Proven Winners Advertisement

From the Editor - Sep/Oct 2014


The surprise is that there have been so few surprises. But maybe that’s just what happens when you plant a 5-acre “stylized prairie” in downtown Chicago and half of the species selected are Midwestern natives. Even when the world-renowned plantsman making the choices was from Holland and had never seen a real honest-to-gosh prairie until he came to America several years ago.

The man in question, Piet Oudolf, was in town this summer for the 10th anniversary of the establishment of The Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park, and Chicagoland Gardening was able to steal a few moments from his busy schedule to sit down and get his perspective on what he had done.

“This is an extreme climate,” he noted, “yet there have been no big failures over the years, no big disappointments.” Yes, all the sedums died in the first year – victims, it is theorized, of summer humidity; and molina grass succumbed – a victim, it is thought, of summer drought. But replacing molina with prairie dropseed was an easy fix, and with all the abundance in the Lurie Garden, the sedums have hardly been missed. Even the rabbits’ chomping on the purple prairie clover and yarrow is something that most of us don’t really notice. Far more important: “Hardly anything was lost this past winter.”

Oudolf has revolutionized garden design on both sides of the Atlantic through his pronouncements on the importance of choosing plants for their structure and textural interest rather than solely for their flowers. “A plant is only worth growing if it looks good when it’s dead” is one of his principles. “Brown is a color, too” is another. Yet it takes time for us to adjust to such radical notions. We have to train our eyes to see beauty in more than one way.

There’s still plenty of time to see all kinds of beauty in the Lurie Garden while late-season plants are blooming, and when you go, note all the bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife that call this city oasis home. (During my last visit, a red-winged blackbird buzzed through my hair three times, and I felt privileged that he had chosen me when there were so many other strollers about.)

One reason for Lurie’s abundance is its diversity with half of the plants prairie natives and the other half non-natives such as calamintha that are wildlife-friendly (bees, in particular, love calamintha). In addition, Lurie Garden never uses chemicals or fertilizer. To improve the soil and provide mulch, the entire garden is chopped down each spring with a tractor mower and the detritus is then left in place to slowly decompose. Fast and efficient.

For Piet Oudolf, this summer’s check-up visit was a satisfying one since the work that continues is mainly what he calls “editing” – removing plants such as compass plant that are sometimes too much of a good thing. What does he like best? “The North American prairie parts of the garden. They show city people what their nation once looked like. It’s important for people to see what they may have never seen before.”

categories

popular

Article Thumbnail
Columns
Waiting for Gardot

“Hey, Gerry.” “ Morning, Al.” “ Where’s Carey?” “ They moved him to the front this morning.” “ No kidding. Think we’re next?


Article Thumbnail
Departments
From the Editor - MayJune 2017

The day began with signs of gloom and doom. A new report from the National Wildlife Foundation said that monarch butterfly ...


Article Thumbnail
Blog
A Blast from the Past

Back in January 1906, the Gardener’s Monthly Magazine featured these women perusing seed catalogs and magazines.


Article Thumbnail
Departments
From the Editor - Jul/Aug 2014

Gardeners are a fickle lot. Either we’re rhapsodizing gooey-eyed about the resplendent, transcendent wonder of whatever ...


Article Thumbnail
Features
Perk Up with Pots

In our family, my sister Chris hosts Christmas and I host Easter. Among her many talents, Chris pulls out the stops when it …


questions

I’m moving to a townhouse with limited direct sunlight. I would like to put a Japanese maple in a north-facing garden but don’t know if it will do well. What are the best kinds? Also, when is the best time to plant a small tree?

What does it take to make a climbing hydrangea flower? Ours was planted 3 years ago and is growing energetically. It’s in a protected nook near the patio and gets very little direct sunlight, but doesn’t act sun starved. We gave it a shot of slow release fertilizer on planting, and once since. Somewhat inadvertently it gets plenty of water, since the hose spigot is nearby and leaks, but drainage does not seem to be the problem. It now fully occupies an 8-foot trellis but shows no interest in flowering. Is it youth, lack of sun, too much or too little fertilizer, bugs, lack of pruning or what? When do these plants bloom and what conditions do they like?

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

ChicagolandGardening Advertisement