FIVE YEARS AGO, we pried open a broken gate and walked into the large backyard of a 1920s Tudor-style house in a suburb of Chicago. The yard was surrounded and softened by a substantial brick wall and occasional groupings of woody plants. A break in the expansive plane of turf immediately captured our attention. This turned out to be the remains of a sunken garden, which measured approximately 35 by 60 feet. The old brick retaining wall that had outlined the garden had settled with age, revealing wonderful wrinkles, bends, and weathered surfaces. Further investigation revealed a canal, running through the center of the garden, that had been filled in with soil.
The challenge here was twofold: the new owners wanted an English-style mixed border that would withstand the rigors of our midwestern weather and yet not require too high a level of maintenance, and they wanted to site the border within the derelict sunken garden.