Chicago Botanic Garden: Circle Garden

During last week’s 6-hour visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden, we found ourselves rushing to get to Evening Island before we had to catch our train back to the city. So, after a nice lunch at the visitor’s center, we walked briskly past the Model Railroad Garden and Native Plant Garden, took a quick detour through the Landscape Garden and Bulb Garden (both lovely), and were on the verge of hustling past the Circle Garden when its bright borders stopped me in my tracks.

Up the steps, into the eye-poppingly colorful annual garden, I appraised the scene and saw a square fountain centering a square garden room. Smart-aleck that I am, I turned to an elderly woman seated on a bench and asked, “Is this the Circle Garden?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Then why is it square?” I deadpanned.

She laughed and explained that the border of the garden, hidden by hedges, is circular, but the interior is square. She’d seen this garden laid out from day one, she said, and was clearly enjoying herself on a warm bench in the sunshine, in a garden she’d been visiting for years.

I can see why. I don’t usually love annual displays, the long, low sweeps of unrelenting color and similar form frankly boring to me. But this annual garden mixes height and form as well as color, to gorgeous effect. Not to mention that many of the “annuals” are considered perennials here in Austin, like the cannas, salvias, and pennisetum grasses (are the grasses perennial in Chicago, I wonder?). Wouldn’t a border like this one blow the socks off your neighbors, fellow Austinites?

We were too rushed to see all of the Circle Garden, but I thought the inner section was fun and exciting. Except for those orange mum towers. I’m still not sure what to think about those.

Toasty pennisetums play well against the oranges and yellows in this garden.

What are those tall, spiky, yellow flowers? Update: Annie ID’d them as Salvia madrensis ‘Redneck Girl.’ Thanks, Annie.

I spotted these asters in another part of the Botanic Garden, but I wanted to show them because asters were all over the place that week. Yes, I know, this is an unrelenting sweep of color and form, like I said of annuals, blah, blah, blah. But I like it anyway. Ahh, asters.

Next up, for fellow ornamental grass lovers, is Evening Island, our final garden of the day. If you missed the Japanese Garden and Bonsai Collection, click here.

15 Responses

  1. What gorgeous colors! It looks just lovely. I’ll have to add it to my list of gardens that I want to see someday. Someday! ~A :-)

    Thanks for commenting, Angela. I just visited your lovely blog and found myself amazed by the scope of your remodeling and the pre-move gardening. You must be a real dynamo! I look forward to seeing how your new garden evolves. —Pam

  2. Hi Pam – another gorgeous garden! I don’t remember this one – although the fountain looks sort of familiar.

    Is there a chance that your spiky yellow plant is something called Salvia madrensis? I know nothing about it except it was posted by the garden historian blog -said to grow 10 feet tall. The photo looks like a possible:

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Salvia madrensis certainly looks likely. Thanks for the possible ID, Annie. —Pam

  3. Kim says:

    Eh, you’re allowed to have one opinion about annuals and another about asters used the same way! :) Those pennisetums absolutely should be hardy in Chicago… I believe that the only common fountaingrasses that aren’t very hardy in zones 5/6 are the gorgeous burgundy ones. I am going to try to overwinter one in my basement this year.

    Oh good, I’m glad my fickleness isn’t a problem around here. The purple fountaingrass I think you’re referring to isn’t always hardy here either. I had one come back in the spring once, but the plant struggled along and didn’t look good that summer. Now I treat them as annuals. —Pam

  4. Kim says:

    I forgot to ask… what are those pillars of orangey foliage? Very cool.

    Those are the mum towers I mentioned. I’m not a fan, but I admit they were intriguing. I tried to poke through the flowers to see how one was constructed, but it was all packed too tightly to see. —Pam

  5. It’s me, Annie, again. I followed your link to the CBG website and found a ‘what’s in bloom’ list. A plant called Salvia madrensis ‘Redneck Girl’ is listed for the Circle Garden.

    When it comes to opinions I like the quote Kim put on her blog a while ago:
    “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. (I contain multitudes.)”
    – Walt Whitman

    I knew I put those links in for a reason. Good sleuthing, Annie. I wouldn’t have known what to look for in that long list, but you homed right in on it. ‘Redneck Girl’ is an entertaining name, isn’t it? And I like the Whitman quote too. —Pam

  6. Pam says:

    How nice – I haven’t been to the Chicago Botanic Garden in a few years – when I got a wonderful tour by a friend from graduate school who for several years was the Director of their School of the Botanic Garden. I thought it was just a gorgeous place – and it’s fun to see all of these images of the different gardens. Thanks!

    You got an insider’s tour? That must be like a backstage tour in Hollywood. Lucky you! —Pam

  7. Renee says:

    I’m a fan of asters, too — that bright color is such a lovely swan song for the gardening season. At her own garden at Munstead Wood, Gertrude Jekyll had one border devoted just to Michaelmas Daisies — asters. Of course, her estate was so huge, she had lots of single-season gardens, but I think it’s interesting that she chose to celebrate seasons with borders that were knockouts, briefly, instead of trying to have everything in bloom all the time. Hard to emulate on a small scale, I suppose, but sometimes it seems as though gardeners, especially in the northeast, blow the budget — and the acreage — on May and June and don’t have much to look forward to until the maples color up in October.

    Hi, Renee. It’s good to hear from you again. I’m sure I would have liked Gertrude Jekyll’s aster garden. I’ve often thought it would be wonderful to have an ornamental grass garden, for an awesome fall display. Alas, I lack the space for a single-season blow-out.

    Planting only for spring is such an easy mistake to make, especially for northern gardeners who’ve been waiting all winter to plant something when spring finally arrives. —Pam

  8. Carol says:

    Your photos of the gardens make me want to go see this garden in person!

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

    Indeed you should. How far is it to Chicago for you? —Pam

  9. Layanee says:

    I like the fountain! What fun! The mum towers …hmmmm…NIMBY! I’ll be content to see them in this garden though. Thanks for another great tour.

  10. […] To see photos from the other gardens I visited at Chicago Botanic Garden, click here. […]

  11. Ki says:

    What a great tour of the Chicago Botanical Gardens. It would be interesting to see what was blooming in the spring and early summer. Makes me wish I had time to visit all the botanical gardens in the U.S. and beyond. thanks for the tour.

    Hi, Ki. Chuck has expressed a similar wish. He’s posted a number of California botanical garden tours on his blog too. Maybe that’s the way we’ll see them all—if each blogger posts a garden tour of the one nearest his or her home. —Pam

  12. Kim says:

    I think I actually misquoted old Uncle Walt–I believe I missed a 3-word sentence in there because I was too lazy to look it up and assumed I would remember/type it correctly. Oops. Should be:

    “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. (I am large. I contain multitudes.)”

    By the way, I was coming here to say that a post on Garden rant showed salvia mexicana that is supposed to get to 6ft tall with similar yellow blooms. But since Annie found the actual mention of ‘Redneck Girl’ I’ll just mention that s. mexicana seems to be a similar plant looks-wise and might be of interest to some as an alternative.

    It’s always nice to have alternatives. Thanks for mentioning the Salvia mexicana. —Pam

  13. Kim says:

    Or else possibly the Garden Rant plant is misidentified? Now I can’t find any s. mexicana plants that flower in yellow via a google search! Oops. I’m all about errors in the comments on this post, Pam. Sorry!

    That’s funny. :-) Maybe one of the Garden Rant gals will weigh in and let us know. —Pam

  14. kate says:

    That is a lovely-coloured garden – the Salvia certainly catches the eye. It was great fun reading the comments above too!

    Sometimes the comments are the best part of a post. Another reason why blogs are such fun. —Pam

  15. […] passalong from Annie, Salvia madrensis, is beginning to bloom. I first saw this plant in the Circle Garden at Chicago Botanic Garden, and recently I admired a large swath in Lucinda Hutson’s […]