Once upon a time there lived a suburban gardener whose Hyssop died. It was an Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’, a branch of the hyssop family.

Yes, experienced gardeners plants die too. It’s apparently considered a learning moment, but it still hurts.

Hyssop and brow-eyed-susan 2016

In late fall this gardener usually adds a thin layer of leaf mulch to her garden, tucking her plants in for a long Chicagoland winter sleep. Unfortunately, she layered the leaf mulch too thick against the fence where the hyssop grew tall. In the spring when their neighboring companion plants, brown-eyed-susan, purple cone flower and geranium unfurled their new green growth, the hyssop didn’t make a showing.

That’s because it suffered from poor drainage during a wet mild winter. Dense leaf mulch does not support well drained soil in the winter. The mulches job during the winter months is to hold in warmth and some moisture. Because of the careless amount of mulch applied in the fall, the roots rotted and the hyssop died.

Gone, three focal points in her sun garden which thrived for five years. The plants are gone, but the lesson not forgotten. There is such a thing as too much mulch.

Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ is part of the hyssop family and grows tall. Spikes of powder blue flowers held over large deep scented green foliage  makes this plant a magnet for butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators. The scented leaves of Agastache can be used to brew hyssop tea. The flower spikes make a beautiful addition to any cut flower bouquet. It blooms here in Chicagoland from July till the first frost.  Agastache prefers well- drained fertile soil and full sun. It is a low maintenance plant that is a true gem in the garden, or it was.

Husband in the garden with yellow baptisia

So the gardener and her husband made a trip to Burlington, Wisconsin, just north of Lake Geneva, to visit Northwind Perennial Farm. Sure, agastache is sold in nurseries closer to her suburban Chicago home, but a visit to Northwind had been on her radar since she had the honor of studying under Mr. Roy Diblik a few years back at College of DuPage.

Plant man Roy Diblik, along with Steve Coster and Colleen Garrigan, together own Northwind Perennial Farm. This trio, plant man, landscape designer and garden shop creator, together have run Northwind since 1991. Rooted on an early 1900’s farmstead, this ten acre nursery is worth a visit.

Northwind display gardens.

Northwind Perennial Farm is known for growing and selling regionally hardy plants, its landscape design service and unique garden shop.   Rich display gardens surround the nursery, filled with “highly aesthetic, sustainable plant communities for all seasons, while reducing maintenance through design”, will keep you wandering for hours.

Northwind’s display gardens are a treat.

Northwind display gardens

Based on plant man and co-owner Roy Diblik’s book, The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden-Knowing Your Plants Means Less Work, these lush gardens are a fine example of his expertise and knowledge, which he passionately shares with all who will listen.

I was first introduced to Roy Diblik in 2012, while studying for a Sustainable Landscape Certification at College of DuPage. A teacher for the perennial class his passion for growing and nurturing plants was infectious. A native of Berwyn, Illinois, Roy shared with the class his ecological understanding of plant communities and the importance of knowing your plants.

Getting to know your plants intimately will bring your garden to life. Understand its growing conditions; Does it thrive in full sun or shade? Does your plant prefer its feet(roots) wet or dry?, is a must for successful gardening.  Once you gain and retain this information about your plants you can pair them with other plants that require the same conditions, but whose texture and blossoms differ in extremes. Growing like plants according to its needs is the beginning of a healthy plant community, and yes, the beginning of less maintenance.

I will vouch for this. I know it works. I have applied this knowledge in my own garden and my Personal Gardening business. Garden Gems is strictly maintenance and I’ve educated many folks on the benefits of this philosophy as well as other sustainable practices.

With over 30 years of horticulture experience under his belt and a few famous projects (Lurie Gardens and the Shedd Aquarium come to mind), Mr. Diblik is still a humble gardener.

Dairy barn re-purposed into garden shop.

After taking in the display gardens and the garden shop, which is located in the re-purposed dairy barn, it was time to see what the plant stock looked like. The gardener and her husband walked around the retail section of the nursery looking at all the different choices. Her husband found a a nice seat in the shade across from the barnyard area. Two donkeys and a goat entertained him while the gardener browsed the tables of perennials grown at the farm. Greeting the gardener and her husband were two gals, watering and tending to the plant stock for sale. Gracefully asking if she needed any help, they talked plants with the gardener for a while, moving on to their duties.

Finding her way to the sun loving perennials, the gardener happened upon some hyssop. Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ was calling out from its black gallon container and the gardener listened. Inspecting the plants from top to bottom, they looked to be healthy and she new instantly they would be welcome in her garden. Monarda didyma ‘Red Beebalm’, a native to Appalachia, as well as  Malva sylvestris ‘Zebrina’, a native to Eastern Europe and South Africa, also came home with the gardener that afternoon.

Gathering her purchase for the ride home, the gardener came across another worker watering the newly bloomed yarrow. At once she recognized this familiar steward, it was Roy working. She reintroduced herself and looking up he said with a smile shaded by the bill of his baseball hat, “Cultivate, Educate and Inspire”.

For more info on Northwind Perennial Farm and Roy Diblik check out: northwindperennialfarm.com