JoAnne Skelly: Chicago garden inspires awe and wonderful ideas

Last week I wrote about noticing hardscaping in a landscape before I see the flowers. However, I just returned from a visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden and proved myself wrong. The flowers were stunning. I have never seen mums that looked like those at the Garden. They had them planted in towers, in hanging balls 5 feet across and hanging from trellises. They were everywhere in every hue. It was amazing.

Another wonderful idea from the Garden that we all can do at home is mix edible plants in with ornamental plants or to use edible plants, primarily vegetables, as ornamentals. Pots were filled with cabbages and deep burgundy kale with alyssum scattered throughout. Terraces next to a pond had borders of parsley, rainbow chard and red spinach. Red polka-dotted sorrel from the buckwheat family added an eye-catching twist to a bed. A purple millet stood tall in front of a wall of grapes. Huge dinosaur kale plants anchored a bed of English boxwood.

Hardscape did still catch my eye. The Japanese garden inspired me with its “dry garden” of tiny raked gravel with intermittent boulders creating an abstraction of nature. “Smooth gravel represents calm water, while ripples (in the gravel) suggest waves breaking on a shore.” Another fascinating concept was “Weathered Beauty.” The idea that “age and the patina of wear are revered in Japan, even a young tree can have the appearance of old age through the arts of pruning (creating an S-curved trunk), wiring (the weighted look of an old branch) and candling (prohibiting growth).”

The Garden follows organic practices conserving bees and other pollinators, and promoting soil health with compost and mulch. So, when I saw a man spraying with a backpack sprayer, I asked him what he was spraying. It was rabbit control. The rabbits love all the kales, cabbages and other edible plants. We aren’t the only ones with critter issues!

The Garden covers 385 acres with 26 theme gardens, four natural areas, 81 acres of water with beautiful fountains and waterfalls and nine islands. And, while the flowers and plants were spectacular, I certainly noticed the beautiful trellises, living walls, use of stonework and sitting areas. Every gardener needs the inspiration of a visit to an outstanding garden from time to time. It is chicken soup for the gardener’s soul.

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JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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