After a year of extraordinary challenges, we are looking forward to all that summer 2021 has to offer in the Lavin Plant Evaluation Garden.
Here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, the trials we started last year—butterfly bushes (Buddleja), torch lilies (Kniphofia), masterworts (Astrantia), and ninebarks (Physocarpus)—gave us a nice preview of what we might expect this summer as the plants grow larger. From the blues, pinks, and purples of the butterfly bushes to the oranges, yellows, and reds of the torch lilies, the evaluation garden will be a riot of colors and a haven for pollinators. The masterworts sulked last summer so we worried that winter might end the trial. But, after a strong start this spring, we’re hopeful for a bounty of their pincushion-like flowers in June and July. Visitors and staff were sad to see the long-running panicle hydrangea trial end last spring, but the kaleidoscopic foliage of the ninebarks almost made us forget. A review of the ninebarks will be published later this year in Fine Gardening.
Among the exciting happenings underway in the evaluation garden this summer are new trials of hardy mums (Chrysanthemum) and fall anemones (Anemone). Look for these perennials to bloom in late summer to early fall, but in the meantime, plenty of other fantastic plants will show their colors. Approximately 700 different plants are under evaluation, including perennials such as coneflowers (Echinacea), burnets (Sanguisorba), and swamp mallows (Hibiscus), as well as the fruity, fragrant sweetshrubs (Calycanthus). The rainbow-colored coneflowers begin their show around the solstice, continuing through the dog days of summer and beyond. July unveils the flamboyant pink squirrel-tails of Korean burnet (Sanguisorba hakusanensis ‘Lilac Squirrel’), which bob and dance on arched stems above handsome gray-green leaves. In August, you cannot miss the bodacious American boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum ‘Polished Brass’), which at 68 inches tall and 96 inches wide, is one of the most pollinator-friendly plants ever.
Beyond the beauty of the evaluation garden is the science that is happening there every day. Each plant is regularly monitored for its adaptability to the environmental conditions of the trial site, disease and pest problems, and the ornamental value of the flowers, foliage, and habits. Whether a plant is a winner or not—some fail spectacularly—the comparative trials make it easier for visitors to judge for themselves. We are excited that Gavin Young, the 2021 evaluation intern, will be with us through December. After 35 years of observing plants, a fresh eye is always appreciated. Beyond assisting with data collection and photographic documentation of the trial plants, Gavin will be regularly posting about evaluation plants and projects on Instagram and Facebook. Keep an eye on our social media channels, but better yet, come visit us in person.