The program evaluates herbaceous and woody plants in comparative trials, ultimately recommending the top performers to gardeners and the horticulture industry. Approximately 900 taxa are currently evaluated in the Bernice E. Lavin Plant Evaluation Garden, the Green Roof Gardens, and various ancillary sites.
Nineteen comparative trials are underway, including new 2020 trials of masterworts (Astrantia), butterfly bushes (Buddleja), tufted hair grasses (Deschampsia), torch lilies (Kniphofia), mangaves (×Mangave), and ninebarks (Physocarpus), and ongoing trials of blue false indigos (Baptisia), feather reed grasses (Calamagrostis), sweetshrubs (Calycanthus), coneflowers (Echinacea), rose mallows (Hibiscus), bush clovers (Lespedeza), Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum), beebalms (Monarda), Russian sages (Perovskia), spring phloxes (Phlox), perennial sages (Salvia), burnets (Sanguisorba), and rosinweeds (Silphium).
Trial results are published in Plant Evaluation Notes (the Chicago Botanic Garden’s publication), Fine Gardening magazine, and other horticultural and green industry publications and websites.
About the Plant Evaluation Program
Field observation, years of experience, and a passion for plants all blend together in the Plant Evaluation Program. This program is dedicated to the scientific study of perennials, annuals, vines, shrubs, and trees.
The Plant Evaluation Program, managed by Richard Hawke, is one of the largest and most diverse in the nation. It is also one of the few programs in the United States that formally evaluates perennials. The Plant Evaluation Program received the Award for Program Excellence from the American Public Garden Association in 2008.
"So many plants have a premium price, and if they don't perform as expected, people get disenchanted," said Hawke, the plant evaluation manager. "You'll find what's hot and new in catalogs and magazines, but I'm all about the tried-and-true. We're here to tell the average gardener and the green industry how plants performed in our evaluations."
The goal of the program is to determine, through scientific evaluation, which plants are superior for gardens in the Upper Midwest. Plants are rated on ornamental qualities, cultural adaptability, winter hardiness, and disease and pest resistance. It is the intent of the program to study and recommend plants that are readily available in area nurseries. Study results are published and reported to both the professional industry and the gardening public.
The evaluation studies are conducted over a long-term period:
- Four years for perennials
- Six years for shrubs and vines
- Seven to ten years for trees
"We observe and review them over a long period so we can say with fair certainty how the plant performs for us," Hawke said.
The fun part for Hawke is starting a trial with unfamiliar plants. Hawke is also involved in evaluating the potential for some popular ornamental plants, such as maiden grass (Miscanthus) and smartweed (Persicarial/Polygonum), to be invasive. This is a concern not only for home gardeners, but for forest preserves and other open spaces where invasive plants compete with native plants.
Two gardens at the Chicago Botanic Garden have served as the program’s home. The Bernice E. Lavin Evaluation Garden is a 2.5-acre site with uniform growing conditions, which includes full sun and exposure to wind in all directions. The Pullman Evaluation Garden, which is the site of the Garden’s original test garden, was a landscaped garden for evaluating perennials, vines, shrubs, and small trees suitable for partially shaded conditions. (It has been closed to accommodate construction of new, expanded production greenhouses on the Kris Jarantoski Campus.)
Information on top-performing genera that have been previously evaluated in the program is available in Plant Evaluation Notes, available for download below. For a list of plants currently under evaluation in the program, click here.
Plant Evaluation Notes
- Issue #1 — Performance Appraisal of Selected Small-Leafed Rhododendrons
- Issue #2 — The Evaluation and Introduction of a Unique Dwarf River Birch
- Issue #3 — A Bamboo Performance Report
- Issue #4 — Hibiscus moscheutos Cultivars and Horticultural Hybrids
- Issue #5 — A Performance Report of Cultivated Yarrows (Achillea)
- Issue #6 — Boxwoods for Northern Midwest Landscapes
- Issue #7 — 1994 Report on Summer-Flowering Annuals
- Issue #8 — Rudbeckia for Cultivated Landscapes
- Issue #9 — A Performance Report of Cultivated Blazing Stars
- Issue #10 — Clematis for Northern Landscapes
- Issue #11 — An Evaluation Report of Shrub Roses
- Issue #12 — Monarda and Powdery Mildew Resistance
- Issue #13 — An Evaluation Report of Selected Phlox Species and Hybrids
- Issue #14 — A Performance Appraisal of the Hardy Sages
- Issue #15 — An Evaluation Report of Goldenrods for the Garden
- Issue #16 — An Evaluation Study of Trycirtis
- Issue #17 — An Appraisal of Pulmonaria for the Garden
- Issue #18 — An Evaluation Study of Hardy Amsonia
- Issue #19 — Garden-Worthy Artemisias
- Issue #20 — Barrenworts for the Shade Garden
- Issue #21 — An Evaluation Study of Coral Bells
- Issue #22 — Hardy Geraniums for Northern Gardens
- Issue #23 — A Comparative Study of Ground Cover Lamium
- Issue #24 — An Evaluation Study of Alchemilla
- Issue #25 — Fall-Blooming Anemones
- Issue #26 — A Garden Study of Sundrops and Evening Primroses
- Issue #27 — A Comparative Study of Cultivated Stachys
- Issue #28 — An Evaluation Report of Meadow Rues
- Issue #29 — A Comparative Study of Cultivated Catmints
- Issue #30 — A Report on Leucanthemum ×superbum and Related Daisies
- Issue #31 — A Performance Appraisal of Hardy Bellflowers
- Issue #32 — A Comparative Study of Platycodon grandiflorus Cultivars
- Issue #33 — Comparative Studies of Veronica and Veronicastrum
- Issue #34 — A Comparative Study of Tradescantia Cultivars
- Issue #35 — A Comparative Study of Phlox paniculata Cultivars
- Issue #36 — A Comparative Study of Cultivated Asters
- Issue #37 — A Comparative Study of Joe-Pye Weeds (Eutrochium spp.) and Their Relatives
- Issue #38 — An Evaluation Study of Plants for Use on Green Roofs
- Issue #39 — A Comparative Study of Lady Ferns and Japanese Painted Ferns
- Issue #40 — A Comparative Trial Report on Rodgersias and Astilboides
- Issue #41 — A Comparative Evaluation Study of Geum spp.
- Issue #42 — Lavenders for Northern Gardens
- Issue #43 — An Evaluation Study of Hardy Ornamental Grasses
- Issue #44 — An Evaluation Study of Tender Salvias (Salvia spp.)
- Issue #45 — A Comparative Evaluation of Ironweeds (Vernonia spp.)
- Issue #46 — An Evaluation Study of Russian Sage Cultivars (Perovskia spp.)
- Issue #47 — Comparative Trials of Hydrangea paniculata Cultivars