At events like the Chicago Flower and Garden Show (CFGS), groundbuilding is the standard operating procedure as designers spend the days before the show assembling tons of sand, soil, rock, timber and plant material into their display gardens. But in the case of the “Great Outdoors” garden at the 2011 CFGS, the garden was truly groundbreaking. In the history of CFGS, a Latino-owned business had never built one of the display gardens, until Miguel Sotelo, owner of Orion Land Water Snow, built the “Great Outdoors” garden.
|Miguel Sotelo, Owner of Orion Land Water Snow|
In a city with a large Latino population and an industry so reliant on Latino employees, I was slightly incredulous when I learned this, but the humble pride in Miguel’s voice convinced me of its validity. He was truly proud to be representing the thousands of Latinos who have worked in the Chicagoland landscaping industry.
|The “Great Outdoors”|
The “Great Outdoors” garden was designed to represent a natural setting, with plantings along the edge of a small pond. Sotelo used birches, oaks, dogwood, pine, spruce and crab apples to evoke a woodland backyard setting. Viewed from above, the “Great Outdoors” garden appeared more realistic than most of the gardens at the show. Without much stretch of the imagination, one could envision this same garden being recreated in a large suburban backyard.
|Water’s edge in the “Great Outdoors”|
One of my favorite characteristics of Sotelo’s design is his ability to soften the edges of hardscape. In so many of the gardens at CFGS, stone and timber took precedence over the plants. This was my biggest criticism of this year’s show. Gardens should be defined by their plants, and supported by hardscape — not the other way around. There was plenty of hardscape in the “Great Outdoors” garden, but Sotelo skillfully used plants to minimize the visual impact of the the stone.
If there was a ballot to decide which garden I’d like to recreate in my own back yard, my vote would be cast for Miguel Soltelo’s groundbreaking garden.