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!

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