Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Tour of the Idea Garden for Wildflower Wednesday

It's always fun to see a familiar garden through another's eyes, and I had that opportunity this past Saturday.  Blogging friend Lisa and her sister Tena came up for a weekend visit with their cousin--and my best friend--Beckie, and as we often do with out-of-town guests, we had to make a visit to the Idea Garden.

Lisa couldn't wait to take pictures!

I've often mentioned the Idea Garden in this blog, but in case you don't know what I'm referring to, a little background is in order.  The Idea Garden was established in 1997 by a few Master Gardeners as an educational tool "to promote environmentally responsible gardening practices, to demonstrate ideas of garden planning and maintenance," and in general be a resource for the entire community. It is maintained entirely by volunteers--the county Master Gardeners group--and is funded through donations and the main MG fundraiser, the annual garden walk.

The Idea Garden is located on the far south end of the University of Illinois campus with plenty of nearby available parking (a rarity on campus!).  It is open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  I've been surprised since I first started working here just how many people come through the garden every day.  Some are just strolling through on their daily walk or on their way to another destination and stop to admire the plantings, while others come prepared with cameras in hand.  Professional photographers have used the landscape as a setting for wedding photos or children's photos.  Once, we even had a gentleman reserve it for an evening to "pop the question" to his bride-to-be!

As an educational garden, the IG is a great place for non-gardeners and gardeners alike to see a wide variety of plants that are suitable for our Zone 5b (now zone 6) area.  Even veteran gardeners are bound to find something new and unusual, such as this ornamental millet.

I.D. stakes are located by nearly every plant, so that visitors can easily take notes if they spy something unusual or a cultivar that they would like to add to their own gardens.

Oftentimes, as the garden fills in over the summer, these stakes become hidden, but if you're lucky to be there when volunteers are working, you will find someone more than willing to answer questions for you.  We were fortunate that co-chair Tracy happened to be in the South Border when we spied this unusual plant, a Cardoon. Also known as Artichoke Thistle, the Cardoon has very dramatic foliage as well as these interesting flowers.  It's hardy only to zone 7, but Tracy told us that this one--one of three original plants--actually overwintered this year. That is one of the purposes, too, of the garden--trying new plants and "pushing the envelope" sometimes to see what can survive our tough winters in order to pass along this information to local gardeners.

Usually, when I come to work in the garden, I stay in my area, the Sensory Garden, and don't get a chance to stroll through the rest of the garden. I don't make it every week, however, and so I often find something new in bloom even in my little corner of the garden.  These lilies--wouldn't you know I forgot to check the tag to see what they were--weren't even in bloom the week before.

The Idea Garden is also a showcase for trial plants that may not yet be on the market.  Seed plugs provided by Proven Winners and Ball are grown in the Parkland College greenhouses, again by local MG's. The plants' progress is closely monitored throughout the season by one of our most diligent and knowledgeable MG's, and in the fall, she publishes a list of top performers that is available on the Extension website.  I'm thinking this beautiful petunia--Flash Mob 'Bluerific'--is definitely going to be on the list! 

I'm trying to fathom how this garden began with just three energetic gardeners in charge.  Of course, the Garden has grown since then to over 15,000 square feet, and it is now divided into 12+ sections, with a co-chair or two and a team working in each section.  The Tropical Section in the back and the Theme Garden in the foreground take up the northeast quadrant of the Garden.

One of my favorite sections is the East Border.  If I wasn't so loyal to the Sensory Garden where I started as an intern, I would definitely volunteer here.  I was never a big fan of oranges and reds in the garden before, but these hot, hot colors have changed my mind.  This area is a blaze of color all season long.

Though perennials and shrubs form the backbone of the Idea Garden, the Garden is always changing.  Nowhere is this more evident this year than in the Children's garden, where a new seating area has taken center stage, drawing attention from every visitor, not just children.

Built by students in a construction class at our local community college, the pergola/bench features a living roof planted with different varieties of sweet potato vine.  The slogan on the front expresses the purpose of this area, because it truly is a place where children can play and learn about nature.

A small vegetable garden, a hoop tunnel to crawl through, lots of fun sunflowers, and of course, plants that attract butterflies are all part of this inviting area.

Notice the sandbox to the left of the Joe Pye weed.  One morning when I and another volunteer came to work, we found sand covering the walkway in our nearby area and little trucks scattered about the Sensory Garden.  Some little visitor obviously had a good time the day before:)

It would be impossible to show you every part of the Idea Garden in one post, and on this muggy Saturday morning, my mind was thinking ahead to Wildflower Wednesday this week.  Native plants play a large role in the garden and are probably one reason it is usually full of bees and butterflies.  Along with the Joe Pye weed here, coneflowers, liatris, butterfly weed, and milkweed in the previous photo are all butterfly magnets.

In the East Border tall Rudbeckia laciniata and a type of Helianthus (I think--the tags were hidden from view) provide a dramatic backdrop for the colorful display below, reaching 10 to 12 feet skyward.

Several specimens of Hypericum, or St. John's Wort, are located in different sections of the garden. Gail has featured this plant several times in her wildflower posts, and I've always admired its blooms, but the foliage is also attractive in its own right.

I also didn't realize it also featured these little berries.  I'm not sure if either of these plants are natives or cultivars, but they still are attractive to the bees . . . and unfortunately, if you look closely enough, to Japanese beetles as well.

And finally, one last image--Agastache 'Golden Jubilee,' a cultivar of the native Agastache foeniculum. The Idea Garden has a mixture of all kinds of plants from natives to exotics, but it is definitely a bee-friendly place.  If you are ever in the Champaign-Urbana area, be sure to stop by for a visit.

There are some natives blooming in my own garden, but we will save them for another day.  In the meantime, why not stop by Gail's for a look at wildflowers and natives growing in gardens across the country on this Wildflower Wednesday.

Monday, July 15, 2013


What a difference a year makes!  On last year's July Bloom Day I was praying for rain, like many of you, as we were in the middle of an extreme drought.  Plants were shriveling in the heat, and I spent little time in the garden, other than to drag around hoses and move sprinklers.  This year, however, thanks to one of the wettest Aprils on record and frequent showers all spring and into the summer, I only get out the hose every few days to water containers.  The garden is lush and green and full of blooms, and for that I am very thankful.  Since I have so many blooms to share on today's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, I'll keep the narrative short, so we can tour the garden before the thermometer reaches the 90's.  One request for all visitors, please--put your weed blinders on:)

Starting at the roadside garden, the coneflowers are in full bloom, though they're not as abundant as last year. Ironically, I suspect they've been the victim of too much rain--this area was full of standing water in early April for several days, and both the spring tulips and some of the coneflowers may have been drowned out.  Not to worry, though, I'm sure the coneflowers will be back next year.  The standing water didn't seem to bother any of the daylilies, however.  In the middle of a border of ordinary Stellas, this rogue, as I have come to call it, has gotten bigger and better.  Now if I was ambitious, I'd dig up all the Stellas and divide this one to replace them:)

Fewer coneflowers means these daylilies mistakenly planted behind them finally have a chance to command the attention they deserve.  Passalongs from my aunt, I call them 'Nettie's Corals,' and they're one of my favorites.

In one area of this garden (you still have those weed blinders on, don't you??) where I've had mixed success with different varieties of galliardia, I am really pleased this year with a stand of  Rudbeckia hirta I started indoors from seed.

According to MOBOT's website, 'Prairie Sun' can be a short-lived perennial or will re-seed itself if conditions are right.  I've never had this happen in my garden yet, but I'm more than willing to start them from seeds each year--I love these big yellow blooms with the green centers.

 Taking the short walk back up to the house, the shade garden is also loving all this rain (and the humidity, which fogged up my camera lens). It's more about foliage, obviously, than blooms, but hosta and heuchera blooms are adding some accents.

The hydrangeas also are thriving with the moisture--this is the biggest bloom I've ever had on my 'Endless Summer.'

If late June is all about coneflowers in my garden, then July is all about lilies.  Just a few of the lilies blooming in my lily bed today--first, 'Prairie Blue Eyes.'

A division from friend Beckie--'Dragonfly Corner.'

Another passalong from Beckie, this one a NOID daylily.

'Little Grapette' may be small in stature but makes up for it with a profusion of blooms.

A spider lily whose name I've forgotten--I was so happy to see it return this year, because I don't remember it blooming at all last year.

Two reliable daylilies are 'Canterbury Tales' on the left and 'Moonlight Masquerade' in the center.  (A late bloom from the Asiatic 'Brindisi' is on the right.)  These two will re-bloom all summer, especially 'Moonlight' which is usually the first daylily to bloom and the last as well, often showing a few blooms up until frost.  Too bad I have them both planted in an inconspicuous place--must put moving them on my to-do list!

'Romeo Lies Bleeding' looks much healthier than in past years.

Next to him, of course--'Juliet.'

One of the most eye-catching daylilies in this area is a yellow NOID that I don't remember ever planting.  Behind it a very hardy pink phlox, also a NOID--this one has been blooming for weeks.

Another NOID that I finally remembered came from friend Beckie also has large blooms.  As you can see, though I call this area the Lily Garden, there is much more here than lilies.  Drumstick allium have been attracting the bees, and the hybrid coneflower 'Big Sky Sundown' is bigger than ever.  A common purple coneflower somehow sneaked into this area, too:)

Sometimes the mix of plants have unintended results.  A quick glance might have a non-gardener wondering what this two-toned plant is.  It's actually a NOID Asiatic lily that should have been staked leaning into the 'Moonbeam' Coreopsis.

Also in the Lily Garden, 'Vanilla Strawberry' Hydrangea is just starting to bloom.  I'm waiting to see if this will be the year these blooms turn the pink they're advertised to become.

A balloon flower can finally be seen, now that I pulled some wayward asters growing around it.

The Arbor Bed could be called the Poppy Field these days.  I mentioned in an earlier post how I scattered these seeds in late winter and wound up with a plethora of poppies this year.

These will all be pulled eventually to make room for whatever is blooming behind them, but not until they're all finished blooming and the bees have had their fill.

The Arbor Bed was created a few years ago with a load of compost spread over newspapers and cardboard.  All that compost has made for some very happy plants that are beginning to turn this place into a jungle.  'Becky' daisy has become a reliable source for divisions for elsewhere in the garden.

Liatris are just beginning to bloom here, too.

Since it has become a jungle, despite my best intentions, it's easy to miss something here.  The larkspur did well this year, but I just noticed yesterday this lone dark purple stem.

Other surprises include Nigella--hmm, did I plant these seeds??--and a Veronica that I had completely forgotten planting last fall.  Both are hidden behind the arbor bench--more moving to put on the to-do list.

Thankfully, the jungle inhabitants haven't prevented the phlox from blooming.  'David's' pristine white blooms show up clearly from a distance; 'Blue Paradise' on the right, and to the left a hot pink phlox that was mislabeled as 'David.'

Most of the seeds that I sowed here in May won't be blooming for awhile, but a few cosmos have already begun.

And finally, my daughter's favorite--a 'Stargazer' lily blooming in the shadow of the tall cosmos.

Whew!  We haven't even gotten to the butterfly garden, but I'll save that for the next Wildflower Wednesday.  In the meantime, be sure to check out blooms from other gardens across the world at May Dreams Gardens where hostess Carol is probably out picking green beans or mowing the lawn:)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday Late Edition

My garden is on autopilot these days.  Household projects, a big birthday party for #2 Son, and a visit from Daughter, Son-in-law, and the granddogs have taken precedence over garden work lately.  But the garden hasn't seemed to mind my neglect; frequent rain showers have kept it happy...of course, that's made the weeds happy as well. 

This is the time of year when there is no end of new blooms to share from lilies and daylilies opening up each day to drumstick allium to the first of the phlox.  But since I missed Wildflower Wednesday last week, I want to focus on a few natives coming into their own right now.

Butterfly weed, Ascelpias tuberosa, is one of those natives that requires some patience.  It's slow to establish, but once it takes off, it provides quite a show.  It attracts various insects, but most importantly provides food for Monarch caterpillars, whose declining numbers make this an important addition to any garden. For more information on this attractive member of the milkweed family check out Frances' excellent WW post here.

It's hard to believe, but until a few years ago I didn't have a single Black-eyed Susan or any of its distant cousins in my garden.  Yet they're one of the easiest natives to grow.  All the Rudbeckia hirta here started from two small plants planted several years ago.  Their numbers each year depend on how ruthless I am in thinning out the asters and Obedient plant to give them room to grow.

Another Susan, though, has more mysterious origins--this appeared out of nowhere a year ago and barely escaped being pulled for a weed until I saw it begin to flower.  I've tentatively identified it as Rudbeckia triloba, but I'm not sure.  Whatever it is, its bright yellow flowers are a cheerful addition to the lily bed.

One of the main reasons for planting natives is to help the pollinators.  During National Pollinators' Week a few weeks ago, much was written about the declining number of bees.  I've been aware of the problems with honeybees for some time, but it was disturbing to me to learn that our native bumblebees also seem to be declining.  I haven't noticed this in my garden, thankfully; one of their favorites here is not a native at all, but the cultivar 'May Night' Salvia.  Sunny mornings will find them swarming all over these plants.

But if we're going to talk about natives in the month of June or July, you know what has me most excited . . .

Yes, it's coneflower time!  The first successful perennial I planted,  the purple coneflower will always be my favorite.  Although I have a few different cultivars, the majority of them are the common Echinacea purpurea.  Most sources list these as natives in my area, although the true native is the pale purple coneflower Echinacea pallida.  The pale ones are not as showy and are much harder to find these days, though you'll see them in prairie restorations and perhaps in some native gardens.  For a great look at them growing in the wild, you can check out a recent post from fellow blogger Tina who has some wonderful photos of these prairie natives growing along a Kentucky road.

My love affair with coneflowers has only grown over the years and has been well-documented in this blog, so I won't go into all the virtues again of this low-maintenance perennial.  But spend some time admiring them and you'll be sure to see some bees . . .

. . . of all sizes!

And if there are any butterflies in the area at all, they will be sure to find the coneflowers.  We have had very few butterflies this year, so I was excited when I walked outside one foggy morning to find this Swallowtail enjoying the new blooms.

He was definitely enjoying himself as he was oblivious to me as I wiped the humidity off my camera lens between numerous shots.

Judging by his torn wing, his journey to find the coneflowers wasn't an easy one.  But find them he did, and this is reason enough for me to always have coneflowers in my garden.

Thanks, as always, to Gail for reminding us of the need to help the pollinators and for hosting Wildflower Wednesday every month--maybe I'll be on time next month:)

Wishing everyone a happy and safe Fourth of July!