The Northern Green Expo, sponsored each January by the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association, provides a sneak peak at what nurseries and garden centers will be offering come spring. The expo is an industry-event and includes dozens of educational talks (I was lucky to be able to sit in on two of those) as well as a large trade show. Among the aisles of skid-loaders and other other heavy equipment are many plant companies showing off new plants, products and new ideas for helping home gardeners enjoy gardening more and be more successful at it.
One of the garden trends you can expect to see more of in the coming years is the idea of plant collections, the packaging of plants that go well together. Last year, Midwest Groundcovers introduced this idea with its Garden Artistry collections, developed with assistance from well-known Wisconsin plantsman Roy Diblik. Garden Artistry involves combinations of perennials that work well together, look good and don’t require excessive coddling in the form of water, fertilizer or pest control. Most of the plantings are based on those in the Lurie Gardens in downtown Chicago, as harsh an environment for plants as you can get outside of Minnesota! But the combinations will mostly work here, too, with an occasional adjustment for more cold-hardy cultivars.
For instance, one combination pairs the hardy and beautiful grass, prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), with beebalm (Monarda). The blades of grass weave among the leaves of beebalm and create a soft backdrop for its blooms. Together, the plants create a bee haven, and once established, require minimal care. Cut it back in early spring, water if it gets very dry in midsummer, but otherwise, leave it alone and enjoy the beauty. Garden Artistry recommends adding bulbs, if you wish, which would give this garden early season interest. Currently, there are seven Garden Artistry collections.
Another example of helping gardeners create plant vignettes was a display at the booth of EuroAmerican Propagators, a California-based wholesaler. One of its offerings for nurseries was this cute package of succulents — a perfect combination for a patio container. Many younger gardeners aren’t sure which plants grow well together — both in terms of looks and growing conditions — and these gardeners may be stretched for time.
—Mary Lahr Schier