If I ever get to Massachusetts, I'm going to visit the gardens of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.
If I were to go there, I would visit the Bressingham Experimental Gardens because Adrian Bloom, a horticulturist and plant researcher for Blooms of Bressingham, is one of my favorite garden writers. More than 7,500 plants went into the gardens on the society's grounds that Bloom designed. A complete list of the plants, as well as photos, can be found here: www.masshort.org/Bressingham-Plant-List. Be prepared to have your mind boggled.
Another reason I would like to visit the Massachusetts Horticulture Society gardens is the Jim Crockett Memorial Garden. For those of us old enough to remember, Jim Crockett was the original host of the PBS television show, ''The Victory Garden,'' which was then called, ''Crockett's Victory Garden.'' The show was quite possibly one of the first television programs about gardening, long before P. Allen Smith, Rebecca Colls or Martha Stewart. Every week, gardeners would tune in to see the wonderful vegetable garden and greenhouse that Crockett maintained in a downtown suburb of Boston. If you looked closely, you could see cars whizzing by on the street through the pickets in the tall fence that enclosed the garden. Otherwise, there was no indication it was in the city.
I have been fortunate to have seen many public gardens, but not nearly enough. I have been to the Chicago Botanic Gardens a few times and the Tuscon Botanic Gardens in Arizona. I've also seen the gardens at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., and the Royal Botanic Gardens and the research gardens at the Guelph Horticultural School in Ontario, Canada. I've gone behind the scenes of the Niagara Falls landscaping, and I've walked through the Atlanta Botanic Gardens. Of course, I also stayed close to home and visited the Cleveland Metroparks Botanical Gardens, Fellows Riverside Garden at Millcreek Park, Holden Arboretum in Kirtland and Seacrest Arboretum in Wooster.
Much of what I've learned about perennials came from visiting gardens. Seeing the plants in person, growing and thriving, or in some cases, not thriving, can teach a lot about what to put where in our gardens. And a lot about what not to put anywhere.
I remember a display at the Chicago Botanic Gardens that struck me as odd. The whole idea of visiting gardens, I thought, was to see what I could do in my own landscape. But this circular garden surrounding a central fountain was bordered with spider plants. I'm not talking about Tradescantia, the perennial more commonly called spiderwort, but the tropical plant we hang in our windows so we can watch the long, trailing stalks form spider plant babies with aerial roots; Chlorophytum comosum.
''What's this?" I asked my friend, who lives near Chicago and is a member of the gardens.
''Just a filler for the summer,'' she replied.
At the time, I thought, isn't that cheating? But perhaps it isn't. Nothing stops us from lining our outdoor gardens with tropical plants if that's the look we want. We do it all the time when we plant geraniums, tuberous begonias and other tender perennials we either dig up and bring inside or leave to die and replace next summer. I have a friend who decorates the entire front of her landscape with caladiums, a tropical foliage plant with brilliant red and maroon leaves. And she plants, not just a few, but hundreds of these tubers, replacing them each year.
''I like them,'' she said. And that's all that matters.
Day trips to visit gardens is a wonderful way to spend some time in summer. Most botanic gardens have small restaurants on the grounds enabling visitors to stay all day if they like. And it's easy to spend all day because there is so much to take in.
Just like a popular potato chip brand, you can't go just once. Not only does each season bring changes, but caretakers and curators of these public gardens are constantly changing the designs. Those spider plants that I saw on my first visit to the Chicago gardens were something else entirely by the time I went back a couple years later. While the hardscape and basic layout is the same, plant material, color combinations and choice of sculpture and other garden art are constantly being reworked.
Possibly my favorite, or at least one of the most memorable, is the English walled garden at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. It isn't one of the largest areas and is in fact, a small themed garden set within other themed gardens that visitors can walk among as though we were touring the rooms of a large house. Set inside tall brick walls on one side and thick hedges on another, the garden is designed in tiers with paved steps, large borders and English cottage flowers such as tall globe allium, poppies, bearded Iris and goatsbeard. Of course, an English garden couldn't be complete without thick, twining ivy climbing the brick wall.
My most memorable garden; however, has to be the rock garden at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Ontario, Canada. It defies imagination and I can't even begin to describe the fantasy within those walls. You just have to see it to believe it.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener with The Ohio State University Extension of Trumbull County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.