Of Wonders and Weeds
By PAULENE POPARAD
April is for .... finding something I didn’t really think I needed and now
can’t live without.
Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. But I was ecstatic recently to stumble onto a
book that will save me time, but certainly not money.
At last month’s Chicago Flower and Garden Show the Chicago Botanic Garden
had a huge bookstore area. After flipping through about seven different
books describing “how to grow perennials in the Midwest” I almost passed up
“In Search of Great Plants: The Insider’s Guide to the Best Plants in the
Midwest” by Betty Earl and published in 2004 by Cool Springs Press.
Yawn, I thought. Another list of someone’s favorite plants. I couldn’t be
more wrong. The title is deceptive. This book isn’t about how to grow great
plants; it’s about how to find them at the best plant nurseries and garden
centers in the Midwest, specifically, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin
Some gardeners, myself included, are green-blooded plantaholics. It’s an
incurable affliction and we like it that way. As Betty, who lives in
Naperville, Ill., explained to me when I contacted her raving about her
book, “I am a plant nut -- pure and simple. There’s always something out
there that I crave, so it was only natural that I search out interesting
In my B.B. (Before Betty) Days, I usually would hear someone recommend a
great plant nursery they’d visited or heard about, or I’d search garden
magazines for interesting advertisements or articles of places I could
visit. Bernie, my husband, is a good sport and indulges me by letting us
take side trips, even scheduling vacations, so I can seek out the elusive
perfect plant that’s meant to be mine. He even saves me from myself.
Once, returning from Wisconsin, we stopped at Craig Bergmann’s
out-of-the-way Country Garden plant nursery in Winthrop Harbor, Ill. I was
crushed to learn it was Monday and they were closed. A man was watering the
plants and I wanted to get out and throw myself on his mercy, saying
something like, “I came from Indiana by way of Wisconsin and I don’t know
when or if I’ll ever get back here again in my lifetime. P-l-e-a-s-e can I
just look around, if not buy something!!!”
Bernie just kept driving out of the parking lot. “I won’t let you embarrass
yourself,” he said, my fingers still clutching the door handle. FYI: Betty
highly recommends Bergmann’s 12-acre nursery and demonstration gardens.
With her book I now know the Country Garden’s retail days, sales times and
telephone/fax number; their street, email and global positioning satellite
(GPS) addresses; the nursery offerings and its specialty (English
delphiniums); and extra info about classes and open houses.
Some nursery descriptions in the book suggest interesting side trips like
Conner Prairie in Fishers, Ind. if you visit Winton’s Iris Hill in Franklin
off State Road 252. Indiana has the fewest entries in Betty’s book with 13;
Illinois has 23, Michigan and Ohio 20 each, and Wisconsin 15.
The only nursery listed in the whole northwest quadrant of our state is the
fine Coburg Planting Fields nursery at 573 E County Road 600N here in Porter
County specializing in daylilies and hostas. Phil Brockington’s and Howard
Reeve’s farm is described as “a true rural gem”, “picturesque” and
“charming”. In addition to how the pair started their business and what they
offer today, Betty has an extra notation about the elegant and unexpected
English-reproduction library at Coburg.
It’s surprising the only other Hoosier plant nursery listed with which I was
familiar is Soules of Indianapolis, now under new ownership. Did you know
there really is a Munchkin Nursery and Gardens, LLC in Depauw specializing
in shade and woodland plants? It’s one of several small nurseries in the
book open by appointment only. Betty even lists nurseries like Song Sparrow
Perennial Farm in Avalon, Wisc. that sell by catalog only.
For those who can’t get Betty’s book, a pale substitute might be the
pull-out resource guide in Chicagoland Gardening’s March/ April magazine
that has an interesting article on hellebores. The guide contains maps and
directions to well over 100 mostly Illinois nurseries and garden centers.
Garden associations also are listed.
Betty’s book is indexed making searches for ferns, groundcovers or peonies
easier, and she’s already planning a next edition so more nurseries can be
included. Happily, she has a great sensibility about what makes them worth
visiting as evidenced by her initial choices and anecdotes about the owners.
The only downside to searching out great plants today is the current price
Speaking of peonies, my free January gift of ‘Blitz Torte’ from Roy Klehm of
Song Sparrow was planted outside late last month and appears to be adjusting
well. I constructed this silly-looking but effective three-sided shelter
about four feet tall made from a clear, doubled-over thin plastic drop cloth
secured to posts with slip ties. I left the south side open to get air and
cut holes in the plastic so it wouldn’t shred in the wind.
Initially at night it was pretty chilly so I closed the south side as needed
with what has proven to be a great help this winter: old campaign signs.
I want to thank the supporters of Carolyn Ballenger, who opposed Charlie
Brown for state representative, for not picking up her signs in our area.
Last fall I rescued four of the 24-inch by 18-inch rigid foam core signs on
metal stakes. I used them as windbreaks to help more-tender plants survive
In addition to the peony, this spring I used two of the signs to shelter a
transplanted shrub weigela ‘Tango’ I purchased from the great but now-closed
Acorn Ridge nursery in 2000. This burgundy dwarf variety never really got
the good start it needed because I planted it too near the robust ‘Lucifer’
crocosmia that mounds up and flops over on top of the weigela as the summer
progresses. ‘Lucifer’ is one of the few plants on my “Never Transplant” list
so it was the weigela that had to move. So far so good.
Talk about too much of a good thing. Ensata Gardens, the Japanese/Siberian
iris and daylily specialists in Galesburg, Mich. (also profiled in Betty’s
book) sold out most of its Japanese iris stock last fall due to receiving
thousands of new orders after being featured in the April 2004 issue of
Midwest Living magazine. Ensata’s original stock plants will grow and
multiply this year and orders are being taken for delivery in the fall.
My irises purchased from Ensata last year should bloom this summer. I can’t
wait. If you want to see gorgeous iris, visit
Gardeners often choose to savor good food as well as good plants. While
passing by we stopped at WiseWay on U.S. 30 in Valparaiso and found Dairy
Crest white Stilton cheese with apricots imported from England. Yum! The
$7.39 pricetag was worth the splurge. I don’t know if WiseWay in Chesterton
carries this cheese. Since they moved across the bypass the new store is
farther away from me, I have no reason to go that way and I’ve been there
only twice since opening.
Gardening articles I’m happy to receive from Florida snowbird Chuck Burger
included news of a new series of perennial astilbe dubbed ‘Color Flash’ with
green spring leaves turning burgundy/ purple in summer that transition to
additional fall colors. Anthony Tesselaar International is introducing the
plants, which may or may not be available in our area this year. It usually
takes a while for the newbies to make it to the local garden markets.
Astilbe or plume flower throw delicate, fluffy flower heads, in ‘Color
Flash’s case pale pink. The www.tesselaar.com
website recommends filtered
sunlight or afternoon shade for this Zone 3 perennial.
See you soon, Chuck, and it’s our turn to take you and Olie out to dinner.