Sunday, January 31, 2010

What Gardeners Do in Winter: Part 2

I'm just home from my annual winter foray to a couple of our wonderful conservatories - Garfield Park and Oak Park.  We are also spoiled in Chicago with Lincoln Park conservatory and a teensy, very cute Wilder Park conservatory in Elmhurst near the college.  There's even the Mitchell Park Conservatory, or in my family the Milwaukee Domes.  

It was a bustling crowd at Garfield Park on this sunny January day.  We have long ago figured out to leave the coats in the car and make a mad dash for the door.  It's too much of a burden to lug our big winter parkas along and we tough Northerners can handle a few minutes of frozen air.  My husband and I love to take pictures, so it always takes a few minutes for the cameras to adjust to the wonderful moist air of the Palm Room.  Walking into the huge haystacks of glass and breathing all that hyper-oxygenated air is a beautiful thing!  I can feel my skin relax in the dense humidity.  Not to mention the incredible plants.

I will be the first person to tell you I specialize in zone 5 outdoor flora.  Don't ask me about how to care for your houseplants.  I can give you a general answer.  Ask me about the differences between all the hydrangeas, and I'm yours for an hour.  Yet, come January/February, I need to be in a conservatory.  It reminds me that there are bright flowers, green leaves, and growing things somewhere.  I can plop myself down in the Fern Room and pretend it's Brazil.  The Oak Park conservatory has live birds and the most extraordinary Ponderosa lemon tree.  It also has a coat rack!

Here are a few pictures from the couple hundred I took today.

The Palm Room at Garfield Park

The azalea show just started.

The Fern Room at Garfield Park and some of the folks hanging out on the steps.

Oak Park Conservatory.

Datura in full bloom.

The Ponderosa lemon is flowering and fruiting.  The lemons are about the size of softballs, but I understand from the staff that they don't taste like much.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sustainable Gardening?

I'm fresh back from the Mid-Am Horticultural Trade Show and it was a great experience!  I managed to sit in on quite a few classes, which was helpful for the 'Going Green in the Garden' class I just taught at the park district.

'Sustainable' seems to be the catch word for anything environmental or 'green' nowadays.  I think it is quickly getting overused.  However, the Green Industry (growers, landscapers, garden centers, tree companies, etc.) isn't exactly a 'green' industry.  It changing slowly, though.  Big box retailers are putting pressure on suppliers to use more eco-friendly pots and materials.  Customers are more and more concerned about plants that are grown locally. It does make me ponder, how do we become more conscious of our carbon footprint and yet still maintain profitable business practices? 

Education seems to be the biggest opportunity and biggest hurdle.  The Chicago area is ahead of the rest of the country on sustainable landscapes.  Why?  Because we have so little of our original ecosystems.  Daniel Burnham's plan called for saving the lakeshore for the people.  We have the forest preserves, parks, and natural areas but only a few hundred acres of original prairie and savannah.  People here are working to restore our native ecosystems on public and private lands.  Yet, I come across folks who insist on spraying for any and every insect pest.  Plants should be clean, perfect, and colorful.  Well, folks, plants are certainly NOT perfect. Neither are people or animals.  You can't have a butterfly garden without caterpillars eating your leaves. 

I urge you to get to know your plants, both the ones in your yard and the ones in your neighborhood or workplace.  Is it worth the headache of planting a rhododendron if you have to fertilize, water, screen it from winter winds, and prune it year after year?  Wouldn't a native viburnum be happier there?  So what if there's a few holes in the leaves or you get little red galls on the maple?  Insects feed birds.  One red oak tree feeds 525 species.  Norway maples, not nearly as many.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Winter Protection for Precious Plants

As you can see here, this little tree has a collar.  It's not particularly dashing, but it does the trick.  There's a few things to know about this tree and why it has its lovely plastic accessory.  First, it's a laceleaf lilac (Syringa lacinata) on a standard.  Normally, it likes to be a mid-size shrub and has finely cut leaves, with fragrant lavendar flowers in May.  We got these in by mistake at the nursery, so they ended up being freebies.  My boss is curious to know how it survives this winter.  No one wanted them, really, so I have one as well as my parents and in-laws.  They are all in very different sites and soils, so it will be a good experiment. 

Because this tree is thin barked, it needs protection from the bunnies.  They already snacked on it back in early November!  You might wonder why it isn't covered all the way to the graft union.  Well, this tree is on the north side of the garage, so it doesn't get the harsh winter sun that say, the lilac, does.  It just needs the rabbit protection.  White plastic or even tan tree wrap is best for this type of use because it reflects sunlight.  Never use black plastic or wrap because it will absorb the sunlight and create a warm area on the bark.  This thaws out the cells and makes them turgid, only to freeze again when the sun goes down, causing cracks in the bark tissue.  Not good! 

The little tree is loaded with buds for spring and so far is hanging in.  I'll report back on its progress! 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What Gardeners Do in Winter: Part 1

Not only do we gardeners contemplate the winter landscape, admiring the patterns of branches or the way shadows fall on the snow.  No, we do get out occasionally.

Today I attended Cantigny's first Home Gardening Symposium in partnership with Chicagoland Gardening magazine.  It was a lovely day of two keynote speakers and two multi-session blocks.  The day kicked off with a keynote presentation by Craig Bergmann of Craig Bergmann Landscape Design.  You may have heard of him.  Craig has done more than 600 projects in his 30 years as a landscape architect including many public sites.  He emphasized a practical approach to your landscape including knowing your site, light, soil, and for us in the business, really getting to know your customers.  Craig also firmly advocated for the right plant in the right place and to use elements of your home in the design such as tracing the pattern of the front door's sidelights in boxwood hedges.  It was really lovely to be able to just soak up ideas and get some big picture thinking.

The other keynote speaker was Roy Diblik of Northwind Perennials.  You may have seen Roy's work at the Lurie Garden in Millenium Park.  Roy is a champion of native plants and xeriscaping, that is, using drought tolerant and drought loving plants in challenging spaces.  Roy's designs have the feel of an Impressionist painting with flowing masses of a handful of shapes and textures repeating through the space.  He believes strongly in intermingling plants for an almost meadow-like quality so that weeds don't have a chance.  It creates a soft, wind-rippled effect. Roy emphasized what you can do with a palette of just 20 plants to create thousands of combinations.  My challenge with Roy is that I don't have a full sun dry situation.  I'm spoiled by rich clay loam soil that grows pretty much anything.  My prairie plants tend to be twice their usual size.  No, I'm not necessarily complaining, but it means I'm still learning how plants behave in my garden.

I also attended brief talks on roses and veggie gardening in small spaces.  It was a very nice collection of topics and it meant I got to get out and enjoy some of Cantigny's wonderful big trees in winter.  There is a weeping beech right off the new restaurant space that is stunning in every season.  If you get a chance, there are a number of opportunities for classes and symposia in the coming months.  It's a great way to get out and look at pretty pictures and learn more about our favorite passion.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Landscaping in Winter

As you might have noticed, plant people can have a much different attitude about weather than regular folk, especially winter weather.  One of the things I find rather wonderful about snow is its ability to give you a clean slate.  This is a picture of the view from the study window.  We spend a lot of time at the desk on the computer, so this view is a daily one.  I've arranged trees and shrubs on purpose for this view.  However, snow lets me see not only the architecture of the plants, but erases the bedlines.  It lets me think about what I need to add, move, or take away to create a winter garden with multiple elements.  Obviously, we have a ways to go with some things.  I'd like to add more evergreen to the beds, but my sun/shade mixture and wind patterns make it a challenge.  That's another handy thing about snow.  You can easily find the wind patterns in your yard by the snow patterns.  We have a wind tunnel down the neighbor's fence, so needless to say, I'm running a risk of the bitty boxwood that is covered in snow not making it.  I'll never pull off rhododendrons or azaleas there, either.  You can also see my new baby lilac tree on a standard.  It's not my usual form for a tree (I tend to multi-stemmed), but it was free and has the possibility of being lovely.  It might crap out completely, too, but sometimes you just have to be fearless!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cold, Colder, Coldest - Bring On the Negative Temps!

It's January!  I'm waiting for it to get really cold, like negative numbers cold.  Yes, I love winter and I'm one of the crazy people that actually enjoys shoveling snow.  However, I'm watching the thermometer because it makes a big impact on the garden.

In January and February of 2009 we had a number of nights dip into the negative digits.  As a result, we experienced lower populations of some damaging insects.  The cool wet spring made fungus flourish.  Yet, we saw dramatic decreases in the populations of bagworms, for example.  I haven't spotted them on trees that last year were covered in little bundles of brown needles about as big as your thumb.  There was also a decrease in Japanese beetles.  Maybe not quite so dramatic as the bagworms, but there were less of them around than the year before.  I only plucked a handful or two off the roses.

So, bundle up!  Dig out that alpaca sweater your mother brought you from Bolivia and the wool socks.  A little shivering now can pay big dividends this spring.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Gardener's Resolutions for a New Year

I think I begin each new year with hope, especially in the garden.  I hope that the snow will protect the tender roots and bulbs sleeping in the soil.  I hope that rodents won't prey upon bark and stems.  I hope that January will be cold enough to reduce populations of ravaging insects. 

I find one of the biggest rewards to gardening, is the resiliance of plants.  These trees, shrubs, and flowers, desperately want to grow and thrive.  We've all seen trees grow around barriers and survive storms, insects, disease, and perhaps most damaging, people.  How wondrous that life will prevail?  The tiniest seed holds such a gift. 

So, I begin this year once again astounded at the green growing things in my world.  I urge you to take the time to stop and appreciate them.  Take a moment to study how the ridges of bark channel the rain, how the delicate papery sheath wraps the pine needles.  Stop and smell the roses, but also look at how the petals are arranged in a whorl and how the delicate thorns reflex downwards.  Feel the roughness of a viburnum leaf or the velvet of lamb's ears.  This world is a feast for the senses.  I invite you to dine.