Oodles of Beauty and Joy – The Gardens at Ball

A Garden in an Industrial Park?

There are surprise discoveries in one’s life that can bring even more oodles of beauty and joy to one’s perfect, summer day than just, well, a perfect, summer day. Thanks to my cousin, Ron, and his wife, Vicky, I got to experience more oodles of beauty and joy, on a perfect, summer day.

The Gardens at Ball 2017

It was also a day of “Who knew?”

Where was this surprise discovery with the blue skies and wonderful summer breezes blowing on a Sunday afternoon? It was a place called The Gardens at Ball, located at the West Chicago, Illinois headquarters of Ball Horticultural Company, which for the sake of my typing I will simply refer to as “Ball” during this little writing episode.

Ball Horticultural CompanyYou may have never heard of Ball, but I can almost guarantee you have experienced some aspect of their work as they have, through the years, bred, sold, and distributed the seeds that become many of the beautiful plants you want in your flower garden, or planted around your house. The Gardens are a showcase of the plants they breed and develop so that the folks that grow and sell them in mass can see them, in all of their glory.

The surprise part? The Gardens at Ball are meant mostly for industry professionals. My cousin is in the business, and he visited a few years ago with his wife. They let me know about the place, about how beautiful and interesting it was, and I have been intrigued ever since. As The Gardens are for industry folks they generally aren’t open to the public., however, on a Sunday in July, thanks to Ball Horticultural Company and The Garden Conservancy, the public was allowed to walk around experience the latest Ball has to offer.

“Let’s Go See Some Plants!”

Reaching for the Sun!As my wife and I had some free time on the Sunday of the event, and the weather was beautiful, I said, “Wife, let’s go see some plants!” She found herself skeptical, but on that recommendation of my cousins we were off.

Nestled in an industrial park this is not really the place one would expect a garden, however, as you drive past the building and start to see the variety of plants, you know you are at the right location, pulling in and heading towards the gardens.

For this event there were tour guides, many from the University of Illinois Extension program for Master Gardeners, as well as Ball employees to answer questions, and upon being offered a guide we were paired with Logan who asked our interest in the gardens. We mentioned we had a clean slate of landscaping around our house to populate, were looking for inspiration, and also how not to kill Lantana, my specialty.

The Gardens at Ball

Wonderful color at The Gardens at Ball.Beginning our walk around the over 10 acres of plants, Logan did a wonderful job of explaining the various parts of The Gardens at Ball which are separated into different classes of plants. There are shady areas spotlighting plants that do a little better with less sunlight where begonias and coleus abound, areas dedicated to just PanAmerican Seed with Easy Wave petunia, millet, ornamental peppers and more. There are rose gardens, a giant, perennial area, hostas for everyone, and a long row of nearly every color geranium you can imagine, all interspersed among the paths that take you in a logical circle, eventually getting you back to the entrance.

Walking through The Gardens it occurred to me that the selection of plants I would see at my local big-box hardware store kind of sucked. The shear variety of color and variation of the standard “here are some petunias” you find at those stores pales in comparison to the beauties you will spot walking around the winding paths and trails around the grounds. I will say this, both my wife and I came up with a plethora of ideas for around our house, and I’m hoping that Canna Cannova, at least I believe that’s what it was, can be incorporated to naturally attract some hummingbirds. I just hope we can find them all to buy somewhere, but in a worst case I suppose I could make a call, “Hey, cuz, any chance you can order me some SunPatiens, the Tropical Orange variety? How about some Rex Jurassic Pink Shades Begonia?”

The Rex Jurassic Shades BegoniaThe Rex Jurassic was one of those “Who knew?” moments while walking around The Gardens, as Ball developed a begonia to similarly mirror the skin of a T-Rex. It kind of reminded me of my grandma who would take her different colored violets, say her dark blue and white ones, somehow mix them together, and get cool things like a blue violet with a white border. I believe, however, that the folks at Ball are a little more scientific than my grandma!

With our walking around the gardens finished, and I believe I heard it was the first time they did this, Ball allowed tours of their facility which brought many more “Who knew?” moments apart from the ton of “Who knew?” while just walking around the gardens.

Like a Brewery Tour, Only No Samples

Seed coating at Ball Horticultural CompanyThe tour we were given focused on a variety of aspects of their business, from seed coating (Who knew the folks who mass-planted the little suckers into those trays needed coated seeds?), to seed pellets (Have you ever seen those SimplyHerb gardens, with six or so herbs in one pot? No, they don’t plant six individual seeds, Ball combines them into one pellet, the planting people shove one in some dirt, and ‘Voila!”, six plants in one pot! Who knew?), to how they pre-germinate seeds. When you sell seeds you also prefer to count them so you know how many you are selling. Count them by hand? Nah, invent a seed counter so you can go crazy with up to 2000 pellets of seed in a second. Lastly came some quality control. Turns out that in the seed business you also need to tell your customers what kind of yield to expect, and to improve your own process to get better yield. Do you want some human to make this judgement call? Nope, we want lasers! So did Ball, and they developed a laser and photo system to analyze trays of just-germinated seeds.

Color at The Gardens at BallReally, who knew there was so much to seeds? I just remember taking a dried up marigold, trying to plant the seeds, and hoping a few of them would grow. I guess when you are selling millions you need a little bit better process.

I know this blog post has gotten long, and I apologize, but I was fascinated by the entire Gardens at Ball experience. Going there was kind of like being let into that secret room in the back of the bar that only the cool people get to get into, only instead of beautiful drinks and beautiful people you get garden heaven.

More Pictures Next Year? I Hope So!

Hopefully they will have this event again next year, and I’ll be setting a reminder to check The Garden Conservancy website next Spring. Now that the wife and I have all kinds of ideas for our yard, next year I’m hoping to be able to get even more pictures and share more oodles of beauty and joy of a summer day with you.

Beautiful gardens in the middle of an industrial area? Who knew?

Origami in Metal, Bees in Flowers, Sumi-E in Sun, Surprise in Leaves

The Morton Arboretum always has an endless supply of stunning views of nature, but their Origami in the Garden exhibit this summer brings beautiful metal. Stopping by during the Destination Asia Festival also led to live Sumi-E painting, and a surprise rustling in the leaves. It’s picture album time!

The Morton Arboretum - 8/5/2017

Let me know if you can spot the surprise in the picture of the leaves as you go through the album, and I’ve also got more pictures from The Morton Arboretum here!

Lincoln Marsh – Wheaton, IL

It was getting hot and sweaty, but that kind of makes it perfect for a morning at Lincoln Marsh. All I really wondered from the walk was did they really need a “No Swimming” sign? Enjoy the picture album!

Lincoln Marsh - Wheaton IL - 6/11/2017

Cricket Creek – Addison IL

I like walking at Cricket Creek in Addison IL. It’s tucked away between two busy streets, and you wouldn’t even know the busy-ness is there if it weren’t for the occasional truck noise. There were no deer on this walk, but there was still plenty to see!
Cricket Creek - Addison, IL - 2017-0609

Nature Likes to Spring

I took a couple of trips to the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL this Spring. Any time of year is a great time to take in the beauty of nature at the Arboretum, but Spring can be especially colorful and bring a renewed feeling of growth and inspiration.

The Morton Arboretum

Dark Dog Walk

Dark Dog Walk

This picture with me on a dog walk with Milo is from a while ago, but as we are moving further into Winter, it’s about the same amount of sunlight today as there was back in the fall when I took this.

I’m Sorry, Cleveland, I’m a Chicago Cubs Fan

Dreaming of SummerI tried. I honestly did. I’m sorry, Cleveland, I’m a Chicago Cubs fan.

For years and years, even since I moved to Chicago, I questioned my allegiance, wondered who I would root for, in the end, if the “End of the World” scenario would happen, a Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians World Series. The world is still spinning yet here we are, five games into the World Series, with Cleveland up 3 – 2, and I finally know where I stand. It occurred firmly during game five when I announced on Facebook I had cheered on the Cubs for the first four games, but I was all in for the Tribe in game five.

Because, like many a sports fan, I assumed my actions actually influence a team in some way, I blamed the Cubs being in their losing situation as my fault because I was on their side. I also didn’t want to be on the side of the loser so I announced on Facebook that I was all in for the Tribe, and in doing so I was either helping out the Cubs because my flipping sides would cause them to win, or I would at least be on the side of the winner and could revel in a glorious World Series victory. That “flipping” lasted about 1/2 pitch.

Firmly implanted in the couch, with beer on my left side, the Indians came to the plate, and I quickly began to drive my wife crazy as something good would go the Cubs way, I would express my glee, but then quickly say “No, wait, I mean ‘Bad, bad, bad!'” For that first inning, with every action, my wife had no idea who was doing better, and try as I might to switch my happiness or disappointment to an action by Cleveland, I kept finding myself happy or disappointed in the actions by the Cubs, and when Cleveland scored in the second inning, and I was pissed at the sign of impending Cubs doom, I realized right then that it had finally happened, I was a Chicagoan. I was a Cubs fan.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised as I’ve lived in Chicago for about 31 of my 49 years now, not including my short stint in middle Illinois, and as the years have gone by, and never being able to actually watch a Cleveland sports team, I’ve gotten sucked in by the generally suckiness of Chicago teams, with a few glimmers of hope in the White Sox World Series, and if I were a bigger hockey fan I’ve always got the Blackhawks.

Don’t get me wrong, I still root for the Cleveland teams, just not when they are playing the Chicago teams.

So here I am, the morning of game six of the World Series, and it’s time to accept it, I’m a Chicago fan. I will accept my fate in this World Series, either being happy for my Cleveland fans who for years, up until the Cavs, wallowed in suckiness, but from the first pitch tonight I’ll be all in, oh way, I can’t be “all in,” that’s a Cleveland thing, so I guess I’ll just be cheering on the lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs, and pray they won’t be losers any longer.

As my mom would say, “Go Cubbies!” She would have loved this series, though it might have killed her, but as much as she like the Cubs I have no doubt she would be cheering on the Tribe because she never left #Believeland.