Mark has been the Director of Horticulture at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, WI for the last 14 years. Along with dedicated staff and volunteers, Mark coordinates the development and improvement of this 20-acre botanical showcase. Mark’s background is in landscape architecture and urban forestry although his true passion is obtaining, growing, observing and photographing all manner of plants.


‘Cheyenne Spirit’ Coneflowers
by Mark Dwyer - posted 12/29/14


The patch of 'Cheyenne Spirit' coneflower (Echinacea hybrida) seen above was photographed at the Ball Customer Day (West Chicago, IL) this past July and really showcased the beauty and color range of this seed selection.  We started growing this variety last year and have enjoyed the color variability (photo directly below is from RBG).  This variety blooms the first year from seed (when started early) and exhibits an exciting color range including red, orange, purple, pink, scarlet, cream, yellow and white.  This brilliant color range is exhibited at a height between 18" and 30" on strong, sturdy stems.  This summer bloomer has a long bloom period and is excellent for wildlife.  This drought tolerant selection also looks great en masse as seen in these photos (most from the Ball Trial Gardens) and has been awarded both the Fleuroselect Gold Medal (Europe) and the All-America Selection (AAS) award in 2013. 








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V for Verticality
by Mark Dwyer - posted 12/02/14


I haven't been inspired recently for much photography outside so am focusing on some more colorful topics to get us through the winter months.  Verticality in the garden is vital whether it's represented by plants or non-living elements.  We don't garden in two dimensions and adding narrow height as an accent can help blend a composition and create some dramatic interest with those exclamation points leading the eye or becoming focal points.  Repetition of upright forms will add interest and depth as well.  Narrow conifers, ornamental grasses and plants with very upright flowers can offer this drama and be vital in the garden.  I always preach the value of "flower architecture" as it is certainly a characteristic worthy of consideration.  Flowers certainly bloom at different times and have a wide range of colors.  However, they also have different shapes and forms like flat platforms (coneflowers), trumpets (lilies), spheres (globe thistle) and spires (salvias).  This blog is a tribute to the letter 'V' for not only verticality but Veronica sp. (speedwell) and the native Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver's root).  Both of these perennials offer upright narrow flowers that really draw the eye as these photos will reinforce.  There are a wide range of varieties for both of these sun-loving selections.  The top photo shows the standard white form of Culver's root in a late summer composition.



Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum) is a North American native perennial that loves full sun (preferred) but will tolerate some light shade.  This perennial prefers moist soils and has minimal drought tolerance.  With a long history of historical medicinal use (research this!), this summer blooming perennial can add height (3'-7') in the sunny border with blooms lasting a good four weeks or more.  Varieties range in color from white to light pink and even light blue.  Multiple groupings of this perennial in the summer border or meadow garden will result in a pleasing repetition of vertical form when the spire-like blooms emerge above whorled foliage.  This narrow plant looks great in a grouping of 3-7 plants as seen in some examples below.  Consider this stalwart native for beauty, height, verticality and extended summer impact in your sunny garden. 


 Veronicastrum virginicum 'Pink Glow'

 Veronicastrum virginicum

Veronicastrum virginicum

 Veronicastrum virginicum

Veronicastrum virginicum 'Erica'


Speedwells (Veronica sp.), like those seen here, can offer flower verticality with colorful spires in mid-Spring.  There are some creeping and lower-statured veronicas but the spicata, longiflora and some hybrids can be selected for a profusion of upright spires (as seen on Veronica spicata 'Heidkind' directly above and below).  Most of these selections (and there are many more) hover at a 12"-15" flowering height although some varieties/hybrids will reach 24" tall.  Full sun is preferred for all veronicas and while they are quite adaptable in a wide range of soils, do provide moist, well-drained situations in decent soil and you will be rewarded.  The first strong wave of blooms in mid-Spring will be followed by sporadic blooms all the way until frost.  Consider shearing these plants back severely in mid-summer to remove spent flowers and encourage fresh foliar growth and a potential resurgence of blooms.  The value of these "vertical veronicas" can be seen further below.


 Veronica spicata 'Heidkind'

 Veronica spicata 'Fairytale'

 Veronica spicata 'Tickled Pink'

Veronica spicata 'Royal Candles'

 Veronica longifolia 'Pink Damask'

Veronica spicata 'Red Fox'

 Veronica longifolia 'Evelyn' (above and below at Olbrich Botanical Garden in Madison, WI)


 Veronica incana 'Pure Silver'

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Include Elephant Ears Next Year!
by Mark Dwyer - posted 11/30/14


Due to another brutally cold day (-1 degree F wind chill) a week ago and the fact that my camera froze (before I dropped it), I thought I'd show some "warmer" photos.  These are all elephant ears (Colocasia sp.) and my reason for showing them is twofold.  We have done well growing them (like 'Royal Hawaiian Maui Gold' above) over the years at Rotary Botanical Gardens and in 2015, we'll have a large collection of these on display (including everything you see here and more!) in the three demonstration beds.  We'll include all types of Colocasia sp. and Alocasia sp.  I hope to acquire 50+ kinds for display.  With adequate watering and at least a half day of sunlight, elephant ears will thrive in the border and container and really had impact from foliage as well as coloration.  Some exciting varieties and species can be seen below.  Availability will vary but start "sniffing around" this winter for some of these selections as most can be found through mail-order sources or hopefully from your local garden center.


 'Royal Hawaiian Black Coral'


 'Royal Hawaiian Hawaiian Punch'

 'Royal Hawaiian Blue Hawaii'

 'Coffee Cups'

'Coffee Cups' (side view)

 'Royal Hawaiian Diamond Head'


 Colocasia gigantea 'Thailand Giant'


'Midori Sour'

standard Colocasia esculenta (from behind leaf)

 'Heart of Darkness'

'Red Eyed Gecko'

 'Electric Blue Gecko'

'Puckered Up'

Colocasia gigantea 'Thailand Giant'

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