The Verdant Box

I have been infatuated with boxes since I was in grade school where I spent hours sketching the details of the inside corners of my class rooms. Boxes are everywhere. We live in them, sleep on them, wrap them up and give them as gifts, fly to distant places in sleek tubular ones and when life is over we are buried in them. They can be plain or fancy. Large or small, locked or open. On the road to find solutions we talk about the need to think outside of them. Research has shown that phrase it is not just a metaphor; the simple act of changing your environment can enhance your ability to think more creatively. Actually removing yourself from a confining space can help you find the answer you seek.

A trip to Chicago to attend a conference on Landscape Design and Installation presented me the opportunity to observe the use of the box in some unexpected ways. Staying at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in downtown Chicago was quite remarkable. A visual delight, it is Silver LEED Certified and located just off Millennium Park which made walking to the Lurie Garden quite easy.

radisson The Radisson Blue Aqua Hotel is designed as a wavy column rising out of the city landscape.


The Lurie Garden essentially sits inside a very big box, the city of Chicago, and within a still smaller box of 14’ tall shoulder hedges framed by a steel armature.

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It is masterful in its design and the fact that it was conceived, executed and continues to be successful. Essentially a rooftop garden, it is located over a large series of parking garages, demonstrating that a landscape can be created anywhere. The garden is the antithesis of the city, making it a welcome addition.

map Map of the Lurie Garden

One of the things I love about downtown Chicago is that it is so lush with summer plantings. While there I can easily walk and see elaborate boxes spilling forth with all manner of plantings. Some with tastefully arranged combinations of woody and herbaceous materials to provide a season’s long display of color.

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Median plantings in downtown Chicago

Others appear to be little more that a collection of whatever was left at the end of a weekend sale at the greenhouse. I could see where the end of one flat of annuals ended and the next one began. Even with the lesser plan, the exuberant color was a welcome relief to the concrete surroundings.

A collection of containers outside an office building (to the right)


The mind that realized the importance of having plants and color as part of the urban landscape was true genius. This thought alone, which occurred outside the proverbial box, sets Chicago apart from every other city I have been to and most certainly my own. Thank goodness for out of the box thinking.

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One cannot truly understand the magic of a well designed landscape without spending time it. Take time to get out of your box and visit gardens. See what you like and take notes. Bring them back and incorporate them into your spaces. Make your box into a reflection of you.

My box is lush and verdant, just like the gardens I design. There is no limit to the possibilities of what it can be. What will your box become?