Saturday, August 31, 2013

Show Me

Working in a retail garden center often provides, shall we say, unique experiences. One of the fun ones is attending the Independent Garden Center (IGC) Show at Navy Pier each August. This is a national show that draws an international audience, and features what's new, and hopefully, what our customers want for their homes and gardens. Speaking of international, it was nice of Aussie HGTV star Jamie Durie to stop me and say, "Tony, how are you, mate?" Makes me wish I had an accent.

Based solely on the numbers of booths dedicated to fairy (or to be more p.c., miniature) gardening, air plants and garden "art" one could conclude these are still strong trends. From my perspective, here are a few show favorites:

Seed Savers Exchange is dedicated to the premise that genetic diversity and keeping historic varieties from extinction is an important mission. The organization is 37 years old so it is well ahead of the curve on the "heirlooms are cool" trend. SSE offers 600 open-pollinated (non-hybrid) veggie, herb and flower varieties, which includes 300 certified organic varieties. 'Bull's Blood' beet, 'Amish Deer Tongue' lettuce, 'Lazy Housewife' beans and 'Mortgage Lifter' tomato (Can you imagine the story connected with that?) surely give you a sense of the history behind their purpose. Remember, this is just the time to think about cool season veggies. Why not wring another crop out of your unused garden space?

Seed Savers Exchange

Drift roses from Star are an alternative to the Flower Carpet ground cover roses. From the company that brought us the Knockout series, Star Roses has given us another series of dependable, disease resistant, winter hardy, virtually maintenance-free roses. Flower size is about 1 3/4" diameter, in clusters, in seven colors that include apricot, peach, pink and red. Established plants reach 2-3' wide and 18" tall due to the fact that they're the product of crossing miniatures with other ground cover tpye roses. They're so worth considering for your garden. I just planted some Peach Drifts myself.

Drift roses

Women should love, and own, the Hers shovel-spade. What a smart idea. Someone (yes, of course, a woman) recognized that mens' and womens' strength comes from different areas. Men use their torsos and arms, while ladies use their lower body. Therefore, the tools we use should accommodate those differences. They call it Her-gonomic. The angled blade is recycled steel. The nonslip D-grip allows you to use both hands for maximum strength and leverage. The step is enlarged and actually has a raised tread to maximize lower body strength. Guess what? That same smart someone realized that women are diferent heights, too. So, there are three different lengths for real gardening comfort. I keep thinking this would be the perfect gift for the proverbial woman who "has everything" and "digs" her garden.

Hers shovel

The DeWet Tool Company started in northern Holland in 1898 so they know a thing or two about garden tools. My favorite is the spork- a hybrid between a spade and fork. The winged, pointed tines slice through heavy clay and the ventilated head openings in the blade reduce the compaction that happens so easily in our clay soil. Their tulip trowel was the "Best Seller" at the 2011 Chelsea Flower Show. The: Dutch transplanter, perennial planter, rock 'n root trowel and corkscrew weeder give some sense, I think, that DeWet has a tool for just about every gardening task!

DeWet tools

Since we're talking gardening tradition let's not leave out the Brits. Burgon & Ball has some great new products. Now that I've reached (late) middle-age comfortable kneeling and sitting is high (and rising) on my list of priorities. Look into B & B's ultra-cushioned Kneelo knee pads and kneelers. Both have contoured forms and great colors so they're hard to misplace even in a tightly packed garden. Knees and fannies will love the reprieve.


So, there are cool new things to make your garden better and your garden tasks more enjoyable. Check into them!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On the Road to... Olbrich Botanical Gardens

I recently made my annual summer visit to Olbrich Botanical Garden in Madison, Wisconsin. While this post may read like a promotion from the Olbrich PR department -- it isn't. I'm simply a big fan of this amazing garden overlooking Lake Monona and I think you will be too.

But that's not just my opinion. In 2004, Horticulture magazine selected it as one of the 10 most inspiring American gardens. The next year, the American Association of Botanic Gardens & Arboreta selected it as their "Best Of." Agreed. Olbrich's 14 themed gardens and the terrific Bolz Conservatory sit on 16 acres. While other gardens and arboreta have the luxury of endless real estate, Olbrich proves smaller can be spectacular. Each garden room flows naturally and seamlessly into its neighbor.

Entering the garden from the main building, I always turn right toward the lake, past the gorgeous Corneliancherry Dogwood hedge and stroll through the Atrium Shade Garden. Why don't we think to use Cornus mas this way more often? The overarching Hawthorn tree gives a sense of age to the garden and creates the shade necessary for the underlying perennials. This is one of two great places at Olbrich to check out hosta cultivars (the other being the Eunice Fisher Hosta Garden) for your garden consideration.

Boxwood, Verbena bonariensis and Hakonechloa
The Sunken Garden is Olbrich’s oldest garden. It is traditional, formal and English without being stuffy. The borders in this “room” are symmetrically arranged around the 80’ long reflecting pool and its beautiful limestone terrace. The variety of perennials and shrubs are a color kaleidoscope that undoubtedly changes weekly. Thus far, I have only seen it in July or August. Each time I visit I always find great color and texture ideas to capture and plagiarize at home.

The Rock Garden is a major change in topography and plants. The combination of hardy alpine plants and dwarf conifers is an inspiration to try in your own rock garden and/or dwarf conifer collection. It’s nice to see “rock hardy” (no pun intended, really) Zone 4 & 5 plants presented in such an unexpected elevation. The sound of the rushing water nearby is a great auditory part of the whole experience.
Rock Garden
There’s always some great new twist with each visit and that’s hard to do when you have such a finite amount of terra firma. This summer the surprise was the carnivorous plant collection that I don’t remember from last summer. So cool. Where have you seen anyone in the Midwest doing that? Small space, done beautifully- just as you might expect to see the plants in their boggy habitat. As someone who admires them, I just sat and took it in for minutes. I’m sorry this photo doesn’t do justice to the charm of that little specialty garden.
Carnivorous plant garden

Then there's the Thai Pavilion, a gift to the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Built in Thailand, disassembled and packed for a seven week journey by sea to Tacoma, then by rail to Chicago, and finally to Madison by truck. Nine Thai artisans made the trip to reassemble it. That took three weeks. Yes, that's all gold leaf. Aside from the stunning architecture and uniqueness of such a structure in the Midwest, hardy plants have been selected to create the look of an Asian garden.
Thai Pavilion and Garden

I'm going on, aren't I? I haven't even mentioned my favorite feature at Olbrich. To me, the 30' prairie-style tower overlooking the 2-acre Rose Garden alone is worth the trip. It is ramp accessible for all to enjoy and affords a panoramic view of the entire garden. What a total experience for all the senses!

One view from the Rose Garden Tower 
Congratulations to everyone at Olbrich Botanical Garden. You've created an award winner packed with new plants to learn and practical ideas to implement at home. I do look forward to experiencing Olbrich's wonders in the three seasons I have seen yet.
Mama and Baby Bear Awaiting Lunch Service