Mettawa Manor was built in 1927. When Bill Kurtis, legendary newsman, and his wife Donna LaPietra bought the 10,000 square foot mansion and 65-acre property in 1990, they became the estate’s just second owners. Over the last nearly thirty years, they have not only restored the existing garden areas, they have also added new elements to the landscape.
A grand fountain, positioned in the center of the circular driveway, welcomed our group of garden writers.
The circumference of the circular driveway was edged with impeccably-trimmed boxwood. Annuals provided color.
I was completely smitten with Bill Kurtis. He was so friendly, so passionate about his prairie (more on this later) and he still had that voice. He spoke in that smooth-as-velvet voice that would be as perfect for bedtime stories as it was delivering the news for so many years.
Our first view of the garden was the matching, 40-foot, English-style perennial borders, walled by hedges.
The borders were planted on both sides of a sunken lawn.
At the far end of the lawn, a boxwood parterre surrounded an old, but elegant fountain.
This was the view from the parterre looking back toward the manor. Pretty jaw-dropping, right?
Outside the main garden, plenty of other garden rooms awaited. This cutting garden provided plenty of blossoms for bouquets.
I had never seen this cultivar of Cosmos before, but it sure was pretty.
These espaliered apple trees divided the orchard and the fenced vegetable garden. There were lots of apples on the trees but none quite ripe enough for picking.
The vegetable garden was huge and was beautifully maintained. A large variety of vegetables were growing.
Sweet corn was getting very tall.
Tomato plants were producing fruits like crazy.
And more flowers for cutting were planted in open spaces.
A classical Greek statue stood guard by a formal pond ringed in boxwood and hedged in deep green. The area with clean, simple lines was donned in green and white and filled with the music of four unpretentious jets of water. It prompted a moment of reflection, and then I wondered aloud, “Wouldn’t it be great fun to walk across the stone bridge and picnic on the grassy island in the middle?” Who wants to join me?
Boxwood was planted in a formal geometric design outside a bay window. I imagined how beautiful this looked in the winter landscape.
Two large ponds were on the property.
Another home, not far from the main house, had been converted into meeting space. Its patio was decorated with hydrangeas and urns planted with color.
The patio overlooked a lily pond.
The waterlilies were putting on a beautiful show. It’s as if they knew we were coming.
A trio of immense earthen mounds were installed to add a bit of whimsy to the property.
The mounds beckoned a race to the top and then a roll to the bottom. Do you think I did it?
Kurtis and LaPietra have secured conservation easements on all but eight acres of the property. Kurtis took a group of us in his eight-seater golf cart on a guided tour, sharing the history and care of the prairie. They removed the invasive plants, burned it and waited for the native plants to return. And return they did. None of the plants in the prairie were planted (by humans, anyway).
Deep-rooted, native prairie grasses waved their stems back and forth in the gentle breezes.
Kurtis was very proud of their native oak and hickory forest. It took a lot of work to remove all the buckthorn from the 33-acre forest. A group of bee hives was stationed nearby.
It was so wonderfully refreshing to meet someone who has experienced public adoration and great success in his field and be so just-regular-person nice. And then there is that voice.
Garden with me!