Thursday, December 30, 2010

Herbs in Winter

We love love love to cook.  The husband has culinary experience and over the past (almost) fifteen years of marriage, he has managed to teach me to cook.  And we haven't killed each other.  Yet.  This year I bought him a rice cooker for Christmas and we've already broken it in.  He's not necessarily a big cooking gadget person, although we do own and use a fish poacher and a mandoline.  For example, he's in the midst of the Bread Project which involves various sourdough starts and lots of bowls of mystery dough in the fridge.  It makes amazing bread, though, and without a bread machine. 

One thing we struggle with is growing herbs indoors.  We just don't have a south facing window with any sort of ledge or good access to sun.  Over the past few years, we have greatly expanded the range of herbs we grow and use, so it's a bit frustrating to have to buy fresh when I can walk out the back door in the summer and snip away.  This is the fennel.  Last year's winter was fairly mild, so it came back - much to my surprise! It got about six feet high before keeling over under the weight of the seeds.  It's also a host plant for butterfly larvae, so I let it reseed. 

This year, we are again trying to keep the rosemary going.  It is toughing it out on the dining room table in afternoon sun.  It isn't happy, but it has grown!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Elegant Alliums in Winter

As designers and horticulturists we go on at length about creating winter interest.  Here in the Chicago area, our winters can be pretty long and bleak, so we need to be creative in the garden to keep from going completely round the bend.  One of those tricks knowing gardeners do, is leave perennials up for the winter.  They provide structure, seeds, and interesting silhouettes. 

This is a fall blooming allium or ornamental onion

See how lovely this is in a fresh snowfall?  The seeds feed the birds and the delicate dried petals give you a glimpse of the flower that bloomed months ago.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tree Man

Today we are celebrating my father's 70th birthday.  It'll be a big party with lots of family and friends.  One thing my father taught me was a love of trees.  I come by this horticulture bug quite naturally.  Dad would take the family and the dog out on hikes at the local forest preserves and the arboretum most weekends.  We lived only a few blocks from a large forest with extensive trails for hiking and biking.  Dad worked in construction and would often tote home logs for the fireplace if the project required tree removal.  In our own yard, he's planted many many trees through the almost 40 years in the house.  The parkway trees have changed from a lone large ash to a maple and a pear, both of which are looking dodgy.  The front yard is graced by a crimson maple the folks planted when they first moved in.  As a kid we had a huge crabapple on the corner of the house right outside my bedroom window.  I adored it.  It had white fragrant flowers and apples big enough that Mom made jelly out of them now and again.  Of course it eventually succumbed to apple scab and so Dad replaced it with a hedge maple. 

The backyard trees are doing their best to kill the lawn.  These are his pride and joy.  There's the American elm that was planted when they moved in and has toughed it out through Dutch elm disease all over the village.  The spruces offer cover for birds and screening from the neighbors. The katsura is coming along nicely, now that an ash is gone.  There's even a swamp white oak sapling in the back corner that he started.  However, above all of these is Dad's pride and joy - the shagbark hickory he raised from a nut.  Now it hasn't quite started to shag yet, but it does produce a handful of nuts much to the squirrels' delight.  It also gets a couple of hickory pests and diseases, so, well, it's a little wonky.  The trunk has some kinks from losing the leader, but the tree still grows like crazy.  I think Dad calls the Morton Arboretum plant clinic each year with an update on what attacks it.  The shagbark just shrugs it off and keeps on going.  My brother and I think it might be his third child.

So today, I remember climbing all the trees on our block I could get into.  I remember Dad pointing out the magnificent oaks in the forest preserves.  I remember him planting a bur oak at grandma's house and an Accolade elm because she needed some trees on her rather barren patch.  My uncles have trees from Dad as well as neighbors and friends.  We have discussions on pruning and this Thanksgiving we spent an hour with the ladder and the pruning saw, taking the katsura off the garage roof. The latest challenge is finding a home for a black walnut sapling that appeared in the compost pile.  It's already survived some rabbit pruning and I think I may have found someone who will plant it and love it, just not as much as Dad.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beautiful Beech Buds

Fagus sylvatica 'Riversii' aka stunning!

This is one of the new kids in the yard - my purple leaf beech!  I have loved beech trees for close to forever, just after I fell in love with elms.  The smooth grey bark, the deep purple leaves, and most of all the buds.  What could be more elegant than the pointed buds of beech?  These are not fast growing trees, but beeches are worth the patience.  They are extremely long lived and there are specimens hundreds of years old.  They are forest trees, especially in Europe. Beech forests occupy our earliest imaginings.  Red Riding Hood fled from the wolf in a beech forest.  Hansel and Gretel escaped the witch into the beech trees.  Couldn't those buds be claws or fingernails? I've sited this so we can see it daily from the back windows and it will eventually shade the patio.  Now, I visit it daily, just to touch those long pointed buds and dream a little fairy tale.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On a Snowy Evening

I love winter sunsets.  They are the cool, crisp pastels that remind me of watercolor paintings.  A couple of days ago I drove out to DeKalb for a delivery and was delighted to watch the sun set over the cornfields.  Of course, going 80 odd miles an hour means no picture taking.  I did stop on the back porch tonight, though, and managed to take this...

That's a sliver of moon in the left corner.  It's about 15 degrees out, which is pretty cold for December, but gives us a crystalline night sky.  Put your long underwear on and go for a walk.  The snow makes the world quiet and serene.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Planting for Screening

So, the spruce that lived between us and the neighbors came down this year.  It's a tight long space to fill under power lines between two driveways in full sun.  It's called The Hell Strip.  We love our neighbors, but we don't necessarily want to see them constantly, so trees to the rescue!  After a lot of thinking...I went with Hetz juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Hetzii Columnar').  Junipers are tough, tolerant plants and Hetz is green, feathery, and a heavy berry setter.  They shouldn't get much taller than the bottom power line and be around five to six feet wide at maturity.  I also added a Sensation lilac (Syringa vulgaris 'Sensation') for a splash of color and because my husband's grandmother had one at her house in New Hampshire.  Yes, I'm a sentimental gardener.

Laying out the plants.

Tools for the job - the hatchet is for tree roots.

This is my soil.  The spade goes through it like butter!  I am spoiled.

These are pretty root bound, so I made four cuts to encourage the roots to grow out, not around.

And with a little digging (and maneuvering around tree roots) they are in!

And Molly the cat supervised.

Everything managed to survive the hot summer and the dry fall.  There's an extra heavy crop of berries on the junipers!