Mixed plantings of grasses, perennials, and trees populate the Great Basin that encompasses Evening Island, forming a dramatic twelve-acre transition between it and the more formal and wilder thematic gardens of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Originally conceived as a smaller-scale project to enhance the five-acre Evening Island, which at the time was a largely undeveloped land mass of leftover dredge material, the scope expanded to include sweeping plantings surrounding the basin. Oehme, van Sweden & Associates– impressing the project’s lead patron, Pleasant Rowland, with a presentation that included the inspiration for their work: painter Helen Frankenthaler’s Nature Abhors a Vacuum– was selected for the commission. By 2002 their plantings were installed. As part of this work the firm also designed three bridges, including the Arch Bridge and Serpentine Bridge constructed the same year and the Trellis Bridge built in 2012.
The pathways on the island meander through lush vegetation to a centralized open meadow, where the color and texture of flowering perennials and ornamental grasses change seasonally. A crisp, mown edge divides the meadow plantings from a gently sloping manicured lawn, establishing the foreground and articulating the view of the basin. Pathways enclose the lawn on both sides, leading to a nautilus-shaped gathering area defined by stone walls and a carpet of paving stones. Strategically placed trees frame views and intentionally prevent the entire garden from being visible all at once. This element of mystery encourages visitors to sequentially explore the plantings and discover features that include a carillon and council ring.
Click here to watch TCLF's Pioneers Oral History video of James van Sweden discussing his design of Great Basin and Evening Island.