Whenever we visit a garden, public or private, we always look for ideas for our own garden. On this visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden we paid particular attention to foliage plants. We're looking to add more shrubs to the garden, so seeing mature specimens is the ideal way to gauge what might suit our situation.
The first plant that caught our eye was this Rhododendron yedoense var. poukhanense 'compacta'. I have been growing the regular size version of this Korean Rhododendron for the past ten years with few problems. Since it's hardy to Zone 4, my larger plant came through our miserable winter with no damage other than lighter bloom count than prior years. But I love the idea of this Rhodie as a groundcover shrub, suitable for shade to part shade! Until I saw this variety I had no idea there was a version with such a low, tight profile. The biggest problem will likely prove to be finding a source for it.
The next surprise we discovered was this beautiful Korean Arborvitae: Thuja koraiensis 'Glauca prostrata.' We first thought it was a Russian Arborvitae until we saw the tag. Russian arborvitae (Microbiota decussata) is a Zone 3 shrub capable of growing in full sun to part shade, making it a very versatile plant for Northern gardeners. We have 3 of them in different locations in our garden.
This Korean version is hardy to Zone 5, full sun to part shade. Though I am trying to steer clear of Zone 5 plants, this grows low enough that snow cover should protect it.
We snapped this photo of a Weeping Beech since we are also growing one: Fagus sylvatica 'Purple Fountain.' This is to remind us of what it will do if left to its own devices. Ours will need some pruning down the road to keep it within the space allotted for it.
We are also growing two Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) trees and two shrubby versions. We bought one of the trees under the impression it was a weeping variety but it is growing outward and eating up space. It had not occurred to either of us that we might sharply prune it to the size and shape we want. Clearly this trio of Metasequoia glyptostroboides trees have been seriously sheared. Up close we could see branch tips that had been cut off and the new growth seemed to be growing more upward than outward, a solution that would be perfect for our tree.
Two other shrubs that caught our eye were Magnolia stellata 'Waterlily,' a Star Magnolia pruned into a big globe. And a wonderful Northern Bayberry that came out of the Chicagoland Grows program: Myrica pensylvanica 'Morton Male.' Both of these are Zone 4 plants and given all the sun we now have in the garden from loss of big trees, they might actually prosper in our garden now.
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:
Mark and I began creating our garden when we were both in our late 40s. Our original design included a number of evergreen shrubs for winter interest. Though we've continued to add evergreen and deciduous shrubs over the years, we're now looking at them as plants to replace perennials and thus make the garden a bit easier to maintain. Color, texture and pattern — more of it provided by foliage instead of flowers.
Whether this concept works in practice as well as theory we've yet to discover. But this summer we upped the ante with a slew of new shrubs, many of them added to the large irregular beds on either side of the path in the photo below.
Initially we added a Pinus strobus 'Blue Shag' along the front edge of the left border about halfway down the length of the bed (below). Two mature yew balls and a Taxus cuspidata 'Aurescens' had already been growing in this border for a number of years.
Behind the big ceramic pot in this bed is a new Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace' which is in the lower righthand corner of the photo. Eventually it will be larger than the pot.
This is another view from the same location as the above photo.
The garden directly across the path had lost some small new trees as well as a 60-year-old Austrian pine in the last couple of winters. After looking at the gaping holes for part of the summer, we added a Pinus strobus 'Tiny Curls', the tiny plant in the front center of the image with a white i.d. tag. (The two caged plants with i.d. tags are perennials the bunnies keep eating).
To pick up the yellow tones of the yew across the path, we put in a Rhus typhina 'Tiger Eyes'. We plan on letting that attain a significant size over time, pulling out perennials as need be. The 'Touch of Class' Hosta got moved and in its space we added a mature Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'North Light' (on the right below). We splurged on a large specimen of 'North Light' (from Stonewall Nursery) because our smaller one has done so well.
For years we've planted very little on the slopes around the Tea House (below) because Mark needed access all around the building as he was constructing it. This year we finally started fleshing out the plantings. There already were a few boxwoods balls adjacent to the steps up to the building, a clumping bamboo and a big swath of groundcover irises. We added a small yew ball at the top of the slope and a larger one at the bottom, to make a sharp contrast with all the low perennials. We're currently thinking about putting a Russian cypress in the open space — one more shrub rather than one more swath of perennials. After I took this picture, I decided to add the 'Touch of Class' Hosta in front of the yew at the bottom of the slope.
Here's the list of all the shrubs we put in, as not all of them are pictured.
MAY: Pinus strobus 'Tiny Curls', Pinus thunbergiana 'Yachio'. These are very tiny and will take five-ten years to make a statement.
JULY: Berberis thunbergii 'Admiration' (small shrub with coral red foliage with yellow margins which the bunnies half ate during the first week), Fothergilla major 'Blue Shadow', Philadelphus 'Snow Dwarf', Pinus strobus 'Blue Shag', Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace', Rhus typhina 'Tiger Eyes'
AUGUST: three Taxus x media 'Densiformis' (two smalls and one large enough for instant impact)
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.
These photos were taken at the end of June but the pairings are all looking good despite the fact that six weeks have passed since then. The major difference since the pictures were taken is the fact that everything is bigger and the ferns are starting to devour the Brunnera in the first picture. These are the kind of foliage combos I love: they can take a lickin' and keep on tickin'.
To see what other great foliage plant are out there, visit Pam at Digging who hosts this monthly look at the garden that doesn't focus on flowers.