Sunday, December 18, 2011

Rosemary Redemption?

Here we go again...

I have wonderful friends. My friend Beth dropped off a Christmas tree shaped rosemary plant after reading the last post. Isn't she cool? Check out her blog: A Road to Faith.

So now I have this big beautiful rosemary.  I promised it that I would do my best to keep it alive and savor its loveliness in shepherd's pie, pot roast, stews, and soups. It's hanging in there. I'm not sure what sort of potting mix it's in, but the water runs straight through it. At some point in the next few days, I'm going to repot it in the potting soil we sell at work. It's lovely stuff with a wetting agent and we grow all our plants in it. Sadie the cat is intrigued by the rosemary, but has not nibbled too much. Will it survive the winter? We shall see.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I've Killed the Rosemary - AGAIN!

This happens every year. Whistling an optimistic tune, I pick up a rosemary plant or two from work and pot it up for the porch. We cook with it all summer, water it, make sure it's happy. Then comes fall. I tuck it closer to the house as frost threatens and it cheerfully puts out new growth. All is well, yes?  We love cooking with herbs, so the poor rosemary gets moved indoors as nights dip into the 30s. Wonderful! we think, it's stew season and rosemary is perfect! The poor bugger is doomed. Once the rosemary crosses the threshold it's days are numbered.

This year, though, I thought I could pull it off. We swapped bedrooms, so now the study is in the southeast corner and a nice sunny window is available for plants. Until the turtle came to stay for six weeks, that is. We enjoy babysitting the turtles, but one of them gets my sunny spot. The rosemary and it's basil pals were once again relegated to the back kitchen door/pantry.  They get plenty of sun there, but unfortunately, it's the back door. And as the main point of entry, it's drafty. All it took was one night when the chef left the door cracked as he was baking bread. We tried resuscitation, but, well, once again, I've killed the rosemary.

Monday, November 28, 2011

November Rain Can Be Beautiful

Curly willow in the rain

It's November in Chicagoland. The days are shorter, They're often grey with clouds, cold and just plain depressing. It has been excellent weather to hang out on the couch with a pot of tea, a book, and a cat. However, there's something magical about November rain. When the temperature is right - cold, but not freezing - rain seems to crystallize on branches. The drops remain suspended like a bead necklace. Evergreens are covered in a sheet of diamonds. So, even if the weather is crummy, Mother Nature still can be beautiful.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Autumn Gold

One of my favorite trees are ginkgos. I love their geisha-fan leaves, their upright stature, and their shimmering gold fall color. I am spoiled by having ginkgos generously planted in the parkways in my neighborhood. These tough, tolerant trees are perhaps at their best in fall. Those golden leaves will linger on the tree until a deep frost. Overnight, the tree drops almost all to form a liquid yellow carpet at its feet. It reminds me of an elegant lady stepping out of her party dress.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Roses are Good for You

Rosa glauca or red-leaved rose hips.
As they mature and darken they look like Milk Duds.

Roses. The classic flower, the pinnacle of elegance, the expression of love. We fuss over them, nurture them, and sometimes kill them.

I've talked to many people who feel that roses are impossible to grow and that they are one of the delicate darlings of the plant world. I beg to differ.  Of course, you have the prima donna - the tea rose. Yes, tea roses can be a major hassle.  There are clubs and societies to help you with that addiction.

The roses that live in my yard need to be tough buggers. I yanked out the tea roses that came with the house years ago in favor of low maintenance, easy going shrub roses. I have a love affair with my New Dawn climbers and Stanwell Perpetual shrubs. My Nearly Wild is toughing it out despite the bunnies and occasional Japanese beetle. My Sea Foam is thriving and grew, er, six FEET despite being cut back to six inches this spring. My cute little white Meidiland and dark pink Hansa rugosa are getting established. Have I killed roses? You betcha. Par for the course. I keep planting them anyway.

Now that November has descended in all its grey misery, one thing lighting up my life are rose hips. I don't generally dead head mine. They don't need it, and I like having happy little rose hips for winter interest. Eventually the wildlife will eat them, so everyone wins! You can even make a refreshing tea with them if you are so inclined. Rugosa roses are a favorite for their large hips, but pretty much any of the varieties will work. Not every rose will form hips, but many of them do. You do have to let the flowers fade and the ovaries mature, so back off with the pruners. Try a rose! You just might like it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Trees Are Spooky

It's Halloween, one of my favorite holidays. I love the pagan nature of this evening and the opportunity to become someone else for a night. I adore ghost stories and especially those involving haunted trees. You know exactly which trees in your neighborhood are haunted. Your steps speed up when out walking the dog at night. You don't look too close for fear something is looking back at you.

So here's a spooky maple for All Hallows Eve.  Careful, now. It's watching you.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bright Fall Color for a Grey Day

The maples have finally decided to turn.  Now I'm noticing freemanii-type maples in parkways, lawns, and parks. With their strong pyramidal shape and bright blue-red leaves, they pretty much leap off the grass and wave hello. Marmo and Autumn Blaze are two very very common cultivars.  We like these maples. They are easy to grow, they tolerate wet soils, they are pretty pest free and they grow like the proverbial weed. However, in light of elm and ash overplanting, I think they may also be too popular. Diversity makes the world a much more interesting place, don't you think?

Hill's oak makes a lovely crimson addition to the autumn landscape and grows surprisingly fast. The birds and squirrels will thank you for the acorns, too.

How can you not love a ginkgo? They are just beginning to turn. The pristine gold of a ginkgo is fleeting, so I try to really take a moment to savor those geisha fan leaves. Once temperatures fall below freezing, these trees will drop all their leaves in a night. For me, it's like a lady shedding her party dress to puddle around her feet.

I'm plotting how I can add more trees to my typical suburban-size yard. There's a spruce on the lot line that's fated for the chainsaw next March. I'm vacillating between conifers to replace it.  Hmmmm. There's still a patch of lawn in the far back. Do I really need a sunny perennial bed?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Eulogy for Ash

Although not my favorite tree, I have a soft spot for ash (Fraxinus). My parents had one planted in the back yard and each fall it turned the most beautiful copper and purple. It shaded the patio, but the only time I really noticed the tree was in autumn. My father used to take a pocket knife to the trunk and dig out huge fat larvae of our native borer. Ash trees, as you probably know, are threatened by the emerald ash borer. I've linked it so you can find more information than you probably want to know. It's a devastating pest and since we have once again over planted a single species (you'd think we would have learned with the whole Dutch Elm Disease fiasco), we will lose a significant portion of our urban canopy. There is a wonderful project that reclaims trees for wood products. If you're cutting down your tree, check it out. So this is my eulogy:

Purple copper russet gold
Leaves like pennies
Floating in a puddle
Slivers of sun
Lost in dark water

Rough corrugated trunk
Carries rain to the roots
Bends in the summer storm
Anchors squirrel nests
Reaches long twigs skyward

Cool the hot wind from my face
Remind me of nature's grace
Sway with me again
In that bewitching rhythm
Of castanet seeds

My fickle heart
Wavers between oak and maple
Beech and elm
Yet your tower of green leaves
Beckons me still

My friend, my dear one
May your heartwood
Become a treasure
Your honeyed flesh
A priceless gift

Good luck, little guy

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Lingering Swallowtail

A black swallowtail caterpillar in the foggy foggy dew

A little more than a week ago, while cutting herbs for dinner, I noticed something on the fennel.  A black swallowtail caterpillar was steadily chomping its way through a stalk. He was quite fat and satisfied. I think he's being a bit optimistic about his survival.  It is very late in the season.  I checked on him daily, and finally, one day, no more caterpillar. I haven't been able to find a chrysalis in the tangle of the herb garden, but it's a bit of a fall mess right now. The birds are eating their heads off at the feeder as they bulk up for migration and winter. He may have gotten eaten.  Either way, we enjoyed having another caterpillar to contemplate in all his stripy glory.  There's a reason I let the fennel reseed.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Step Away from the Pruners, Loppers, Shears, and Saws...Nice and Quietly

Fall has arrived with crisp nights and cool days in Chicagoland. As folk are itching to get back in the yard now that temperatures are reasonable, I suggest restraint.  Now is NOT the time to prune.

Pruning encourages new growth, especially side shoots. At this point in the season, if you prune, those little baby new tips won't have hardened off enough to survive frost. Now our average frost date tends to hover around October 20 or so, depending on who you ask. Will new shoots harden off in a month? Not really. If these tender darlings get zinged with frost, oftentimes they will turn black or brown.  Now you don't want your yew bushes covered in brown bits just in time for holiday entertaining, do you? So back off.

See that flower bud on this viburnum? Put those pruners down!

Also, if you prune now, you could cut off the flowers of spring blooming shrubs especially lilac, viburnum, and forsythia. What's the point of lilacs with no flowers?  I know that the landscaper crews are out and about trimming away, but trust  me, sit on your hands. Have a cup of tea on the patio with the newspaper and enjoy the migrating birds.

This year, think about leaving up some of your perennials. 'Sacrilege!' you may say, but really, what are you going to look at through four to six months of winter? Great white sheets of snow? Yes, cut back the perennials if they have had fungal problems. This year, peonies have taken a beating from botrytis, so it's best to cut them back and destroy the foliage. If your foliage is clean, though, leave it up. Not only are seedheads attractive in our frosty winter, but they feed the birds. We have left even basil to seed and the juncos thank us for it. There's a whole patch of hosta that has reseeded thanks to the chickadees. Also, dried foliage will help insulate the crown of the plant during our famous frost heaving. In spring, I tend to clip remaining material and let it compost where it sits. I also like to see where plants will reseed such as columbine, hollyhock, and campion.

If you have to do something in the garden - weed. Pull those bad boys before they go to seed and as they are sending nutrients to their roots. A thorough fall weeding can save you a lot of time in the spring.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Raising Butterflies

This summer, I've had a chance to revisit my childhood of bug collecting. I love bugs. Any and all of them. I'm fascinated by the insect world, the creepier and crawlier the better. As a kid, I had a mayonnaise jar filled with random insects found around the yard. Ask my mother! She swore I'd be a naturalist counting bears with Grizzly Adams in the Rockies. Little did she know all that tree climbing would lead me into horticulture.

With our big butterfly festival at the garden center this August, a bunch of us have been raising caterpillars.  We wanted to have a butterfly release and give the kids the experience of raising butterflies. I have been the proud mama of one monarch and three pipevine swallowtails. Finally, today, the last of them emerged from the chrysalis and fluttered to freedom. The monarch egg came from my own milkweed plants, but the three pipevine swallowtails were collected with permission from The Morton Arboretum.

This has been really an amazing experience. Being able to witness firsthand the transformation of a creature from egg to caterpillar to butterfly really makes you think about the complexities of nature and the compelling drive of life.  If you can, I highly recommend raising a butterfly or two if only to have your wonder of the natural world restored. Besides, they are very very pretty.

This is Millicent the Monarch, freshly hatched.

These are Alphonse, Beatrice, and Cameron munching away on Dutchman's pipe vine.

Millicent chowing down on common milkweed.

Almost full grown swallowtail caterpillar. He formed a chrysalis the next day.

This is not Millicent, but one of the monarchs at work shrugging off its caterpillar skin and becoming a chrysalis.

These are the boys. One was under a leaf at the time, so he's a green chrysalis.

 Beatrice has to be different and attach to the aquarium lid

Millicent surprised us and here she is crawling out of the pickle jar.

Free at last and still pumping up her wings.

Beatrice emerged this morning sometime. She flitted away and landed on the hackberry once I opened the aquarium.

Just for fun - three stages of black swallowtail hanging out in the break room.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Building a Beautiful, Low Maintenance Garden in the Sun

Recently, a friend and I journeyed to two gardens influenced by the work of Roy Diblik, a Midwestern grower and Piet Oudolf, a Dutch landscape designer. We are looking for ways to create gardens that are low maintenance, drought tolerant, and densely planted enough to inhibit weeds. Pretty much, Diblik's philosophy, really, but we wanted to see it in action. First, we visited Diblik's Northwind Perennial Farm, just over the border in Wisconsin on a blistering July day as part of a tour offered by the Landscape Design Association. The sunny gardens are magnificent. If you get a chance, it's worth the drive up. The shade gardens are still in development, though. Diblik experiments with new plants on his grounds, so many things are in process. The idea is to create sustainable landscapes that offer four-season beauty and feed wildlife. Not all of the plants are natives, but many are incorporated or cultivars of natives are used. And there's goats. Who doesn't love a nice goat?

Nicely mulched paths run through the sunny gardens. One thing that strikes me especially about these designs is the softness. You just want to run your fingers through the plants. It's hard to capture the movement inherent in these groupings, but I think you can imagine it.

I really love the textures that interplay in these gardens. It's very subtle, but very sophisticated.

Here you see one of Diblik's favorite plants for long lasting color - Stachys monieri 'Hummelo'. The upright pink blossoms bloom for weeks and the tidy green foliage forms a nice, bunny-resistant mound.

Admittedly, it is a lot of pink, purple, and white, but there are lots of ways to add a dash of yellow or orange in these gardens too. We were treated to goldfinches, wrens and swallows swooping overhead as well as too many butterflies to count.

And there's the man himself as we slowly melt into sweaty puddles. These designs are perfect for the hot, sunny site, but there was not a whole lot of shade!

Next, we headed to the far west suburbs to visit the headquarters of Midwest Groundcovers. Midwest is primarily a wholesale grower, although they do have a small sales yard. We successfully controlled our pocketbooks, but not easily. You can also see a similar effect at the Lurie Gardens at Millennium Park.

These gardens are designed by Piet Oudolf and are meant, again, to be four-season interest in full sun with minimal care. Oudolf has used ribbons of plants here so you have a feeling of rhythm.

The soft, needle-like foliage is Amsonia hubrichtii which will turn an amazing golden orange in fall. The little yellow flowers are a threadleaf coreopsis cultivar. I think the stiffness of the echinacea is a wonderful foil for the wispy texture of the other two.

Again, I'm struck by the softness.  Here you can see the ribboning of the echinacea through the bed.

Here we have Allium tanguticum 'Summer Beauty' in the foreground.  It has finished flowering, but as the seedheads form and dry, it still has a stiff texture. The grasses are beginning to flower so you have an almost cloud-like effect in the background.

The white flowering plant in the foreground is Calamintha x 'Montrose White'. This calamint stays put and flowers for about four months. It has spicy fragrant foliage, so the bunnies don't eat it and in full sun emits a nice scent. Insects adore it! You can't tell here, but it is crawling with bees, wasps, flies and other pollinators. These gardens were filled with butterflies and birds, too.

This picture just makes me want to plunge my hands it and pet it. The lavendar flowers are Limonium latifolium or sea lavender. It has broad basal foliage that is a deep green and glossy. When interplanted with the amsonia, the delicate flowers are held upright. Otherwise, the blossoms tend to fall over. This plant is often grown as a dried flower for bouquets.

These two gardens are almost no maintenance, but it will take probably about four years of weeding to get them established. I think they are much more beautiful than a sterile swatch of lawn, don't you?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Butterflies: Jewels on the Wing

These two Eastern tiger swallowtails are feasting on echinacea, our native coneflower.

It's been a bad year for butterflies. We just haven't seen nearly as many. There's several reasons from heavy herbicide use by farmers to freezes along the migration path to loss of winter habitat in Mexico.  Only in August have we started to see more of our common butterflies like monarchs, red admirals, red spotted purples, skippers and others. At work, we had our first butterfly, bee and bird festival last weekend. We had a great time, but more fun was staff raising butterflies from eggs. You really don't appreciate the miracle of nature until you see a caterpillar split into a chrysalis.

Butterflies are easy to attract with a little planning and a sunny protected site. First, be open to damage. Caterpillars need to eat plants and they can be quite voracious, so lay off the herbicides and pesticides. Also, caterpillars are very particular about their food sources. Monarchs only eat plants in the milkweed family. Swallowtails like parsely, fennel, and dill. Of course butterfly bush will attract butterflies, but our native plants often provide more nutrients. Some pollinators emerge only when their favorite native nectar and pollen source is blooming.

Add a butterfly muddle.  Take a shallow dish or saucer, fill it with sand and top it off with some small flat rocks. Add water and keep it moist and maybe sprinkle some salt from time to time. Butterflies can't handle the water tension of a birdbath and love a little extra salt. You can also add some pieces of fruit, but by and large, butterflies are attracted to feces.  Well, someone has to.

The Morton Arboretum has a terrific list of plants for nectar and larvae. Check out the Xerces Society for lots of information and to become more involved in butterfly and polllinator conservation. For identification, try Butterflies and Moths of North America.  You can also report sitings and keep track of what's been seen in your area.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Japanese Beetles: Get Over It

Hi there!

I don't think I do this often, but on this topic, I'm going to drag my soap box out and dust it off.

People - get over the Japanese beetles!

They're here to stay, they aren't as damaging as you think, and for Pete's sake stop poisoning the environment with Sevin and imidicloprid trying to get rid of them. If you're a grower or a farmer, it's different. You are growing plants as a saleable crop. As a homeowner, learn to accept a little damage.

We are winding down on Japanese beetle season. However, I still have many people wanting to know how to get rid of them. First, here's a roundup of links to the experts:
U of I Extension
The Morton Arboretum
Chicago Botanic Garden

What do I do in my yard? I pick them off and stomp on them, knock them into a container of soapy water, or just ignore them.  I don't have very many, so for the three weeks they're feeding, it's not that big a deal. For God's sake do not use beetle traps. They just attract all the beetles in the neighborhood so they can lay eggs in your lawn.

I have had stories from many people. I've had two ladies proudly proclaim that using Raid on all their flowers killed the beetles. Of course one of them then asked me why she's finding dead birds all over her yard.  Hmmmm... I've also had folks tell me that they removed plants because they couldn't handle the beetles eating them every year. In one case it was a ten foot high Harry Lauder Walking Stick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta'). Do you know how long it took for that plant to get that big and what a tremendous loss it is? Another fellow bought an old farmhouse and cut down the gigantic rose bush on the side of the house because it got eaten. That rose bush probably was a cutting from some pioneer's grandmother and we'll never know what precious heirloom plant was wantonly destroyed because someone couldn't deal. As you may notice, this practice sets my hair on fire.

Here's my favorite fun fact about this season: Plants (woody plants in particular) have stored enough resources by mid to late July to ensure that they will get through the winter into next spring. Any food production after this point is just gravy. Japanese beetles will not kill your plants unless they are already stressed by other factors.

So, please, lay off the poisons that kill the bees and just pick and squish. It's very therapeutic, I promise.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer Sparkler: Bottlebrush Buckeye

Although Independence Day has passed, I still have fireworks in the garden.  July is peak season for a number of perennials like monarda, hollyhocks, and daylilies, but one also one of my favorite shrubs. Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) is a large shrub for part to full shade.  It is doing quite well under the spruces, which means it can handle the Evil Dry Shade of Doom despite Dirr and others saying otherwise. Thank God, something is happy there. It's a continual test labratory for pushing the tolerances of plants. I planted Carex pennsylvanica this year.  We'll see how it does, as it is one of our native sedges that supposedly can handle drier soils.

One big one and one small one

Bottlebrush buckeye is not for the small garden, really.  It wants to be at least ten feet high and it will form large suckering colonies. Introduced in 1785, it is native to South Carolina, Georgia, etc., although grows very happily in my zone 5 garden. William Bartram first noted the plant and it is still in his Philadelphia garden as of 1930. I can't remember if I saw it there when we visited a few years ago. John Fraser, though, was the first to introduce it to the British horticulturists and gardeners. I put it in the shrub border I'm building between us and the neighbors.  In winter, it's leggy habit is very see-through, but in full leaf, it is an impeneterable barrier.  Then it blooms. The soft white flower spikes on these beauties can be nearly 18 inches tall. The flowers can last a very long time, and I tend to leave them up.  Occasionally, you'll get a fruit. 

Aren't those flowers spectacular?

Purchasing this plant in a garden center can be an expensive endeavor. Bottlebrush buckeye is notorious for being difficult to propagate on a commercial basis. Why? It is tricky to cultivate from seed and cuttings. My little one is from a friend and the larger one was purchased at the Morton Arboretum's annual plant sale.  Both of them are suckers from larger plants and the first year I did water the hell out of them. Now they are cheerfully sending up their own suckers and filling the area slowly. Hooray! I'm looking forward to having many more years of dazzling blooms.

Friday, July 1, 2011

After the Affair: Storm Damage

When tornadoes blow through my town, many many trees come down. Unfortunately, the sirens didn't go off, so my husband and I being the weather geeks we are, watched the whole thing from the front windows. I knew it wasn't your typical thunderstorm when the hackberry out front started to literally twist in the wind.

This one split in two at a bad crotch where rot had set in.

We were very lucky. There were just a few branches down from the aforementioned hackberry and the ashes across the street.  Touring the neighborhoods, though, we saw huge limbs and whole trees down on top of houses and cars. My parents called to tell me half an elm tree went through the neighbor's kitchen.

An ash took out about half of the Kentucky coffeetree in the parkway.
We'll see if the village keeps the parkway tree, but I'm doubtful.

So, what to do now?  The village has hired a legion of tree companies to clean up the damage and it is slowly getting done. We'll see what the ongoing plan will be for trimming, removal, and replacement. Most of the downed branches seem to be from old ash, silver maple, and Norway maple. There's a smattering of black walnut, catalpa, linden, and one ancient oak tree that I've spotted, but mostly ash and maple. I am not surprised. The giant ash trees on my street drop branches if you sneeze on them and silver maple is a weak tree. We now have the opportunity to replace them with a broader palette of trees. I'm just thankful my baby beech made it through without a scratch.

The U of I put together a nice article on what to do with storm damage. Mother Nature is in charge, but if trained well when young, trees can survive an amazing amount of stress.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Lilac Like No Other

Just beginning to bloom on the west side.
June is the season of tree lilacs.  Japanese lilac (Syringa reticulata) and Pekin lilac (Syringa pekinensis) are perfuming the air and delighting the eye with their large fluffy creamy white flowers. 

I chose China Snow Pekin lilac when I planted about nine years ago for its peeling bark.  I'm only allowed one peely bark tree since my husband grew up under a sycamore and is still scarred by the experience. After much deliberation, I chose lilac. The lilac is now right around 20 feet high and this year it's just spectacular.  Somehow the right mix of weather has allowed it to bloom along the branches in some places, almost three feet!

I positioned it to screen the neighbor's deck from view, and both of us really love this tree.  I think the fragrance permeates the whole block. Yes, it suckers. Yes, it seeds. Both problems are pretty minimal in the long run compared to the winter beauty of the bark and the incredible June flowering. It also grows like a weed, but most of my trees and shrubs outperform expectations. I credit the excellent soil I inherited. The new baby beech tree has already put on six inches - so much for slow growing!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Iris Obsession

I will confess, my favorite flower is iris.  I'm not the type of iris collector that has plants in neat rows or clumps and labeled, but I will admit to being a collector.  I tuck them in around the garden including the bulb varieties. I'm not organized.  It's an impulse purchase because I like the flower, but most often they are plants from friends and coworkers that needed splitting. Of course, I can always find room for more! 

The big bearded ones usually don't capture my heart unless they are a spectacular color like these pink and purple ones. I have no idea what their proper names are and I'm rather fine with that.  I tend to like the Siberian with their grass-like foliage and elongated falls, but sometimes, you just get caught up in color. My friend Mary who gave me these mentioned just last week that she had another one in mind for me. I've got charming yellow ones to share come September for anyone who wants some.

This year I decided to make a section of the Sacrificial Strip (the bit between my driveway and my neighbors) the iris patch.  If I can't find room in the sunny beds, I'm sticking them there. The iris are doing a good job of duking it out with the existing mint.  The back corner of our property is rapidly becoming shadier thanks to the ever-expanding katsura, so I have some iris that needs to get moved, too. This fall I hope to plop in some more bulb iris in different colors, well, just because.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Into the Woods with Wild Hyacinth

Just off the path...

Walks in the woods are one of my most favorite things. You just never know what you find.  I've started volunteering in the Plant Clinc at The Morton Arboretum, so it gives me an excuse to head out after my shift and do a little wandering.  Yesterday, I followed the suggestion of a couple of hikers that had stopped in to the office to identify some wildflowers. 

Spikes of blue!

Turns out they were wild hyacinth or Camassia scilloides and in such profusion! We sell cultivars of this bulb at the garden center and it's planted in a few of the gardens.  However, nothing beats nature in all its splendor! This wildflower likes moist places, either sunny or in open woodlands.  It's a sign of a mature ecosystem and can be found almost any state on this side of the Rockies. According to my wildflower book, both Native Americans and early settlers ate the bulbs. I wonder what they taste like?


Wild geranium


The midspring wildflowers are up and blooming profusely, so there was also wild geranium, trillium, and jack-in-the-pulpits.  And mosquitos.  Tons and tons of mosquitos.  I'm really not ready for them and boy, do they love me!  This was a very quick walk since I was without bug spray.  Still, the chance to see such magnificent drifts of light blue was truly magical!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Scentimental Plants

I think we all have that one plant that brings back memories or celebrates the past.  I'm slowly making my yard a small forest in testament to many years of hiking through the woods and the Morton Arboretum.  I have tucked in a number of plants that have stories attached to them.

My maternal grandparents lived in Glen Ellyn and although they moved to Arizona when I was eight, I still remember the A-frame house my grandfather built.  Their next door neighbor was a very sweet lady named Ginger with an extensive wildflower garden. She, of course, grew wild ginger in abundance.  For her, I have planted it under my birdbaths and it is doing very very well.

My birthday is in May, so my birth flower is lily of the valley.  While Convallaria majalis isn't everyone's cup of tea, I have patches of it all over the yard.  It's only fragrant for a couple of weeks, but inevitably it blooms on my birthday.  There's a nice bouquet sitting on the dining room table right now.  I just pull it when it gets in the way.

My husband's grandmother lived in a cottage on a lake in Meredith, New Hampshire.  For our fifth anniversary, we did a driving tour of New England and stayed with Grammie for three nights.  We had a lovely time and she was a very special lady with boundless curiosity.  In her yard was an ancient lilac with deep purple petals and a white picotee edge. Years later, I found it when I started working at the garden center.  Now 'Sensation' lilac graces the strip along the drive.  Maybe not the most fragrant of the lilacs, but the elegant petals still capture my heart.

Sensation lilac just beginning to open.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


This had been an outstanding year for magnolias.  We have managed to elude a late frost so the star magnolias (Magnolia stellata) have held much longer than normal. Now the saucers have taken the stage.  I'm fortunate to live in an old neighborhood, so there are lots of mature grande dame Magnolia x soulangiana gracing the streets and lawns.

Isn't she pretty?

Magnolia is a very ancient tree - it evolved before bees. The whorled leathery petals of its flowers were designed to attract beetles instead. There are fossil records of magnolia go back somewhere around 20 million years, although there is evidence of the plant family back to 95 million years. Charles Plumier in 1703 had the audacity to name a flowering tree he found in Martinique after the French botanist Pierre Magnol and it was generally accepted after Linneaus thought it catchy. Ironically, Linneaus never saw a specimen and took it for the same plant described in Mark Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. It all works out in the taxonomic wash, though.

Trust me, it's whorled.

I haven't planted one.  Why?  Because they only look good for a week, and sometimes, not even then.  If we get a late frost, they look like they're covered in wet handkerchiefs as the flowers aren't frost tolerant.  Yes, they have nice big leaves and smooth grey bark, but I have limited space and a long list of trees to plant.  So, I try to go for walks around the neighborhood to visit with everyone else's trees.  There's also a nice collection at The Morton Arboretum, and I am particularly fond of a few on the West Side along Joy Path.