The Gardens at Ball

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

[Note from Adam: Susan Mahr, Outreach Specialist and Master Gardener with the University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote a piece on The Gardens at Ball, filled with wonderful photos and detailed information. Certain content in this post has been paraphrased.]


For the past several years, one of the highlights of my summer has been visiting the grounds of Ball Horticultural Company in West Chicago, Illinois. Many of the annual plants I use in my designs originate from Ball as seeds, seedling plugs and rooted cuttings. They are the largest horticultural seed company in the U.S.


In 2005, following the expansion of Ball’s corporate facility and in honor of the company’s centennial, the original grounds were renovated. Landscape architect Douglas Hoerr, well known for his dramatic streetscapes along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, designed the gardens. The primary function of which is to display Ball’s annual products for retailers, landscapers and growers to view and compare. 


Hoerr’s design is innovative in that it integrates the annuals with permanent plantings creating an overall garden rather than just beds of flowers. This blending of annuals with perennials, shrubs and trees insures year-round interest. I have adopted a similar approach in my corporate design work. 


The Gardens at Ball cover 7 1/2 acres with over 70,000 individual plants representing nearly 2,000 varieties and include display beds, an elevated viewing garden, hanging plants and vertical gardens, a water garden, AAS trial garden, woodland area and several other features.


I gravitate to the comparison garden. It is a true testing ground for new varieties and various old standards. Plants are installed in uniform blocks and drip irrigated. As the summer progresses, some blocks of plants flourish while others fail completely. The garden allows for comparison for disease resistance, habit, flower color, etc. I deliberately schedule my trips to Ball in late July, sometimes early August so I can assess performance of annuals as late in the season as possible.   

If you are in the industry and planning a trip to Chicago I highly recommend an inspirational and educational day trip to the Gardens at Ball. They are spectacular!

Unfortunately the gardens are not officially open to the public. Ball does participate in the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program, where for a nominal fee you can tour the gardens one day each year (August 2, 2009).

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff has practiced garden design since 1995. He trained as a Botanist at Eastern Illinois University. Woodruff attributes his unique design aesthetic, naturalism with a twist, to early college exposures to a diverse range of plants and environments (collecting trips in local prairies, field excursions to bogs in Canada and treks through forests of the Northeast). He also maintained the campus greenhouse, where he fell in love with tropicals. In recent years, influences on his designs include travels abroad to Europe, Asia and the Yucatan peninsula as well as observation of the work of great plantsmen such as Piet Oudolf and Roy Diblik. Woodruff’s designs often combine grasses, prairie natives and perennials with lush tropical foliage and seasonal blooms. This harmonious blending of plant material that is not conventionally grouped together is the ‘twist’ that makes his style unique.
Adam Woodruff

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Diana April 23, 2009, 7:18 am

Wow. That’s beautiful. It must have been wonderful to wander through there taking in all the amazing sights. I got to tour a commercial nursery in IN in March and it was so much fun. Thanks for sharing.

Diana. Thanks for your comments. I love touring the gardens. You’ll have to try to visit.


Catherine April 23, 2009, 11:38 am

It’s so beautiful! Is it only open to people in “the business”? I’d love to be able to see a place like that!

Hi Catherine. The Gardens at Ball are only open to industry professionals. If you check the end of the post you’ll see they are open one day each year through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days.


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