Growing gratitude

The trowels and shovels have been cleaned and stowed, and the summer garden is now just a memory. In this quiet time of autumn, with Thanksgiving about to usher in the winter holidays, we asked gardeners, plant breeders, horticulturists and designers to reflect on what they are thankful for when it comes to gardens and gardening.

Mother Nature's gifts

Garden designer Patti Kirkpatrick, who helps design and plant the hummingbird garden and indoor displays at the Bird Haven Greenhouse and Conservatory in Joliet, is grateful for the "Black Scallop" ajuga (Ajuga reptans "Black Scallop"). It's a "living mulch," she says, "and the 'Black Scallop' is truly black."

Kirkpatrick also is thankful for the great volunteers who help with plant sales, and, she adds, "Most of all, I am thankful to be working with Mother Nature as an artist's medium. It is ever-changing, always challenging, most rewarding. Just to enhance her work, be it for a short time, is such an opportunity. And the appreciation of others who enjoy it is beyond words."

Visit the Bird Haven Greenhouse, 225 N. Gougar Road, Joliet. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily; closed holidays. Check out or call 815-741-7278.

Page turner

Landscape architect Scott Mehaffey is thankful for a garden magazine he picked up while in college. "I had been designing and building sets, setting lights and running sound boards when I realized that I wanted to make real places that would last longer than a few weeks," says Mehaffey, director of project development (landscape initiatives and legislative affairs, working in the natural resources & water quality division) for the city of Chicago. "I picked up the debut issue of Garden Design magazine, and I was hooked. I do think my tech theater background still influences me — I pay a lot of attention to scale and perspective, architectural style and site furnishings — and to lighting, of course."

One word of wisdom from Mehaffey's designing side: Get the garden on paper before planting. He says the adage "It's easier to move a plant with a pencil than a shovel" rings as true as "Measure twice, cut once." "A good gardener must also be a good planner," he says.

Check out Garden Design magazine at

Hot commodity

"I am thankful for the large size container of red pepper flakes that they sell at Costco," says Lora Lee Gelles, whose garden received first prize in this year's garden contest sponsored by the village of Orland Park. "When we are at the height of 'bunny' season, I sprinkle it all over the tender emerging perennials and the newbie annuals that I have planted. 'Ahhh chooo!'"

For more pest-deterrent ideas, go to the University of Illinois Extension Web site:

Lilies' spell

Jim Ault is thankful that he discovered the many fascinating aspects of the genus Lilium.

"My wife and I stumbled on the lily show at the Botanic Garden, and we were blown away," says Ault, plant breeder and director of ornamental plant research at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. He has since joined the North American Lily Society and the Wisconsin- Illinois Lily Society and has read everything about lilies from garden magazines to scientific journals.

The couple's backyard in Libertyville has become a breeding ground featuring hundreds of lilies in different sizes, shapes and colors as well as fragrances. "The whole plant breeding thing gets under your skin, and I can't walk away from it at the end of the day."

Learn more about lilies at the North American Lily Society Web site,

Hotbed of horticulture

"I am very thankful for having had the chance to work at The Morton Arboretum because of all the work the scientists, employees and volunteers do to ensure the conservation of our natural world," says horticulturist and designer Sue Miller of Geneva. She credits the Arboretum's former landscape architect, Tony Tyznik, as a source of inspiration.

"While we were working in the Fragrance Garden and the Hedge Garden, he would often be with us pruning trees, placing plants, telling stories and making comments about plants such as, 'Look at how the dewdrops cling to the leaves of the Alchemilla mollis (lady's mantle). Isn't that beautiful?' Or, 'Look how the leaves shine on that Viburnum prunifolium (blackhaw viburnum).'

"He taught me to notice little things like that when I design a garden. In so many ways, it's those little things that make a huge difference."

To grab your own inspiration, The Morton Arboretum is at 4100 Illinois Highway 53 in Lisle ( or 630-968-0074).

Lessons from childhood

Tim Wood is grateful he spent summers working in his dad's nursery in Michigan, which specialized in growing unusual plants.

"I would take care of it after school, weekends and during the summer. In many ways, I hated it: hard work, dirty and long hours," says Wood, who now works for Spring Meadow Nursery in Grand Haven, Mich. "But what I loved was learning and growing new and unusual plants. He gave me an appreciation and love for all types of plants."

When he's not breeding or developing plants, such as the new hydrangea Incrediball, Wood searches out new, promising selections. Follow him on his plant hunting blog at

Flowers first

Garden book author Stephanie Cohen of Collegeville, Pa., is thankful she found vegetables boring as a kid. Her parents gave her a small section of their WWII victory garden in New York City, where she grew petunias, marigolds and geraniums.

"This was the start of my long-term romance with ornamentals," Cohen says. Since then, she has written three books, hundreds of articles and lectures, and has spent 21 years teaching horticulture. "I never found the cure for this obsession and probably never will," she says.

Check out her latest book, written with Jennifer Benner, "The Nonstop Garden: A Step-by-Step Guide to Smart Plant Choices and Four-Season Designs" (Timber Press, $19.95).

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