Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Lurie Garden in Fall

Toad lillies in the Lurie Garden
Toad lilies in the Lurie Garden

The greens of summer have faded at the Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago, replaced by splashes of yellow, gold and various shades of brown. Yet, despite the shorter days and near-freezing temperatures at night, there's still plenty to see.

The toad lilies (Tricyrtis 'Tojen'), with their delicate spotted orchid-like flowers, are a delight. You'll also find Japanese anemones (Anemone hupehensis 'Praecox') backed by goldenrod (Solidago 'Fireworks') along the garden's easternmost edge.

And what would any respectable garden be without a few purple asters? There's the tatarian aster (Aster tartaricus 'Jindai') reaching for the skies and the much lower 'October Skies' (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium).

Asters in the Lurie Garden

Over on the other side of the boardwalk, several plants are sporadically reblooming – including the salvia that creates the garden’s famous “River” in early summer. A few coneflowers (Echinacea ssp.) can be found hiding here and there. Hyssop (Agastache rupestris) and calamint (Calamintha nepeta var. nepeta) have fewer flowers than at the height of summer but still look pretty good.

You'll also see some unusual seedheads popping up everywhere in the calamint. According to the garden's horticulturalist, Laura Ekasetya, these are bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii), a native Illinois prairie plant.

Bottle Gentian
Bottle gentian seedheads in the calamint

Bottle gentian generally blooms a brilliant blue in late September, although it was a month early this year, she reported. This plant is unusual in that it takes seven years to go from seed to bloom. Now that the garden is in its eighth year, visitors will be seeing more bottle gentian in the future.

Of course, the garden's ornamental grasses are in their full glory, seed heads waving proudly in the wind off nearby Lake Michigan. The northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) especially rustle in a stiff breeze. These will eventually come to dominate the garden during the winter, but for now they are content to bide their time.

The amount of life still left in this garden surprised me last weekend. My suburban Zone 5 garden is all but finished for the season. If I needed any reminder that downtown Chicago was switched to Zone 6 in the recent revision of the USDA's plant hardiness map, I certainly got it.
I have now visited and photographed this garden, designed by famed Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf and built over a parking garage, in all four seasons. It's been amazing each time. I'm always impressed by how a garden of this size and beauty is maintained with no chemicals using mostly volunteer labor. It shows no ill effects from this year's drought.

You hear a lot about sustainability these days. This garden is living proof it can be done. It gives me something to aspire to in my own, much more modest garden.

To see the Lurie Garden in other seasons, please click on one of the links below.

                             Winter                 Spring               Summer

By Karen Geisler

Lurie Garden in fall with amsonia


Amsonia allium miscanthus Lurie Garden
Amsonia 'Blue Ice' with Allium 'Summer Beauty' in front and common eulalia grass
 (Miscanthus sinensis 'Malepartus) at left back.

Arkansas bluestar Lurie Garden
Arkansas bluestar

Northern sea oats Lurie Garden
Northern sea oats

Japanese anemone goldenrod Lurie Garden
Japanese anemones with goldenrod in the background

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Ghoulish Garden

Mums, Obsidian heuchera and orange pansies

Is Halloween your favorite holiday? Worn out your copy of the "Little Shop of Horrors?" Then you may need a ghoulish garden.

Ask yourself, what would Morticia plant? Lily Munster? Or Elvira, Mistress of the Dark? Surely not anything ordinary, something cheery like daisies. No, any of these witchy women would brew up something wonderfully wicked.

Caroline Jones as Morticia
Photo: Gregg's Shock Theater

The most obvious choice is one with bite -- a carnivorous plant like a Venus fly trap.

Who can forget Audrey II in the "Little Shop of Horrors" yelling “Feed Me"?  Or Morticia’s special relationship with her “African Strangler,” Cleopatra?

Unfortunately, these along with a number of other plants like Dracula orchid, Voodoo Lily (Amorphophallus) and Bat Flower (Tacca chantrieri) can't survive Chicago winters outside. But there are lots of other ways to spook-ify your garden.
Thankfully, black seems to be the “in” color lately when it comes to flowers.  There are now black pansies, tulips, coral bells, hollyhocks, iris, dahlias and petunias -- just to name a few.

Well, they’re actually more of a deep purple or deep red for the most part, but why be picky?  They are the closest plant breeders have come so far and a lot depends on the light in which they are viewed.

Using black in the landscape can be a bit tricky although it’s a treat when done right. You need some contrast so the black doesn’t just fade into the background. White or gray foliage – think full moon -- generally works well in that regard.

Try Ghost Japanese painted fern (Athyrium 'Ghost') with its silver foliage or a Ghost hosta if you have some shade. Artemisia, sometimes called wormwood, is good in full sun. For a punch of color, add something like Orange Meadowbrite ™ coneflower (Echinacea ‘Art’s Pride’) or Blackberry Lily (Belamcanda chinensis) which has great seed pods in the fall.

Bela Lugosi daylily
Bela Lugosi daylily

If you’d like a more varied palette, there are a number of haunted hemerocallis. Bela Lugosi daylily has a special place in my garden, for instance, because of my husband’s love of horror movies. There’s even a Lily Munster daylily. (For a more complete list, visit The Haunted Gardens blog by clicking here.)

Black and orange pansies
Orange and black pansies are a classic.

You could take a cue from Gomez Addams, Morticia's husband, who grew roses (for the thorns), hemlock and hen’s bane (for their toxicity) and poison ivy.  My advice though, is to stick with something like witchhazel (Hamamelis ssp.) for its brilliant fall colors or Ghost ™ weigela (Weigela florida  'Carlton') which has foliage that starts out green and turns a butter yellow as the season progresses. Both are pretty and won’t get you in as much trouble with the neighbors.
Of course, the biggest problem with a ghoulish garden is that the Midwest's weather is so unpredictable around Halloween. Your best bet may be orange and black pansies as they can take some cold temperatures.

In the photo above, I used them with Graceful Grasses® Vertigo® pearl millet (Pennisetum purpureum) (named after the famous Alfred Hitchcock thriller no doubt) and some 'Bronzilla' sedge (Carex flagelifera). Obsidian coral bells, the blackest Heuchera, is shown in the container at the very top. You also could add some pumpkins or dead branches with spider webs just before the Big Night.
If you need something even spookier, consider a gargoyle or mythical winged creature of some sort. Still want more? I've actually spotted several zombie garden gnomes on the Web. You can't get much more horrific than that.

By Karen Geisler

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Hushed October Morning

by Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.

O hushed October morning mild
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.

Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.

Slow, slow!
For the grape's sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost --
For the grapes' sake along the wall.

Robert Frost is one of my favorite poets and I especially like this poem. Rain and wind these past two days have spirited away much of the fall color but the memories remain. Happy Autumn!

By Karen Geisler

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Gardener in the Dells

Wisconsin Dells – “The Waterpark Capital of the World!®” -- isn’t exactly a gardening hot spot. Look past all the resorts, roller coasters and go-karts, though, and you’ll find lots of natural beauty. That’s especially true this time of year when Mother Nature uses her paint brush to dot the landscape with splashes of yellow, gold and orange.

It was the rough, sculpted nature of the Wisconsin River’s banks that originally drew tourists to this area way back in the mid 1850’s. The cliffs are made of sandstone formed in the Cambrian period more than 500 million years ago and were shaped when a large ice dam broke on a glacial lake about 14,000 years ago.

The view from our tour boat

The only way to properly enjoy the scenery is by boat, kayak or canoe. My husband, teenage son and I explored the Upper Dells, the area north of the Kilbourn Dam, during Columbus Day weekend with a two-hour boat tour.

It wasn’t cheap (more than $20 apiece), but the views were as spectacular as my husband and I remembered from more than 35 years ago. This time, of course, we got to share the adventure with our son.

Blackhawk Rock

While the maples had already finished their fall show, the oaks were just starting to turn. We loved the deep, narrow “Witches Gulch” and its towering cliffs decorated with ferns and fallen leaves. There also was Blackhawk Rock, which looks like the profile of a famous Native American chief, as well as Standing Rock, where a German Shepherd dog jumps to a freestanding "chimney" of rock and then back.

The shore retains its wild, untamed look. That's because hundreds of acres were bought in the 1920s and 30s by local entrepreneur George Crandall who felt that no man should own the Dells, that it should be preserved forever in its natural state. Crandall replaced thousands of trees cut down during early development and tore down buildings. His heirs eventually donated the land to the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and it is now owned by the state’s Department of Natural Resources with limited access.

Kayaks on the Wisconsin River

By contrast, the rest of the Dells is very commercialized. Resorts, hotels and vacation rental properties line every inch of available shoreline. There are few public beaches. Many visitors seldom leave their water park hotels and, if they do, it’s often to visit the local outlet mall or a Native American casino.

That's really a shame as the Dells' natural beauty deserves to be appreciated more. So, if you go, be sure to set aside some time for the river. It will be there waiting patiently for you and future generations to enjoy.

Stand Rock

In Witches Gulch

A final look before heading back to the dock

By Karen Geisler