Design Inspiration and the Gardens of Chicago

Echinacea (maybe ‘white swan’?) at Lurie Garden in Chicago.

Echinacea (maybe ‘white swan’?) at Lurie Garden in Chicago.

I am writing this from Chicago where I have been lucky to spend a few days with other plant people attending the Perennial Plant Association’s annual symposium. Legendary garden designer and plantsman, Piet Oudolf, gave the keynote address and spoke on a panel on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, we spent time touring the Lurie Garden that he designed in Millenium park. Also present were other designers such as Roy Diblick and Kelly Norris. Roy’s gardens include the Shedd Aquarium, which I captured a tiny corner of in this little video. This movement in garden design, which has been around for a while in Europe and here for about 20 or so years, is naturalistic, based on prairies, and inherently ecological. In this case, Lake Michigan is an important migratory pathway for birds and the addition of prairie plantings on the water’s edge has attracted a huge amount of butterflies, birds, and pollinators to the area. If you are in the Chicago area, I strongly recommend a visit to these two gardens, about a 20 minute walk from each other along the water’s edge.

I feel so inspired to bring you more perennials in 2020. The future of ornamental gardening has to be ecological, in my opinion, and part of that is being affordable. These types of plantings require a huge amount of transplants, and the benefit is less weeding because of the planting density. If you are interested in this, let me know. I would love to work on growing plants for specific projects and am doing all of my ordering now. This style of planting requires lots of small plants, not showy 2 to 3 gallon plants that bloom right away. I am not a designer, but I can certainly help make suggestions and point you in the right direction for resources about this style of gardening. Maybe a winter book group would be a good idea? I would like to read this. Does anyone local want to join in and meet up to talk about it sometime in September or October?

I find that August is a great time to start planning. It is when I make plant lists for the coming year, it is when I evaluate the current year’s garden and take notes and it is when I actually place orders for cuttings and bare root stock for the following year. If you would like to take a step back from your ornamental garden to evaluate or make plans to adjust things, now is a great time to do it. It is often too hot to be in the garden, but you can certainly be working on the garden. I would rather do big plantings and edits in the cooler weather of September - plants will still have plenty of time to get established before the cold hits, and the watering requirements are a little less demanding.

I am so excited to get back to Vermont and put into motion some of what has inspired me this week. And I am especially happy about the timing of this Saturday’s workshop with garden designer Charlotte Albers, who owns Paintbox Garden. She will be coming to Red Wagon to talk about the use of color in the garden. She will give us an inside look at how we can select and combine plants for maximum effect. There are still a few spots left, and you can sign up here. Here are some words from Charlotte for inspiration:

The garden is constantly changing. It's a living artwork, nothing is static. When I walk through my gardens each day is an exploration of shape and texture, color and scent. But for me, color is the thing that brings the most joy. I love certain combinations - right now it's the purple spikes of gayfeather (Liatris spp.), Siberian catmint, and 'Rozanne' geranium mixing with deep yellow gloriosa daisy and the clean white blooms of 'Becky' shasta daisy. Easy to snip and put in a mason jar too.

As a designer I look primarily at foliage - it's what interests me most after form and suitability (I prefer to design with native plants and cultivars). I like leaves with unusual colors - chartreuse, mahogany, variegated forms of hosta and coral bell add character and energy. Foliage is what stays around the longest so it matters more. Flowers are secondary to me.

In this workshop we'll cover the color spectrum including many of my favorites for containers, beds and borders. There will be a handout plant list; after the horticulture portion and a yummy snack break everyone will have a chance to design a garden of their own to take home as a guide.

And we are having some sales at the greenhouse. All annuals are 50% off and all shrubs are 15% off. See you soon!