Monday, March 28, 2011

Crocus: Pearls of Spring

Each day I walk the property, carefully noting signs of spring.  Sometimes the changes are tiny and sometimes flowers appear out of nowhere.  This year the crocus did the magic appearing act.  My very early ones, Blue Pearl and Cream Beauty are fading fast, but of course, I have pictures.  These little guys are growing in the lawn where there used to be a purple plum tree.  

Isn't Blue Pearl cute?

And a dash of Cream Beauty

My next crocus to appear on the scene are larger and I'm afraid I don't know the cultivar.  I thought I kept the bag, but no.  So, they are mystery crocus with singularly glowing stigmas.

We also have planted a smattering of crocus at work and so here's some lovely white ones to round out the crocus gallery.

Small, but lovely!

Crocus are native to Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and all the way to China.  We get saffron from the stigmas of the autumn blooming Crocus sativus, which doesn't really grow here.  Think about how many strands of dried stigmas make an ounce of saffron and you understand why it is one of the most expensive spices in the world.  Crocus has been cultivated as a flower in Europe since the 1560s and European settlers brought them along to the U.S.  For me, I'm a huge fan of anything that blooms early and I try to plant a handful of crocus each year.  I purposely forget where I planted them.  I like to be surprised.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pruning Dave the Elm

Yes, it's the season - pruning season!  You may be familiar with Dave the Elm from an earlier posting.  I'm not emotionally attached to the annuals, bulbs, or perennials, but my trees and shrubs are something else, especially Dave.  Trees do best when they have good structure and Dave was, well, rather unkempt.

Very shaggy!

You should prune elms between November and March when the insect population is dormant to minimize the risk of Dutch Elm Disease spread by elm leaf beetles.  We've had two elms within about a block succumb to Dutch Elm and Dave has been squeaky clean.  I asked my friend B, a certified arborist, to come and clean out Dave as he's just a bit large for me to handle.  I cannot stress enough using a certified arborist to work with your trees.  I have made the mistake once of having a removal done by some guy with a truck. Never ever again.  Certified arborists have been trained and must continue their education to keep their certification.  They work with trees daily, and really understand structure. Plus, they have the right tools and safety gear for the job.  B was roped in, not just hanging off a ladder.

Pruning, pruning, pruning

B and I were quite aggressive, but it was very necessary to make sure future growth is going the direction that we want.  Dave also had quite a few dead twigs due to the cicadas of 2007.

All done and elegant!

Isn't he lovely?  The robins might be a bit pissed off as we took out one of their favorite branches, but I'm sure they will manage.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Invite the Garden In: Tablescapes

I love a pretty table setting.  I adore dishes.  I swoon over linens.  So it is with great interest that I wander through the tablescape exhibits at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show.  When I entertain, there are flowers or some kind of plant decoration involved, and I like to get new ideas.

Dramatic, elegant, a punch of color

For me, the above setting is very urban chic.  The clusters of yellow daisies should be fairly easy to do with some wet floral foam and floral wire if the daisy stems aren't stiff enough to pierce the foam.  I like this because of the dramatic use of one color.  The yellow just really jumps out at you.

Very spring!

I found this centerpiece quite lovely and I liked the element of blue wire wrapping the tulip especially.  For me, this is a nice fresh take on a spring bouquet, and again, fairly easy to do.  Remember, wet floral foam is your best friend for striking arrangements. With this type of arrangement, you need to think about simplicity in form and the rule of odd numbers.  There's only five tulips and five yellow flowers, but the way they are placed gives it a sense of rhythm and movement, yet it's playful too.

Speaking of playful...

Flowers as food?

This is just fun with carnations.  The nice part about carnations is that they are very long-lasting and easy on the pocket book. These managed to hang out in the hot dog buns for a week and still look pretty good.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Whimsy in Plants: The Chicago Flower & Garden Show

I have the pleasure of once again working at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show.  I have so far managed not to buy too much from our fellow vendors, but I still have a couple of days to go. This year the gardens are smaller, but still are filled with interesting plants and intriguing gardening ideas.  The theme is sports, which gets expressed in a number of ways.  However, this is my favorite:

Alice?  Paging Alice!

A winning shot?

The Illinois Orchid Society's exhibit is entitled 'A Curious Croquet-Ground'.  Christy Webber, Aquascape, and Rich's Foxwillow Pines all do wonderful gardens, but I love the outsized imagination of this.  Maybe I have orchids on the brain, but I am very charmed by this garden. Where else but at a garden show can you do big, fantastic whimsy?  I find the garden show gives me a fresh look at how to work with plants and spaces, not to mention a burst of flowers to get me through the winter. There's still another weekend of the show, so if you can, stop by and soak in a little spring.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Taste of the Tropics

March is plodding along, so a friend and I got a taste of the tropics a few days ago at the annual open house at Orchids by Hausermann in Villa Park.  Wow!!  I'll be the first to tell you that I'm not a huge orchid fan.  I love the unusual ones, not the cattleyas nor the phalaenopsis that you see everywhere. I've killed a couple that I bought on a whim at the orchid show at the Chicago Botanic Garden.  I don't do well with fussy plants. 

That is a lot of phalaenopsis, my friends.

However, put me in acres of greenhouses in March and I think it goes to my head.  I came home with a gardenia and a paphiopedilum.  Now that I have a sunny window, we'll see if I kill these.  The gardenia is a sentimental plant for me.  I had one in a corsage for a high school dance and somehow managed to keep one alive and blooming in my college dorm room.  We'll see what happens with this one.  The paph is a lady slipper-type orchid.  I have instructions.  I have promised it I will try very hard not to kill it.  So far the cats are not eating them, so here's hoping for survival!

All those plastic bottles hold hundreds of thousands of tiny baby orchids

A fountain of orchids

An unusual green one

A nifty white one

A stunning paphiopedilum!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Vibrations of Spring

Perhaps it is because I'm a gardener that it seems I can feel the seasons, almost from my feet to the top of my head. 

Now, at the beginning of March, there's almost a low thrum in the air as the days grow longer.  Birds are returning - redwing blackbirds have been spotted and our resident redtail hawk just flew overhead.  I think it's a juvenile male as the breast feathers are very white and he's a little on the small side.  For a redtail, that is.  The squirrels are chasing each other in that seductive squirrel way and the bunnies might be doing the bunny hop, but I haven't spotted them yet.  I'm sure they are waiting for a nice romantic moonlit night.  The rabbits have left me plenty of fertilizer.  It's not just the excellent soil that causes everything here to get bigger, I swear the secret is well-aged bunny poo, too.

A stroll around the garden, and I can almost feel the twigs vibrating under my fingers.  Buds are swelling, elongating, and some beginning to crack.  Yesterday, the elm tree at work seemed to be dotted with thousands of chocolate chips - big fat juicy buds!  The forsythia is practically hopping up and down in excitement, but my witchhazel is being stubborn.  The ones at The Morton Arboretum have already cracked, but mine isn't budging.  No sir.  It doesn't care that the daffodils at its feet have poked inquisitive heads up about an inch.  My arborist friend tells me the silver maples are running with sap already, and we know the boxwood is raring to go. 

Yes, it's cold.  Yes, we'll probably get some more snow, but it will melt quickly and be a memory.  The soil crunches in the morning, but it means I can go out and cut down my raggedy grasses without worrying about compaction. 

Underneath that crusty surface, can't you just feel the earth tremble?