Chicago Flower & Garden Show to bloom with ideas

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floralAbout this time of year, when most gardeners are desperately seeking signs of life, the idea of flowers and lush greens is swoon-worthy. How about ushering in spring by tiptoeing through more than 1,000 tulips — well, at least strolling around hundreds of them in a rainbow of hues? Or breathing in the intoxicating fragrance of more than a dozen varieties of hyacinths?

This year’s Chicago Flower & Garden Show , which kicks off March 14 at Navy Pier, offers this and much more, blooming with ideas for planting, cultivating and revamping outdoor spaces. The theme for this year’s show, which will run through March 22, will repeat last year’s: “Do Green. Do Good.”

“It sounds oversimplified,” says Tony Abruscato, the show’s director. “But it has a lot of connotations — greening your yard for the environment. Recycling and repurposing — using found objects from antique shops or thrift stores for containers, everything from purses and shoes to old tires and a shipping pallet upcycled into a vertical plant wall.”

The idea of repurposing will be put to work for the show’s interactive butterfly garden, Santuario de la Monarca, designed by Lemont-based Premier landscaping for the nonprofit organization El Valor, which provides services to children, people with disabilities and their families. After the show, the structure will be removed and replanted at one of El Valor’s facilities, continuing to call attention to the plight of the monarch butterfly, whose population continues to decline for myriad reasons, including loss of habitat.

Major-themed gardens will include two dedicated to roses and showcasing more than 1,000 plants — one focused on miniatures and minifloras (a cross between miniature roses and standard rose shrubs), another with large specimen roses and climbers. Ideas for outdoor living, such as rooftop gardens, patios and decks, will train the eye to pay attention to pavers, containers and accents such as rocks, boulders and stone.

For inspiration on a smaller scale, the Garden Clubs of Illinois will sponsor a window box competition with displays designed by area garden clubs; visitors can vote for their favorites.

As in previous years, the show will offer daily seminars and presentations led by garden and landscaping professionals that cover myriad topics — including designing for small spaces, growing native plants, vegetable gardening and seed saving. The educational seminars will zero in on a wide range of gardening topics, while speakers in the “How-To” presentations on the show floor will take a more DIY approach. (Most are free with admission, though a few require additional fees.)

For children, hands-on sessions will help them learn about bugs and creating a bug habitat, worm composting and growing veggies from seeds, as well as potting up something to keep and nurture.

“Part of our goal,” says Abruscato, “is to cultivate the next generation of gardeners.”

Here’s a closer look at a few of this year’s display gardens

Everything’s coming up roses: To help demystify roses, landscape designer Scott Mehaffey is co-designing “A Classic Rose Garden” with rosarian Nathan Beckner from Gethsemane Garden Center. The display of nearly 50 large specimen roses and climbers among more than 150 rose varieties will focus on more hardy, disease-resistant choices to attract a new wave of enthusiasts, says Mehaffey. “People seemed to be missing the color, texture, variety and romance of roses,” he says. Included in their showcase garden will be the thornless Zephirine Drouhin, an old-fashioned Bourbon rose that dates to 1868. It’s especially popular not only for its fragrance, but also because it tolerates some shade. It’s typically planted as a climber (it can reach to 12 feet) or a large shrub (up to 6 feet). The display garden will include crushed stone paths, brick edging, a low stone wall, sundial and arbors “to awaken the senses and feed the soul,” Mehaffey said.

811 N. Green Line Parkway: This display garden, designed by Christy Webber Landscapes, is subtitled “Natural Gas Safety Garden” and demonstrates the considerations that must be followed when digging near utility lines. “It’s a house (so) we wanted to give it an address,” says designer Andrew Kibbe. “And 811 is the phone number for the utility (hotline). We want to show what goes on below gardens, so there will be a see-through section for gas lines. We suggest proper distances for planting trees and shrubs.” The space touches on common outdoor fixtures — grill spaces, fire pits, space heaters. “There are two parts to the garden, one planted with sedum, SoCal landscaping, or xeriscaping. And the other a more contemporary urban prairie, with lots of alliums, heucheras, tiarellas.”

Emerald isle: Paddy Conway of Palos Hills-based Cotswold Gardens, who is designing the show’s “Irish Heritage Garden,” is excited about a new natural Black River stone paving from Unilock, which he says is very similar to the black rock he grew up with in Kilkenny in southeastern Ireland. It is more difficult to recreate an Irish garden than an English one, he says: “It’s like a moment, serenity, an aura. It doesn’t need flowers. It’s stone and ferns, ivy and mosses. And you attach that to hardscapes, like furniture. It’s more of a mood.”

Soothing water: “For the first time, we’re doing a very formal, minimalistic look,” says Brian Helfrich, chief designer at west-suburban-based Aquascape Designs of the show’s “Water For All the Senses” exhibit. “Not thousands of plants, (but) more Zen-like, with clean, sharp edges … more of a reflecting pool.” Fountains will be among the other water-oriented options featured, as well as a focus on smaller spaces, because, Helfrich says, “not everyone has a giant footprint for a giant koi pond with huge waterfalls.”

Trees with dramatic impact: Richard Eyre, owner of Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery in Woodstock, is passionate about conifers and rare trees; he’ll be focusing on weeping specimens for the “Garden of Weeping Wonder” exhibit. “I personally like abstract forms in design,” says Eyre. “I call specimen trees ‘garden makers.’ They expand the palette with which you can paint the landscape — with color, texture and form.” He’ll include what he calls a rare “weeping wonder” ginkgo, and a soft-needle weeping larch, a deciduous conifer that has some yellow color in the fall, he says. Eyre’s garden will be studded with complementary plantings, a small water feature and a pair of stone chairs made by a sculptor buddy from Detroit.

Pots that pop: The “Embrace Your Space” garden designed by Scott Goczkowski of Des Plaines-based Lurvey Landscape Supply will showcase a variety of dramatic glazed ceramic pots. Ranging from 2 to 5 1/2 feet tall in bowl, tapered and squiggly shapes, the planters — shown in stripes of several bold hues — will inform the flower choices, which will include heather, cyclamen, hydrangeas, oxalis, pansies and many bulbs. “We want to show people how they can change up the look with different elements, kind of like art in the landscape,” Goczkowski says. And the strategic placement of the vessels “will have people looking around corners to see what’s behind them.”

Educational seminars will be offered each day, providing insight on a huge world of topics. Here are a few:

Success with succulents: Trending for good reason, succulents — a group that includes cacti and sedums — are coveted for their sculptural, flowerlike forms and subtle hues. Best of all, they’re drought-tolerant. “I have loved them since college,” says Dan Heims, president of Terra Nova Nurseries in Canby, Ore., who will present, “Sexy Succulents: Indoors and Out,” at 12:30 p.m. March 14. “(At that time) I had a South African garden right next to my bed, growing under fluorescent lights. The forms, the architectural nature … succulents are a fascinating group.”

All about veggies: Herbs and vegetables are drawing more people into gardening, says Diane Blazek of All-America Selections, who will present “Ten Cool Trends in New Flowers and Vegetables” at 3:30 p.m. March 18. “Part of it is the foodie movement,” she says, adding that gardeners also are beginning to appreciate many of the plants’ ornamental aspects. Among the new crop of edibles she’ll be discussing: Squash Bossa Nova, a large zucchini with variegated skin that looks good in a pot, and Basil Dolce Fresca, which keeps its round form “almost like a topiary,” Blazek says. Also on the same day: Local author Shawna Coronado will present “Build a Sustainable Ornamental Edible Garden” at 11 a.m. March 18 and Birds & Blooms columnist Melinda Myers will present “Eco-Friendly Vegetable Gardening Success” at 2 p.m. March 18.

Going native: Carol Kim, a naturalist for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, will present “Pollinators and Native Gardening” at 2 p.m. March 20. Not only do native plants help the environment, but Kim will discuss how these plants are magnets for hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. She will offer practical approaches for cultivating these beneficial plants.

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