LISLE, Ill., (Sept. 16, 2022) — The Morton Arboretum Board of Trustees and donors were joined today by staff who helped design and construct its new Gerard T. Donnelly Grand Garden for a ribbon cutting ceremony and naming dedication leading to the official public opening at 1:00 p.m., Sept. 18.
Arboretum Board Chair Stephen C. Van Arsdell announced the dedication and naming of the lush, colorful central gathering space in honor of Donnelly, the Arboretum’s long-time president and CEO, who is retiring at the end of September. Van Arsdell and Donnelly recognized the major donors and others who contributed to the $16.6 million garden created as part of the organization’s yearlong centennial celebration in 2022.
The fully accessible space was designed to showcase the beauty and diversity of plants as a masterful horticultural display. It will be a prime attraction for Arboretum guests, located just steps away from the Visitor Center, spanning the length of two football fields and reimagining the footprint of the Arboretum’s former Hedge Garden dating back to 1934.
“The idea to revive this space and enhance the guest experience and horticultural display was conceived in the Arboretum’s Master Site Plan 25 years ago and has been a project of interest since that time,” said Donnelly, who spearheaded the vision and fundraising for the project. “The centennial is a momentous time to bring this garden to reality, and I know it will be a place for members, visitors and future generations to find joy and celebration among trees and nature.”
The expansive new garden features three main spaces—Centennial Plaza, the Celebration Garden and the Joy of Plants Garden. Each provides guests with a different experience, from a series of plant-filled rooms defined by hedges near a large, shimmering fountain and plaza dedicated to Morton family descendant Jane Morton Berry, to a spacious terrace for weddings and other special events.
Susan Jacobson, the Arboretum’s head of site planning and design, described the Joy of Plants Garden as having distinct garden rooms created using decorative metal treillages as doorways. Each room is centered around a mature ginkgo tree in addition to a different signature ornamental tree. In contrast to the immersive rooms, Jacobson said, “There is a stunning long view from east to west where you can take in the sweeping expanse of the entire garden.”
The Grand Garden is a major feature of the Arboretum’s year-long anniversary celebration that has included monthly special programs and events, and the launch of its Centennial Tree Planting Initiative on Arbor Day in April, which is adding more than 3,000 trees throughout the seven-county Chicago region through 2023.
The $16.6 million garden was funded through philanthropic gifts covering capital costs and establishment of an endowment for its ongoing care and maintenance, as well as a $500,000 matching grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for its development. Lead donors Doris Christopher, founder and chairman of Pampered Chef, Anna Ball and Susannah Ball, and the Hamill Family Foundation, made seven-figure gifts to the garden project. Anna Ball is president and CEO of Ball Horticultural Company and serves on the Arboretum’s Board of Trustees.
In recent years, the Arboretum has made a number of site improvements to engage guests and advance its tree-related mission, with the last major specialty garden being the Children’s Garden, which opened in 2005.
The Morton Arboretum was established in 1922 by Morton Salt Company founder Joy Morton as a nonprofit organization with a mission to plant and protect trees for a greener, healthier and more beautiful world.
Access to The Grand Garden is included with timed-entry admission to the Arboretum.