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, September 25, 2009

The Conservation Foundation

Hello all,
A group of Midwest Groundcovers people went to The Conservation Foundation this week. We were given a nice tour by Jim Kleinwachter of the facility along with a lot of historical information on the site. It was quite fascinating to see one of the first dishwashers in the kitchen of the historical building. It only had and on/off button. Take a look at your dishwasher, if you have one, and see how many buttons it has! Anyways, if you have the opportunity, Jim is a wealth of information and very interesting to visit. Here are some pictures of the day.
The garden in front of us in this picture has what Jim calls his "A-list" natives. Plants like Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Liatris and Sporobolus reside here and are of the sort that the homeowner is comfortable with. If we can start with the "A-list", and then start to mingle in some of the companion natives like Ruellia and Pycnanthemum, we can get to a point where natives become common plants. Like they should be and some, like the A-list have already become.
Another view of the garden here, where the Sporobolus hovers over the path. The essential oils of this plant made my legs smell like cilantro all day. A welcome smell to me. To some, not so much. If you read last week's blog, then this is a path where people may not walk because the plants are there for the touching. More on that at the end.
Solidago caesia
I'm always excited when I can't identify a plant. I've seen many Solidago in my lifetime, and I can have trouble differentiating them. But this one, I've never encountered. The blue leaved goldenrod was very bright and showy on this day. Something I'd consider for our product line. I'll see if I can get some for our landscape to see if it is one of those seedy Solidagos.
Liatris scariosa
I was pleasantly surprised by this plant. The flowers were very robust. When told this was Liatris scariosa, I was pleasantly surprised. I was once told that the Liatris that we call L. aspera, was really L. scariosa, and now I know that we were correct!!! They are very different. Anyways, this was frequented by many an insect. In this picture, if blown up, you'll see at least three different organisms enjoying it's sweet nectar.
Stylophorum diphyllum
I was very surprised to see this beauty in bloom. Typically, Celandine poppies are blooming in spring. If soils dry, it typically would go dormant. But here it was, blooming and looking quite clean for the time of year. Maybe it was because it was in the children's garden. There were a good number of annuals in there that most likely require some water. My guess is this little guy gets the occasional shower.
Hibiscus moscheutos
I have to admit to not liking most Hibiscus. But there is something about going into a natural area and knowing that this really is a native. Wow! There were many plants in bloom this day, most having a white center. I had to climb through the plants to get this view, and it was worth it. Beside it, were the remains of a cut down purple loose strife. I'd much rather see the Hibiscus!
Nymphoides peltata
This was the plant that truly stumped me. It took some looking around to finally identify it. The common name is "Floating Hearts", which I find to be sort of nice. I'm not the common name kind of guy, but I could see sending a floating heart to my wife! That sounds so nice. What is really nice is that this is a native plant as well. What a beauty!
I received a couple differing views on why people were not touching the plants at Millennium Park. One thought was that people's skins are more sensitive to different things. I did not realize that Zizia could cause burning on your skin. Maybe the people are afraid of any allergic reaction they may have to the plant. Another person disagreed entirely, and this is what they wrote;
Assuming most of the visitors were landscape architects…I believe they were observing the Lurie garden as a piece of artwork. A creation on display to be appreciated as one appreciates art. And with the Art Institute now stretching it’s arms out into Millennium Park…who could resist the subliminal parallel with art. Of course, when one appreciates art in a museum, one cannot touch it – or only so in very rare instances. It is most respectful to keep one’s distance. Landscape Architects are an artful group of people and often a gentle and very respectful group of people. I don’t think the reasons you pondered about why they wouldn’t touch the plants were at all what was in their minds. I think the art on display model is more accurate. Their lack of plant touching was showing their respect for the creation they were appreciating. Make sense? It is an interesting observation, and perhaps LA’s need to be specifically welcomed to enter the work of art and touch it… As a landscape architect nursery person, I very often touch plants as part of my appreciation of them and derive much pleasure from it…I think most LA’s just need a push and they will delight in the ‘FEEL’ of plants!
While not everyone that I was watching was a landscape architect, it does bring up some interesting points. Truth is, everyone probably had a different reason for not wanting to touch the plants. But the bottom line is, the "FEEL" of plants that was mentioned above, can do a lot for ones' soul and should be explored more often.
Thanks again for reading. I'll be going to Michigan next week, so I'll be able to see some of the trial plants that I've yet to install. I'll bring back some photos from our nursery over there. Until next time, have a great day!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Lurie Garden at Millenium Park

Good day everyone,
Last Friday, I had the great pleasure of accompanying Roy Diblik at the Lurie Garden in Chicago. This garden never ceases to amaze me. There was so much to photograph this day and so little time to write about it. So here goes!

Here is Roy Diblik talking with a group of people from the ASLA touring the grounds. Each group had very good questions. The speaker is always interesting when it is Roy! It's always fun to see the groups listening to him. Even when event coordinators were trying to move the group along, everyone waited in line to talk with him. Even if they miss the next presenter, they were still waiting for Roy. And if Roy was still there today, I bet he'd have a line.

Agastache 'Blue Fortune'
I remember when everyone was afraid that this plant wasn't hardy. I was one of the skeptics. But now, it grows everywhere. It does not require the drainage of the next plant, which is also an Agastache, so it does great in most any Midwest landscape. A really wet area may not be appreciated. Butterflies love it, and so do I. The anise scented foliage reminds me of small hardy candy I was given as a child.

Agastache rupestris
This is an Agastache you only want to plant if you have great drainage. I can't believe it lives at the Lurie Garden, but they do have excellent drainage. And it is a green roof, so that should help. Typically this is a plant that excels in the west. It is an interesting color, and if breeders want to keep trying, I'm sure the Chicagoland public would welcome this plant or something similar that would do well here. Yes, that's a challenge!
Parthenium integrifolium
A new addition to the Lurie Garden is Parthenium. It really shows up when you look at the garden as a whole. I tried to show it here with Panicum 'Shenendoah' behind it to give you an example of how nice it looks with a reddish background. Other then weedy asters, there isn't much in the landscape this time of year with clean white flowers. This shines like a beacon in a landscape covered with the colors of fall.

Anemone 'Konigan Charlotte'
'Queen Charlotte' for those who do not speak German. I have a real hard time not writing about at least one Anemone this time of year. Also blooming in the garden were 'September Charm', 'Praecox', 'Honorine Jobert', and 'Pamina'. What a sight to see.

Heuchera villosa 'Autumn Bride'
If there were a vote for the most underutilized plants for the landscape, 'Autumn Bride' would definitely get some votes. Look at how nice these plants look in late September! The foliage is very clean and the flowers are mighty attractive. This is in most day sun, but it can handle just about anything you throw at it.

Gentiana andrewsii
Okay, I was very excited two weeks ago to show you the picture of the Gentian in our landscape, and then I go to Millennium Park here where it is prolific. Here, it doesn't act like a plant that is difficult to grow. In fact, there had to be close to 100 plants thriving in the garden. It really catches your eye. Here it is combined with Sporobolus(Prairie Dropseed) and Amsonia hubrichtii(Narrowleaf Blue Star) with a little Origanum sneaking itself into the picture.

Scutellaria incana
We tried to grow this plant as well for a little while with little success. When I see the seed heads of this plant, I wonder why more people don't ask for it. They are cup shaped, which has given it the common name of Skullcap. Maybe that's why more people don't ask for it. Who wants a skullcap? What people may have wanted was the fact that mammals don't eat the plant because it doesn't taste good. This is especially good for a garden that is loaded with rabbits. I saw three small ones playing together at the end of the day.

Pycnanthemum virginianum w/ honeybees
This is a plant that I didn't see a use for just three years ago. I was asked to plant it in our landscape and did. I'm so glad I've been able to enjoy it's beauty. On this day at Millennium Park, it was swarming with honeybees. If you click on the picture to make it bigger, you can see a small swarm of two bees. I really like the gray, hairy foliage and the scent of the plants when crushed. The common name describes the smell of the plant best; Mountain Mint.

Molinia 'Transparent'
Who wouldn't like this plant? Unfortunately a lot of you don't. We don't sell much of this. But it is truly a gem. This is one of the best shots I could get. A difficult plant to photograph because of it's transparent seed heads, but I found the way. The city in the background with a blue sky. Brilliant! Think of this as the ultimate separator of a landscape. Place this where you would want people to be interested in what's around the corner. It creates a screen, but not a view blocking screen. Perfect for the fence near the neighbor that you don't want to talk to, but you also don't want to completely shield because your kid plays with their kids.
Salvia azureus w/ Monarch
Not a plant I think Midwest Groundcovers would grow, but I thought the picture was nice. He only would pose for me for the briefest of moments. The Salvia is a nice plant, but not quite like your brothers Salvia. These were 4' tall and a little wispy. They looked great scattered around the landscape in groups of three, but a specimen, it is not.

I leave you today with a couple of garden shots. It is hard to believe that such a garden could be as successful as this one in the heart of a city. Chicago is very lucky to have such a great landmark. For a short time, I was able to people watch around the garden. I was surprised to see people's reaction to the garden. Did they appreciate it? What are they feeling?

The one thing I noticed most, was that almost all the people were afraid to touch the plants. I find it very rewarding and interesting to walk a path with my hand out and feel the different textures of grasses and Agastache and all the other great plants. Why would these people feel differently? I mentioned this to Roy and he recalls seeing people at his place walking a path and looking around the tall grass along his path rather than walking through it. It would only take a quick brush with a hand to move them out of the way. In the process, that person would then know more about that plant and maybe even have a better connection to it. So why are people afraid to touch plants? Is it because we give ownership to the site and we've been cultured to not touch other peoples property? Is it because people really are afraid of plants? Maybe they get poison ivy really bad, and they don't know what will give them a rash and what won't? I'm not sure. If you are one that walks the garden without touching the plants and have a good reason why, I'd love to hear it. Email me at mgplanttrials@gmail.com and I'll post any really good reasons why you wouldn't touch a plant. Thanks again for reading and until next time, have a great day!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fall Colors

Hello again,
This is the 75th posting on this blog. Wow has it come a long way. We've had guest bloggers, but most of this has been in my words. If you are a loyal reader, I hope I have not bored you. We'd play with the idea of having more guest bloggers if the requests were there. So, if you are looking for more insect and disease information, or you want more design philosophies, let me know and we'll arrange for that to happen. I just want to be able to post number 100! That will be exciting! At the current rate, that will be towards the end of February or beginning of March! If you read last weeks post, you'll know that by that time, my anticipation will be running at full speed! So this time around, I'm noticing a lot of fall colors out there. Asters are beginning to bloom. Or should I call them Symphiotrichon. Nah, I shouldn't. They are asters after all. We have a botanic name that everyone knows and then we want to make it more difficult. Aster will be just a common name in a few years. Such a shame.
Polemonium reptans
I get a lot of questions from designers and architects about natives for the shade that do not go dormant like the ephemerals do. Here is a great example of a plant still looking superb right now. Jacob's Ladder. For those of you that have had trouble with the variegated ones. Fear not. This is a durable native that will do well in the shade.

Heuchera 'Tiramisu'
Tiramisu is starting to develop its fall color. The red veining is visible and it is stunning. The rest of the year the plant has been chartreuse with a silver overlay, but when the temperatures are cold, this is what you get!

Tricyrtis 'Samurai'
I have this in full sun, but they are typically very nice in shade as well. This plant is an oldie, but can you see all the flower buds on it?!? 'Samurai' is a spotted flower type of Toadlily, but it's main claim to fame is its foliage. The edges are a sharp yellow line like someone meticulously painted them on the side.

Thuja 'Linesville'
Such a unique plant this is. I've been told that this is the original name for the plant which was later patented as "Mr Bowling Ball". I prefer 'Linesville'. The foliage is bluish-gray and very soft to touch. The largest plant in our landscape is 30" tall and 4' wide. She is a beauty. I just haven't been able to get to her before the sun does. As soon as the sun is out, she doesn't like to be photographed anymore. It's so selfish.
Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies'
This has to be the earliest I've ever seen this plant in bloom. I hope some of the other late blooming asters, like 'Jin Dai' start to bloom earlier than normal! These make a nice hedge along the front of our perennial island. And if you have not been on a tour here at Midwest, the foliage is very much scented like patchouli.

This is from a yet to be named plant that Chicagoland Grows is hopefully going to introduce. The plants still look spectacular, months after the other Echinacea faded away. One person mentioned that he thought the right name for the plant was 'Eye Opener'. I like that.

Callicarpa CG07-004
Another plant being developed by Chicagoland Grows. They have two that are in the works. I like this one. Pinks and yellows in fall. The veins are turning pink on the yellow foliage which is also stunning. They are still flowering at the top of the plant. The flowers are small and baby pink, and the fruit is starting to develop on the bottom part of the plant. The fruit is a grape-purple. Very nice. I'm looking forward to the entire fruit display. I'll show that once it is here.
Euphorbia 'First Blush'
This is solely in the trial stages for us. I didn't think it would make it through the winter, but here it is. The pink highlights are very nice with the white and green variegated foliage. The plants are in a predominantly shady area, but they still look nice. Only 6-8" tall, I'd like to see how it comes out of it's second winter.

Rubus calycinoides
This is a very interesting new groundcover that we are selling. It comes in flats of 12. Really nice green foliage all summer proceeds orange and red fall color. The fruits are an amber color and are edible. I have yet to try one, but I am interested every time I see it. The birds or rodents got to them this year, but next year I might get a little more gutsy.

Solidago 'Fireworks'
This is one of my favorite plants. It has been for years. Once I got over my fear of all things Solidago, I really have grown to like the genus and many of its cultivars. This one in particular looks great in most every place I've seen it. In a container would be the only time I didn't like it as much. It does get naked legs like most things in the aster family, but with something short in front of it, like a Flower Carpet Rose or Geranium 'Brookside' would be nice.

Once again, it is truly my pleasure to get to talk and/or write to you all about plants. It has been my passion for 11 years and I plan on it being a passion for much longer than 11 more years. Until next time, have a great day! And buy some plants!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Labor Day Week!

Hello all,
It's always great having a short work week. But it usually means there is more to do on Tuesday when we get back. Either way, those three days off are welcome and can come back whenever they please. This week was particularly interesting for me, because we hosted our first ever Landscape Contractor Day. Attendance wasn't great, but the group that did come was fantastic.
The day started off with Jim Kleinwachter from Conservation Foundation, followed by Auggie Rodriguez from Unilock and presentations from Midwest Groundcovers staff on our recycling program(at left) with Catalino Mendoza, Stan Schumacher talked about PP&O Nursery who grows trees that we sell for pick up customers, and myself doing a landscape walk. Overall, I hope those that came, walked away more informed. Thanks to those of you who were here, and to the people that were not, I hope to see you the next time!
Centranthus ruber 'Coccineus'
Thanks go to Martie Brennan for teaching me about this plant a couple years ago. The color is very different than anything else blooming at this time, and the foliage still looks very clean. A nice landscape plant that can be paired with Geranium 'Jolly Bee' or Sesleria autumnalis.

Anemone 'Honorine Jobert'
Who doesn't like white Anemones. I used to think that they were a fairly boring bunch. I even once said, "It's just an Anemone!" Well, Dave Meyer put me in my place, and today I love these plants. 'Honorine Jobert', 'Pamina' and 'September Charm' are all fall flowering Anemones I would recommend for any gardener. They are a great, cheery fall surprise.

And then the fog rolls in!
Many mornings in the past month it has been very foggy coming into work. I've either not had my camera with me, or the mornings have been too busy to take pictures. This morning, I came in early hoping to get a couple of good shots. I think I did alright! Both pictures take place in the Piet Oudolf designed garden. This one has a beautiful grouping of Calamagrostis brachytricha, otherwise known as Korean Feather Reed Grass in common circles.
In this picture, Hydrangea 'Limelight' in a large container is in the foreground with Panicum 'Dallas Blues' and many others in the background. I just love the fog in the morning. In another setting, this could be spooky, but at Midwest Groundcovers, it is very peaceful.

One of my favorite parts of winter is the anticipation of spring. I think I look at more plant catalogs in winter than any other time of the year. I know there are a lot of you that don't like winter and wish summer could stay forever, but the anticipation of the first Hamamelis vernalis(Witchhazel) to bloom is so exciting that I couldn't live without it. Well, I found a couple things that almost rival the anticipation I feel for spring.
Allium 'Ozawa'
This would be a plant that I have been watching for several weeks now. The more time that passes, the more interesting the plant becomes. I just can't wait for the flowers to pop open and display their bright pinks! I'll show a picture once they do open. This plant is nice because it does reseed, but it's so small and blooms at such a unique time, that it can wander through your garden and be a very welcome visitor. The rabbits don't like her either.

Gentiana andrewsii
This plant I can wait all year for. It is the most exciting thing to me in the landscape here at St Charles. I enjoy seeing it in the wild as much if not more, but it is fun to watch this come out from under the Salix purpurea 'Nana' in our landscape. Every year I get to show him off, and every year there are oohs and aahs. My favorite story to tell about this plant is about the pollination of it. Bumblebees are the primary insect that works with these plants. The top of the plant does not open so that smaller insects that don't have as much success cannot get in. The bumblebee knows when the flower is done with pollen when the tips of the flowers go from purple to white. When they are white, they have been cleaned out. That is quite interesting isn't it?

Anticipation and nervousness are very similar. I tell my wife when she gets nervous to turn the nerves into positive anticipation and everything will be alright! It doesn't always work, but..... Anyways, I hope you enjoyed this weeks column. Until next time, have a great day!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Grass seed

It's a great day to show off some seeds! The best way to identify one grass genus from another is to look at the seeds. That is how they separated the Schizachyrium from the Andropogon. The seeds are clearly different! Here are a few samples.
Sporobolus heterolepis
These are the most unique because of the fragrance emitted from the seed heads. The oils from this plant are reminiscent of buttered popcorn, or in my opinion it is more like cilantro. They create this nice airy appearance that works well with many other perennials.

Schizachyrium scoparium
Another native grass, that looks much different from the first. These seed heads are hairy in appearance. In the right sunlight, they glow white. Mixed with the various colors of the foliage in fall, these are quite the texture plant.

Andropogon gerardii
This one also gets some of the hairy appearance that little blue stem gets, but the seed head is arranged differently. On close inspection, they look much like their other common name, a turkey foot. They are typically much darker in color and have orange flowers that dangle gently as they first emerge.

Bouteloua curtipendula
This one is called side oats grama. I've not figured out what a grama is. It's definitely not like my parents parents. And I don't think it has anything to do with the India government. But, the side oats part makes sense. As you can see, the seeds all sit on one side of the stem and make for an elegant grass. These grow around 24" tall and 30" wide in our landscape.

Sorghastrum nutans
Of the native grasses, I think there are none more beautiful than Indian Grass. For a couple days, the yellow blooms are quite a show. But you have to see them those couple of days or they are gone. Even after bloom, the seed head takes on this goldish tone and looks brilliant en masse.

Panicum virgatum
As you can see, the seed heads of switch grass can be very colorful. There are varieties of switch grass with yellowish seed heads as well. Varieties like Panicum 'Northwind' are like that. The pictured plant is from P. 'Shenendoah' which is touted as one of the best reds.

Panicum amarum
This type has very long panicles. In the landscape at Midwest Groundcovers, the panicles reach 3' and lean over to grab you. They like a little support to keep them up. The seeds are creamy white with little black flowers. It will reseed readily in wet areas. This is a native to the east coast.

Pennisetum alopecuroides
Pictured is 'Piglet' which has been a phenomenal performer by the way. These are some of the easiest to identify because they are very interesting. It's hard to walk by fountain grass and not grab a hold. Typically emerging darker and fading to a straw yellow color.

Calamagrostis x acutifolia
These are Karl Foersters of course. One of the other most recognizable grasses. What sets these apart is their early spring bloom. These have the greatest longevity of seed head if you are really looking for that. They originally emerge pinkish-green and then fade to brown.

Miscanthus sinensis
There are many faces to Miscanthus sinensis. In our landscape, there seems to be more by the day. We have a unique situation where we have many different varieties of maiden grasses and together they set seeds. All of these pictured are of seedlings not originally intended for the landscape. Some are more beautiful than others, yet we are about to take them out. I have more seedlings than I do plants that were intended for the area. One even came up that was fine textured like Miscanthus 'Gracillimus' but with fall color greater than 'Purpurascens' or 'Autumn Red'.
As you can see, there is a great world of grasses on the market for you. I've just touched on a few. I deleted photos of Deschampsia and Molinia to go with what I have here. Not to mention, Sesleria, Carex, and Festuca just to name a few. And the variations within a species and genus can be tremendous. Miscanthus 'Gracillimus' hardly flowers in our climate, but M. 'Silberfeder' is a perennial stunner! Panicum, Molinia, and Miscanthus are often selected solely on the flowers.
I hope you have enjoyed the grasses this week. Thanks again for taking the time to read about them. I hope I can entertain and educate at the same time. Until next time, have a great day!