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What suggestions can you offer for more exotic herbs that I could add to my garden to spice things up?

We all seem to plant the basic herbs like basil, rosemary and parsley. What suggestions can you offer for more exotic herbs that I could add to my garden to spice things up both for cooking and adding interest/beauty to my landscape?

Ron Peterson, head grower, Milaegers Garden Center, Racine, Wisc.

I think lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) would be a good candidate for landscape interest and culinary use; it is even reported to have more mosquito control attributes than citronella. It is a warm season annual grass that grows quickly and is used in teas and Thai cooking to add a lemony flavor without the acidity of lemon juice. Stevia is a natural sweetener option for those trying to avoid added sugar. There is also a mint called Berries and Cream which merges peppermint with berry flavors for a unique twist on the traditional mint options.

Lisa Hilgenberg, horticulturist, Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe

Golden lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus) adds good citrus flavor to dishes and tea. The 8-inch tall cultivar ‘Aureus’ makes a good edging paired with Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’. The chartreuse ‘Lime’ shines in dark garden corners.

Red shiso (Perilla frutescens) has frilly garnet red leaves, edible flowers and a spicy cinnamon/clover flavor. Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale) has a taste between arugula and cilantro. Plant once cilantro bolts to seed. Steely blue foliage up to 5 feet tall.

Joe Heidgen, co-owner, Shady Hill Gardens, Elburn

A plant that is often included with the popular herbs that gardeners know at Shady Hill is the scented geranium. It doesn’t look anything like a garden geranium, but it has a wide range of fragrances, as well as varying leaf shapes and colors. The fragrances may be lemon, rose, pine, ginger, lime, balsam or apple. It can be used in cooking and also in potpourri and sachets. Some scented geraniums are upright, some cascading, but all are unique and quite easy to grow. They are ideal for planters.

Kevin DeBoer, manager, Big John’s Farm Market, Chicago Heights

Onion or garlic chives can be grown and cut for use in potatoes and eggs. We also have five different types of mint that can be grown and used for mojito, flavoring water and teas. Some varieties such as pineapple mint are attractive and add beauty to the garden. Thymes such as English and lemon can be used in pasta and in marinades for grilling. A good marinade for meat can be made from thyme, rosemary, sage, Italian olive oil and pepper.


What three dwarf shrubs do you think gardeners should know about and why?

What three dwarf shrubs do you think gardeners should know about and why?

Evelyn Fink, garden center manager at The Fields on Caton Farm, Inc., Crest Hill

Yuki Cherry deutzia, Kodiak Black diervilla and Little Henry itea should have a presence in everyone’s garden. They will work well complementing taller shrubs in mass plantings and as a focal point when planted individually. All of them grow in full sun to partial shade with sizes ranging from 1½-4 feet. The itea will also grow in full shade. The unique shape and flower of each plant combined with the rich burgundy to wine-red fall color make these must-haves for plant lovers.

Mark Maradik, plant manager, Pasquesi Home & Gardens, Lake Bluff

The native Sugar Shack buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) thrives in wet heavy soils and clay. Fragrant pincushion-shaped white flowers attract pollinators. Red fruit in winter. Bobo is the best Hydrangea paniculata to date from Proven Winners. It is 2-3 feet tall and completely covered with long-lasting white flowers. The Low Scape Black Chokecherry (Aronia melanocarpa). Only 2 feet tall, tolerant of all soils; very cold tolerant. Profuse small white flowers in spring and dark purple fruit. Brilliant red/orange/ magenta fall leaves.

Jeff Schulz, owner, The Hidden Gardens, Willowbrook

My favorite dwarf shrubs have all-season interest and can be pruned to stay even smaller. Fothergillia gardenia (24-30 inches tall) is the smallest fothergillia cultivar. White flowers emerge in spring just before the leaves. Fall color is red, orange and yellow. Disease-free. Spilled Wine Weigelia (24-30 inches tall and wide) has dark purple leaves all summer if planted in full sun. Long-blooming pink flowers in spring, Deer resistant. Bobo hydrangea (30-36 inches tall and wide) produces loads of white flowers in mid- to late summer, changing to pink in fall. Flowers are held upright on strong stems and do not flop.


What plants do you predict will be best sellers this year? Why?

What plants do you predict will be best sellers this year? Why?

Bryon Angerman, nursery manager, Alsip Home & Garden, St. John, Ind. and Frankfort, Ill.

I believe these two compact hydrangeas will be hot plants this year. First is Invincibelle Wee White® hydrangea, a compact and reblooming white variety of ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea. Its dwarf habit of 18-24 inches and versatile adaptability to full-sun to part-shade planting locations will yield three to four months of continuous flowers on sturdy stems. It’s sure to become a staple in every landscape. Also look for Mini Mauvette hydrangea for similar habits with pinkish purple flowers.

Molly Hornbaker Blogg, nursery manager, Hornbaker Gardens, Princeton.

Hydrangea Little Quick Fire will be a best seller this year. It blooms early with pure white flowers turning to pink, then rose. Its more
compact size, at 4-5 feet and fits into most urban gardens better than most other panicle hydrangeas. Hosta ‘Autumn Frost’ is an attention grabbing plant with powder blue leaves and showy yellow margins. Last year’s Perennial of the Year, Asclepias tuberosa, should continue to be a big seller because of its gorgeous orange flowers and because it is a host for monarch caterpillars.

Jennifer Brennan,horticulture information specialist, manager of education, Chalet, Wilmette.

Being at a retail garden center and nursery, I get to hear customers’ requests and questions about plants for their gardens. Being on the board of the Perennial Plant Association for 6 years, I get to hear hybridizers and growers claims about the “BEST” plants. It is wonderful when the claims of the hybridizers and growers match the requests of the gardeners and designers. The other fact that is worth stating is that the plants are trialed much better than in the past, so there is proof from many areas of the country that the recommended plants will perform and survive.

The first plant that I expect to be a good seller is one that has been selected by the members of the Perennial Plant Association as the Perennial Plant of the Year for 2018. It is Allium ‘Millenium’. Allium ‘Millenium’ is one of the very best ornamental onions. Unlike spring-blooming Allium bulbs, this hybrid Allium blooms in mid to late summer with large large 2 inch rose-purple, globe-shaped flowers over shiny deep green strappy, grassy foliage. Mature plants have dozens of globes covering this perennial plant. Allium ‘Millenium’ attracts butterflies and bees love it as well, but deer and rabbits stay away. This Allium is good for winter hardiness Zones 5-9; prefers full sun to part shade and is 10-12 inches tall.

The
second plant is a flowering perennial Echinacea. It is Echinacea KISMET™ Raspberry and it is different due to sheer flower number and a fabulous habit. It blooms first year, early in the season, with large flowers and continues until a hard frost. It is a great plant! I saw it in trials in the Chicago area and in Colorado. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. It is a wonderful cut flower with a great fragrance. It is deer resistant. It is hardy from Zone 4 to zone 10. It forms an upright mound that is 16 inches tall by 24 inches wide, up to 18 inches in flower. It is a beautiful hot pink color that blooms June, July, August, September and October. And, it likes average well drained soil in full sun.

The third plant is a hybrid of a native grass. Native plants are one of the strongest trends in gardening these days. The natural beauty of native Blue Grama Grass is raised to a higher level in Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’. Its allure includes an abundance of horizontal seed heads, which resemble elegant, petite flags. They emerge chartreuse and transform to blonde. These exquisite blooms hover above thin, blue-green, two-foot stems. ‘Blonde Ambition’ was named a 2011 Plant Select® Winner for its resistance to pests, exceptional performance in low water conditions, retail appeal, and long-lasting attractiveness in gardens and containers. It pops right back up after snowfall. Bouteloua gracilis‘ Blonde Ambition’ was discovered and introduced by David Salman of High Country Gardens. It is easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils in full sun. It tolerates a wide range of soils, except poorly-drained, wet ones. It is hardy from Zone 3 to Zone 10. It is a tufted, warm season, Missouri native grass noted for its distinctive arrangement of mosquito larvae-like seed spikes which hang from only one side of its flowering stems. It is native to prairies, plains, open rocky woodlands and along railroad tracks. It has narrow, bluish-gray leaf blades (to 1/4 inch wide) that typically form a dense clump growing 12-15 inches tall. Foliage turns golden brown in autumn, sometimes also developing interesting hues of orange and red. Inflorescences of blond colored flowers appear on arching stems above the foliage in early to mid-summer, typically bringing the total height of the clump to 20 inches tall.

All three of these should be at the top of the selling lists for the 2018.


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I have a Japanese maple that was hit by frost. Some of the leaves are curled and brown. Will they fall off and new leaves grow? Is there anything I can do to help the tree? What is the best method to prevent this from ever happening again?

With all the emphasis on growing fresh vegetables, I think I should use a cold frame but I am not sure what to do or how to go about it. Any ideas?

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