Cantigny Park

DSCF6150I made my annual pilgrimage to Cantigny Park yesterday morning. The Park used to be the country estate of Colonel Robert McCormick, who owned the Chicago Tribune. He used to fly from downtown Chicago out to his estate, which at that time (the 1930s) was way out in the countryside. Today it is more and more becoming a botanic garden, and I go every year to see what’s new.  A bit enviously, I note their fabulous greenhouse, their staff, and what seems like a generous budget, which allows them to create lovely flower beds using  all the latest annuals. So I went yesterday, and before I knew it, had taken more than 100 pictures, using up all the juice in my camera. Even after some sorting out, I have way too many photos for one blog, so this post will be a two-parter. Before proceeding I want to mention that I did my best to record plant names, but not all plants in all beds had labels, so in some cases, I will hazard guesses. Also, I have tried to bring some order to these photos, grouping them loosely by topic.

DSCF6153What I keep learning at Cantigny is all about the power of color. I try not to get hung up on exactly what plant they are using, and to look at how they use color. First up: purple! You might hesitate to create an all purple flower bed, but this photo shows the many shades of purple: bluish purples, and purple-based pinks. The different heights and textures add up to a striking flower bed.

DSCF6145I love the combination here of floss flower (ageratum) and perennial geranium. Both are easy to grow, and widely available at nurseries.

You might say that there are lots of pinks and reds in this scheme, but, if you look closely, you’ll see they all have a purple undertone. This  unifies the planting scheme.DSCF6137

Here is old-fashioned heliotrope, a favorite in Victorian gardens. It grows easily in our humid climate, and is easy to overwinter. Downside? It is sold as a “premium annual,” and using a lot of it would be prohibitive, money wise.DSCF6183

Cleome is often recommended as an easy annual, but it does need room to grow. This bed of cleome almost looks a bit dull, until you notice the mandevilla vines growing up the lattice work. Almost makes it look like flowers are rappelling up out of the flower bed!DSCF6184

Now we come to a flower bed that knocked my socks off. Its energy derives from the powerful yin-yang of purple and yellow. DSCF6218

The smooth, blue-toned grass, which I think is Stipa tenuissimi ‘Pony Tails’, calms the manic energy of the coleus.DSCF6219

Then they threw in some vivid–almost neon–purple oxalis. OMG!DSCF6220

Then everything goes up in flames with these tropical plants (my guess is crotons). I stood in awe.DSCF6222

Took another picture of this beautiful lake of plants.DSCF6223

A backward glance.DSCF6224

DSCF6210Another purple scheme. In a planter, a stern Persian Shield (stobilanthes) plant poses with the pretty, brainless dahlias. The silvery, gradated purple of the Persian shield is just stunning.

DSCF6152Before we leave purple, here’s a another stunning flower: Datura metel ‘Ballerina Purple’.

DSCF6180One lesson I learned yesterday was how to use color to cool down a sunny garden. You might wonder why you would want to do this, but at Cantigny the sun can be pitiless, and its Idea Garden, hemmed in by a tall fence, can be sweltering. This bed of zinnias (of the Zinnia angustifolia type), looks sweet and cool (the pinks are not a warm pink, but have a bluish undertone), even though the temperature was at least 90 degrees. The airy Russian sage plants also helped to cool the scheme down.

DSCF6182Another shot.

DSCF6181Just loved this tree. I think it might be Heptacodium (Seven Sons ), but I’m not totally sure. It was thriving and covered with blooms. Looked great with Rosa ‘Nearly Wild’, Russian sage, and a big bed of zinnias.

DSCF6162Speaking of zinnias, a number of unusual varieties were featured. Here is zinnia ‘Pinca’.

This may be Zinnia ‘Whirligig’–not 100% sure.

DSCF6156Shown with some pentas. This combo can withstand blasts of heat and sun.

Vivid bedding zinnias.

DSCF6174Looked sensational.DSCF6171

Speaking of heat tolerance, this duo of a gloriosa daisy (not sure of exact variety) and a euphorbia also works.DSCF6178

Another look.


DSCF6228This little yellow daisy-like flower, melampodium, can’t be beat for heat tolerance and for its mounds of flowers.

A variety of purple coneflower with a blizzard of calamint.

DSCF6160Of course, there’s nothing like sedums for heat tolerance. Here’s a great idea–a bird-house sort of container holding an assortment of sedums up high.

An OMG sedum moment. DSCF6164

Another sedum shot. These are big plants–at least a foot tall.

(Below) The reddish plant amid the lantana is an aeonium (houseleek tree).

To be continued. Tomorrow: roses, containers, fall anemones and coleus.

Namaste. Fran

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