Thursday, June 19, 2014

Longshadow Gardens

As you wend your way down the back roads of the Southern Illinois wine country a couple of miles west of Pomona Natural Bridge and several miles north of the Bald Knob Cross you come across a most incongruous sight, a manufacturing complex surrounded by row upon row of stark white garden planters. You have arrived at Longshadow Gardens, home of Classic Garden Ornaments, Ltd, makers of about 150 different designs of large and small, classic and modern, garden planters and other items that have an international reputation and are shipped all over the world. The owners and most congenial hosts are Charlotte, an attorney and Daniel, a landscape architect, who took over an old farm 20 years ago and started the business because it was hard to find good quality planters in America. Along with that they are working on making the old farm into a botanical garden/arboretum. Many of the old fields are now full of trees and flowering plants including bald cypress trees that are flourishing miles from any swamp.
The process for making the planters dates from ancient Rome and is a fairly simple mix of crushed limestone, white sand, cement and water but when done correctly and cured properly the end result looks like carved marble. They are quite beautiful and much in demand. The owners have used many of the planters to enhance the property and buildings and it is hard to believe that you are looking at a factory. The employees we met seemed to really enjoy what they were doing and where they were working.
The current 150 designs have been developed over a period of years and cover most needs but the owners are always on the lookout for new designs that would have market potential. This is important because it costs about $20,000 to create the design and molds needed. One project they are working on now is trying to figure out how to duplicate a planter from the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. They found the planter in an antique store and believe the design has a lot of potential.
The rows of planters sitting around are waiting, of course, for a buyer who may buy one or twenty or more depending on need. Many of you have seen their planters and didn't know it as they are everywhere including along Lakeshore Drive and Michigan Avenue in Chicago and other public venues around the country. One of their big markets is California. Maybe some of the star's homes, who knows.
Once an item is sold it needs to be prepared for shipping. It moves from the outdoor storage area to the packing area where it is wrapped in foam and cardboard on a pallet. Enough items are shipped every day to fill a 27 foot freight truck. If you tour the gardens and decide you want to take a planter with you you better have a truck with you. These things weight hundreds of pounds and need a fork lift to move.
At present the gardens are not set up for regular public tours although that is a goal for the future. Tours can be arranged on an individual basis by calling the gardens. This is a very nice side trip if you are into gardens and gardening and are in the area for wineries, Bald Knob Cross or the natural bridge.

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