As I pulled into what the gardening world affectionately calls “Camp Rosemary,” the Lake Forest home of philanthropist and gardening master Kennetha “Posy” Krehbiel, I couldn’t help but be taken by the glorious scene. It was the first warm day in many, and the sun shined brightly on the huge shipment of flowers that had been delivered by Pasquesi Home and Gardens that morning. Posy’s home buzzed with an energy that seemed to say, “You can’t get these flowers into the ground fast enough.”
As my photographer and I made our way through the magical maze of Posy’s gardens, we found her, on all fours, planting some new blooms. “Can you believe this day?” she said to us, wiping the dirt from her knees as she stood to greet us. “I was going to get dressed up for you but that just didn’t seem right,” she laughs. “Let me show you around.”
In her down-to-earth, self-effacing manner, Posy gave us a private tour of the gardens she’s overseen—and loved—for the last two decades. “I don’t remember when I first started gardening,” says Posy. But her expertise at reading a landscape plan and identifying specific trees and bushes along the way is well beyond someone who gardens as a hobby. This is clearly her passion. And the team who keeps the gardens thriving has become her extended family.
“We just had a garden club meeting here last week,” says Posy, picking up leaves that have fallen in her path, as we make our way to the pool house. When asked if she ever tires of having people to her home, she answers, shrugging her shoulders, “What’s the point of having all of this if I can’t share it? All of my best memories were spent visiting someone’s garden.”
It’s this spirit of giving that has inspired a lifelong connection between Posy and the Chicago Botanic Garden. “Posy has been incredibly generous over the years with her advocacy, time, and support,” says Kris Jarantoski, Executive Vice President and Director of the Chicago Botanic Garden. “As a member of the board of directors and various committees, Posy’s leadership and expertise have been invaluable in shaping the direction of the Garden. She has introduced world-renowned gardeners and garden designers to the Chicago Botanic Garden and has opened her extraordinary garden to our friends and, in doing so, has inspired legions of gardeners, horticulturists, and landscape designers.”
But such praise often seems lost on Posy, who seems uncomfortable accepting it. “You know, I think you are who you are. You’re born a certain way,” says this Glenview native. “When my children were young, we spent a lot of time outside.” Posy and her family have always gravitated toward homes with substantial property. Their first in Lake Forest was on the old A.B. Dick estate near Lake Forest Hospital, and their current home sits on nearly 10 acres not far from the lake.
However, Posy does exude a sense of pride in the beauty of her natural surroundings and the doors they’ve opened for her personally. “I have to say one of the highlights of my life was to be asked by John Bryan to be a part of the planning committee for Millennium Park,” she says. “To think that I have this little niche—gardening—and that someone could put it to good use.”
John Bryan, Chairman of the Millennium Park Committee, was touched to hear of Posy’s remarks—so much so that he tracked us down from a business trip in London to respond. “There is no one like Posy Krehbiel,” he says. “When we built our committee, Posy was at the top of everyone’s list. We had to have her. We couldn’t have done the project without her. There’s no one with her gardening expertise in the Midwest, the country, maybe even the world with her imminent knowledge. There are many philanthropists willing to give money, but we wanted Posy because of her expertise and reputation in the gardening community,” John adds. “Posy is terrific.”
So in keeping with Posy’s theory that “you are who you are,” it seems that she, who was nicknamed by her aunt just hours after her birth, was predestined to a life surrounded by flowers. Lucky her. Even luckier us.
—Ann Marie Scheidler