A Top 5 List for Midwestern Gardens
Richard Hawke is the Plant Evaluation Manager for the Chicago Botanic Garden, so it’s fair to say he knows a lot about plants. Recently I was interested to see a post he wrote for CBG’s blog entitled “What Are the Best Plants for Your Midwestern Garden?”
I really admire the discipline it takes to limit any list of plants to just a few. For me, an essential part of gardening is the endless fretting, the interminable sweet agony of deciding which plant is the perfect choice for any given spot. Friends who ask me for plant suggestions rarely ask a second time because I tend to offer an overwhelming number of options. “Oh for God’s sake,” I’ve been told, “just give me the name of ONE PLANT!”
Anyway, here is Mr. Hawke’s top five list of plants for Midwestern gardens, with annotations from yours truly:
Best For Sun: ‘Joanna Reed’ Catmint (Nepeta ‘Joanna Reed’) and Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina).
My thoughts: I agree that Catmint is an excellent perennial, though I have never seen ‘Joanna Reed’ for sale. There are several varieties in our garden: ‘Kit Kat’, ‘Walker’s Low’, and ‘Six Hills Giant’. On the other hand, I’m not fond of Lamb’s Ears. I mean, what’s so great about fuzzy leaves?
Best Native Plant: Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa).
My thoughts: Hear, hear! Everyone in the Midwest with a sunny, well-drained spot should be growing Butterflyweed. Monarch Butterflies need Milkweeds, people! And how about those brilliant orange flowers? In fact, why not mandate that homeowners grow at least one member of the genus Asclepias, provided that it is adapted to their garden? Mandatory Milkweeds – it’s worth considering.
Best Annual: Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’.
My thoughts: Tender Salvias are very nice in pots, but I think I prefer ‘Mystic Spires Blue’. ‘Black and Blue’ has not performed great for me, though it is loved by hummingbirds. Now my favorite annual, of course, is Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). A butterfly magnet, and more brilliant orange flowers! (OK, so I like orange flowers.) Requires a lot of space, though.
Best Easy Care Plant: Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’.
My thoughts: I have an instinctive dislike of Hostas which I’ve been trying to overcome. They are just so commonly grown in Chicago, though I know that’s not a good reason to reject a plant. As an alternative among plants for shade, I would suggest False Forget-Me-Not (Brunnera macrophylla) , a very tough customer that requires virtually no care at all.
We all know, of course, that there can be no objective list of the most beautiful or appealing plants, (though Richard Hawke’s job is to test plants for more verifiable traits such as disease resistance). It’s fun to argue about, though.
What do you make of Mr. Hawke’s list?