Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


Anyone who has visited Lurie Gardens at Millenium Park in Chicago has a connection to Northwind Perennial Farm. Roy Diblik, one of the business partners in Northwind, supplied the plants for Lurie Gardens. Roy also designed and planted the landscape at Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva, WI, just a few miles away from the nursery.

It’s certainly worth detouring off the main highway to visit Northwind Perennial Farm. On a recent press trip to the area as a guest of Lake Geneva and the Walworth County Visitors Bureau, I managed to sneak away from planned events for a quick visit to the nursery. And although I arrived just at closing time, Colleen Garrigan, who runs the garden shop, welcomed me and graciously allowed me to stroll the grounds at my leisure. The garden center season was winding down, but I was able to see much of the handiwork of Steve Coster, landscape designer, and the third partner in this outstanding operation, as well as the artistic flair Colleen brings to displays, expertly combining plants and garden ornaments.

The trio of owners draws on the heritage of the farm and area, specializing in native perennials, local materials, and country cottage garden accessories. Next time you’re in southeast Wisconsin or northeast Illinois, see for yourself what Northwind Perennial Farm is all about. Here are a few photos that I took to whet your appetite.

It appears that everyone is headed to Northwind Perennial Farm, including this bantam rooster leading a parade of statuary chickens!

An open barn door frames a fall floral arrangement displayed on a grand piano.

A white picket fence draped with black-eyed Susan vine defines the border of the cottage garden display garden.

Vintage finds are displayed on the wall of a shed.

Miscanthus and persicaria bring color and texture to the display garden in autumn.

Leaf imprints in concrete birdbaths are permanent. The fallen leaves are temporary.

I love how this pyramid of field stone echoes the shape of the baldcypress and spruce trees behind it.

By the time the autumnal equinox rolls around most of my landscape looks bedraggled, awaiting the first hard freeze to put it out of its misery. But several sections are just now coming into their full glory. One that I like a lot, partly because it looks more like summer than fall to me, is the purple and gold border shown below. ‘Sunshine Daydream’ perennial sunflower (Helianthus multiflorus ‘Sunshine Daydream’) combines with ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod (Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’), Sunshine Blue bluebeard (Caryopteris incana ‘Jason’), leadplant (Amorpha canescens), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), and zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’) to create a welcoming entry to the yard. If you look closely, you may be able to see that the zebra grass and Russian sage do double duty, screening the front yard utility boxes, too.

Purple and gold corner garden

front walk border

The walkway leading from the driveway to the front door is lined with texture-rich perennials that provide plenty of interest this time of year (see photo at left). Starting at the rear of the photo, maidengrass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’), narrowleaf ironweed (Vernonia lettermannii), dwarf crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica),’Walker’s Low’ catmint (Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’) and bluestar amsonia (Amsonia hubrichtii) make a delightful combination. The feathery foliage of the maidengrass, the narrowleaf ironweed and the blue star amsonia create wonderful wispy repetition in the border. ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint blooms almost all summer long with fragrant blue blooms on silvery foliage. The dwarf crepe myrtles burst into color through summer’s heat. As cool fall weather arrives, their foliage transitions to glowing shades of yellow, orange, and maroon. (And, yes, they are root hardy here in Zone 5. It helps that they’re planted in a favorable microclimate, tucked between the concrete walkway and a southeast-facing brick wall. I cut them back to the ground each spring, and by late summer they’re loaded with pink and purple blooms.)

Yet another corner with an excellent early fall display is the backyard shrub border shown below. The focal point in this grouping is the seven-son flower (Heptacodium miconioides). It’s just starting to bloom now. As its white flowers fade, the sepals will turn pink, providing extended color well into fall. Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’) brings a splash of gold to the combination. As fall progresses, the yellow leaves will take on orange and scarlet tones. In front of Tiger Eyes, purple flame grass (Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’) glows with silvery seedheads. It’s just beginning to develop its fiery orange fall foliage. ‘Cranberry Crush’ hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos ‘Cranberry Crush’) is pushing out its last few blooms while taking on deeper red leaf color with the onset of cool autumn weather.

Which late-season combinations do you have in your yard? Show us or tell us about some of your favorite pairings.

fall shrub border

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