Prairie Tropical

The most stylish gardens always seem to be exotic paradises thriving in coastal climates . To a Midwestern prairie gardener, used to stifling summers and blood-stilling winters, such lush displays are an unfair tease.

Fret not, flatlanders, because in a place not far from St. Louis dreams of a backyard jungle can be fulfilled, if only for a few months. Cottage Garden, in small-town Piasa (pronounced PIE-a-saw), Illinois, is run by a self-professed plantaholic who feels your pain.

Chris Kelley and husband/business partner, Bill Kelley, opened a retail and mailorder perennial nursery in 1987. A passion for the colorful personalities of tropicals gradually overtook Chris.Today she calls the nursery a "plant zoo" specializing in "tropicalismo on the prairie," unusual tender annuals that love the region's steamy summers and balmy early autumns.

The mom-and-pop operation still offers a hefty share of hardy perennials, including hostas and many hard-to-find natives such as pale-yellow Baptisia x 'Carolina Moonlight'. But it's the tempting tropicals, skill fully arranged in sample containers and beds, that are the draw for an experimental palate. Look for Brugmansia 'Super Nova' with its 16-inch-long white trumpet blooms, tiny Caladium humboldtii, and fabulous Nicotiana mutabilis. New last year was Jasminum officinale Fiona Sunrise™, grown in the Midwest for its striking golden fo-liage.This year it's shrimp plant, Justicia carnea 'Radiant'. Visitors can shop from among 60 varieties of hummingbird favorites and tour the stock-plant greenhouse for a peek at what's coming next season.

Make a day of it by first visiting the inspirational Missouri Botanical Garden ( in St. Louis. Cottage Garden is only a 45-minute northeasterly drive away, and proprietors the Kelleys will recommend several charming eateries nearby to satisfy a gardener's more visceral hunger.—laurie grano

■ Cottage Garden, 6967 Illinois Route 111, Piasa, IL 62079. Call 618-729-4324 or see

MAY 2006

Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders—h enry david thoreau books


As anyone who has ever gardened even briefly knows, it can be an epic journey, sometimes to the funny ——!..■■ _■_■ farm. In The $64 T-.-c iex ^ooitio Tomato (Algonquin Books, $22.95), gentleman farmer William Alexander recounts with wry humor and dead-on insight his joys, woes, epiphanies and philosophies as he realizes that the road to his idyllic garden is paved with Japanese beetles, groundhogs, weeds and misguided contractors. He says, "Gardening is often thought to be a genteel, relaxing hobby For me, gardening more often resembles blood sport." So why do it? For Alexander it's a fascination with the cycle of life, the triumph of optimism over experience, and the food.Ah, the food!

A litany of every possible gardening experience—from deer fencing to weed-filled topsoil to canning an overabundance of peaches to planting a meadow—this book will strike a chord (and hit a few nerves) with anyone who dreams of orderly rows of ripening veggies and eating a tomato fresh off the vine. In the end, it's worth all the drama even if, when expenses are tallied and amortized, the tomato does cost $64.—Jenny Andrews

dirt fyi Chairs are available at Vitra, 29 Ninth Ave., NewYork, NY, 212-463-5750; 557 Pacific Ave., San Francisco, CA, 415-296-0711; and MoMA Design and Book Store, 11 W. 53rd St., NewYork, NY, 212-708-9700,

Miniature Eames Collectors Chair

fyi Chairs are available at Vitra, 29 Ninth Ave., NewYork, NY, 212-463-5750; 557 Pacific Ave., San Francisco, CA, 415-296-0711; and MoMA Design and Book Store, 11 W. 53rd St., NewYork, NY, 212-708-9700,

Clockwise from top left: Panton Chair set, Gala by Franco Albini, Indoor chair Lockheed Lounge designed by Marc Newson in 1986.


Big Design, Small Package

Clockwise from top left: Panton Chair set, Gala by Franco Albini, Indoor chair Lockheed Lounge designed by Marc Newson in 1986.


Big Design, Small Package

When it comesto addictions, collecting miniature chairs is a stylish vice—and a great way for space-strapped furniture junkies to live with history-making design.

TheVitra Design Museum has added four new mini chairs, including a palm-size version of the wicker Gala designed in 1950 by Franco Albini, to its ever-growing Miniatures collection which now includes close to 100 tiny perfect copies of classic chairs, indoor and outdoor, from the past 180 years.

In 1992 the museum, inWeil am Rhein, Germany, started producing handmade chairs that are one-sixth the size of famous originals housed in Vitra's permanent collection, which includes seating by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Charles Eames, Frank Gehry and Philippe Starck. Special licensing agreements are arranged with designers or designers' estates, Vitra officials say, to ensure the minis are exact, albeit much-scaled-down, replicas.

Garden-, patio- or porch-centric chairs in the miniatures lineup include the cast-iron Gartenstuhl designed in 1820 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the painted-metal Midway Gardens Chair by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1913, and the 1986 painted-steel Thinking Man's Chair by Jasper Morrison.

Other indoor-outdoor creations include the 1986 sinuous bent and welded steel Spine by Andre Dubreuil and the 1952 lat ticelike Diamond Chair by Harry Bertoia. (Vitra's mini-Diamond is the indoor chrome version; the original chair was also made in a rubberized white for outdoor use.)Vern-er Panton designed the colorful, stackable plastic Panton Chair in 1960, then costly to make and considered too precious for outdoor use; today, the mini-Panton (sold in sets of five) and a full-sized model are reproduced by Vitra in an inexpensive polypropylene that works well on a patio.

Still, the petite Panton and other Vitra miniatures are valuable collectibles and should be displayed in a protected area.The little chairs range in price from about $100 to more than $600 each.—laurie grano

MAY 2006

A chair is a very difficult object to design.A skyscraper is almost easier—ludwig mies van der rohe i love this plant


One of the happiest times as a horticulturist or nursery person in North Carolina was the annual plant distribution engineered by the late J.C. Raulston, founding director of a unique plant collection and arboretum in Raleigh now called the jC Raulston Arboretum in his honor.

Each year in this salute to plants, a black trash bag full of rooted cuttings was handed out to members of the nursery trade at conventions across the state. For the arboretum the purpose was to broaden the selection of plants available for sale to keep the industry in high gear.

I was lucky to collect a wonderland of unique plants from those horticultural hand-outs.At the top of my list is the variegated Nepal ivy (Hedera nepalensis var. sinensis 'Marbled Dragon1) I acquired in l997.Today this treasure spills over the stone wall in my side garden. Its 5-inch lobed leaves have cream-colored veining and neat splatters of lime green. Mature plants can produce striking yellow or orange umbels of fruits. Plants are easy to propagate using only single-node cuttings.

The ivy's hardiness has been listed as Zone 8 (usually in British references), but I've found it quite hardy in my Asheville garden (Zone 6b), where we often have windy winter nights around 0 degrees.While there is some leaf burn in really cold winters, the vines recover in spring.

One difficulty in writing about great plants is including a source. Fortunately I live near Sandy Mush Herb Nursery (www.sandymushherbs. com). Since the owners are longtime admirers of Raulston, I called proprietor Fairman jayne and learned that the nursery does stock this plant and that it's hardy at their location in the North Carolina mountains."It's a beauty," agreed Fair-man,"and a continuing salute to Raulston's genius at collecting."—peter loewer

Square Foot Gardening Plant ChartTropical Cottage Patios

dirt restoration

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