dedicated to Morton family descendent Jane Morton Berry, to a spacious terrace for weddings and other special events.”

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Jane Morton Berry (1925-2016) was the daughter of Joy Morton II (1893-1957), the son of Mark Morton (1858-1951), one of Joy Morton’s younger brothers.  She wed George Albert Berry III (1918-2010) of Hinsdale, Illinois.  They had two sons: Robert F. Berry and George Albert Berry IV.  A resident of Key Largo, Florida, and St. Charles, Illinois, she belonged to the Key Largo Anglers Club, the Card Sound Golf Club, and Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo; and the Chicago Golf Club, the Geneva Golf Club, and the Dunham Woods Riding Club.  Mrs. Berry was preceded in death by her parents; her husband; her sister, Elizabeth Morton Bangs (1918-1975); and, sadly, her grandson, Tyler.   She was survived by her sons; daughter-in-law Margo McLaughlin Berry; and two grandchildren: Sterling Morton Berry and George A. (“Bert”) Berry.

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Susan Jacobson, Landscape Architect and Head of Site Planning & Design, stated, “There is a stunning long view from east to west where you can take in the sweeping expanse of the entire garden.”

According to the press release, Ms. Jacobson “described the Joy of Plants Garden as having distinct garden rooms created using decorative metal treillages as doorways.  Each room is centered around a mature ginkgo tree in addition to a different signature ornamental tree.”

The opening of the Grand Garden is part of The Morton Arboretum’s anniversary celebration that has included special events and programs on a monthly basis.  On Arbor Day 2022, The Morton Arboretum launched the year-long Centennial Tree Planting Initiative, which is supposed to plant 3,000 trees the seven-county Chicago region.

The Morton Arboretum created the $16,600,000 Grand Garden thanks to philanthropic gifts that covered capital costs and the provided for the establishment of an endowment to pay for its ongoing care and maintenance and a $500,000 matching grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development.  Doris Christopher, founder and Chairman of Pampered Chef; Anna Ball and Susannah Ball; and the Hamill Family Foundation donated seven-figure sums. 

Anna Caroline Ball is President and C.E.O. of Ball Horticultural Company and is a third-generation owner of the 111-year-old privately-held company.  She also serves on the Board of Trustees of The Morton Arboretum.  Susannah Ball is her daughter and represents the fourth generation of the family to enter the management of the Ball Horticultural Company.

During the opening ceremony, which will take place from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 18, A.D. 2022, guests will enjoy music, be able to purchase refreshments, and face-painting. Volunteer-docents will share information about the Grand Garden and answer questions.  The opening ceremony will be included with timed-entry admission to The Morton Arboretum.


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At the time The Encyclopedia of Chicago was written, The Morton Arboretum was home to about 3,300 kinds of living plants.[23]  Today, it is home to approximately 222,000 plant specimens that represent 4,650 plant kinds.  Visitors can explore sixteen miles of hiking trails and nine miles of roads, the Children’s Garden, the Maze Garden, educational programs, exhibits, the Sterling Morton Library, a Visitor Center with a museum and restaurant, special events, and seasonal exhibitions.  These days, visitors must obtain timed-entry admission tickets prior to arrival.  Click here to purchase tickets.

The Morton Arboretum is north of Interstate 88 and south of Butterfield Road in DuPage County.  While the larger part of The Morton Arboretum is east of Illinois Route 53, a smaller part is west of 53.  The East Branch of the DuPage River flows across the property.  It is northwest of downtown Lisle.  Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, which belongs to the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, is contiguous with The Morton Arboretum.  Visitors pay by the car.  The address is 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, Illinois 60532.  The phone number is (630) 968-0074.


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[1] Ballowe, pages 214 & 215

[2] Ballowe, p. 215

[3] Ballowe, p. 215

[4] Ballowe, p. 215

[5] Ballowe, pages 215 and 216

[6] Ballowe, p. 216

[7] Ballowe, p. 216

[8] Ballowe, p. 216

[9] Ballowe, p. 216

[10] Ballowe, p. 216

[11] Ballowe, p. 216

[12] Ballowe, p. 216

[13] Ballowe, p. 216

[14] Ballowe, pages 216 & 217

[15] Ballowe, p. 216

[16] Ballowe, pages 134, 216, and 258

[17] Ballowe, p. 216

[18] Ballowe, p. 217

[19] Ballowe, p. 217

[20] Ballowe, p. 217

[21] James Ballowe, A Man of Salt and Trees: The Life of Joy Morton DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press (2009), p. 252

[22] Ballowe, p. 252

[23] Riva Feshbach, “Morton Arboretum,” The Encyclopedia of Chicago.  James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin King, and Janice L. Reiff, editors. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press (2004), p. 543

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