The Lurie Garden: After the River

The River of Salvia is an annual high point for Chicago’s Lurie Garden. This year, though, by the time I was able to visit the river had started to dry up, with most of the Salvias no longer in bloom. But even after the river peaked, there was plenty of excitement at the Lurie Garden when I visited today.


First of all, there’s a new Allium in town: Light Blue Garlic (Allium caesium). This Allium has densely packed flower heads of an unusually intense blue. It’s an Allium that makes exciting combinations wherever it goes: among the Salvias still blooming (mostly Salvia sylvestris ‘Blue Hill’ – not sure about the taller, more purple one in front)…


And among the Salvias whose blooms were done.


And among the bright green of emerging perennials.


From the reaction of passersby, it was clear that Light Blue Sage is a crowd pleaser. Children were fascinated, and I could swear I heard the members of a Chinese tour group repeating the word “meili”, which means beautiful (this is one of maybe 5 Chinese words I know).


Other stars of the day included White Wild Indigo (Baptisia alba).


I grow the Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis) in my garden, it’s not as tall and blooms earlier.


There’s also plenty of Smooth Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis).



It’s great fun watching honeybees and other pollinators crawling in and out of the tubular flowers.


A close look at the flowers reveals the nectar guides meant to draw insects to their just reward.


I wish I had known about Bradbury’s Monarda (Monarda bradburiana) before I planted all that Wild Bergamot (M. fistulosa). Bradbury’s is so much more compact. But then again, I would probably just want the Bradbury’s Monarda along with the Wild Bergamot.


Lurie Garden uses a fair amount of Betony (Stachys officinalis). This is ‘Rosea’, and they have a couple of other varieties. Not one of my favorites, but it’s certainly a drought tolerant, low maintenance perennial.


The Echinaceas were also just starting to bloom.


Lurie Garden has several members of this genus – not sure about the one above. Too dark to be Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida). Maybe Tennessee Coneflower (E. tennesseensis) – but I didn’t think it had those droopy rays.


This looks like Pale Purple Coneflower – with a Sweat Bee on top.


I noticed that a bunch of the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) had been removed, particularly in one corner that it had come to dominate. But have no fear, plenty of Milkweed remains for the Monarchs. In fact, I saw several Monarch Butterflies during my walk, like the one on the Allium above. The Milkweed flowers were unopened, but I saw evidence of caterpillars on the leaves.


Over in the partly shaded Dark Plate, there’s one of the biggest clumps of Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) I have ever seen.


There are also some big drifts of Phlomis (Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’). I gotta say, to my eye this is a funny-looking flower, but interesting.


Here’s a closer look at the flowers with some Geranium ‘Orion’.


I really admire the dark stems and delicate star-shaped flowers of Bowman’s Root (Gillenia trifoliata).


In addition to flowers, Lurie Garden is unsurpassed when it comes to plant textures. At this time of year the combination of Blue Wild Indigo and various Amsonias create the impression of either a rolling green sea or banks of green clouds drifting across the sky.

Can’t wait to see what next month will bring.

33 Comments on “The Lurie Garden: After the River”

  1. I love your Lurie Garden updates- part because we so rarely get regular updates from famous gardens and I love seeing them throughout the different seasons and part because this is a garden after my own heart and with the same soil/site conditions I have so I mine it for plant ideas regularly. That Light Blue Garlic needs to get in my garden now and while that Wild White Indigo is tough to come by in a nursery (I got mine at a native plants sale) it is a stunner, ridiculously hardy, and is such a fantastic plant for sunny, well drained spots and I recommend it to everyone!

  2. I have long wanted to visit this garden; thanks for showing it in all its glory Jason! The combination of salvia and blue allium is very appealing. The other flower combinations were a delightful surprise – all wonderful ideas adaptable to personal gardens. I hope to visit Lurie in the future and you have whetted my appetite!

  3. The white penstemon and white wild indigo are two of my favorites. They don’t grow here, but I saw both at Burr Oak Woods outside Kansas City, and fell in love with them. An amusing aside: the white penstemon also is known as Arkansas, or Kansas, wedding bouquet. In Kansas, it was being picked to death in the wild, and apparently was in decline until a campaign was begun to encourage people to find a source other than their local prairie.

  4. The Smurfit-Stone Building still reminds me of ‘Adventures in Babysitting’.
    White wild indigo is rad. There is a native plant here that we refer to as indigo, but it is a different genus. The flowers are similar (blue), but it is not very profuse with bloom.

      • Yes, it sounds like an 80s cartoon. I am not familiar with the building, but can remember it from ‘Adventures In Babysitting’, which happens to be an 80s comedy movie, and featured a classic 80s Estate Wagon.

      • I sort of wonder what the (blue) wild indigo at the farm is now. It is not a native. My colleague brought it in because he thought it was something cool at the time. I sort of ignored it. I should ask. There is an unrelated native that resembles it that I sort of like, just because it looks fancy.

  5. All that salvia mixed with the alliums certainly pack a punch! I’m pretty sure the Phlomis is the plant that we saw in Colorado that several of us were trying to identify – my guess was way off as I guessed it was a type of monarda as it looked very similar to lemon bee balm.

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