Rotary Gardens hopes to defend AAS national title

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Shelly Birkelo
Saturday, April 13, 2013

— If Rotary Botanical Gardens wins the All America Selection Garden 2013 Landscape Design Contest, it will be its third win from AAS.

The independent nonprofit based in Downers Grove, Ill., tests new flower varieties then introduces the best garden performers as AAS winners, according to its website.

The local gardens, 1455 Palmer Drive, won the AAS Award of Excellence for Exemplary Education in 2004 and is hoping to defend its 2012 AAS Landscape Design Contest title, said Mark Dwyer, horticulture director.

Entering the contest, which is open to about 175 AAS display gardens nationwide, is about much more than winning, he said.

"Our mission is horticulture education and appreciation. So we feel this (AAS) collection falls exactly into that. It's beautiful, but educational as well," Dwyer said.

Contestants are divided into three categories based on number of visitors. Rotary Gardens is entering the largest category, which includes gardens like Denver and Chicago botanical gardens that attract more than 100,000 visitors each year.

Rotary Gardens beefed up its entry for 2013 by adding two dozen more plant varieties than it did in 2012 for a total of 151 varieties.

The historical-themed collection is chronologically arranged in 13 5-by-40-foot linear flowerbeds in a display north of the gardens' arboretum. The beds will be accented with upright planters and other structures for some of the vine award winners such as the morning glories.

"It's quite ornamental with large drifts of color and appropriate signage," Dwyer said.

When people visit Rotary Gardens to view the AAS contest display, they will zigzag through a progression of this garden bed with grass paths between symmetrical, narrow, linear beds.

"We will feature AAS winners from past and present, and visitors will be able to stroll through the collection sequentially, viewing nasturtiums from the 1930s, verbenas from the 1940s, then petunias from the 1950s, etcetera, all the way to the 2013 winners," Dwyer said.

"We found every available award-winning variety available we could to put them in this chronological display," he said.

The gardens spent $1,500 on the AAS seed varieties. Dwyer said it was well worth the investment.

"This will be a unique display with a lot of merit and a neat education factor. I envision people with cameras and notepads marking their favorite varieties," he said.

Each variety also will have a label containing its Latin and common names and the year the plant won the AAS award.

"That's neat because people will see varieties still being offered from over 60 years ago, which is crazy and fairly rare," Dwyer said.

Dwyer believes Rotary Gardens has a very good chance of winning the national contest title again.

"Chances of another garden having a twist like ours are minimal," he said. "I think our competition will put out a more traditional type display that will be beautiful, but we'll have the most varieties and probably the only one with this historical twist, which is going to be of great interest to visitors, judges and to AAS."

Entries must be submitted by Sept. 11, according to the AAS Display Garden 2013 Landscape Design Contest web page. Winners will be announced Oct. 9.

Last updated: 10:26 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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