A trial garden unlike any other greets visitors to Ball Horticultural Company, the green industry’s leader in ornamental horticulture development. In contrast to the trial garden tradition of rows and sharply-defined annual beds, the redesigned 7.5-acre garden showcases creative displays within a permanent structural framework of rolling topography, winding pathways, and bold forms.

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Ball Horticultural Company is a world leader in the research, production and marketing of ornamental crops. Their headquartered trial and display gardens, located in West Chicago, IL, draws commercial greenhouse growers, garden center retailers, landscape professionals, and gardening consumers from around the globe to view horticultural introductions and improvements. Despite its enviable position in the world floriculture market, the company’s 4.5-acre trial gardens were similar to its competitors in a style and layout that had evolved from an agrarian past. Various sections of the gardens had been modified by several designers at different times, resulting in a space without consistent themes or natural flow. The Victorian-style bedding and series of disconnected “rooms” separated by swaths of turf were functional for comparing new horticultural products but did not inspire fresh ideas about how to use the company’s product.

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The structural “bones” of the garden create a series of unfolding views that encourage exploration. A series of gravel paths throughout the site allow for effortless movement between garden types, including a shady woodland, meadow, sun and shade container gardens, and water garden. A central 15-foot high mound creates a sense of drama as a device that allows views of the summit to slowly unfold. Along its slopes are a series of 38 oversized concrete planters that offer opportunities for unique planting schemes. A series of seventeen 12-foot high “sky frames” hung with removable baskets of annuals becomes a new focal point as one moves into the garden, and an architectural feature marks the location of a modern pond and terrace area where events are held. Large, dynamic lawn shapes offer visual “resting places” amid a garden full of the company’s prized annuals.

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When Hoerr Schaudt was selected to lead the garden’s redesign, several core intentions dictated the direction: to infuse the garden with a sense of discovery and exploration; to establish a garden framework that allowed for unlimited display possibilities; and to create a dynamic garden destination that drew interest in all seasons. Renamed “The Gardens at Ball,” the new trial gardens are designed to delight and educate as effectively as a botanic garden.

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No longer a series of separate rooms or rows, the Trial Gardens at Ball now embody a cohesive 7-acres pf rolling topography, striking structural elements, and bold shapes. This permanent structural framework knits together seven gardens into a single exploratory experience, while allowing for fixed beds where designs are altered each year.

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The Gardens at Ball are the starting point for many of the annuals that garden consumers purchase from Home Depot and Walmart as well as small nurseries throughout the country. By creating a trial garden that places these products within the context in which they will eventually be used, the company hopes to affect trends and inspire ideas throughout the industry. The year after the redesign, Ball welcomed 4,500 public visitors into its garden, an increase of more than 75 percent over the previous year.

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Innovation Center

In 2018, the client expanded its campus with a 34,000 SF Innovation Center and teamed up with the Hoerr Schaudt once again, this time to seamlessly integrate the new research building with the existing gardens. The result is a cohesive landscape that bridges together planting sitewide and distills a sense of place with various trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials, and bulbs, creating a dynamic and engaging space for Ball employees and visitors.

The scope of the project included: stitching together new and old designs, creating new connections to the Innovation Center and building entrance, establishing new places for respite, work, and observation, reinforcing axes of the existing building program toward the trial gardens (book-ended between two legacy spaces, the building, and the trial garden), while creating usable outdoor areas that serve both visitors and employees and can accommodate special events.

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The rolling topography of the innovation center plantings creates slopes and niches to define planting areas and dictate planting ecologies. Framed views were designed with strategically placed plantings, trees, shrubs, and man-made structures. The strategic placement of the Chionanthus grove, Amelanchier within the hedge garden, and structured plants within the gravel garden shape and guide views.

The established depth of field gradient was critical with curated ornamental grass and perennial matrix for seasonal interest in the foreground, a calm lawn and buffer bed in the middle, that moves onto the trial garden in the background with a shady woodland, meadow, sun and shade container gardens, and water garden. This framework, topography, and planting matrix knit together into a seamless picture blending the experience of landscape, old and new.

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ASLA Illinois Merit Award 2006

Professional Landscape Network Environmental Improvement Supplier Recognition Award 2006

Perennial Plant Association Landscape Design Award 2006