Room to Grow

A Chicago garden evolves with the children it was designed for.

By Shirley Remes


The rooftop deck overlooks the garden shed.Moving into Design

As they grow up, the girls are starting to look at the garden more visually, says Prior. While both girls help to shop for annuals every year and determine what the color scheme will be, Madeleine is particularly artistically minded and is forever coming up with ideas to improve different areas. She will say, “This area just doesn’t look pretty if you stand here; we need something tall and green.” The family often visits public gardens, where the girls find new ideas for the garden. The sisters are now petitioning, Prior says, to rebuild the pond. “They have a ton of ideas as to how it should be, what it could be, how the waterfall should be, and they have sketched up multiple designs.”

In Butterworth’s original design, Prior had asked him for places for the girls to run through the garden. He provided a deliberate route to and over the pond with stepping stones, but also other ways for the children to run through a grove of airy birch trees and under the deck. The seating circle made of stone pieces of architectural salvage was designed as a space for gathering and contemplation, but the daughters use it for other activities, as well, such as jumping and hopping from chunk to chunk. Butterworth also included a more formal seating area with comfortable outdoor couches in the middle of the yard between the kitchen garden and play areas as a transition between the two spaces and also as a place for the adults to sit. It is now one of Madeleine’s favorite places.

“At this point, the garden is for everybody,” says Butterworth. And indeed it is. That is another part of the success, says Prior. “Tony really understood what I was imagining for the garden, that the kids would be in it a lot, but it would be a garden that everyone would use.”

Learn More: Design Elements for a “Growing Up” Garden

Photos by Bob Stefko