Cottage Garden

– Posted in: Garden Plants

In Fran Sorin’s March 4, 2009 post ‘Favorite Seed and Plant Mail Order Sources: From our GGW Contributors’ Steve Silk and I both mentioned in southwestern Illinois as a ‘favorite’ mail order resource for their vast range of unique plants. Fortunately, I live about 45 minutes from Cottage Garden. My visits there are always informative and inspirational. I feel a more detailed post is appropriate.

For over twenty years, Chris Kelley and her husband Bill have worked to create a popular destination nursery just outside Saint Louis, Missouri. They specialize in plants that really work in our hot and humid summer climate with cold winters. Their of tropical plants is impressive (including over 100 new tropicals for ’09), all of which are trial tested in containers (another specialty) and display beds throughout the nursery.

Talavara containers in entrance garden. Plantings include: Agapanthus ‘Elaine’, Petunia ‘Aladdin Nautical Mixture’, agastache and salvias. Image courtesy Cottage Garden.

Talavera containers in entrance garden. Plantings include: Agapanthus ‘Elaine’, Petunia ‘Aladdin Nautical Mixture’, agastache and salvias. Image courtesy Cottage Garden. For creative container combinations check out the 'Tropicalismo of the Prairie' section of Cottage Garden's web site (

Chris says, ‘one of the greatest advantages of growing tropicals is their ability to adapt to container culture’. I couldn’t agree more! This spring I found several unique items for client’s containers including:

  • – bright yellow to chartreuse foliage depending on the light intensity, to 2′ tall at maturity.
  • Ribbon plant ()- flat ribbons of arching, acid green foliage; ‘looking like a mass of strange green tapeworms’.
  • Purple heart ()- cultivar with significantly larger, fleshy, iridescent purple leaves.
  • Elephant ear ()- heart shaped, olive green leaves with deep red venation and stems.
  • Yellow bells (Tecoma stans ‘Gold Star’)- a favorite of hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Image courtesy Cottage Garden.O_Large
  • Lion’s ear ()

Cottage Garden has a large selection of and perennials, , , and too. Several of which caught my eye, including: hummingbird mint (), , narrow-leaf ironweed (), , and chaste tree ().

The Kelley’s grow on and finish all plant material on site. Perennials are grown outside, therefore they do not require acclimatization when you receive them. Annuals and tropicals are greenhouse grown, although they are acclimated to somewhat cooler temperatures before shipping in spring.

They are one of the few nurseries who have succeeded in juggling a retail walk-in business with a shipping department.

With such a diversified plant palette that never seems to stop growing, Chris is not ashamed to admit she is among the ‘horticulturally addicted’. She loves the ‘color, texture and architecture in her plants’.

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Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff has practiced garden design since 1995. He trained as a Botanist at Eastern Illinois University. Woodruff attributes his unique design aesthetic, naturalism with a twist, to early college exposures to a diverse range of plants and environments (collecting trips in local prairies, field excursions to bogs in Canada and treks through forests of the Northeast). He also maintained the campus greenhouse, where he fell in love with tropicals. In recent years, influences on his designs include travels abroad to Europe, Asia and the Yucatan peninsula as well as observation of the work of great plantsmen such as Piet Oudolf and Roy Diblik. Woodruff’s designs often combine grasses, prairie natives and perennials with lush tropical foliage and seasonal blooms. This harmonious blending of plant material that is not conventionally grouped together is the ‘twist’ that makes his style unique.
Adam Woodruff

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