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5 tips to plan an extraordinary garden

It’s hard to imagine a blossoming garden in the Midwest winter, yet The Modern Domestic Woman has a knack for creative planning no matter what the season. Don’t be disheartened by the snow as Meagan Provencher, senior landscape designer of Wasco Nursery and Garden Center in St. Charles, knows exactly how to turn your cabin fever into a pleasantly hopeful exercise in expectation.

Elizabeth Rago (left) and Meagan Provencher (right), senior landscape designer

I spoke with Provencher over coffee at Moveable Feast in Geneva, which was a joy to discuss all things flowery as the snow swirled around the cafe’s black steel trimmed windows.

A 24-year veteran of landscape design, [Provencher] has called Wasco Nursery and Garden Center her home for the past 11 years. [She] is the kind of connection you want for anything gardening related, plus her witty sense of humor and realistic approach to creating a stunning garden soothes any self-doubt if you yourself aren’t a trained professional.

“Around February, we’re bored and upset and daily question why we live in Chicago,” Provencher joked. “Gardening and planning a future landscape is therapy this time of year.”

As the senior landscape designer of the 160-acre retail garden center just west of Randall Road on Route 64, Provencher is immediately welcoming and a refreshing guide to everything green. The idea of cultivating an impressive garden is quite intimidating, yet this simple conversation with Wasco’s head gardening virtuoso put me at ease that even though I lack a green thumb, I can still have a beautiful yard.

Here are five invaluable tips Provencher gave to plan an extraordinary yard that attracts fluttery friends and will be relatively easy to keep alive:

1. List five things you hate about your yard. Provencher also suggested (when the snow melts) taking pictures of your landscape. Rather than seeing this time as “ugly,” change your mindset and visualize a blank canvas full of opportunities. I intend on bringing my notes and pictures to the nursery for a brainstorming session with Provencher once everything starts to turn green.

2. Nurseries are not an exclusive club for gardening pros. It can be intimidating to walk into a nursery and think it’s only for serious gardeners who know all the scientific names of plants by heart. An hour with Provencher made me feel extremely confident in my ability to plan a garden this year.

3. Want instant gratification? Have a perennial garden.

4. Buy what’s blooming. Provencher said, “Shop every two weeks and see what’s blooming.” Wasco Nursery is a living art institute of sorts here in the western suburbs, making a trip to the acreage a soothing and inspiring place to visit, even if you’re simply window shopping.

5. Don’t force Mother Nature. Provencher stresses the sense of urgency by big box stores makes people itchy to buy and start planting early. Way too early.

“Gardening and landscaping is about slowing down,” Provencher said. “There is a science behind the flowers we cultivate, buy and present at the nursery. It’s about Mother Nature’s timing.”

Attracting winged friends [such as] butterflies and hummingbirds calls for specific blooms, and Provencher suggested looking at often overlooked plants native to Illinois to furnish your garden.

“The Lobelia cardinalis, or the cardinal flower, is a truly red flowering plant, and hummingbirds absolutely love them,” Provencher said. “If you’re looking to attract butterflies, we love to suggest the prairie gayfeather, which makes a beautiful cut flower for your table and has a long bloom time. Butterflies really gather on it for the great nectar source.”

Another plant Provencher likes to call a butterfly landing pad is the Joe Pye weed, or the Eupatorium purpureum.

“It’s not a weed and is 100 percent native to the area,” Provencher said of the Midwestern plant. “The Joe Pye weed and the butterfly weed are two of my favorites because they provide a wonderful source of nectar for the monarch butterfly — plus, the butterflies like to hang on to the Pye Weed during windy days.”

Provencher also spoke fondly of preserving the pollinators by way of the seven-son flower tree, Heptacodium miconioides. This deciduous shrub has several interesting characteristics to observe through the seasons.

“This tree blooms in September and is something to look forward to at the end of summer and beginning of fall,” Provencher said. “Humming with bees, the seven-son flower tree also sheds its bark and helps area birds stock their nests.”

After the white flowers bloom on the tree, bright red calyx appear in fall for one last hurrah. Wasco Nursery’s mission is to provide high-quality, locally grown plant and landscape material, expert advice and professional installation and design services. Provencher’s overall mantra of “there’s a plant for anything and everything” can make even the newbie gardener feel empowered.

“Spring often becomes overwhelming,” Provencher said. “But it doesn’t have to be. We’ve got solutions and inspiration for every type of garden and landscape project.”

Wasco Nursery and Garden Center is located at 41W781 Route 64, St. Charles, Illinois, 6 miles west of Randall Road. For hours of business, go to or email Meagan Provencher at


About the author:

Elizabeth Rago is a mama, wife, writer, and the creator of The Modern Domestic Woman (MDW). After a series of unfortunate events including job loss, a car accident, bankruptcy, and a physical and emotional breakdown, Elizabeth felt compelled to shift the primary focus of MDW from pretty pictures and goofy memes to a space of honest support for the modern woman.

A pursuer of peace, Elizabeth is on a mission to help women from all backgrounds and walks of life to find their own strength and talents amid the chaos of life.

Readers can contact Elizabeth at or follow her on the following social platforms: @elizabethrago on Instagram and @bethrago on Twitter


A version of this article was originally published on February 15, 2018, in the Kane County Chronicle.


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