We spent last weekend out in the flatland at Mark's 50th high school reunion. During a break in the action we managed to squeeze in a short visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden as it was only a few miles away from the reunion location.
The last time we were at CBG — in May, 2013 — the garden was a little water-logged as you can see from these images taken at the same locations on the two different trips. Note the height of the water under the restaurant deck in both images.
Check out the top of the railing in both photos.
Note the curving hedge below and above. Also note the brick path in the two images below.
The weather was almost perfect this time, allowing us to hit all our favorite spots: Dwarf conifer garden, Japanese garden, English walled garden and we even discovered a couple of areas that were new to us. As usual, we took lots of pictures and notes. Though this time, we got smart and Mark shot the i.d. signs so I didn't have to write down all that Latin.
A visit to CBG never disappoints as it has lots of all of our favorite garden elements:
Different seasons, almost the same color palette on this slope planted with annuals at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The first two pictures, taken Saturday, show a perfect fall planting scheme of yellow, orange, and red enlivened by blue.
The next two images use the same color scheme but were captured in a springtime visit to CBG. Here, only one flower — poppies — is used to provide the red/yellow/orange tones.
White is the contrasting color instead of blue this time, but provided by poppies rather than introducing a different shaped plant into the mix.
Mark and I were among a huge group of WHPS members who toured the gardens at Epic on July 31st. The fact that I have not written about that experience until now is an indication of how mixed my feelings are about Epic's landscape, and the company in general.
For those of you who are not local readers, Epic Systems employs 7,000 people on its campus on the edge of Madison. Construction is non-stop and each new building is a different themed-style. Epic is the big name in integrated softwear for hospitals and the medical industry.
They are a private company founded by Judy Faulkner who is now a self-made billionaire and the most powerful woman in the health care industry. She rarely gives interviews, so both Faulkner and Epic are perceived as cultish.
But our neighborhood is benefiting from Epic employees who are buying houses here. The young couple whose back yard adjoins ours both work there.
Jeff Epping, Olbrich Botanical Gardens' dirctor of horticulture, has been involved in the plant choices/design, all of which is perfect. Jeff is a master at large scale plantings and it shows at Epic.
The plant choices are appealing from both a design and sustainability standpoint. They look good up close and from a distance. And they can take the wind and weather in such an open environment.
The grounds are also filled with garden sculpture of all types and sizes.
This vase was in front of a massive building and large lawn and was not dwarfed by either.
There are lots of water features. This one has a very natural Wisconsin feel to it but, like the pond and stream in our garden, they are all artificial.
If you look carefully you realize that the majority of the stonework is also artificial.
Even the ducks are artificial, though someone said they draw real ducks to the site.
As I mentioned earlier, the different buildings/campuses are all themed. This one is a kind of dungeons-and-dragons concept . . .
complete with resident dragons. I was underwhelmed; for me it felt like too much like an environment designed for boys.
This area was all designed like a desert which felt odd in the middle of the Midwest. I've seen cactus (Opuntia sp.) growing out on the hills in Wisconsin, so their presence would not be implausible — but the desert is.
There was such an element of fantasy to much of the campus. But fantasy that struck me as childish rather than inspirational or magical.
Maybe I'm just too old to get it or maybe because so much of this type of environment suggested a world that revolves around boys. And I am using "boys" rather than "young men" because that's how it felt to me. I really wondered what the atmosphere is like for women employees — despite the fact that this is a woman-owned business.
The newest "campus" is designed to look like an iconic Wisconsin farm. And the next building spree, slated to start this fall, is a campus that will look a bit academic like a British university crossed with Harry Potter, acording to published reports.
Judy Faulkner let her original landscape designers go because they wanted to create an enviroment that was too much like the Pacific Northwest where they were from. She wanted more of a bucolic Wisconsin concept which she got in doses here and there.
I could not find out how many acres Epic encompasses, though we were told that the viewshed which Epic owns is around 1,000 acres.
The buildings may run the gamut of styles but the plantings are almost entirely Midwestern stalwarts. They all looked healthy and happy.
It is not obvious but some areas of the campus are built over underground parking garages with a limited planting depth as a result. Some areas are softly hilly but the hills are styrofoam creations. Always a guessing game as to what's what in Epic land. Those styrofoam hills bothered me at Epic and yet I love Lurie Gardens in Chicago which are built over a parking garage.
The large scale of the site was to the advantage of our big group. We were able to make good use of this outdoor stone and grass theater to rest our feet while we listed to Jeff Epping talk about the plantings.
I, of course, kept standing so I could get a vew of the whole event while taking notes.
We ended with a Q and A with Jeff. We were lucky to be able to tour the Epic grounds with the person picking the plants and able to identify them as well as give us all the quirky details of the hidden factors affecting the landscape. It was so much more informative as a result.
My personal conclusion: Epic itself still makes me uneasy with its size, its fantasy framework and its famously private owner. But I loved the fact that the company puts its quirky buildings within a beautiful landscape with wide open spaces, plenty of areas for group gatherings and quiet contemplation. Most of all I loved the array of plants — trees, shrubs and perennials — that tie the buildings into the larger landscape.
The Traffic Island garden is having a blissfully blooming summer.
There is only one problem: everyone is doing too well. Look behind the allium flower at the bottom of the image below and you'll see a Pelargonium (with red leaves) that has been subsumed by its neighbors. Hasn't died but not flowering either.
The Nasturtiums, Alliums and self-seeded Tanacetum parthenium 'Aureum'are doing so well out here that I think I am going to forgo the Pelargoniums in the future.
Perhaps add more coleus and call it done. This garden is in the middle of the street so it needs to be bright to be noticed.
When I bought the Pelargonium pictured below I did not realize it was a trailing variety. Though it is bright enough to be seen from a passing car, this image suggests it's best enjoyed close-up.
We are finally getting some rain on our garden. Seems like most rainstorms have missed us since early July. A good soaking will really perk up these foliage plants which have been suffering from the dryness.
The bright green plant in the center of this first image is bamboo. For the first time since we began growing Fargesia rufa 'Green Panda' in 2006, it completely died back to the ground after last winter. We've been meaning to cut it back so we did that this spring as well. Mark took a hatchet to the perimiter to get it back to a size that is in scale with our garden. This is a clumping bamboo and has been well-behaved. But it is clearly going to take some time for it to get its full 6 foot height back again. In the meantime it is functioning like a shrub while it regains it strength and its girth.
I'm not good at over-planting spring ephemerals like Primula sieboldii (see hole in the middle of the picture) with late summer blooming partners. When this Shiso (Perilla frutescens) started to come up a few weeks ago, I realized I just have to transplant a few seedling in the bare spot where the primroses were and the problem is solved. I love the fragrance of Shiso and the fresh look of it in the garden at this time of year. You can use it in cooking but I tend to favor its ornamental qualities.Let it go to seed and you've got it forever.
I tend to think of Sedum 'Autum Joy' as a foliage plant and use it that way. Sedums are a strong presence in the garden from the get go, so I put them where their leaves will add to the mix and where their flowers — when they finally appear — won't upset the balance.
The WHPS tour of Jeannette Golden's garden last month offered myriad ideas for plant pairings, including great use of Clematis. Jeannette and I both garden under black walnut trees. They dominate her shade garden (first two photos below), so I took particular note of what does well under her trees.
Though, I must admit, much of the color and drama was in Jeannette's sunnier gardens. I realize my garden tends to concentrate on perennials and woodies. I rarely add annuals or tropicals, but it is those additions that really raise Jeannette's plant combinations to another level. They offer unusual colors and dramatic foliage that can be hard to achieve otherwise.
While I am not a fan of all white gardens, I have just as much trouble with gardens filled with a riot of color. I love orange and hot pink (think Phlox and daylilies) or orange and blue, so it's not that I can't tolerate bright colors smashing up against each other. But oftentimes — especially with summer annuals — there are so many colors fighting for attention, that it's easy to get visually confused. The one time that never happens is when I'm looking at a garden of daylilies.
They can be different sizes, singles and doubles and ruffles, pale or bright and it all works. The reason: daylilies come in a limited color palette. There are no true blues and purples so the spectrum begins with primaries red and yellow and their child, orange. Then the flower colors move into tints and shades of those three: A restrained riot, as this planting at Epic Systems in Verona aptly demonstrates.