Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Chicago Botanic Gardens Part 3: The Trial Garden

Finally to part three of our Chicago Botanic Garden trip! This is one of the few trial gardens in the country dedicated primarily to perennial plants. 2016 saw their first non-hardy plant trial, Salvia, which I pretty much covered in Part 1. We did not see all of the current trials and I didn't take pictures of all of the trials we did see. I wish I had, but these trials go on for several years so it's a good excuse to return in 2017. From the trial garden website: In all, 20 comparative trials are currently underway including "Andropogon (bluestem), Asclepias (milkweed), Baptisia (false indigo), Chrysanthemum (hardy mum), Coreopsis (tickseed), Filipendula (meadowsweet), Hamamelis (witch hazel), Heliopsis (heliopsis), Hibiscus (rose mallow), Hydrangea paniculata (panicle hydrangea), Hydrangea serrata (Japanese hydrangea), Lespedeza (bush clover), Molinia (purple moor grass), Perovskia (Russian age), Persicaria (smartweed), Potentilla (perennial cinquefoil), Rosa (English shrub roses), Salvia (hardy and non-hardy sage), Schizachyrium (little bluestem), and Weigela." 

Beyond this list there were several plants that were in the trial garden area from previous trials or smaller trials of only 2 or 3 species. 

The Hibiscus trial was nice looking, and it's needed due to the ridiculous number of varieties coming onto the market. They all seem like great looking varieties, so how do you choose which ones to buy? 

The Perovskia trial looks like it was just started and NONE of the plants looked great. I didn't take any pictures. I really look forward to seeing them again in 2 or 3 years as there are a lot of new varieties that all promise they are compact. We've heard that before.  
 As you can see from the list, several grasses are being trialed.

Andropogon 'Rain Dance' was one of the nicest of the group when we visited. I'm also very fond of its siblings 'Red October' and 'Indian Warrior'; all from Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennial Gardens.

I was very happy to see a Molinia trial. These grasses are fantastic and far under-used and under-valued. Many of them are very tall but even with heavy plume production offer some transparency. Great for creating some interesting views. 'Karl Foerster' was the tallest and probably my favorite of them. But all were quite nice and very usable in garden design.

Molinia 'Fontane'
Molinia caerulea ssp. arundinacea ‘Karl Foerster’
Molinia 'Whirlygig' 
R-L (If I remember correctly) Molinia caerulea 'Variegata', 'Fontane', 'Karl Foerster', 'Whirlygig'.  

Panicum 'Bad Hair Day', this was labeled as a Chicagoland Grows plant; I want it SO BAD! Fitting name and look at that flower coverage! 
Schizachyrium 'Standing Ovation' was looking great in the trial. One on my wish list. 
Sorghastrum 'St. Louis' is another intro from Brent Horvath. I had this and need to replace it as it didn't survive being moved. The center plants looked great, the end plants were lodging a bit. Very tall, over 6'. Should develop nice fall color.
Baptisia 'Blonde Bomshell' was looking a little rough this late in the year, but look at those old flower spikes. GREAT coverage on a compact plant. 
Coreopsis tripteris. A 6' coreopsis that looked great, though it was mostly done blooming. 
Eupatorium fortunei 'Pink Frost' was looking great. Nice variegation and a good performer. 
Hydrangea paniculata 'Mega Pearl' was past prime color, but it had GREAT habit and coverage. 
Hydrangea paniculata 'White Lady' also had great habit and coverage. 
Kniphoffia trial. Very much needed, these plants can perform great into z5 if proper drainage is provided. 

Lespedeza was another ongoing trial that I was very happy to see. Another under-used but really great group of plants for fall flower color. Some of these were quite compact, but I'm not sure if that's because they're young or because they're actually compact. I look forward to reading the published notes in a few years when this trial is complete.

Lespedeza thunbergii 'Gibralter'; if you find a Lespedeza in a garden center, it will likely be 'Gibralter'. This is the most common one and it's a good plant. 
Lespedeza thunbergii 'Gibralter'
Lespedeza 'Spring Grove'
Lespedeza 'Summer Beauty' 
Lespedeza 'White Fountain'

I didn't get the tag on this one, but it shows how great the genus can look. 
They had several Pycnanthemum on trial. Another under-used group of plants. They will probably never be popular, but they are good utilitarian filler plants that can be very drought tolerant. Also, bees and butterflies tend to love them. They were past peak, but these two I'd be happy to include in my gardens as the habits were quite nice.

Pycnanthemum incanum
Pycnanthemum tenuifolium 'Cat Springs'
 The mum trial was somewhat unimpressive, though in all fairness I don't like mums all that much. I did take photos of these two as they were in excellent shape and had nice bloom.

Chrysanthemum 'Bolero' is a fairly reliable perennial mum with good orange color.
Chrysanthemum 'Country Girl'. This is similar to 'Clara Curtis' or 'Frans', but with maybe larger flowers. Certainly in bloom earlier than 'Fans', but that could because this was 150 miles south of me.
 We really enjoyed our trip to Chicago, 10+ years is far too long between visits and I hope to return much sooner next time!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Chicago Botanic Garden, Fall Visit Part 2; Hardy Plants

Chicago Botanic garden has a massive diversity of plants and garden spaces. We were able to find a few plants that we'd never seen before which is always a nice bonus. It's nearly impossible to see everything in this garden in one trip so it's definitely worth going back several times during a season to see how the garden changes. I hope to do that next year. 

Maybe I just wasn't noticing them, but there seems to be a distinct lack of Japanese maple varieties at CBG. I've been to smaller gardens in harsher climates with far more of them.  Really not sure why this is. This is one of the very few I saw, a nice dissectum type.

Amsonia have become fairly hot plants in the eyes of botanic gardens and plant people. There are many new ones coming onto the market. This Amsonia ciliata was actually in the trial garden, but I didn't take any other amsonia shots there so I'm including it in this section. The habit was fantastic, a very compact mound of fine foliage. I need one (or several) of these.

There was also a mass planting of Amsonia hubrichtii. I bet it looks great in bloom and in fall color. But the rest of the year? Kind of meh. There wasn't much to set off the foliage texture other than a few trees. There were a few of these massive areas planted with different plants and our reaction to them was "why?"  You'll see a few more shortly.

Anemone 'Whirlwind'

Aster tataricus 'Jindai' was one of the only Asters to receive a 5-star rating from CBG's aster evaluation a few years ago. It was easy to see why. There were some nice large groupings of this plant, flowers were in peak bloom, the plants were clean and nearly 5' tall. I've been meaning to add this to the gardens. Once I have room to garden again, I will be doing so.

Begonia grandis

Begonia grandis

Begonia grandis
 Begonia grandis was in a few areas. This is a hardy Begonia species that can do fairly well here given the right conditions. Rich soil that drains well is key. If it remains too wet during winter/early spring it will rot.

There was a planting of the new button bush variety, Cephalanthus occidentalis 'Sugar Shack', that stretched 200' or so. I was happy to see it developing some red fall color. This one should be more compact than the species. I like button bush quite a bit, it's a great native shrub that's pretty tough. There are 3 varieties on the market now, and that's probably more than enough.

There were some nice groupings of Chasmanthium latifolium. This has always been one of my favorite grasses for its seedheads.

Colchicum 'Giant'

Colchicum 'Waterlily'
 It was tough to not buy colchicums in the bulb sale that was going on. I promised Jess that we'd order a case of them next year and split it.

There were some great containers with conifers in them. This one included Bergenia 'Flirt' which I hadn't seen before. It's a compact variety with heavy flower production.

It was nice to see a Cryptomeria japonica 'Little Champion' doing well here; they're borderline hardy at best.

 Eurybia divaricata was another aster that got a high rating in the trials at CBG. This one is a great fall bloomer for shade to part shade. I love it.

Fontanesia fortunei 'Titan' was a new plant to me. It was very clean looking and apparently gets white flowers. I've seen varying reports of hardiness. A couple sources say zone 4, I will have to try it out.

Ginkgo biloba 'Troll'

Another area of mass planting included Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold'. As much as we love Hakonechloa, we didn't find this particularly attractive as there wasn't anything to contrast with the grass and show it off. It wasn't ugly, it looks ok. Just not "WOW!"

Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'

Heptacodium miconiodies 

Heuchera 'Berry Smoothie'

Heuchera 'Blackout'

Heuchera 'Dark Mystery'

Heuchera 'Dark Mystery'

Hibiscus syriacus

 Hydrangea anomala 'Jane Platt' was interestingly being used as a groundcover. The very small leaves were a nice change from the typical species. Another one I'll have to hunt down.

Ilex verticillata 'Afterglow'

Juniperus chinensis 'Torulosa Variegata'

We found a nice specimen of Magnolia tripetala. I love the large tropical looking foliage of this species.

Morus bombycis 'Unryu' was another plant I didn't know. This is a contorted mulberry and the leaves were massive. Again, I'm finding conflicting zone info. Also the nomenclature is unclear. Some list bombycis as a synonym of M. alba but the foliage doesn't seem to match as M. alba has much smaller leaves that may be simple to lobed.

Another mass planting consisted of Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Firetail'. This was the most impressive of the mass plantings, but only because it was in full bloom. This area was also bordered by Carex muskingumensis. I'm thinking it had been somewhat dry as the Carex was quite brown. I think in summer when not in bloom, this area would be as meh as the others we saw.

Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Firetail' and friends.

Picea engelmanii 'Bush's Lace'

Polystichum polyblepharum

Rosa virginiana hips with Pennisetum seed heads, a great combo

A rose, I didn't look for the tag.

Salix alba, a simple basic plant that really looked quite good. 

Salvia reptans West Texas Form. Another one that was in the trial but I'm covering here. This may actually be hardy here, these were really nice looking.

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Cynthia Waxman'

There were several low-graft Styrax japonica 'Fragrant Fountain' that made a really neat weeping accent among large plants.

Symphyotrichum pilosum was in peak bloom, looked amazing, and was full of pollinators. Really worth including in the garden. Another highly rated species in the trial.

Thelypteris decursive-pinnata

I'm familiar with a few Thermopsis but had only seen pictures of T. chinensis before. This is a very early bloomer and not too terribly large.

Thuja occidentalis 'Filiformis'

Xanthorhiza simplicissima
That's it for hardy plants. Next will be trials!