A Visit to Roy Diblik’s Northwind Perennial Farm in Mid-June


One of the many vignettes at Northwind: a rustic shed with chives and geraniums in flower.

As I drove up to Northwind Perennial Farm, in Burlington, Wisconsin, on Saturday, June 14th, I was met with cars parked all along the street, in front of the nursery.  At about the same time, I saw a turn off into a grassy area of the nursery for overflow parking.  The nursery was holding an antiques fair that Friday and Saturday – I was more interested in seeing the gardens in early June (I visited last year in late July, which you can read about <Here>).  For a little background on Roy and his business partners Steve Coster and Colleen Garrigan there is a good article by Beth Botts which you can find <here>.


The display gardens help the visitor see, literally, what the plants will look like when they are mature specimens – the garden is always changing throughout the season.

As I pulled into the impromptu  parking area, I saw Roy walking by himself taking pictures of the all of the cars.  As soon as I found a parking space, I grabbed a copy of Roy’s book, “The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden,” from my back seat a walked over to Roy.  I introduced myself, mentioned that we have met in the past, and would he mind signing my copy of his book.  He smiled, and said “Sure, but I don’t have a pen,” I quickly raised my other hand holding a pen and smiled.   We talked for about ten minutes – a very pleasant chat about nothing in particular, but it felt like I was talking with an old friend about that I have known for years.


Geranium ‘Orion’ in the foreground with pink chives and blue salvia behind.

With all of the nearby buzz of the antique sale going on, here I was chatting Roy about his new book, the plants he grows, and life in general – it made the 110 mile journey to his nursery all that more worthwhile.


At the end of our chat, he did take my book and signed it “Roy” along with the note to “Always share the joy of gardening!! Have fun!!”  It was the beginning of a very nice visit to Northwind Perennial Farm.


If the plants in the display garden look familiar, then you may also have visited the Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park – the garden was designed by Dutch nurseryman Piet Oudolf but the plants were grown by Roy, and many of Piet’s plant choices were inspired by Roy and his love of prairies.  Roy has also designed many gardens on his own, including ones at the Art Institute of Chicago (on the northeast and northwest corners), the Shedd Aquarium (that I still need to visit) and one I did visit last weekend at The Grand Geneva Resort, in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and many, many more – all based on his “Know Maintenance” approach to garden design, a process of designing communities of plants that work well together, and look good, with a minimum of necessary maintenance – an approach detailed in his latest book: “The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden.”


The sound of water is always a welcome sound in the garden – here, a waterfall is artfully placed in the landscape at Northwind


The blue flowers if Skullcap, Scutellaria incana – a southern Midwest native, are impressive


Skullcap prefers some protection from the afternoon sun and naturally occurs under trees along waterways

The  retail yard at Northwind is divided loosely into plants that prefer sun and plants that tolerate or do better in shade, as well as an area with a variety of grasses. 

Some of the plants are pulled together as suggestions of good plant combinations and to show how they would look in a garden setting:


‘Husker Red’ Penstemon, ‘Walkers Low’ Catmint, and ‘Blue Star’ Amsonia

The sun loving plants in the sales area:


This past Sunday The display gardens are helpful in that they show how plants don’t have to be massed in large groupings of one species, next to another large mass of another species, the image below shows a nice alternative, the planting below also demonstrates that leaf texture is as important as flower color – maybe more so. Lesson learned.


Good use of color, on the other hand, is also demonstrated in the gardens at Northwind:


A monochromatic combination of blue Salvia ‘Wesuwe”, along with a hardy geranium and a Purple Allium grown from a bulb.

One plant that caught my eye, that had no showy flowers, was Palm Sedge (Carex muskingumensis), a Midwestern  woodland native:


Palm Sedge, the bright green fine textured foliage works well with other plants – in both sun or shade (with good moisture)

It was growing in an open, sunny area, and was as big as a bushel basket. Very dynamic, and showy.  I need to divide the ones I have growing  my garden, get them out in the sun and also give them more room to develop into specimen plants.


This Palm Sedge was about two feet tall!

Some Plants in Bloom:

The salvias were in bloom, the Lurie Garden is well know for its June blooming “river” of salvia running down its center.


‘Blue Hill’ Salvia, there is also a white version, called ‘Snow Hill’


Salvia ‘Wesuwe’


Kalameris incisa ‘Blue Star’


White ‘Alba’ Dwarf Chives


‘Husker Red’ Penstemon


Yellow Indigo, Baptisia spaerocarpa


Yellow Indigo, three feet tall and wide. Bold!

In one of the shady gardens, I was blown away by the  hardy geranium ‘Magnificum,’ aptly named, growing behind a low stone wall constructed by Steve Coster, Roy’s business partner.


The flowers of Geranium ‘Magnificum’ glow in the shade


The color of Geranium ‘Magnificum’ is electric, to day the least – sadly, I didn’t notice any for sale the day I was there.

While chatting with Roy earlier in the production area (overflow parking) he recommended Monarda bradburiana, a native horsemint.  Last year, while visiting the nursery in July, I saw Monarda ‘Coral Reef’ in flower and bought a plant to try in my garden – the coral pink flowers were pretty incredible.  The Bradbury Monarda is a native of Missouri – however, Roy first saw the plant growing in Europe, liked its short habit, at about 20 inches, and its early bloom, about a month earlier than other monardas and decided to grow it in his nursery.  Monardas are great at attracting butterflies and this one would make a great combination planted with Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) – another butterfly magnet, whose bright shades of pink would complement the more muted tones of the Bradbury Mondara – both like full sun.


Bradbury Monarda

The yarrows (Achillea) looked tempting, I especially liked that they had great gray foliage.  The yarrows have a long bloom time, and the flowers dry well for winter arangements. The five foot tall ‘Gold Plate’ Yarrow could add a lot of drama to a garden.


‘Coronation Gold’ Achillea (Yarrow) 36 inches tall, golden flowers


‘Coronation Gold’ Achillea – finely cut silver foliage


‘Moonshine’ Achillea – 24 inches tall, yellow flowers


‘Moonshine’ Achillea – Ferny, silver foliage


Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’ – 5 feet tall!!! Yellow flowers

Some of the plants that I bought:

Columbine Meadow Rue, Thalictrum aquilegifolium

Columbine Meadow Rue is native to woodlands across Ontario, Canada and New York State.  The pink stamens are the showy part of the flower, while the blue-green divided leaves are reminiscent of native columbine.  This plant will tolerate full sun,  but as an understory plant, it would make a nice addition to the shade garden with its tall (36 inches), airy habit and late spring blooms.


Meadow Rue

St. Bernard’s Lily, Anthericum ramosum

This Eurasian native caught my eye due to its interesting growth habit of 20 inch long, gray-green narrow leaves forming a clump, with 30 inch long wiry stems topped by white star-shaped flowers.  It apparently likes full to part sun with average, well drained soil.


St. Bernard’s Lily

Prairie Golden Aster, Chrysopsis camporum

Now known as Heterotheca camporum, Prairie Golden Aster is a Midwestern Native that I first saw blooming at Taltree Arboretum, in Valparaiso, Indiana.  Often found growing in sandy waste ground, it will be interesting to see how this  plant performs in a garden situation.  Full sun and well drained soil is what this plant seems to thrive on. Plants can grow to three feet tall and two feet in width.  The one inch, daisy-like flowers are noted to bloom for most of the summer.


Prairie Golden Aster

 The Antiques Fair

While I didn’t choose this weekend to visit Northwind because of the antiques fair going on, it was a somewhat interesting diversion.  I was at least hoping for a garden themed sale, and it was, to a point, but most of the stuff for sale was better suited to the sun porch than the actual garden. I did, of course, have a good time poking around the nursery in search of new ideas and plants, it was just a really nice bonus to bend Roy’s ear for a few minutes before entering the melee.



Paint it white or Martha Stewart green and it will sell – well that seemed to be an apparent thought among vendors anyhow


I did find these garlands made of sheets of phone book paper rather interesting in a grade school Hawaiian lei made of Kleenex kind of way.


I envisioned vines growing all over this wire chair


In the barn were some silverware wind chimes – a massive chandelier would be cool – hang it in the woods as surprise .. hmmm, upcoming project?




Share Button

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




Share Button

Roy Diblik Designed Garden at The Grand Geneva Resort & Spa



Opened in 1968 as a Playboy Club Hotel, the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired architecture of The Grand Geneva Resort & Spa lends itself well to the Roy Diblik designed entry garden.  Installed in 2005/06, the garden evokes a Midwestern meadow full of bright flowers and billowing grasses.  While not all of the 20+ species of perennials in this garden are native to the Midwest, most are not, Roy has shown, that “it doesn’t have to be all natives” to be sustainable.  The garden does reflect a growing need for sustainable landscape design and creates an emotional connection for the viewer through “Representation of Place,” as Roy puts it.


According to Roy, ecological plantings are where landscape design needs to be.  He would like to see an end to monocultures of Black-eyed-Susans and Purple Coneflowers, which too often leads to disease and death, as well as the “weed, woodchip, and replace” mantra of the landscape industry.  Instead, he would like to see well designed landscapes, consisting of stable communities of plants, that are sustainable and create a pleasant garden.

Roy Diblik’s plantings are dense enough that weeds cannot compete with the perennials.  He also believes in keeping the soil lean:  “A lean soil supports fewer weeds.”  Additionally,  he feels that adding wood chips is not something that promotes plant health in perennials and should not be needed if they are happily growing in “closed, stable, communities.”   He does, however, occasionally use leaf mulch in some of his gardens, for example, his gardens at the Art Institute of Chicago get an application of leaf mulch every three years.


As can be seen in this garden, Roy keeps the plant palette limited (I counted approximately 20 species of plants), repeats many of the plants throughout the garden, and chooses plants the “respect their space.” 

Roy has mentioned in his presentations, that the designer needs to consider the size and habit of the plants 3 to 5 years after planting, and that gardens need two years of nurturing, before gardening can begin.  The old horticultural saying about perennials is that the first season, they “sleep,” the second year, they “creep,” and the third year, they “leap.”  Roy plants in expectation of the third year, and beyond.  But he is not a believer in “one and done,”  rather, a garden (or landscape project) should be thought of in phases, and changes or additions should be planned for, in time.


In the above picture we see approximately a half dozen perennials repeated, each grouping knitted into the next, not simply one grouping next to another grouping.  In the foreground, Allium angulosum  ‘Summer Beauty’ ties into the yellow ‘Happy Returns’ Daylily, which in turn runs into the purples of various Veronicas.  The seed heads of June blooming giant allium bulbs are still visable, and are part of the aesthetic of the garden.  The bright green grass, Sesleria autumnalis,  Moor Grass, fronts the walkway in the bed at left and complements the blue-green leaves of the Catmint, Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta, behind it.  The Catmint as well at the ‘Summer Beauty’ Allium can be seen repeating in the rear of this image, as well.  Spots of Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’ add a touch of royal purple to the mix.


In the largest section of the garden, the mixture of ‘Summer Beauty’ and Catmint can be seen with a large swath of purple ‘Hummelo’ behind, along with the taller Purple Coneflower, the misty blue Russian Sage, and the yellows of the ‘Happy Returns’ Daylilies, Coreopsis, and Achillea.  In the distant background is Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’  Feather Reed Grass.  Various blue Salvias, past flowering in this photo, played a major color roll, earlier in the season.  Plant shape, texture, and height play as much of a roll in this composition as does the color of the flowers.


Above, Sesleria autumnalis,  Moor Grass; Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta,  Catmint; Salvia‘Blue Hill;’ and  Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo,’ growing together as part of a happy and beautiful plant community.


Sporobolis heterolepis,  Prairie Dropseed Grass; Allium angulosum,  ‘Summer Beauty;’ and Echinacea purpurea,  Purple Coneflower, intermingle nicely along the walkway.


The Plants Seen in Roy Diblik’s Garden

at The Grand Geneva Resort & Spa:

·        Achillea x hybrida  ‘Coronation Gold’ ‘Inca Gold’  Yarrow

·        Allium angulosum  ‘Summer Beauty’ Allium

·        Allium purpureum bulbs

·        Allium schoenoprasum ‘Schnitlauch’ Dwarf Chives

·        Amsonia orientalis ‘Blue Ice’

·        Baptisia sphaerocarpa,  Yellow Indigo

·        Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’  Feather Reed Grass

·        Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta,  Catmint

·        Coreopsis palmata,  Prairie Coreopsis

·        Coreopsis verticillata  ‘Golden Showers,’ ‘Moonbeam’

·        Echinacea purpurea,  Purple Coneflower 

·        Geranium x hybrida ‘Orion’  Hardy Geranium

·        Hemerocallis x hybrida  ‘Happy Returns’ Daylily

·        Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’

·        Perovskia atriplicifolia,  Russian Sage

·        Rudbeckia fulgida,  Black-Eyed-Susan

·        Salvia  ‘Wesuwe,’  ‘Blue Hill,’ ‘East Friesland’

·        Sesleria autumnalis,  Moor Grass

·        Sporobolis heterolepis,  Prairie Dropseed

·        Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’

·        Veronica sp.  Speedwell




Share Button