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.