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:
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.
Truth be told, I think every gardener likes his or her own garden best. Sure, we go on garden tours all the time, but usually we walk through and think "that was nice." We come home satisfied with what we've created. Maybe we've been inspired to do a little tweaking, but that's the extent of it.
It's the rare garden that stays with us. But every now and then you visit a garden that takes your breath away and makes you want to rethink — maybe even re-do — your whole garden. A garden whose plants and planting patterns, ornaments and atmosphere, subtlety and sensuality keep floating into your consciousness days after your visit.
My garden is mostly green at this season and is heavily influenced by Asian design at all seasons. I shy away from color and drama and most anything that demands a visitor's attention. But I am still lost in awe and appreciation of the garden that Jeannette Golden has created out in the Wisconsin countryside.
Making a garden that feels of its time and place, where nothing is too much or too little is no easy feat. Especially when it's surrounded by a vast landscape.
We often see images of English estates where flower gardens successfully merge into the larger agricultural landscape, but it is not something that is as common here. Perhaps because it is not easily done.
That massive surrounding landscape can so easily throw off the scale of a country garden. Plantings need to relate to the myriad buildings, the trees, the farm pond and distant hills. And in this garden they manage it perfectly.
Plantings close to the house are more open and somewhat smaller in scale . . .
Grass paths remind you this is a "simple" country garden. They function as a bright green ribbon tying all the beds and borders into a cohesive package.
Spots for quiet contemplation are scattered throughout the space (above), as are specimen plants like this Silberlocke Korean fir (below). But Jeannette incorporates these potential prima donnas into the larger plantings rather than letting them steal the show.
A month later I'm still captivated by Jeannette's garden. To put it in a word, I find her garden "incommensurable." That's a word from the late 1500s often found in philosophical books. It means " lacking a basis of comparison in respect to a quality normally subject to comparison." It simply can't be compared.
There's nothing like company to inspire Mark to look around the garden and decide if there's anything extra he might do to spruce it up. Case in point: these bamboo hoops he made to replace our old apple hoops. He took old bamboo poles and split them vertically using a heavy-bladed garden knife and a hammer.
He put the first few hoops near the edge of the pond where we don't want visitors to walk. Then he lined the rest of them along this curving path where we're replacing small perennials with ferns that are barely visible as they send up new fronds. (If you look closely you can also see the bare spots in the ivy on either side of the path. It still has not all filled in again after last winter took its toll.)
This is the view from the opposite end of the path with new ferns also visible on the right side of the path. The next project is replacing these logs with a more attractive and more permanent wall. We had been thinking about building a wall using narrow blue stone slabs similar to something we saw on one of the recent garden tours — until we priced it out. We're now working on Plan B.
"If you could line it up, why wouldn't you?" is Mark's mantra. His final project was rounding up my scattered watering cans to make his point.
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.
We've been spending time cleaning out the materials yard where bricks, wire cages, potting soil, you name it get stored on the east side of out house — out of sight when you are in the garden. It's a nice practical work area but nothing as cool as this outbuilding I saw on a recent WHPS tour in the country. I envision room for my tools and a daybed for napping when weeding becomes too much work. Nothing like a structure to add another layer of interest to the garden.
This garden "shed" is located in the city but has a country feel. It was made by the gardener's son out of recycled materials, especially old windows.
A bit hot on the bright summer day when I visited, but I bet it's magical on a cloudy day, a moonlit night or on a sunny winter day. A little jewel box.
We still plan to add a couple more small fences and gates to the garden. So when we were at Anderson Gardens we snapped pictures for our idea file. It is really amazing how many variations they have in the gardens, especially since everything needs a Japanese twist to the design. Note how simple some of these are: just a bamboo pole or a gate with no fence attached; more symbolic than functional. Here are some of our favorites:
I also find it fascinating that the world's most boring Hosta looks fabulous when played against a slightly decorative fence like the one above.