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.
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.
You 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!”
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
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 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
The 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.
Really, 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?