Days Gone By & A New Year for Flowering Displays at the Boathouse

At the close of the labors of a day or week, the artisan or tradesman repairs here to enjoy a breath of free, pure, unadulterated air – to imbibe the fragrance of beautiful flowers.
— G.M. Kern, Practical Landscape Gardening, 1855

There is something different about Forest Park, something that keeps people returning, generation after generation. It is the balance between nature and institution, recreation and relaxation. An escape, a place of scheduled activity and passive meditation; pieces of a puzzle that make our Park what it is today. Horticulture, a piece of this puzzle, has thrived in Forest Park since its inception in 1876. Forest Park's history – starting with the first superintendent of the Park, Maximillian Kern – is bursting with references of efforts to create gardens. Having written Practical Landscape Gardening, one of the first landscape gardening books in the United States, his vision for the Park to benefit society was why he was chosen as the Park's first superintendent back in 1875. It is the creativity and dedication of teams of passionate gardeners that has painted a vibrant history and still today continues to provide the experience of formal allées, natural meadows, and flowering displays throughout the Park.

It is amazing how fast the years have gone by since I wrote my first article for Forest Park Forever. Since then, my backyard has truly been the 58 acres surrounding the Boathouse and Grand Basin, complete with my dream garden, the Boathouse display. I remember the first time I presented one of my crazy designs for the Boathouse gardens back in 2014. My supervisor looked at me with questioning, yet eager, eyes to try out the tropical-themed garden. Alocasias, Pentas, Crotons, Dahlias, and Curcuma – even Siam Tulips, a plant I had only seen growing in the conservatories at Longwood Gardens. With a little research I found that they were relatively easy to grow – with a lot of summer heat and water! From then on, each year I have tried different annuals and tropicals, some I had never grown before, but had researched, and found that I was able to grow them in our climate. Over the past three summers, the crowd favorites have been:


  • Alocasia ‘Portodora’
  • Curcuma Siam Sunset®


  • Tibouchina grandiflora
  • Tithonia rotundiflora
  • Salvia ‘Big Swing'
  • Salvia ‘Amistad’
  • Senecio confuses


  • Salvia oxyphora
  • Gomphrena Pin-Ball Purple®
  • Cuphea Vermilionaire®
  • Sunflower ‘Italian White’
  • Cleome Senorita Rosilita®
  • Cynara cardunculus
  • Amaranthus ‘Molten Fire’

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With next summer’s display recently approved, I am excited to share what people can expect to see in 2018. Although not as diverse as last summer, it will once again be laid out in the cottage garden style, incorporating 11 different varieties of plants. It will include an old-fashioned nectar-rich Pentas ‘Ruby Glow’, a tall-growing Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon,’ shimmering black Psuederanthemum atropurpureum, outstanding performers Cleome Senorita Blanca® and Sunpatiens Compact Electric Orange®, unique rosy pink foliage Iresine ‘Blazin Rose’, cottage garden staple Verbena bonariensis, crowd favorite Curcuma ‘Chaing Mai Pink’, crazy Celosia ‘Tornado Red’, and seeded Asclepias curassavica and Rudbeckia gloriosa. The last two will be unusually seeded amongst the other plants, blending the individual plants in a harmonious, diverse display with an extended period of bloom.

But, before I get ahead of myself, stay tuned for our tulip display this spring complete with 7000 Tulipa ‘Maggie Daley’, 100 Fritillaria persica, and 700 Phlox divaricata ‘May Breeze.’ Our wonderful volunteers, Carol, Sandy, Rich, Joyce and Frank, worked hard to prepare the beds and plant this pink, purple, and white garden. We always have a blast putting these unusual display garden designs together and we hope it will be spectacular as they come alive in late March/early April. But until then, as the winter’s cold sets in, with eagles flying overhead, migrating waterfowl on the lake and snow on the ground, like our spring bulbs we wait, anticipating another gorgeous year of gardening at the Boathouse; continuing the tradition of days gone by in a new year at Forest Park.