Three Signature Spring Chicago Plants as Seen by an Outsider

Throughout our travels, there were three plants I saw in nearly every garden, public or private. Amsonia tabernaemontana, blue dogbane or blue star as it is known in my garden, is the first. Actually, I may grow Amsonia hubrichtii, but right now, I don’t have access to my garden to look at the leaf shape. I know I’m bad, but I never paid attention before. Both are native wildflowers, and both grow beautifully in full sun. Mine has finished flowering, but the foliage is still lovely. I plan to divide it next year.

Amsonia taberna, blue dogbane
Amsonia tabernaemontana, blue dogbane, seen in the Lurie Garden

The second is Baptisia. I saw several different varieities, but the most beautiful was again in the Lurie Garden, although the Chicago Botanic Garden had some beautiful examples too. I grow three different Baptisias in my garden, but they are young and take awhile to establish. I hope that someday they will be similar to the one below.

Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’ hybrid wild indigo

Number three was the giant hosta. Here, I can’t give you a particular variety, because it seemed like every hosta was a giant (unless it was a miniature variety).  Somewhat related to the giant panda in their scope and size, this monsters of the shade garden were in a word, unbelievable. On Mr. McGregor’s Daughter’s blog, you can see a photo of Annaliese next to a massive hosta in the Chicago Botanic Garden. I took a macro image of one I saw. In my garden, hostas are grown in dappled to full shade, and never get that large. I was amazed.

Raindrops on hostas and whiskers on kittens
Raindrops on hostas and whiskers on kittens

There are many others like alliums and violas, but these are the ones I saw in every garden. One of the greatest joys of visiting Chicago was to see plants growing under such different conditions. I also saw two flowers I’d only seen in magazines, lupines and snapdragons, Antirrhinum majus. I was familiar with Lupines because of Miss Rumphius. In fact, in the botanic garden, some teenagers were talking about the book. They couldn’t remember the name, and I suggested it. If you’ve wondered whether all that reading to your child mattered, it did.  As for snapdragons, I’d only read about them in my Regency novels and such. I saw them in magazines, but nothing prepared me for how beautiful they were in person. These are not the snapdragons sold way too early in the season by the box stores, and my photo doesn’t do these justice.  You’ll have to take my word for it.

Snapdragons, Antirrhinum majus

Whoops!  That’s now five different plants.  I never could stop myself at only three.


  1. I loved this post, with you focusing on just a few of the thousands (or was it millions?) of plants and flowers we saw that weekend.
    Fabulous photos, as usual. With the sun shining brightly, it was rather difficult sometimes, but you show these beauties off…well…beautifully!

  2. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Chicago was such fun and as usual, I learned so much from hanging out with other gardeners. It’s always entertaining to hear how much we have in common with each other, even when we live in vastly different climates! We all suffer out of zone plant envy, it seems. I really REALLY want that Prairie Smoke Geum. Think I could fool them into thinking they’re in Chicago and not on a hot and humid corner of Katy? (Don’t answer that just yet … let me hold on to my dreams a bit longer.)

    Cindy, MCOK´s last blog post..Through The Garden Gate: Monday, June 8th

  3. Rose says:

    I like your choices, Dee, especially the amsonia and the baptisia. I think this was the first time I had really seen baptisia in full bloom, and I was so taken by it that I searched the local nurseries until I found one to plant here. I hadn’t thought about the hostas being a signature plant, but maybe that’s because I’m so used to them. I even have a giant one of my own–that’s not bragging, just sheer dumb luck:) The geum “Prairie Smoke” was another plant I saw several places that I would love to add to my garden.

    Rose´s last blog post..Spring Fling Finale

    Thanks Rose. I loved meeting you in Chicago. I want the Geum too.~~Dee

  4. eliz says:

    I’ve never bothered with snapdragons, but I love the big blue hostas, which slugs really don’t bother. Even though hostas are a common, dependable plant around here too, I still appreciate them.

    Those prairie plants won’t grow for me though.

    Eliz, I love those too. It seems that the ribbed hostas have less trouble with slugs than their more tender cousins.~~Dee

  5. CurtissAnn says:

    Beautiful! I look forward to seeing which will grow here. Surely the snapdragons.

    CurtissAnn´s last blog post..The Winner Is…

    Curtiss Ann, it will be interesting to see how your new garden grows, my dear.~~Dee

  6. Dee, this is all so clear and interesting and has given me a boost and a really cheerful start to the day. Reading about the Spring Fling and seeing the photos on the various blogs has sent me into a downward spiral of thinking how small and insignificant my garden is (even if I do love it) and how knowledgeable everyone else is (even though I have no special inclination to be knowledgeable, so why does that bother me? Daft!)

    Anyway, I suddenly feel all chuffed because I am growing Lupins from seed (they are about six inches high at present – but they’ll get there!); I have a packet of Antirrhinium Seeds (I didn’t know it had three ‘I’s!) ready to sow in a few weeks time – and my sage is flowering happily (though not as dramatically as in the river of Chigago) at the front of my house.

    Your post has reminded me (what I already know but had stupidly forgotten) that what is ordinary in one place is exotic somewhere else – and that just because it is ‘ordinary’ doesn’t make it any the less lovely.

    Many Thanks


    P.S. Not only have I never seen a giant hosta, I’ve only ever seen one at all that isn’t riddled with slug holes or cut into ribbons by them (the slugs) – and that hosta is in a garden where there are more slug pellets than plants, so I don’t follow that route! Giant hostas must be really impressive.

    Esther Mongtgomery´s last blog post..LOW-TECH PERFECTION

    Esther, don’t ever feel less than. I go somewhere else, and I don’t know all of the plants. In the Chicago Botanic Garden, everything was labeled, and in the Lurie garden we had a guide. Thank you for coming by and for leaving such a nice comments. As to the slugs, I don’t have too much trouble with them. When I do, I use Sluggo or an off brand of it, which is just iron, and won’t hurt anything except the nasty slugs.~~Dee

  7. Jenny B says:

    Your pics of Baptisia are beautiful as well as the Hosta–amazing how large they get–I had no idea! Thanks for sharing your wonderful experiences at Spring Fling. I know all who were able to go have come away with a new enthusiasm and appreciation for their gardens.

    Jenny B´s last blog post..Summer Comes

    Thanks Jenny. I so appreciate your visit and kind words. You’ll have to come visit Buffalo next year.~~Dee

  8. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I can’t grow the snapdragons either Dee. They soon get burned up. I just drooled over all the alliums though. I would love to have them in the garden.

    Lisa, I knew it couldn’t just be me. 🙂 ~~Dee

  9. Isn’t Amsonia great? I love how geometric the flowers are. And you are right that hostas are everywhere here in Illinois. Did you see those orange snapdragons at CBG? Incredible!

    Ramble on Rose´s last blog post..GBMD Final Fling Thoughts

    Hi Rose, yes they are. Too me, they look like little stars. No, I missed the orange snapdragons, darn it!~~Dee

  10. Jean says:

    Hmm, I never thought about why I don’t see giant hostas down here but I suppose it could be the shade factor as you suggest. In fact, it was odd to me to see those hostas growing in so much sunlight! Those baptisias really were pretty, weren’t they? Great photos.

    Jean´s last blog post..Loving It – Chicago Botanic Garden

    Thanks, Jean. Barb, Mr. McGregor’s Daughter, told me that the hostas in the sun suffer during summer. I just don’t know.~~Dee

  11. Jeanne says:

    I seem to be noticing Amsonia hubrichtii everywhere recently. Maybe that’s because I really want some, but I can’t find a plant. They have it planted at TLC, but they don’t have it in stock.
    And I agree, there are loads of hostas up North!

    Jeanne, you can have some of mine. I’ll divide it later in the fall. 🙂 ~~Dee

  12. VW says:

    Sounds like you had a great time! Love that blue-violet baptista shot from Lurie. The pictures on several blogs of the sage river in that garden have entranced me.

    VW´s last blog post..Annual Indulgence vs. Perennial Investment

    We had such a wonderful time. Hope you can come next year in Buffalo.~~Dee

  13. Hi Dee, thanks for reminding me that I have forgotten to get amsonia & baptisia to add to one of my gardens; I earlier had planned to do this but have just forgotten! Your photos show them off wonderfully!

    Jan (ThanksFor2Day)´s last blog post..Wednesday Words

    Hey Jan, glad to help.~~Dee

  14. Pam/Digging says:

    Nice post, Dee. If I were in the right zone, I’d grow all of these plus the prairie smoke, except perhaps the amsonia; I’m just not wild about pale blue. But for me the alliums were the plant I always noticed and coveted.

    Pam/Digging´s last blog post..On Cloud Nine in Lurie Garden

    Thanks, Pam. It was a very different climate zone than Austin, wasn’t it? You can grow alliums can’t you?~~Dee

  15. Layanee says:

    I am so thinking of a river of salvia and a river of rudbeckia even though we didn’t see that plant blooming in a river pattern. I treasure the many moments of ‘connection’ and thank you for sharing breakfast with you and your beloved. Missed meeting ‘the boy’ but the girls are lovely. To be continued….

    Layanee´s last blog post..Now Open at Our New Location

    Layanee, it was a pleasure meeting you in person. Thanks for having breakfast with us and thanks for your kind words.~~Dee

  16. Frances says:

    Hi Dee, I also admired the snapdragon family at the CBG. I have never seen them look like that either, or hostas. I think we are too dry here for those, but we do have giant Baptisias, not that beautiful cultivar though. We have A. hubrichtii also, but it isn’t as happy as the ones in the Lurie. We are on the search for the geums too. So many great ideas from those gardens. Your photos and narrative hit the nail on the head, my friend.

    Frances´s last blog post..People Of Spring Fling Chicago

    Hey Frances, when you find the geums, let me know where. 🙂 ~~Dee

  17. You picked some great plants to showcase. I have the Amsonia and the Baptisia, but don’t have enough shade for a gigantic hosta. Someday, though, I will!

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens´s last blog post..Reforming My "One Of" Ways, Again

    Me neither Carol. Thanks.~~Dee

  18. joey says:

    Delighted you had such a memorable time, Dee. Chicago will never be the same!


    Joey, I’m not sure much of Chicago knew we were there, but I know the bloggers will never be the same.~~Dee

  19. Gail says:

    Dee, The hostas were gorgeous~~I must admit to a bit of hosta envy!
    They add texture and color so beautifully to a shady spot. Luckily we can grow the amsonias and the baptisias or I would be feeling sorry for myself. Your photos are lovely, btw, Gail

    Gail´s last blog post..Chicago~~A River Runs Through It

    Thanks, Gail. I was a bit envious too.~~Dee

  20. Sheila says:

    Dee, thank you so much! I’ve been trying to think of the name of that book! A friend told me about it years ago and now that I have grandchildren I wanted to get it for them! Thank you, thank you!

    Sheila´s last blog post..A Perfect Match

    Sheila, I love that book! Wonderful. I also read some other favs to my children. Glad I could help.~~Dee

  21. Diane says:

    I have to get some Amsonia. How did I not know about this genus before?! I always think of hostas as a neutral background for more interesting plants but a monster-sized one is always stunning!

    Diane´s last blog post..June: Made in the shade

    Hi Diana, I only have it because I bought mine from the Butterfly Lady. She carries lots of wildflowers and other native plants.~~Dee

  22. I’m surprised you don’t have snapdragons. I know they are a perennial further south, and are a popular annual around here. Is it too hot for them in the summer?

    Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening´s last blog post..Birdbath Bed Gets Annuals

    Yes, way too hot. We only have the small puny ones.~~Dee

  23. I really didn’t notice that Hostas were in every garden because they are in every garden around here. I wish you could have seen the massive Hosta growing in full sun in Trudi Temple’s garden. That’s what really good soil will do for you around here. It would probably still fry to a crisp in full sun in OK, even in grown in pure compost.

    Mr. McGregor’s Daughter´s last blog post..But Wait, There’s More! The Chicago Botanic Garden Part II

    Yes, darlin’ Barb, it so would.~~Dee

  24. Leslie says:

    I really liked the baptisia also, Dee. Tempting! Snapdragons are a common winter bloomer here and if they get some shade will often ‘over-summer’ to bloom again the next year.

    Leslie´s last blog post..Compensation

    Hey Leslie, in Oklahoma, we only see the little ones in various colors. They come out in early spring, but can’t survive our hot summers. Glad you have them.~~Dee

Comments are closed.