Category Archives: Favorite plant series

Boxwood Trivia

Boxwood are one of the most versatile and elegant of evergreen shrubs.  They have very shallow roots, can tolerate most conditions and be used in both formal and informal settings.  It are theses characteristics that make them so desirable today.

Their popularity is not new.  Although grains for a species was found in England as far back as 7,000 B.C., they were destroyed during a Glacial epoch.  They resurfaced around 4,000 B.C. in ancient Egyptian tombs.  Their popularity surged at the height of the Roman Empire and throughout the Dark Ages, used as hedges and topiaries in Royal gardens.

One of the Boxwood’s most delightful and interesting facts is that it has historically been used to make boxes, chess pieces, printing using woodblocks, and musical instruments and parts, particularly form the strings and woodwind class and is still used for many of these purposes today.

It is a plant that seems almost too good to be true!  Well almost.  As of late our dear friend has had some issues, that many of you might have experienced.  Several years ago we had an extremely cold Chicago winter with unusually light snow cover…and plants with shallow roots really rely on their winter blankets.  As spring sprung, we noticed the loss of a lot of plant species…especially boxwood, yews, junipers and roses.

Boxwoods suffered another hit.  Boxwood blight.  It is a fungal disease that really has no treatment.  The only course of action is to remove them from the nursery or landscape.

These plants of course need to be replaced, and replace them we are.  Why is having to replace them so important to our tale?  Well because Boxwoods are extremely slow growing, and as the demand increases due not only to popularity but a need to replace them, growers just cannot keep up.  It is a difficult concept to explain to a property owner, but our current reality.

There are alternatives.  They are not boxwoods, but they are options…”Green Mound’ Alpine Current, ‘Karen’s’ Azalea, Deutzia, and our owner’s favorite… Barberry.  Peruse some of these favorites on our nursery’s website.

Many people say everything happens for a reason.  Maybe this did.  I like to think utilizing a different palette challenges our creativity and encourages diversifying our monoculture.

Tulip Trivia

As I sit on this blisteringly cold January day my mind drifts to our lovely friend, the tulip.

You see my mother loves tulips.  Even though we lived in Riverwoods and had to contend with deer feasting on them she would plant them.  Not en masse but in charming little bundles that would cheerfully pop up in spring.  She would sometimes even pair them with Allium, in order to deter our beautiful yet hungry friends.

Her love affair continues today, although now she must battle chipmunks and squirrels who enjoy digging them up and moving them around.  This year I finally convinced her to even try my favorite tulip blend created by a most trusted vendor.  It’s called French Blend.  Wow, wait until she sees her spring display!

French Blend Tulip

The French Tulip Blend

It’s difficult to think of spring on such a snow covered day, but it will come.  My contemplating of the tulip has led me to some poking around.  I’ve found some interesting tidbits that I thought I’d share…

  1. Origin Story:  Thought that tulips originated in Holland?  They did not.  It is widely believed that they were first cultivated in a corridor along the 40° latitude between Northern China and Southern Europe.
  2. Tulips travel to Turkey:  When the tulip first made its way to Turkey it was revered by the Sultan and was cultivated solely for his pleasure and that of his entourage.  He forbid tulips to bought or sold outside of the capital.  The punishment?  Exile.
  3. A Status Symbol:  Tulips were cultivated to be curated.  They became a symbol of status and power for both Royalty and the very wealthy.  Mirrors were placed around arrangements and in gardens to create the appearance that the owner could afford more than they actually could.
  4. A Bricklayer’s Wage for 15 years:  At the height of what is called “Tulip Mania” once they had reached Holland, a single bulb would go for the price of a homepurchased in Amsterdam, or… a bricklayer’s wage for 15 years.
  5. There is an actual Tulip Museum…Outside:  Keukenhof is worth the visit in May each year.  I have been and I will never forget it.  It is display garden after garden that is painstakingly designed and installed annually.

And that my friends, is just some of the fun facts around out delightful spring friend.

Donna Vignocchi Zych

Favorite Plant Series: Taxodium distichum

One of my favorite trees is Taxodium distichum, or Baldcypress (also Bald Cypress). Once you recognize it, it’s always a delight to see. Baldcypress has the rare distinction of being a stand-out tree in virtually any type of setting or application. Alone or in groups, in formal or naturalistic settings, urban or wild, Baldcypress often becomes the focal point of a well-thought-out planting design. Part of that distinction arises from the fact that it has yet to have been overplanted – at least in Chicagoland-area landscapes – and is often greeted with delightful curiosity by the uninitiated.

While such a versatile tree, there are limitations to Baldcypress’s use given its eventual size and habit. Growing 50’-70’ by 20’-30’ wide, Baldcypress takes on a mostly pyramidal shape. While tall, it may not perform as a traditional shade/canopy tree for many years, if at all. Although the northernmost portion of Baldcypress’s native range is technically southern Illinois, the tree does quite well in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Baldcypress does well in wet, dry, and well-drained soil conditions and is relatively salt-tolerant.

Leaves in springtime are a bright yellow-green and eventually turn a medium sage green come summer. The leaves turn orange-brown in autumn and hold for a while before dropping as winter approaches. Interestingly, Baldcypress (along with its cousin Dawn Redwood, also hardy in this area) is one of only a few varieties of cone-bearing trees that lose its leaves in the winter. Seeing the small ½” – 1” cones Baldcypress produces adds to the surprising nature of the tree. The reddish-brown bark with a fibrous nature can be striking in winter.

Famed modernist landscape architects such as Dan Kiley and Peter Walker used Baldcypress in formal, urban settings (see Fountain Place in Dallas and water features outside UBS Tower in Chicago – see picture). Locally, the Heritage Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden features a pruned baldcypress hedge, now several decades old. Such formal cues can be also adapted to residential settings, as well as using Baldcypress as a standalone specimen tree or loose grouping. With such versatility, Baldcypress might be the “problem solving” tree for your landscape.

Taxodium form

baldcypress_chicago

Bald cypress in the landscape

Up close of the leaf

Written by Ken Horinko, ASLA
Landscape Architect

Favorite plant series: Amsonia tabernaemontana ‘Blue Ice’

During a meeting discussing seasonal color displays, when phones were set on vibrate and the focus of our discussions was solely about plants, I was reminded how passionate and opinionated our staff is when it comes to what they love the most.

I decided it was important to celebrate that our employees each have their favorite species and that those favorites tend to change and evolve.  Hence our favorite plant series.  First up might as well be me, Donna Vignocchi Zych.

Easy and carefree, ‘Blue Star’ is an outstanding long blooming selection. I look forward to several weeks of deep, glacial blue blooms on this compact, shrubby-like plant. It forms a mound of green, willow-like leaves, bearing clusters of interesting dark blue buds that open into dainty, star-shaped, medium blue flowers from late spring into early summer. The dark green, compact foliage remains attractive all summer and forms the perfect backdrop, for colorful annuals and bold perennials. In fall, the willowy foliage turns a rich shade of yellow complementing my favorite fall blooming perennials: sedum, hardy mums and purpled-leaved heuchera, to name a few.

Light: Full sun to part shade

Soil: Well-Drained

Height: 12-18”

Spread: 12-18”

Growth Habit: Dense, Mound, Shrub-like

Uses: Specimen, edging, or massed in perennial or mixed shrub borders

Problems: No serious insect or disease problems.

Companion Plants: Sedum, Allium, Blue Hosta, Purple-leaved Heucheras

Dark blue buds open to ice blue blooms

Dark blue buds open to ice blue blooms

Amsonia spring blooms

Spring blooms and neat dark green foliage

Amsonia fall foliage

Dark green foliage turns to golden yellow in fall