Great Lake Gardens  
Great Lake Gardens

Seize the unusual, uncommon, or strange plant



Welcome to the Great Lake Gardens website. Originally established in 2001 as a mail order retail nursery, in 2005 the retail nursery was closed and the focus of the nursery was shifted to hardy ornamental plant breeding.

Our current focus is breeding hardy sunflowers of the genus Helianthus. Unlike the common annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus) which only grows for one season, there are many other species of sunflower that are hardy perennials. These hardy sunflowers are all North American natives and some, such as Helianthus x multiflorus, have been grown in gardens along with their annual cousin since the 1500's.

The wild perennial sunflowers encompass some forty perennial species that range in height from about one foot to over twelve feet. There are species that grow in the high deserts of the Pacific Northwest, the low deserts of the Southwest, and the swamps of the Southeast. Still other species grow in the Rockies, the Ozarks and the Appalachian Mountains, the open plains of the Midwest and the forests of the Northeast. Taken together, these species represent a wide range of genetic diversity for the ornamental plant breeder.

The nursery's proprietor, Michael Rouse, travels extensively across the US to collect germplasm from these different species and search for wild mutations in flower color, shape, size, etc. While all of the wild perennial sunflowers have yellow flowers, work at the nursery is focused on increasing the color range to include white, pale yellow, orange, red and pink. Efforts are also underway to increase the variety of flower shapes and reduce the heights of the more ornamental species to better fit in modern gardens.

One of The Great Lake Gardens hardy sunflower trial gardens.