There's so much that changes in the MG landscape throughout the year...we thought a plant trial and garden blog was the best way to start sharing "what's new" and "what's happening with all those new varieties" with you! Visit often for updates on how trial plants are performing in the gardens and to see photos throughout the season as we grow and change!

Welcome to the Midwest Groundcovers Landscape Blog

Welcome to the Midwest Groundcovers Landscape Blog
Astilbe 'Vision in Red' with Hosta 'Patriot' and Carex 'Ice Dance'

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Molinia, Groundcover edition

Hello all,
I must apoligize for the quality of photos in this edition. I pride myself on having good pictures here, but it's just too bright here in St Charles to get anything without glare today. Regardless, I do have some fun picture for you today. Happy Halloween, and enjoy the following:
Lamium maculatum 'Aureum' I'm amazed sometimes by plants I would never expect to like. This one goes into the category of great performers for somewhere other than my garden. But if you really like chartreuse and pink mixed together, than this is the plant for you! I have this planted in full sun. I like to test plants and see how durable they really are. It has stood up to the test and then some. It is really quite beautiful for a yellow plant with pink flowers.
Veronica 'Waterperry Blue' is my newest favorite groundcover. When I planted it this year, many people wondered why. I planted them on 8" centers and the ground looked pretty bare. Now, the plants have completely filled in and they are flowering like crazy this fall. What a great plant for parking lot islands! This could be the next great sub for Polygonum!

I think it may be difficult to see what is in the picture to the left. Here we have removed all the Thuja 'Brabant' and planted Thuja Nordic Spire(TM) in it's place. It has really changed the atmosphere of our Perennial Island. I can't wait to see it next year and have a new canvas to paint.

Midwest Solutions: In our trials of Midwest Solutions, one of the plantings has stood out to me this year. This planting is of Knockout(TM) Rose and Molinia 'Heidebraut'. The roses are visible all year because the seed heads of the Molinia do not obstruct the view. If roses aren't your thing, substitute Phlox paniculata, or Echinacea 'Pica Bella' for a nice combo!

Or, you could just plant it on it's own and enjoy it for its own beauty. This plant can surely stand alone. It merits consideration in any yard that does not get too dry. In periods of drought it does like some supplemental watering.

I hope everyone will go out and vote this upcoming Tuesday. It seems to me to be a very important election. Though I think that is the case during any presidential election. Use your right to vote! And on a less political note, Happy Halloween! Until next time, have a great day!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fall Color

Hello all!
When one thinks of fall color, the first thing that comes to mind is the trees. Maybe a burning bush. Itea? Mums? While I am not here to say that any of these are bad, except for maybe the mums, but that there is a lot out there that gets overlooked. Some that would be great as substitutes for mums. I try not to be a plant snob, so I won't go after the Burning Bush, but I'll show you some great subs as well for that. Here we go!
So, I'm not trying to make you jealous, but.....I went to Door County Wisconsin last weekend and the color was unbelievable. Pictures like this were everywhere. Isn't fall great? This particular shot was taken on a road on Washington Island. It was well worth the ferry price to get there.

Corylus americana is a native shrub that has exceptional foliage. In an ice breaker that we had last fall, Christa and Grace voted for this plant as their favorite plant for fall color. What an endorsement! On top of that, it bears great tasting nuts! Good luck opening them though. You definitely need a nut cracker.

Rhus copallina 'Prairie Flame' is the ultimate substitute for Burning Bush. This is it's fall color. I'm not sure if there is any more needed to be said about this plant. My campaign for this plant this year is, "Obama and McCain would rather you buy a Prairie Flame than a Burning Bush."

Viburnum nudum 'Winterthur' is quite the show this fall. Dark burgundy fall color is glossy and lustrous and fades to a red. This plant never looks bad. It does grow big though, reaching 10-12' at maturity. It bears fruit in multiple colors. White and blue and some are red. It's a must have for the shrub connoisseur.

This picture has both Schizachyrium 'Carousel' and Itea 'Scarlet Beauty'. "What a combination," Kim Kaczmarek, outside sales to garden centers said. I agreed. We have a median at our facility showcasing Chicagoland Grows product. These plants look great together. It's quite the collection of plants. If you need more information go here.

Aconitum fischeri: This is a plant that I put in full sun, knowing that it prefers shade. I was scolded for putting it in a no- win situation. Well, they look fantastic in full sun! Hah! This is why I trial things so hard. Sometimes a gem comes out. This plant looks better than the ones that I have in shade. Aren't they gorgeous? Would you plant these? Should we sell them?
Anemone 'Honorine Jobert' I promise, I will soon stop talking about Anemones. I remember when I first started in this business when a fellow plant geek was talking about Anemones, I said, "It's just an Anemone." As he looked at me puzzled, I wondered what I just said. It was his favorite plant. Years later, I was wrong Dave. These are quite the cool plants! Now they are amongst my favorites.

Okay, I promise this is the last one! What happens when you have September Charms meet up with October Skies? A great combination for the fall. Anemone 'September Charm' and Aster 'October Skies' make for a delightful combo.

Amsonia hubrichtii is one of the best perennials for fall color. Although in the past couple years, they've been yellow the whole summer too. But right now, you can tell that they just shine in fall. Think of the reds of the Rhus Prairie Flame with this Amsonia in the foreground. What a combo that would be. Maybe, I'll try that around here.

Quite the unlikely fall color. People don't think about fall when thinking about roses. But they are quite spectacular right now. This is Rosa 'Sunny Knockout'. Roses are thriving from the cooler temperatures, no Japanese beetles, and less humidity.

Easy Elegance Rose 'Kashmir' This is one of my new favorite roses. I know I have a lot of favorites, but I did qualify it as a favorite rose. It produces stunningly fragrant dark red blooms on a single stem. They truly look like a hybrid tea. Very hardy to my surprise, this has been a standout in the garden this year. And now, it's sending up a lot more blooms. So much nicer than those mums we used to plant here.

I almost made it through all the plants before slamming the mums. I apologize to those that like the fall mums. I can be rather biased to plants and I just haven't warmed up to those yet. So, hopefully the rain coming today and through the weekend won't knock everything down and I'll have current pictures for you next week as well. I do have many pictures from throughout the year of plants that will be new in the catalog for 2009. Those will be here this winter! Also, I'll keep updating with winter interest from the garden designed by Piet Oudolf. It's quite magical. But, don't start thinking about next year too soon. There is still time to plant. So enjoy the fall while it lasts, and until next time, have a great day!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Going up to see Ed Hasselkus

Hello all,
As you can see from the title, I had the opportunity to visit with Ed Hasselkus of the University of Wisconsin Madisons' Longenecker Gardens. There were four of us in all, and the three not named Ed, walked away privelaged and inspired. Stories were told about how trees were obtained and from where. How a 50' tall tree was planted from seed 33 years ago and where Ed got the seed from. When we left the property, we all wished there was a video camera and tape recorder to keep his stories alive for future generations. In all my times in this industry, I've never felt like this. I was in the company of a man who was supremely talented, and better yet, supremely modest. I've met a lot of influential people in the industry. And this isn't meant to slight any one of them. I am a really fortunate individual to have met many an icon. Maybe it's because I've not been in the others home turf, but Ed was quite the gentleman and scholar. Thanks Ed for your time and your sincerity!

Some of the many amazing things that happened that day was the realization of how beautiful Ash really are. And how sad it will be when we are not graced by the precence of White and Green Ash during the fall season. I've taken them for granted over the years, but they were sure beautiful up in Wisconsin. These aren't the only trees at risk however.

Though not immediately at risk, there is concern about the overplanting of yet another tree. When will we learn? Acer freemanii 'Autumn Blaze'. That is not what the picture is, but the tree in jeapordy. Autumn Blaze is a spectacular tree. But if we continue to plant so many, who knows when the next beetle will come to get them. The tree in the picture is Ed Hasselkus' variety named 'Waukesha' It was quite spectacular. If you've ever come on a visit here at Midwest, you know that I preach diversity. If we only use 10 plants, than we open ourselves up for disappointment when a disease comes and destroys one. If you overuse the plants on your palette, your palette could get boring.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum We were walking along and viewing his trials of Hydrangea paniculata, which were quite interesting I might add, when we were overtaken by a fragrance of french toast. Around the corner was this beautiful Katsuratree. If you have not been touched by the fragrance of these beauties, you need to find one to smell. I remember when I first got into this business, there was a hot day at the garden center I worked at, and a fragrance of burning sugar was everywhere I walked. I then realized that the foliage of the Katsuratrees was drying out and making this fragrance. Part of me wanted it to continue to dry out, but the other part didn't want to kill it either. If you don't know it, introduce yourself. You will find a new friend.

And if you've never seen the fruit of a Gingko, here you go. I was quite surprised by the charm and beauty of the fruit. Hearing the stories of how rancid the smell is when on the ground, I thought they must be ugly too. Not so. These were gorgeous. I should have grabbed a couple to eat!

From the Longenecker gardens we travelled to Olbrich Botanical Gardens with tour guide Jeff Epping. It's quite an experience to go from Arboreteum to Botanic Garden. This is another must see garden.

This is just one of the fascinating containers at Olbrich. Spiranthes odorata and a bunch of Pitcher Plants. How cool!!! They were in the process of removing some of the many containers with tired annuals. These however, were not tired at all. If only I could have taken this container home!

One of the other oddities at the Olbrich is this Thai pavillion. Acclaimed as the only one of it's kind in the US or Thailand to be surronded by gardens. This pavillion is one that would be seen at temples or at a palace. It is not a religious structure. Because the University of Wisconsin has one of the largest Thai populations, the Thai government donated this incredible work of art.

Finally, this is at our office here in St Charles. Our rose garden is blooming it's heads off. It's one of the first times all year that they haven't been covered in Japanese Beetles. And when we were looking at it, Christa Orum-Keller noticed that the roses and green roof really accentuated each other nicely.

I must be on my way. Next post will be on fall colors and fruits. Thanks again for reading, and until next time, I hope you have a great day!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fantastic Fall Flowers

Hello all,

In the past I've shown great looking seed heads, fall colors and more. But I've omitted the beautiful fall flowers that we have. One thing I promise, is that there are no pictures of mums following this paragraph. Everyone knows what a mum looks like. But I'm more in favor of looking at the plants blooming now that are underused, or they are not thought of as fall flowers. Without further ado, here they are.
Calamintha nepeta ssp nepeta
Why isn't this the hottest perennial on the planet? It blooms from late June to frost, going from a clean white to a light lavender. Furthermore, it attracts honeybees and plant geeks alike. Plant a Calamintha in your yard and soon enough you'll have someone ask you what great prize you have! And in times where the bee populations are at risk, why not help them out?

Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies'
Okay, I realize this isn't groundbreaking. But how many Asters do you know that will creep over a curb and look stunning. Plus, these look great all year. They have very nice green foliage which is also aromatic. The fragrance is definitely for the flower children of the world as it has a distinct patchouli smell.

Anemone 'September Charm' This is the beginning of the underused. Now, if you have used Anemone 'Robustissima' and were afraid to use it anymore because of how aggressive it is, try this. This is an entirely calm and collected plant. It's dainty flowers floating above the foliage are fairytale-like. It really adds a nice bloom at a time where little is offered.

Anemone 'Pamina' Adding to the great Anemones, this one has double blooms and is a little shorter plant. The overall habit of this plant is much more compact and tidy than others. Not quite the fairytale plant like above, but quite nice in it's own right. I can't speak for everyone, but I would sure rather have this come back every year than have my mums possibly come back.

Rosa Double Knock Out(TM) What about roses for your late season color? The Knock Outs and virtually all the other roses in the trials here are in full bloom. It looks great!!! Maybe they don't come in the autumnal colors of the fall mum, but they are working on it. Flower Carpet(R) Amber would be a step in that direction.

Geranium 'Intrinsic Pink' Would you buy a Geranium that only bloomed in the fall? That is the characteristic of this plant. When I first saw the plant, it was in October, and I remember being very excited about the bloom at that time of year. A year later, I learned that's the only time it blooms. I'm not sure this is bad. I like the plant a lot and people have commented on how nice the late flower is. What do you think? It's currently in trial status only.

Geranium 'Pink Penny' Another trial status perennial. This one has been tauted as the "pink Jolly Bee'. While the flower does have that look, it is not quite as vigorous as 'Jolly Bee' is. But I have grown to really like this plant. It is very floriferous at this time of year, but doesn't start flowering until much later than 'Jolly Bee' and 'Rozanne'. Still worthy of my garden, but not worthy of cult status the way 'Jolly Bee' has become.

Geranium 'Jolly Bee' If you have ever come to Midwest Groundcovers for a tour, you then know that 'Jolly Bee' is my favorite plant. I try being careful about what is and isn't my favorite plants, because I have so many. But this is truly one step ahead of all the other plants I love. To me this is the best introduction of a plant to the nursery industry in my 10 years on the job. If you have not used this plant, try it. I must say that I did not like or understand perennials before I worked for Midwest Groundcovers. My background was completely with woody plants. The day I saw 'Jolly Bee' it all changed.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight' This is quite the plant. Another real long bloom time for a plant. I try not to copy what others have done when I work on the landscape here. I like to be unique and offer our guests something different than what they'd see on the Internet or at another nursery. But sometimes, things look so good, that it's worthy of mimicking. There is no better hedge in America than the 'Limelight' Hydrangea hedge at Dale Deppe's home, owner of Spring Meadow Nursery. Once I saw it, I knew we had to have that here! I can't wait for a couple years from now, when this hedge stops people in their tracks like it did the day I first saw it.

One heck of a container! Around our buildings and in our Retail Shoppe area, we have containers planted with mostly our product line. While you'll find a couple annuals here and there, the perennials and shrubs have really become a hit. This one in particular stood out to me. The Physocarpus 'Summer Wine' is quite attractive all by itself. But the Geranium at its' base adds another great color to the container. Of course, you need to pick a great Geranium to make it bloom for a long time, so of course they picked 'Jolly Bee'!!!

So I leave you with this question. What is your favorite fall flower, fall foliage, or fall grass? Email me at kmcgowen@midwestgroundcovers.com and let me know. I'll let everyone know what the favorites are in the next post. Until next time, thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Big Projects Complete

Hello all,
We've had an exciting couple of weeks at the nursery in St Charles. Many projects have been completed in the landscape offering all sorts of new plants to look at next year! Below you'll see pictures of some of the new plantings. I also wanted to apologize on behalf of our grounds crew for teasing the rain last week. I did not anticipate the amount of rain that we received from our friend Ike. I have learned my lesson, and will go back to washing my truck when I want it to rain. The sprinklers worked too well!

The first garden to show you is the new Heuchera garden. The old one was running out of space, and I got a little tired of bumping my head on the limbs of the crabapple they were under. The first installment included 14 varieties, with space to add more. These are items that will either be new in 2009 for us, or they are in the trial stage. It ranges from 'Saturn' and 'Neptune' to 'Southern Comfort'

This garden is definitely in its' infancy. This garden is our American Beauties Native Plants(TM) garden. Here, only plants in the ABNP program are installed. This garden is located directly in front of our wholesale office, and used to be inhabited by Polygonum reynoutria. Although, I'm nervous about how this garden is going to look, I am comforted by the thought that it couldn't look worse than Polygonum!

Before: For years the garden known as Trial North was an afterthought. Little work was done in this area, so tours rarely were taken to this area. The Karl Foerster was there for years, as well as a large glob of mixed Sedums. They are all gone now, as well as many roses, and were replaced with what you see below!

After: Sedum has been replaced by a hedge of Corylus americana, our native Hazelnut! I know it's a little different from groundcover sedum, but it should look great in a couple of years! On the other side, where the Calamagrostis was removed, we've planted a hedge of Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight'. This is in full bloom right now, and should be quite a car stopper in years to come.

Heucheras were not the only varieties planted on perennial island the past two weeks! All in all, we installed 84 varieties of perennials and the shrubs are yet to come. This fall we will install our new shrub garden at the west end of the perennial island. Lots of new and exciting shrubs will be planted there. I hope you come see next spring!

Another area that was redone was on the patio around the building. This was an area untouched since Brenda McMahon left us years ago. Now it is fully planted with Midwest Solutions and a couple interesting shrubs. Among the combinations is a swathe of Solidago Little Lemon and Sporobolus Tara.

Well, hopefully after a weekend of rain, we can enjoy a couple days of nice sunlight before fall hits us hard. I can see plants changing everywhere and it seems a bit early, but with the weather that we've had, we should expect it. I appreciate your time reading, and until next time, I hope you have a great day!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Teasing the Rain

Hello All,
It's hard to believe that after all the rain we had this spring that we'd be sitting here wondering if the rain would come back. We pride ourselves on the garden designed by Piet Oudolf being sustainable, but as I look out at it, I see a lot of plants suffering from drought. It's dry out there! I've never once seen Agastache foliage so stressed. So we are teasing the rain. In the past, in order to get it to rain, all you had to do is wash your car. I tried that and it didn't work. Now, with rain supposedly in our near future, we have decided to water some of our gardens. The thinking being that if we didn't water the garden and waited for the rain, there is no chance we'll see the rain. If we water well, the rain is surely to come. You can't tell me that you haven't used that logic before, can you? Anyways, on to the pictures. A lot is happening here this week in the landscape. The crews are working full force to get some great looking projects done so that when you come for your next visit, lots of new stuff will win over your senses. We're also removing some garden thugs such as Vernonia glauca. While this is a terribly nice looking plant, they have reseeded to the point where some pulling was neccesary. A few have been spared, but most are gone.

This is just to prove that we did water the gardens today. I should have taken a picture when it started to rain over the sprinklers. It has since stopped, so the next picture you might see is me doing a rain dance. But that would be a difficult picture for me to take, and it's not likely that I'll be dancing in front of a camera any time soon, so you'll just have to imagine that.

Aster 'Blue Autumn'
When I first saw this plant I thought it wasn't that much different that any of the asters I had seen before. I wasn't that interested to say the least. But now that it has been in the landscape for some time, I've changed my mind. This may just be the answer to the naked legs of A. 'Purple Dome'. 'Blue Autumn' has very little browning on the bottom and is very full of bloom. Nice plant!
Two of my favorite grasses in flower next to each other. This is Panicum amarum 'Dewey Blue' with Sorghastrum nutans 'Sioux Blue'. 'Sioux Blue' has become terribly difficult to find liners for. Most people have lost their plants. While terrific once established, it is difficult to propagate. This is why we've had difficulty supplying you. In the future we will have a variety similar to this called 'Indian Steel.' Look for this in the coming years!

Before we took the garden thug out. Please note, that I do not call the plant invasive because it is not. This is a plant native to the United States, though not Illinois. But this is a reseeder just like the native species and it has to be treated like one. If used properly and maintained like we just did, it is not invasive. Aggressive, sure. But invasive, not quite.

After Vernonia glauca was removed. Notice one remains. The birds like it too much to take all of it out.

Solidago 'Fireworks'
This is a plant that I love to wax poetic about. Cari Dale from Drescher once told me that it reminded her of Sideshow Bob from 'The Simpsons' cartoon. I've never heard a more accurate description. That's not why I love it though. It just holds up so well and does not become a reseeding mess like other Solidago's do. It's quite behaved actually. Truly an underused plant.

One more before picture that you'll have to come back next week to see the after. In this picture, Sedum kamtchaticum and 'Bailey's Gold' are being removed. A couple minutes later the rugosa roses and Karl Foerster will be removed. In it's place will be Corylus americana and Hydrangea 'Limelight'. It'll look a lot different once the crews are done.

Thanks again for joining me this week and reading what I have to say. I'm interested in how many people actually read this column though. If you do, could you email me at kmcgowen@midwestgroundcovers.com and let me know what you think. It would be greatly appreciated. I've tried this in the past and nobody responded. Are there no readers? I really hope there is. This is a lot of fun to tell you what's going on! Until next time, have a great day!

Monday, August 18, 2008

What's happening now?

Hello all,
I struggled with a topic this week, going from "New Plants", to "Grasses", to "Native Perennials", to "What's Happening Now?" So as it turns out, I'm sticking with my last idea of "What's Happening Now?" And by doing so, I get to tell you about some underused plants and also a little of the new. Regardless of how you'd categorize them, they are all good!

Rhus copallina 'Prairie Flame'
Perhaps one of the most underused shrubs in our product line, based on merit. Growing 4'-6' with spectacular fall foliage, this is the ultimate substitute for Burning Bush! Non-invasive and nice flowering to boot. Just keep in mind that it is late to leaf out, so it's not dead in mid-April, but just about to wake. It's time for a change! McCain and Obama would rather you plant a Prairie Flame than a Burning Bush!

Hydrangea paniculata 'Pinky Winky'
This Hydrangea has proven durable in the landscape here at St Charles. I planted it two years ago and moved it in the fall last year. It survived transplanting and is very floriferous. What is exciting about this is that the flowers are pink at the base and white at the tip. Truly a unique cultivar of Hydrangea. Watch for this on the market!

Eupatorium 'Little Joe'
I was never quite the fan of Joe Pye Weed until I saw 'Little Joe'. Of course now, I love Joe Pye Weed to no end, but that's how I started. Opinions change right? Anyways, this is the best when looking for a plant that can be in anyone's garden. Standing only 4' rather than 6-8' like many others, it attracts butterflies, bees, and people. Listed as a great nectar source for our honey bees.

Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Henry Eilers'
I know this has shown up multiple times on the blog, but I like it! And because I was on this tall perennial kick, I thought, wouldn't it make a great combination with the Eupatorium above. The strong arms of 'Little Joe' helping his friend Henry stand up straight. Even without 'Little Joe', 'Henry Eilers' merits landscape space. Late season bloom to diversify the late summer landscape.

Salix purpurea 'Nana'
Here is something for the person looking for fine texture. You cannot beat the fine texture of Arctic Willow. Blue foliage with dark stems wave in the wind. If properly maintained, they can be excellent landscape plants. These prefer to be cut back hard each spring and let them grow. Treat it like you would a Buddleia. If not pruned they can get a little woody and less attractive.

This edition is a little shorter than usual. I'm working feverishly to help get the 2009 catalog ready. It's going to be fantastic and hopefully something to look forward to. Until next time, thanks for reading and have a great day!