However, it’s the way they continually innovate by thinking outside of the box that turns the holidays into expressions of personalized design for their clients.
It is not out of the ordinary to find Craig Bergmann rummaging through flea markets and antique shows. What he’s looking for are antiques, and he’s adept at finding them. The ones he selects may go into the final construction of elaborate holiday décor and towering ornamentations for his Chicago area clients.
Ever since Craig Bergmann founded his eponymous landscape design firm, his team has been servicing homes around Chicagoland when the cold tundra forces people inside, burying their yard in a coat of downy white.
“As the garden spectacle wanes we like to turn the attention to the front entries of the homes or major ornaments that are out in the landscape,” says Craig, who is responsible for more than a little holiday cheer.
These creations necessitate some outside of the box thinking. Over the years, Bergmann and Co. have designed everything from a Baroque branch chandelier—inlayed with brown-corded lights, “little nuance things like that”—to a nine-foot tall, multi-ornament tree, to garlands of green vines and clusters of purple grapes that, when plugged in, were actually lights.
Craig says he derives a lot of his influence from botanical gardens around the country, including the Chicago Botanic Garden, where the firm has been featured for many years during the Antiques, Garden & Design Show.
“We like to offer things on the artistic side of different,” notes Craig. “Because we’re gardeners, we’re not just landscapers.”
To that end, Craig’s highly skilled staff is very much interested in designing and maintaining holiday décor in the yard and entranceways of the house.
“We have a team of design savvy gardeners that come up with some really unique and fun things,” says head gardener Russ Buvala.
Typically, this includes containers that reflect the style of both the architecture and the customer, so a home’s contemporary look could warrant a design atypical of the traditional holiday décor.
“We would do something dramatic that might have a lot of texture and scale, but might not at all look like the traditional Christmas tree, or red and green arrangement,” adds Craig; such as a tree built from nothing but ornaments or the addition of a square wreath to compliment the design.
There are, of course, those who like the old fashion way the best, and Craig and his team provide for those clients unchanging, annual winter staples. Others enjoy adding the ornaments themselves, and for those revelers Buvala and the maintenance division responsible for winter decorating will install a pre-finished natural tree: leaving the rest up to the family or a decoration party.
Repurposing is also an important aspect of what they do.
“It’s personalized. I love the idea of saying ‘what do you have for us to use?’” says Craig, noting that they will go out and use materials from the gardens they manage year-round as much as they will import specimens from the Pacific Northwest and Michigan. Instead of cutting back and throwing unused greens into the compost pile, they’ll salvage “a great seed head and utilize it inside for a winter scene.”
Craig’s team will also wait for the right moment for dormant pruning. An example he was reminded of was a recent project in Ohio. There, the lawn was covered in spruce trees, with one “smack dab in the middle of a view we wanted to have open, because you can see forever,” says Craig.
“Let’s just leave it there for now,” he told his client, who failed to see the prescience of the designer. After wondering why, Craig, with his trained eye seeing months in advance into a firelit living room covered in holiday decorations, waited a moment before responding.
“That’s your Christmas tree,” he said with a knowing smile.
– Simon Murray // Photography by Jim Prisching