New York, Chicago, and Detroit. What will Janesville soon have in common with all these major metropolis’? Rotary Botanical Gardens will soon have gardens that have been inspired by the New Perennialist Movement.
If you have visited RBG lately, you probably have noticed that the garden beds in the Entrance Gardens are transitioning to a new style of planting. From the parking lot island beds, we have removed the existing boxwoods and repurposed them as hedges throughout the Labyrinth and Wellness Garden. In addition, the front slope and visitor center beds will also get this same treatment. Why plant the gardens in this manner? These gardens will feature plant communities that provide sustainability, wildlife habitat, year-round interest, and in time, lots of color.
This style of plantings has largely been popularized by Piet Oudolf and Roy Diblik, whose book ‘The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden’ has been a huge inspiration of mine. The perennials and grasses in these matrix plantings have been selected to perform well with each other, taking in consideration how vigorous of growers they are and how they will work in combination with each other throughout the year. We will see these gardens transition throughout the year, with different plants being showcased at different times.
Although we are still in the process of planting, we intend to add another layer of interest with the addition of flowering bulbs this fall. This will provide an early pop of color as the perennials awake from their winter slumber. The perennials and grasses will be left up over the course of the winter, not only to provide winter interest and protect the crowns of the plants from extreme winter conditions, but to provide habitat for insects, animals, and other wildlife. In late winter or early spring, the plants will be cut back or mowed at a high length.
One issue that these gardens have been faced with is a persistent presence of weeds. As these beds mature, they will cover the ground and prevent the sun from germinating weed seeds that exist in the soil. One annual weed in particular has been a nuisance, that being Galinsoga parviflora or Quickweed; as its name implies it can litter an area with leaf mass and seed prolifically with great speed. Many volunteer and staff labor hours have gone into controlling this weed and we look forward to when these areas are covered by ornamental plants and this weed is suppressed.
A reduction in the amount of inputs are another benefit we are looking forward to. As the perennials establish over the next year, we will not have to water them with the frequency that we currently water most of our annuals (some 3 times a week). These perennials will only need water in times of high temperatures or long durations without rain. Additionally, we will not be using fertilizers and since we will not be bringing in plants for these areas annually, we will reduce our carbon footprint in terms of fuel used to get the plants here and the large amounts of plastic that we are left with in terms of pots and cell trays.
Some plants that will be featured in these plantings include, Calamintha ‘Montrose White’, Sporobolus heterolepis ‘Tara’, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’, Allium ‘Summer Beauty’ and Salvia ‘Caradonna’. The plants have been installed mostly as landscape plugs; these are deeply rooted and smaller than the standard gallon sized containers that plants typically come in, but are easier to dig (a factor to consider when planting thousands of plants) and much more economical (also to a factor to consider when taking on a project of this magnitude). And knowing that perennials have a longer life cycle than annuals and thus develop slower, these gardens will mostly be growing roots this year.
Next year we will see an increase in the size and amount of flowers and we will see the plants head into peak in year three. This a large shift in style from what we have displayed in the past and patience will need to be exercised as the plants establish. It is my hope that this patience will give way to something beautiful for years to come.
Jesiolowski has spent most of his career at public garden institutions, most recently as Garden Supervisor at Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Missouri. At Chicago Botanic Garden, where he was Senior Horticulturist, he was responsible for the Entrance Gardens, which encompassed the Visitor’s Center, Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden, and the Regenstein Learning Campus. He created the seasonal displays in these areas, spearheaded the creation of gravel garden beds in the Parking Lots, and added hundreds of new taxa to the collection.
Jesiolowski, born in Oak Park, IL, received his formal training through the University of Illinois, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture. He also has experience working at The Morton Arboretum (Lisle, IL), Bernheim Arboretum (Clermont, KY), Epic Systems (Verona, WI), and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
As Director of Horticulture, Jesiolowski leads horticulture staff and volunteers, where they balance the building of creative display gardens, with the development of sustainable plant collections with diversity.
Email Michael at [email protected]
During a summer 2019 trip the Gardens, Pamela Dittmer McKuen, Freelance Journalist and Author, gathered information for her Spring 2020 article, titled “How to Grow a Wellness Garden.”
The article, features both Rotary Botanical Gardens as well as Wellness Garden Design with regard to the process and purpose of a Wellness Garden. Displayed on page 7 is a photo by Volunteer Garden Photographer, Marsha Mood. Director of Horticulture, Michael Jesiolowski is also quoted within the article.
In 2018, Rotary Botanical Gardens unveiled the Wellness Garden, funded by a private donor, Ruth Ann Potts and our local Mercyhealth System.
Thank you to the Janesville Area Visitors and Convention Bureau for bringing the Geiger Media Tour to Janesville!
“When guests have vision impairments or mobility issues, they can come to this garden and enjoy it like everyone else.”
– Michael Jesiolowski
As I finish my 21 year journey at Rotary Botanical Gardens, I’d like to thank all the folks that have made this a special place over the 30 year history of the development of the garden. With so many dedicated volunteers and staff (past, present and future), the gardens will continue to excel as it pursues excellence in honoring our mission of providing education and inspiration for our visitors. I’ve enjoyed my time at the gardens and will always look back fondly on my experiences at the gardens and appreciate the opportunity to develop both personally and professionally at this very special garden. I include my last blog photo of a school group below that came to help plant our new Wellness Garden (2018) as inspiration and a reminder for all of us to continue to foster and nurture not only Rotary Botanical Gardens but the children that will be future visitors, volunteers, supporters and our next generation of environmental warriors.
With some recent rain soaking the garden nicely, the summer color is vivid and at peak right now. We’ve had a very busy couple of weeks since our Home Garden Tour almost a month ago! We finished most of our planting out in the gardens and have had some excellent tours come through the gardens quite recently. On Sunday, July 28th, we had over 80 attendees of the Perennial Plant Association national conference (Chicago) swing out to the gardens as part of a tour (two buses). We continue to fine tune the gardens for our summer visitors and our education programs continue to popular as well. Yesterday, we had another successful Horticulture Therapy Symposium with 60 in attendance. The StoryWalk, Story & Stroll and other programs continue to be a hit as well. Our 30th Anniversary continues to be a very successful year at the gardens. Many thanks, of course, to our excellent volunteers, supporters, members and visitors!