Garden-Trekking with Brent
By: Brent Heath, Co-owner, Brent & Becky’s
Well, I am in heaven today. I’m here at a Perennial Plant Association meeting, and this is probably the greatest gathering in the world of plant-oriented people. I’m sitting next to the most amazing plant breeder from Walter’s Gardens, my seat-mate is the Director of Better Homes and Gardens’ display garden in Des Moines, and across from me is a wonderful gardener from Chanticleer—one of America’s best pleasure gardens, in my opinion. And that’s just to name a few! We have park directors, designers, and producers from all over the country here, too. An amazing assembly of plant people—it’s my horticultural stretch time! I’ve learned more on this trip than ever!
Anyway, we’ve been visiting gardens all over the United States over the last week and a bit, and we have been through some of the most incredible places. And since I’m having just the best time seeing some incredible sights, I thought I’d share some of those sights with you, either for inspiration or to get you out to see them for yourself!
Rough Blazing Stars on the Prairie (Liatris apsera) by Joshua Mayer
First, we saw an absolutely amazing 60-acre prairie meadow with a predominant bulb in it called Liatris. This is an incredible native American plant, which there aren’t too many of, and it’s also an amazing pollinator plant. It was interspersed with many different varieties of grasses and just created the most beautiful and natural prairie effect that you don’t see as often in our fine country anymore. It was fantastic.
"Serenity of Place" by Craig Bergmann Landscape Design, Inc.
Craig Bergmann’s Gardens
Another place we visited was Craig Bergmann’s gardens. Now, Craig is one of the most influential designers in the Chicagoland area. Without a degree or anything except a background in horticulture, he became a licensed landscape architect and probably does some of the most elegant landscapes in the country! And his garden itself is very formal and oh-so-beautiful. He weaves bulbs throughout the annuals and perennials in his yard, including our lily, Scheherazade, an oriental trumpet hybrid that had to have its tissue rescued in a lab because it would abort in nature. But after some careful tissue culturing, we were left with this amazing lily named after an amazing woman.
Anyway, he’s had this lily in his garden for 20 some years! We sent him the bulb initially as a trial years ago, and he even moved to a new garden, taking this clump of lilies with him, and he’s managed to get them to grow year after year. It was just one of the most amazing plantings I’ve ever seen of it!
Chicago City Hall Rooftop Garden by Wicker Paradise
Rooftop Gardens of Chicago
This area is garden land—Chicago itself is probably one of America’s greenest cities today. The former mayor, Mayor Daley, had an initiative to have more green rooves than anywhere else in the country and City Hall now has a roof garden that’s probably 20 acres! Now, roof gardens are subject to the elements, but most of the spring-flowering bulbs are from mountain areas and the Northern Hemisphere—so an area that gets rain in the spring and hotter and drier in the summer is ideal. And the meadow garden on City Hall is composed of perennials and grasses and bulbs! It’s incredible!
Thai Pavilion at Olbrich Botanical Gardens
Gardens of Wisconsin
Another fantastic place we visited was this plant breeder in Wisconsin named Brant Hobart, who specializes in breeding grasses and perennials and selecting the best garden-worthy plants. We also went to Olbrich Gardens in Madison—a small garden, but intensely and artistically planted. It was so wonderful to see a garden just full of artful combinations—perennials, annuals, and bulbs.
Walkway in the Rotary Botanical Gardens, Janesville, Wisconsin by James Steakley
From there, we went to another smaller garden called the Rotary Gardens. It was started by a Rotarian who envisioned a “peace garden”, raised the money, got a piece of park land, and hired an amazing plant artist who took this very small staff of only about 3 or 4 people and created a 10-acre garden with the help of 200 volunteers. It’s just filled with many, many annuals—about 2000 in total—and it’s a kaleidoscope of color, with different themes everywhere you go. And it also has this interesting yard art, too—you know, obelisks in many different colors one year and another year it’ll have a “dragonfly” theme, and there will be all these little dragonflies cut out of plywood and painted by individuals in different gardens. It’s just truly an amazing sight to see.
Northwind Perennial Farm
Northwind is another amazing perennial nursery we visited. It is filled with plants selected by Roy Diblik, a recognized plant expert, grower, and designer, who has picked out probably America’s best ornamental grass called “Northwind”, the name of his farm. He is responsible for a lot of the plantings at Millennium Park in Chicago—which is a prairie right downtown! It’s a combination of many different plants, including bulbs, the majority of which are native grown in these very artistic, but naturalistic styles that are just simply beautiful.
So, we’re seeing all these different types of gardens, whether formal or not, and just having the best time seeing all the beauty this country has to offer in its gardens! Of course, this is just a taste of it all, we’ve still got a few more places left to go, and, if you’d like, I’d be happy to share more about those with you. Just remember to get out there and enjoy it all for yourself—they only get more and more spectacular in person!
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