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, July 31, 2009

Underused Conifers

Hello all,

Today, I'm going to dive into a subject I rarely do. Conifers! Why is it that Junipers go on these big swings? For five years, they are super popular. Then they go through a downward trend and nobody uses them. These are the trendiest plants around! The question is typically which way is the trend going. In these days, sustainability matters. Junipers are a very sustainable group of plants. They are very low maintenance, drought tolerant and rarely diseased. Here are just a couple that aren't named 'Kallay' or 'Sea Green' that you should be knowledgeable of.

Juniperus sabina 'Mini Arcadia'
Known in some circles as 'Calgary Carpet', this lush spreader has great texture. When walking past a large planting, the foliage draws you in because it looks so soft. It only grows a few inches tall and spreads to four or five feet in four years.

Juniperus procumbens 'Nana'
This has long been my second favorite Juniper. My favorite, which isn't in this post, is 'Blue Mountain'. What I like about this is that it is very prostrate and works well hanging over the side of a wall. While nice to look at, the needle-like foliage does hurt when you stick your hand in there. In four years these plants are 3" tall by 3' wide. Make sure when asking for this plant, that you say 'Nana'. The straight species is a monstrosity.
Juniperus 'Blue Forest'
This is our substitute for 'Blue Chip'. It doesn't get the disease that 'Blue Chip' does, and has a very interesting habit. Bailey's Nursery did a good job in naming this one, as the foliage does resemble a forest of blue evergreen trees. When I first saw this plant it was easy to imagine myself as a small bug looking up into the canopy of the boreal forest.

Thuja 'Linesville'
Though not a Juniper, this plant is remarkable nonetheless. There is a plant in the landscape 3' tall by 5' wide. That is not this one of course, but this one was quite nice as well. Good drainage is key for this one to do well. Very different compared to most globe arborvitae in that it's foliage is much more acicle, or needle-like versus the usual scaly foliage.

Hibiscus Blue Satin
Clearly not a conifer, but looking marvelous right now are the Rose of Sharons. In particular Blue Satin is worthy of mention because of its color. I've seen a lot of "blue" Hibiscus in my life, but this is the real deal. Blue with a reddish eye. Clean foliage and impressive flowers make this a must for the gardener looking for a big pop. Try one today!

This is a shorter post than normal. We're working on our catalog for 2010 and that has taken up a good deal of my time. I'm trying hard to put together some real nice pictures for that book. I hope you like them when your catalog arrives. Until next time, plant some junipers and have a great day!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Native Plant Revolution

Hello again,
Last week I mentioned native plants and then I didn't show any pictures of them. This week, I will show you some of the great natives and how they look at this time of the year. If you have not yet read Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy, I highly recommend it. It has changed my life and the way I look at plants considerably. You may agree or disagree with his philosophies, but he does have a lot of science to back it up. Here at Midwest Groundcovers, we have a prairie at our entrance that is in the process of being re-established. What was once Crown Vetch and Solidago canadensis taking over, is now a conglomerate of species thriving and looking beautiful. We still have the occasional noxious weed like Canary Reed Grass that we continue to fight and there are a couple of Lythrum salicaria or Purple Loose Strife that need to be removed pronto, and are being removed as I type. But the rest of the prairie looks stunning. Reading the stories about Purple Loose Strife and how dangerous it is to the environment make it twice as scary as I originally thought. There are few insects to eat it, so it eliminates other flora in the area. Once the other flora in the area are gone, the other insects then disappear. Once the insects disappear, the birds, mammals and amphibians that eat them disappear. When those disappear, we disappear. That is a small sampling of what could happen if we allow Purple Loose Strife in our landscapes. Ok, I'll get off my soapbox.

Echinacea purpurea
I still find the straight species to be very nice. There is variation from one plant to the next because they have biodiversity, but I find that to be one of the best attributes. I walked through our prairie yesterday and found ones with dark stems like pictured here, ones with darker flower colors and ones with lighter colors. Some with heavily drooping petals and ones without. I feel like I'm reading Go Dog Go now.

Here they are en masse in the prairie. Peaking up from in between the plants are Coreopsis tripteris and Silphium terebinthinaceum or Prairie Dock if you prefer.

Heliopsis helianthoides
This plant is also thriving in the prairie. What I've found about this plant is that it rarely does not thrive. In my yard it has reseeded often, and I kind of like that. Who doesn't like volunteers? Going away from natives, plant these with Salvia 'Caradonna' for a nice contrast of colors.

Dalea purpurea
I think the species that benefits most from Dalea is the rabbit. They love these plants. They are high in protein which makes the delicious to many mammals. In our prairie though, there are a lot of them and they are sustaining themselves well. They have very fine textured foliage and have done well in our landscape in years where there is significant drought. This year with the wet, they still look pretty good!

Eryngium yuccifolium
I had a hard time deciding whether or not to put this picture on the blog. It is not in the prairie but in our garden designed by Piet Oudolf. It looks the best I've ever seen it this year. In the prairie it looked grand as well, but here it's very easy to see. It is the alien-like white balls floating in the air. It's name is derived from the fact that the foliage looks like a Yucca.

Corylus americana
I was so happy to arrive at the Corylus in the prairie. These big guys were sporting their fancy fruit. It is quite the curiosity the first time you see hazelnuts in their natural beauty. The plants themselves grow up to 16' tall and have superb fall color. They are worthy of the back of the border. Many mammals rely on this plant in the wild.

Desmodium canadense
This member of the legume family boasts purple flowers that are very useful to bees. They love the pollen that they can get from the plant. Being in the bean family, the mammals love to eat them as well. If you have deer issues, you may not want this plant. Wild turkeys are also fond of them. In fall, the seeds stick to your clothing like no other. Stay away from them! Although, if you want more of this darling, touch away and let the seeds fall where they will.
Calamagrostis canadensis
Now we are on to some of the grasses. I've really grown to like the Blue Joint Grass. This is in a wet area where we used to have standing water. Along with plants like Asclepias incarnata, Physostegia and Lythrum alatum, they are drying the area and really providing us with a solution to the area.

Bouteloua curtipendula
Anyone that has attended a tour here in the past has heard how much I love to say Bouteloua. It's the only plant I know of that can scare someone by screaming it's name. Come to think of it, Mulberry might be a scary thing as well. Anyways, this is a nice native grass with pendulous flowers this time of year. They have a purple cast and look well with Liatris 'Floristan White'.
Asclepias incarnata
With a bloom so beautiful, it's amazing these don't make it into more people's yards. The milkweeds are the only plant that Monarch butterfly larvae can eat. Therefore, the butterflies attracted to this plant are amazing. This alone would make me plant one, but the attractive bees that inhabit this plant are almost as cool! They do get to 5' tall or a little more so some space is required. But if you want to give back to nature a little, this is a good start. And with a bloom so interesting as the one pictured, why wouldn't you want that staring at you through your kitchen window?

I typically try to stay off the political soapbox. But in this case, I feel it is important to look at some of the great native plants that could be on your palette. These American Beauties Native Plants not only offer up the beautiful blooms but offer up habitat and food for native insects and birds. I hope you like them. Thanks for taking the time to visit the blog. Until next time, have a great day!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cool July Temperatures

Hello again,

What a beautiful summer we are having! We haven't reached triple digits yet, and besides a couple of warm days, it has not felt like Florida. While those of you that like to lay out on a beach towel and turn brown may not like it, the plants in the ground really have. It has also helped keep the Japanese beetles in check, though they are starting to come out of the woodwork now. The gardens here at Midwest Groundcovers are really looking nice. It's been fun to go from arid landscapes of California to the lush greens and flowers of Illinois. I especially love driving by the prairies right now to enjoy the Monarda fistulosa and Ratibida in bloom. The native landscape of the Midwest is truly something we take for granted. Here I am talking about the greatness of our natives, and below I have no native plants. Shame on me. Next week, I'll focus on them. So for those of you getting ready to go the PPA Symposium, have a great time. Hopefully St Louis won't be absurdly hot. Here are the plants I want to share with you today.

Lobelia 'Monet Moment'
Several years ago, I encouraged Elfego Machuca to do some accession forms and find plants he thought we could sell a lot of. This is one he picked. It is a beautiful version of Lobelia with bright pink blooms. These have been in the landscape for several years now and keep coming back. If you don't have room for red in the garden, here is a lighter color that works well with anything. These are now available. Try them out for yourselves!
Coreopsis 'Heaven's Gate'
I have to admit that when we started growing this, I wasn't positive that this would live. We've been through the Limerock Ruby fiasco, and so many other interesting Coreopsis have flooded the market with questionable hardiness. This one however is a plant that overwintered in our landscape and looks very good. For those of you looking for a pink Coreopsis, this is your best bet.

Echinacea 'Pica Bella'
As much as I try to not be smitten with Echinacea, every year I fall in love again. This one is perhaps my favorite. Don't hold me to that, as my opinion could change tomorrow. But for now, the size and color of this plant coupled with it's performance in the garden make this a keeper. Bright flowers with very clean foliage. It's a plant that won't disappoint. To top it off, they have dark stems. What more could you ask for?
Leucanthemum 'Phyllis Smith'
Here is a plant that is currently only a trial. I really like the frilly flowers, but I'm not sure if there is a market for it. You can help us decide by letting us know if you like it or not. Make comments on the phone when you call, or drop me an email and let me know what you think. In comparison to others in my trial, it holds up as well as 'Becky'!

x Heucherella 'Alabama Sunrise'
We've been watching our Heuchera and Heucherella very closely in the landscape to see which would perform the best. For the chartreuse varieties with red veination, there is no better then 'Alabama Sunrise'. In fairly deep shade, the colors are still very nice. And the plants are much more robust than the others. The tour group yesterday liked this one most.

Hemerocallis 'Rocket City'
Need I say more. I always figure that a daylily can talk for itself. This one is a beautiful orange flower that is very large. I measured one 7" across in the landscape. This can give you a big boost of color in mid summer. I've interplanted it with Schizachyrium Blue Heaven on our grounds and those will start to look good when the daylily is done blooming.

Schizachyrium 'Carousel'
Speaking of Little Blue Stem, 'Carousel' is looking like a winner again. Pictured here in our Piet Oudolf designed garden, it offers up great texture and color. In other locations, it is mixed with Allium sphaerocephalon which creates a dramatic contrast of reddish-purple and blue. The movement of the gentle grass is relaxing at first glance. It can be paired with so many things. Echinacea paradoxa is blooming with it also and the bright yellow contrasts so well with the blue foliage of Carousel. This is a must have.
Clethra 'Sixteen Candles'
This has done remarkably well in the landscape here. It is taking the place of Clethra 'Hummingbird' in our product line, and it seems to be worthy of the spot. All three plants in the landscape have excellent habit and flower production. They are so close to opening, and I can't wait to enjoy the sweet fragrance. Clethra are happy in both sun and shade but need to have moisture. They are also one of the last plants to leaf out, so patience is required in spring. The plants aren't dead, they are just sleeping.
Diervilla 'Cool Splash'
I've located these in a mostly sunny location. While they were slow to size, I really like the way the plants look now. They were planted as #1 size pots last fall and now the plants are 20" tall and wide. Great variegation adds to the pleasure of Diervillas. Diervilla in general are salt tolerant plants that work great in the city or where bank stabilization is required. This particular plant is a good substitute for some of the variegated dogwoods that get leaf spot all over them. This plant is very clean and has the yellow flowers of the typical plant.

Well, the garden is definitely in full swing. Daylilies are peaking, the Allium Summer Beauty is in it's full glory as well as the Echinacea and so much more. Let's hope the temperatures stay cool for a while because the colors produced on the perennials are vibrant and strong. As soon as it gets hot, they will start to fade. Enjoy this long Spring while it lasts. Thanks again for reading. Until next time, have a great day!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What is looking good?

Hello again! I'm back from getting married and going to the lovely land of Northern California. It's good to be back, but I already miss the majestic trees that surrounded me not so long ago. Thanks are due to Nate Jackson and Christa Orum-Keller for their work on the blog while I was gone. I appreciate that greatly, and I believe the readers enjoyed the information that you conveyed.

Upon my return, I was surprised by how different a landscape can look in just two weeks. I've never been away from Midwest Groundcovers in June. So much happens in that time frame. It's possibly the best time to be here. But alas, I really wanted to get married so leaving once in June to do that seemed appropriate. Below are some of the nicest things I've seen this week.
Aesculus parviflora
For the time that it blooms, there are few plants as beautiful as these. Our mass planting is peaking now. It is quite a sight. What I find most amazing is the diversity of insects on the plants. I counted 5 different types of bees alone. Many other pollinators were there as well.

Hydrangea 'Quick Fire'
This is a great panicle Hydrangea. This plant has taken the place of 'Pink Diamond' in our catalog. We did this because of the sizes are comparable and 'Quick Fire' blooms earlier. It is already showing the pink aging that gives Quick Fire its name. Other Hydrangea paniculata in the landscape are just starting to flower.

Monarda 'Raspberry Wine'
This is an oldie but goodie. It is like a beacon in the Piet Oudolf garden. It replaced some Monarda that we didn't carry that had died. Good reason not to carry it right? But this one is bright and bold. It can be paired with Perovskia for a nice combination or it can be in the back of the border with Salvia or Achillea fronting it.

Acanthus spinosus
For three years, I've wondered if I should take this plant out of the landscape. The foliage has been there, but it never flowered. When I got back, I was amazed to see that it had two large flower stalks. What an exciting plant. Though I think of it more as a novelty for the upper Midwest, it surely is nice. If you have time to wait three to four years for flowers, try Bear's breeches.

Dianthus 'Raspberry Swirl'
There are many different Dianthus flooding the market as we speak. We would like to know your interest. Do plants like this excite you? Do you find it easy to use them in landscape designs. Is the fact that they are drought tolerant a benefit that you see or are most of your jobs irrigated? These are many of our questions that we'd love you to answer by emailing us at mgplanttrials@gmail.com

Coreopsis 'Red Shift'
The new Coreopsis hitting the market are definitely interesting. Whether you are interested positively is the question. This is a highly regarded Coreopsis that we are now trialing in production. This plant was at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It starts a creamy color and shifts to the red you see here. What do you think?

Spigelia marilandica
This is a plant native the the eastern portion of the continent. It is still questionably hardy for our zone 5 gardens. These are plants again at the Chicago Botanic Garden which I will be looking for next year. They are quite the curiosity. As the Earth changes, plants like this may become more valuable for this area. While I know it has been a cool summer so far, the climate is definately changing.
Echinacea 'Coconut Lime'
Not your mothers Echinacea eh? And no, I didn't go to Canada for the honeymoon, I just like saying eh. This one has performed much better than expected in the landscape. It is blooming with very large flowers and exceptionally clean foliage. I'll watch the foliage this year to see if that continues.

Echinacea 'Tiki Torch'
I've been waiting patiently for this plant. When I saw it the other day in bloom, I was impressed. The orange flowers are truly unique to any of the other orange coneflowers on the market. This was a young plant at the Botanic Garden. The best news is, we have these available starting the 13th of July. These have not yet been tested in our landscape, but they will be going in shortly.

Stachys minima
When you look on the Royal Horticultural Society's website, you will not find Stachys minima. What does that mean? It is not a universally accepted nomenclature for this plant. However, this is how we found the plant and the name truly describes what you get. A real dwarf betony. These are just phenomenal right now. They would look great paired with Leucanthemum 'Snowcap' to give you a disc shaped flower with these spikes.

Piet Oudolf designed garden:
This part of the garden is mostly inspired by Piet. The plantings here were designed by Roy Diblik and myself. We decided that the Allium sphaerocephalum would look really good with the Schizachyrium 'Carousel' and the Echinacea paradoxa. I never would have thought it would look as good as it does. This combination looks great late into the season as the Carousel will change colors and flower and the Allium will be more of a structural plant than the beauty you see here. But everyone likes little spheres floating in the air right?

One more piece of trivia for the day. I spent time at the Chicago Botanic Garden this week with the group Perennials in Focus. You'll find out more about that at a later time. But we met with Dr. Jim Ault, breeder of the Echinacea Meadowbrite series as well as the Prairieblues Baptisias. He was asked why he doesn't use Echinacea pallida in his breeding. I didn't ask the question, but I had always wondered the answer. The reasoning is because E. pallida is a natural tetraploid, which means, somewhere along the line it evolved from other plants. Therefore there are not the right amount of chromosomes for him to hybridize with it. I thought it was interesting enough to pass along.

It's great being back and communicating with all of you. Thanks for keeping up with us. Until next time, have a great day!