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Garden ornaments grew from a dream

Charlotte Ward among the planters
Provided by the Wards

Charlotte had been a banking and real estate lawyer whose true love was gardens and English style ornaments. Daniel had been a leather maker, director of perennials and horticulture before deciding he was going to concoct a limestone hardy enough to withstand all that nature could deliver.

"I was born in Hungary and came here in 1955 with my family (growing up mostly in Chicago)," says Charlotte. "My father (John Lestyan) had been an attorney with a law degree from the University of Budapest. And he had incredible artistic talent. After World War II, he became a sculptor (wood and stone) instead of trying to become an attorney.

"As I grew up, there were many discussions around the dinner table about what he was working on. It gave me the confidence in design to know what I like and I don't like. I studied to be a lawyer, became a mom, then got busy."

Musing over what led her to Classic Garden/Longshadow, she says, "It sounds trite, but my message in all of this is that if you have a job that makes you unhappy (leave it if you can) and find out what does make you happy.

We realize we are using a factory to support our passion for gardening."

In late summer '88, Charlotte went to a lecture about perennials. The speaker was Daniel Ward, who had been curator of perennials at the Chicago Botanic Gardens and was horticulture director at Iverson Perennial Gardens.

"He was one of the cutest lecturers I had seen," she writes in remarks prepared for a recent lecture. He invited Charlotte for breakfast. It became a dinner date. And the rest is Longshadow history. "It was," she says, "nice."

Daniel was born in New York state and moved with his with family to Hoopeston, Ill., as a first grader.

"I attended. SIU-Carbondale for a while in cinema and photography until they closed the school during the protest against the Vietnam war.

"My girlfriend and I got into a little MG, drove to Mount Rushmore while school was closed, moved to Denver and I didn't come back."

Dan with the couple's two standard poodles, Quincy and Abigail. They also have Ludwig, a longhaired orange cat who is in charge of mice maintenance in the barn.
Credit Provided by the Wards
Dan with the couple's two standard poodles, Quincy and Abigail. They also have Ludwig, a longhaired orange cat who is in charge of mice maintenance in the barn.

Through all of the challenges facing what would become Classic Garden Ornaments/Longshadow Gardens - from developing the just-right formula to finding financing and a market for their product to being able to deliver the sometimes behemoth items out of the forest, the Wards say they were determined to live on their isolated piece of land.

"Give up?" says Charlotte. "No, it seemed far too much fun."

Daniel, however, says, "Early on, maybe both of us felt we were going to have to revert to what Charlotte used to do, which is practice law, and I would do what I do, which is making sandals."

Moving and discovering

The Wards had had success as regional dealers of Haddonstone garden ornaments when - inspired by a trip to England - they became motivated to do something on their own.

Through friends, they discovered Shawnee-shrouded Pomona, 16 miles south and west of Carbondale.

"It's the view," says Charlotte of the Wards' decision to dig in there. "The property looks like it could be a state park; we wonder why it's not a state park."

Over three years of trial-and-error, freeze-and-bake experimentation, the Wards labored to produce water and winter-proof limestone.

"Our initial thought in making garden art," Daniel says, "was that they have to look wonderful year around. People in Evanston had beautiful stone planters, but they felt obligated to cover them with straw or plastic. They found hideous ways to protect them."

The key was mixing the right combination of water, limestone, sand and cement.

"It's an ancient formula," says Charlotte, "so as we were making our mix, we felt pretty much right from the start that we were close. That is partly because we heard from old-timey people what the portions should be."

Daniel said he knew they had the magic formula when "before we had any building, we were curing everything outside in a pasture. One particular November (probably '96) ... we had six inches of rain, and it filled every one of our planters; the drains were blocked by foam padding. It got down to 20 degrees. The complete inventory (60 to 80 pieces) was filled with ice as the weather stayed cold for a week or two; then the sun came up and melted some of the ice.

"It would freeze at night, and we could walk among the inventory and listen to the creaks and groans. There was not a planter damaged by being filled."

A eureka moment? "Actually, it was more terrifying," Daniel says.


Longshadow might not exist were it not for the faith - read hope - demonstrated by Farmers State Bank of Harrisburg, Ill. Prior to getting a loan that the Wards say they paid off ahead of schedule, banks in Murphysboro and Carbondale said no. They "thought it was a bizarre idea," Charlotte said. "Everything about it (to prospective lenders) was totally off. Impossible."

Farmers State, though, had a new president. "I realized that he could make the recommendation," says Charlotte.

"I went in with six fat books on garden ornaments, had Post-it notes in them and showed him, one after the other, what garden ornaments were, what we knew, what we proposed to do. I felt very happy that I got him really enthusiastic. He told me he would take those six books and catalogs and take it to the board of directors meeting, and that's how it started."

Part of the banks' skepticism had to do with the property. "At that point, the farmhouse was derelict," Daniel says. "We had a little piece of concrete, about 300 square feet with garden ornaments we had accumulated, pieces we were importing.

"The buildings were pretty much inconsequential. They looked like they'd fall. It was like a cartoon. It was a perfect spot for us, and not perfect for anyone else before we got there."


Perfect, that is, for production. "This goes back to our naivete," says Daniel. "We had never shipped anything, We had no idea that freight companies might not come here."

And, Charlotte quickly says, "They didn't!"

Longshadow's biggest planter - five feet in diameter - weighs almost 2,000 pounds, so this was no job for the Postal Service.

These days the nearest neighbors - one-quarter to one-half mile away - probably are used to the ABF (Arkansas Best Freight) trucks and other carriers that haul the limestone planters, pedestals and other items out of Pomona.


"We didn't realize we were moving into (an area) that is known for rebels and moonshine," Charlotte says.

"The first couple of years, people felt like they needed to let us know they didn't like us," remembers Daniel. "But the local sheriff helped them understand that they did like us. Because we pay taxes and they don't."

The Wards brought in peacocks - presently seven adults and "four football size children" - to roam the grounds, adding an elegant beauty. "They are almost like watchdogs," says Charlotte. "If there is movement, they shriek." And they help manage the tick problem.

"The only thing we miss is the lake (Lake Michigan)," Daniel says. "And the good restaurants for me. But Charlotte is an amazing chef."

Charlotte says, "What I miss is the friends I had up there." And when friends make their way to Pomona, the Wards say, "They have been pleasantly surprised. 'Oh, it's so beautiful. It's like Virginia or Tuscany.' "

The Wards seem unequivocally bought in to their deep-in-the-woods southern Illinois lifestyle. On a recent late afternoon at the end of the work day, they are sipping glasses of Hedman wine, a dry white southern Illinois wine - before heading to the pond for a dip.

Today, the couple's company, Classic Garden Ornaments, Ltd., produces 15 to 30 pieces (planters, pedestals, finials) daily at Longshadow Gardens. Their ornaments are publicly and privately displayed from coast to coast in the U.S. and overseas, including Quatar, Dubai, Italy and Japan.

Jim Fulgenzi, Fulgenzi Enterprises, has four Longshadow planters in front of his Springfield, Il., home. He says, "I always had a hard time finding nice garden pieces. And they have done a beautiful job. Many have a very Frank Lloyd Wright look and others have a more European, Greek or Italian look. For me, they really make a statement at our house."

Mark Sexton, owner of Sexton Landscape Concepts, also in Springfield, says, "I probably have been doing business with them for 10 years or more. One of the reasons we started is because they are from Illinois.

"So far, in every project, we have not had a failure. We haven't had a client call to say my pot cracked. We haven't had one ask us to repair any chips. Once we set them in place, I have not seen anybody get rid of them. What is nice is that if you have a contemporary design, they have a lot of products that fit that; or if you want a more native or prairie style, they have that."

Locally, Longshadow products can be seen at:

  • Renaissance Suites Hotel, St. Louis
  • Around the Grand Basin - Forest Park, St. Louis
  • Along Kingshighway in front of Barnes Hospital. (The Wards say they agonized over a delicate leaf design on the planters only to find later they were placed in the highway medium where traffic buzzes by at 45 mph. "Made that moot," Daniel says with laugh.)
  • Missouri Botanical Garden
  • Fairview Heights Executive Park.

Longshadow employs 15 fulltime and two part-time employees who work in production, casting, curing, finishing and shipping (plus grounds maintenance).
"And my job," says Charlotte, "is talking," which translates as sales.

Longshadow has its own catalog, but business is primarily done by word of mouth, working through architects, professional gardeners and artists around the country and world.

The company, Charlotte says, has used two mottos: "One of the early mottos we tried out was 'For those who love the feeling of old gardens.' That is still used along with fabricia in horto nostro, 'the factory in the garden.'"

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

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