‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea, a Quick, Long Lasting, Dry Flower


Wanting a change in the corner of my kitchen dining area, I pulled out a vase that I purchased when I was stationed in Hokkaido, Japan.   When I set it on the pedestal, it seemed lost, I needed more height than the vase itself could provide, but not wanting to put water in the vase for fresh cut flowers, I though about throwing in some silk flowers, but then glanced out of the nearby window and saw my ‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea, in all of it’s late summer glory.


‘Annabelle’ Smooth Hydrangeas sometimes get a bad rap when it comes to sustainable landscape plant choices, and while it’s true that the flowers are sterile, and thereby provide no pollen or nectar for insects,  they do provide, as a native Midwest plant, a low maintenance flowering  shrub for the landscape, a plant that has ornamental interest almost year round, as its white June flower heads turn green in July, and ultimately a straw color in autumn and remain on the plant through the following spring – very nice with showy grasses, such as Switchgrass, Little Bluestem, or Prairie Dropseed.

Knowing, once the hydrangea flowers are have faded from white to green, that the blooms can be cut and used as a dried flower, I headed outside with a pair of hand pruners.


I cut the stems as long as I could, and pulled off the leaves as I went.  When I started to arrange the flowers, however, I found that the stems were still too short to look right in the vase.  Not one easily deterred, I went into the kitchen, grabbed a plastic bag, and stuffed it into to vase.  The bag almost completely filled the vase, leaving just enough room for the hydrangea stems.  Beginning my arrangement once again, I now realized that I needed twice as many flowers as I initially cut, so outside I went, to cut some more.


The arrangement came out better than I had hoped for, and two weeks later, it still looks good, about the same as it did when the flowers were first cut.  The flowers are fully dry, but have kept their green color well.  In the photo below, the right half shows the flowers after two weeks, while the left half shows the fresh cut flowers.  Not much difference really.  Very nice.

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The fresh cut flower heads could also be used to make wreaths for the wall or front door.  The flower heads are the most pliable and forgiving when they are fresh and should be made into arrangements or wired on to wreaths at that time.

The flowers look good, and stay green for a long time.  The photo, below, shows them after two weeks as dried flowers.


They will eventually turn a straw color as this one year old arrangement shows.  One more reason to love the ‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea, easy long lasting flower arrangements for the home.


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Piet Oudolf’s Lurie Garden at Millennium Park


The Lurie Garden, opened in 2004, is located at the southeast corner of Chicago’s Millennium Park.  The garden covers approximately 2.5 acres of the 24.5 acre park.  The design of the garden resulted from an international competition, the winning team consisted of the Seattle based landscape architect, Kathryn Gustafson; lighting and set designer, Robert Israel, and Dutch nurseryman and landscape designer, Piet Oudolf.  Gustafson and Israel designed the shapes of the beds, water feature, pathway locations, and other hardscape elements.  Oudolf created the planting plan, with the help of Wisconsin nurseryman Roy Diblik, co-owner of Northwind Perennial Farm, where most, if not all, of the perennials for The Lurie Garden were contract grown.

For more about the symbolism of the garden elements, including the underlying meaning of the surrounding hedge, and what the light and dark plates represent, you can visit Wikipedia.  I’m particularly interested in, and will be discussing, the plants used in the garden and how they were laid out as a composition.


As I earlier eluded, the garden consists of a Light Plate (sunny garden) and a Dark Plate (shady garden) with a seam (water coarse with parallel boardwalk) separating the two, and all of it surrounded on two sides, to the west and north, by a 12 foot tall hedge of evergreen arborvitae and deciduous beech and carpinus trees, with Monroe Street and Columbus Drive bordering the south and east sides.


The gardens contain more than 35,000 perennials, 5,200 trees and shrubs, and at least 120,000 spring flowering bulbs.  A more or less complete list of plants can be found here and here.

Along Monroe Street; Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’, with its big mound of blue-green leaves; tall Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) topped with domes of pink flowers; and the somewhat lost, Moor Grass, Molinia ‘Transparent’ with its airy (hence the name) flowers, fight for real estate.  As a groundcover, purple ajuga is used with Clematis integrifolia using the tall plants as a living trellis.


Clematis integrifolia, shown below, climbing over a baptisia, blooms from mid to late summer with understated (unlike many spring flowering clematis. Yes, I’m talking to you jackmanii) blue flowers.  The fuzzy seed heads, also visable in the photo, add fall and winter interest to the garden.


Six foot tall stalks rise from the Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum).  Birds, especially finches, relish the seeds produced by the bright yellow flowers.  Prairie Dropseed grass and Purple Love Grass along with White Echinacea and Rattlesnake Master intermingle with the Compass Plant.


The blue-green leaves of False Blue Indigo ‘Purple Smoke’ (Baptisia sp.) complement the strappy, silver-green leaves of the Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) with its spiky gray flowerheads rising above its leaves.


The airy flower stalks of Molinia ‘Transparent’, Moor Grass, along with the pinky-purple flowers of Joe-Pye-Weed ‘Purple Bush’ mingle together in the “dark plate” of the garden.  In the distance, Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ Grass shows off its straw colored seed heads.


Autumn Moor Grass (Seslaria autumnalis) massed in a corner of the “Dark Plate,” shows off its late summer flower spikes and its bright green foliage next to Hosta ‘Royal Standard’ with the white spikes of Culver’s Root ‘Diane’ showing behind them.


A bright blue mass of  Scutellaria incana (Skullcap) in the “Dark Plate”


Separtating the two “Plates” is the “Seam,” a shallow body of water along a boardwalk made of Ipe wood from South America.  The stream of water steps down towards Monroe Street, creating small waterfalls.  A quiet, peaceful place to sit and soak your feet …


… While 200 feet to the west, the under-ten-crowd had their own idea of what a water feature should be ..


giant faces spitting water into a very shallow reflecting pool, otherwise know as the Crown Fountain, but I digress.


Back to the Light Plate of the Lurie Garden.  Here, Autumn Moor Grass catches the sunlight, with Calamint (Calamentha nepeta susp. nepeta).  Calamint is a great filler species, long blooming (bracts remain showy) and complements other perennials such as coneflowers, Alliums, daylilies, and grasses to name a few.


On its west and north flanks, the garden is enclosed by “The Shoulder Hedge” consisting of a steel framework planted to Beech, Carpinis, and Arborviatae.  Beyond, rises the Modern Wing of The Art Institute of Chicago.  The walkways in the garden are granite pavers cut from countertop scraps.  Originally, the pathways were made of crushed stone.




The designer of the garden, Piet Oudolf, wants us to see beauty in the garden, beyond the flower.  When creating a planting plan, he looks at the plant’s shape, texture, and color, so that even after a plant is finished blooming, the garden still looks good, overall.  The following pictures of the garden reflect that thought process.  ENJOY:



Tennessee Coneflowers and Allium ‘Summer Beauty’ in combination, surrounded by Amsonia hubrichtii, Baptisia, Russian Sage, and Rattlesnake Master


Bright green Amsonia hubrichtii with ‘Chicago Apache’ Daylily and ‘Shenendoah’ Switchgrass


While the blue mid-summer blooms of the salvia have faded to brown, they still complement the silver of the Rattlesnake Master combined with the blue of Russian Sage.


The seed heads of the Blazingstar and Purple Coneflower still hold interest, while the Purple Love Grass and the blue Sea Lavender bring in accents of color.


As the white bracts of the calamint start to turn a lavender color, the Blue Bottle Gentian, growing with it, will be in spectacular bloom – one of many thoughtful plant combinations


The great mound of calamint mimics the Pritzker Pavilion beyond the hedge


The massing of various Blue Salivias is tranquil and understated in August, but is a river of blue in Mid-summer




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‘Pink Planet’ Allium is Out of This World


Pink Planet Allium2

‘Pink Planet’ Allium growing in one of my perennial beds.

Many may be familiar with Allium ‘Summer Beauty,’ it has become quite popular in recent years, as we’ve seen at The Grand Geneva Resort. It mixes well with other perennials and can be massed or used dotted throughout a garden.  But if ‘Summer Beauty’ is the star of the mid-summer landscape, ‘Pink Planet’ is it’s the over the top diva counterpart, a month later.  Big, two to three inch pink balls rise 18 inches above the ground.  There is nothing subtle about this flower.  Most of the summer it is an unassuming tuft of grey-green, slightly twisted, strap-like leaves, then BAM, in mid-August the plant puts on a show not to be missed and not soon to be forgotten.  ‘Pink Planet’ is a new introduction from Brent Horvath at Intrinsic Perennial Gardens, it’s availability seems to be somewhat limited, but it’s out there.

Pink Planet Allium

Alliums have many virtues, not the least of which, they are easy care plants.  Sun and good drainage are about all that these deer resistant plants require.  After flower, they can be cut back to the ground to refresh the plants, if desired.  In a few weeks, the plant will be a full mound of foliage again.  Another virtue is that they can be easily divided, since they grow from a cluster of small bulbs that can be dug, pulled apart, and replanted – either in spring, or soon after flowering has occurred.  The plant shown in my garden, which was planted two years ago, will get divided into several new plants next spring.

A good combination planting might include Allium ‘Pink Planet’ with Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and Tufted Hair Grass, Deschampsia caespitosa ‘Goldtau’ :
companionsThe twelve inch mounded, semi-evergreen foliage of ‘Goldtau’ is accented with yellow-green flower stalks in August, which contrasts well with the stiff bright green flowers of ‘Autumn Joy,’ that turn rose, then maroon, and finally a deep brown color in late autumn.  This combination offers an extended season of interest of color, texture, and form.  They also have similar soil moisture tolerances and sun requirements.  For a late summer “WOW” in the garden, Allium ‘Pink Planet’ is a good choice.





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