[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).