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Over two decades, Marianis turn turf into a more sustainable landscape
By Deborah Donovan | Daily Herald Staff

An espalier plum tree is one of the new projects for the Marianis' vegetable garden.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

A rustic cedar fence surrounds the vegetable garden.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Coneflowers are a highlight of the prairie at the Mariani home in Lake Forest.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Stone and ground cover create paths in the vegetable garden.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

The vegetable garden is attractive as well as productive.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Hardwood trees flourish at the home of Sherri and Frank Mariani in Lake Forest.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Shade plants predominate in the front of the Mariani residence.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Magical space abound in the gardens at the Mariani residence. Forest.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

The butterfly garden contains enough variety of flowers to bloom throughout the season.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Terra cotta planters are used frequently at the Mariani home in Lake Forest. This is the vegetable garden.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Containers at Sherri and frank Mariani's home often show just one type of plant. This is the main entrance of the Tudor home.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Flowers bloom in the vegetable and cutting garden at Frank and Sherri Mariani's home in Lake Forest.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

One of the goals at the home of Frank and Sherri Mariani is to have plants blooming throughout the season.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Dahlias are a favorite of Sherri Mariani and grow in her home's vegetable and cutting garden.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Frank Mariani


Courtesy Mariani Landscape

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Published: 8/14/2010 12:00 AM

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Jensen legacy lives on

When Frank and Sherri Mariani moved into their Lake Forest home they found a treasure in the attic - plans that noted landscape architect and conservationist Jens Jensen drew for the entire farm, which at that time was 1,500 acres.

"I studied Jensen for years," said Frank Mariani. "We tried to use a lot of the varieties of plants that he used and assemble them in a naturalistic manner. They also had a vegetable garden laid out that we modernized. It's not in the same spot. We don't own the land where the original one was."

He said he could tell that Jens had selected some of the plant mixes.

-Deborah Donovan

It's a difficult choice whether to start with the vegetable and cutting garden or the butterfly garden when describing Frank Mariani's yard in Lake Forest.

Several areas set their own magical scenes because Mariani and his teams at Mariani Landscape in Lake Bluff crafted several types of "garden rooms" on the 10-acre property to suit the existing trees and the needs of Mariani and his wife, Sherri.

But since he lists the vegetable garden as one of his favorites, let's begin there.

"It's a moving target," said Mariani. "I love the vegetable garden and cutting garden because I like to cook, but we've gotten very, very serious about our prairie."

Old Mill Farm also has a shade garden, woodland garden and orchard.

The Marianis bought the house and grounds in 1986, a few years after the death of the original owner, George Rasmussen, a member of the family that started the National Tea grocery store chain. At one time the farm was 1,500 acres, and the Rasmussens used the land for a dairy farm and cattle breeding, said Mariani. That explains a life-size cow statue standing behind the orchard, the rare example of kitsch on the grounds. Most of the non-plant decorations are benches and containers, usually terra cotta and often with a single plant type.

Both the Tudor house and grounds had deteriorated, and the Marianis did much of the restoration work themselves, such as cutting out invasive buckthorn.

The vegetable garden behind a rustic split cedar fence and an arbor with a high pitch inspired by the Tudor features on the house would be charming enough, but recent visitors were treated to a real hummingbird hovering at about waist level.

The garden has just enough boxwood in hedges and rounded shrubs along with flowers like a clematis named Betty Corning, cosmos, dahlias that are a favorite of Sherri Mariani, nasturtiums and sunflowers to grow with the herbs.

The vegetables and herbs include scarlet beans, tomatoes, tomatillos, broccoli, eggplant including a green-and-cream variety, artichokes, basil, fennel, oregano and lemon grass.

One new project is growing a plum tree on an arbor, one of the espaliers on the grounds.

Outside the fence of the vegetable garden, a riot of plants includes iris, peonies, Veronica, hydrangea, liatris, lobelia, raspberries, fennel and figs.

The 2-acre prairie backs up to public preserve land. Full of weeds when the Marianis bought it, it now blooms with butterfly weed, purple coneflower, bee balm, purple prairie clover, little bluestem, Indian grass, prairie dropseed and wild quinine and is home to two hawks.

"Typically people get excited about growing a prairie garden and they think they can prepare it and seed it and forget about it, and normally it turns into a big weed patch," said Mariani.

He has spent a lot of time after this year's heavy rains pulling weeds in the prairie. So far it has been mowed, and he plans to burn it next spring.

"At one time this home site was wall to wall bluegrass turf," said Mariani. "Both my wife and I thought that was irresponsible. We don't need that much grass that requires fertilizer and pesticides and fuel to mow. We've cut down substantially on the amount.

"We have a native woodland garden and the prairie and an orchard. It is more responsible and sustainable."

The butterfly garden is a haven with a bench sitting on an alley of grass with its back to three of the home's Tudor windows. On either side of the grass is a traditional English border with formal yew hedges.

The flowers here are designed to bloom throughout the season and include an allium called Hidcote; astilbe Cattleya, iris, phlox Minnie Pearl and David, oregano Hopley Purple and Veronica Sunny Border Blue.

Mariani has installed a deer fence around his property, which has led to many hardwood seedlings like oaks and hickories surviving and growing.

"We've been working off a master plan developed shortly after we moved in 1986," he said. "It's evolved. Every year we plan on doing another garden, but we've been lucky that business has been pretty good, and my house comes last, of course."

And here's a tip from the man with the full-service landscape company.

While he understands that large properties need some larger plants, on his own land he chose many small trees just an inch in diameter, called whips,

"The younger it is when planted, the better chance it will have a vigorous and healthy life," said Mariani.