Cantigny– A Jewel in the Midwest

During the course of this blog, you’ll find me writing about various public gardens that I’ve visited over the years. I usually come away from these visits more inspired than ever because they are chock full of beautiful and creative flower bed designs, along with very imaginative ideas for both ground and container plantings.

This past summer I visited Cantigny, located in the Chicagoland area. I’d been there some years before, but had forgotten how truly beautiful it is. To give you a little bit of background about Cantigny, it is a sprawling, 500-acre park that is composed of vast formal gardens, two history-rich museums, and more. It had started off in the early 1930’s as an experimental agricultural farm owned by Chicago Tribune’s owner Colonel Robert R. McCormick. In 1955, landscape architect Franz Lipp was hired to design and build a world class horticultural garden. Today it is one of the largest display gardens in the Midwest with more than 160,000 annuals, perennials, ground covers and flowering shrubs and trees.

It was hard to know where to start because your eye is drawn in every direction with plant color and texture. They offer a number of different types of gardens including formal gardens, a rose garden, an idea garden, a prairie/savannah garden and a reflection point. One garden in particular took my breath away. It was a long, curving bed that consisted of drifts of 3 different salvia varieties (S. farinacea ‘Victoria Blue’, S. farinacea’ Fairy Queen’, and S. splendens ‘Flare’). The way in which it was planted, and the combination of colors rather gave the entire large bed a ‘Monet-esque’ quality. Some visitors were so enamored with the effect they wanted their pictures taken right in the middle of the bed. Apparently the bees and butterflies felt the same way because they too were in high attendance!

I also really enjoyed their Idea Garden that had a number of different creative designs for flowers, foliage and vegetables, all in an abundance of different settings.

I highly recommend making Cantigny a stopping point if you’re traveling near Chicago. Plan to spend at least half a day there, longer if you want to include the museums. We had lunch at their restaurant (quite yummy!), and their coffee bar was most enjoyable. Oh! They had ice cream too - can’t forget that! Click here to go to their website.


A Very Nifty Begonia

Gryphon Begonia
We grew a new begonia introduction this summer that is pretty wild. Usually garden (wax) or tuberous begonias are more commonly known and appreciated for their flowers in gardens and baskets. This new Begonia will be best known for its amazing foliage. It is named ‘Gryphon’ because according to the breeding company that produces it, “The Gryphon is a mythical creature with the head and wings of an eagle, and the body of a lion. This superb foliage begonia combines the same majestic beauty with strength and durability.”

They certainly weren’t far off base with their description! The leaves are huge, lush and glossy and are held on long, super strong and sturdy stems. You’ll want a large planter to grow it in as a final product. I grew it at home in a big planter with New Guinea Impatiens, and by the end of August you could barely find the Impatiens.  Not that I minded, because Gryphon on its own was just spectacular. It is hard to imagine that one large plant originally came out of a teeny weeny little seed pellet!

Gryphon Begonia Leaf
They take a bit of time to germinate (10-12 days) and note that a saturated media and high relative humidity is critical for seed to germinate successfully. Plan on 13-20 weeks from sowing to point of sale, depending on what size container you’re growing it in. For home gardeners who want to grow their own from seed, figure 8-9 weeks from sow to transplant into a 4-5 inch pot. Grow it on for another 5-6 weeks, and then you’ll want to move it into your large container. (We used whiskey barrels here at the company.) Once the plants are established you’ll find that Gryphon’s water needs are not too demanding and you’ll still get a very vigorous and showy plant. The breeder claims the plants can also be brought indoors, so I’ve already brought my planter at home inside to see how it fares over the winter months.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m really sold on this new, novel foliage plant. I’ll be curious to know your thoughts as well. More neat plant varieties coming up - Check back again soon!