Sunday, July 6, 2014

Going Native or How Rain Gardens Change Your Life

First, an apology. One of the consequences of being in horticulture is the tendency for spring to be all-consuming. So, I'm sorry that this little blog has been an unwitting victim of the annual onslaught.

Second, an announcement! I have left the retail garden center world and plunged into the wholesale side of hort. I've also done a bit of a left turn from my tree and shrub obsession and dove into the world of native plants, specifically perennials. I'm now working at Pizzo Native Plant Nursery growing more than 400 species of Illinois natives. I've always been interested in native plants and I have planted a smattering here and there over the years. However, after installing the rain garden, I wanted to learn more.

This little cutie pie, Talinum calycinum is native to rocky bluffs. It's going in between the flagstone stepping stones and will get a pea gravel mulch.

So far the rain garden is, well, it's a weedy mess. See the first paragraph? Yeah, so maintenance in my own yard tends to get shoved to the side in spring. We have been spoiled rotten with abundant rain and cooler temperatures, so needless to say, it's a jungle out there. I'm not posting a picture. Sorry. Just enjoy the bright pink flowers of Talinum above. Most of the installed plants made it through the winter and are settling in. Since the bulk of them were divisions from friends and family, I've been crossing my fingers that they will make it. I am having to add here and there. The rabbits are doing their best to mow down every bit of Echinacea and Rudbeckia I possess. These tough natives are hiding out with the Monardas in an attempt to survive the voracious rodents. I'm not terribly picky about a blended patch of Monarda and Echinacea and so far, they seem to be playing well together. The fragrant Monarda foliage keeps the rabbits at bay and it's just starting to flower. I'm also learning that I could have split the chunks of Liatris further as it is already above my waist and growing with abandon. This week, I'll be tweaking the engineering a bit and making one section a little deeper. I didn't anticipate the level of runoff from the driveway, so I need to rechannel that. Hopefully, by next weekend, we'll finish the fountain setup. Then there will be pictures, I promise.

The upshot of the rain garden is that it is WORKING! We have had only a tiny bit of seepage in the basement, which is remarkable considering the inches and inches of rain. The water is holding and slowly percolating, which means about a quarter of my roof volume and quite a bit of driveway runoff is not speeding off into the storm sewer. We have an abundance of interesting new bees. I haven't mulched this area (it's just going to all flow into the middle anyway), so the open soil was riddled with holes this spring from emerging bees. We shall see what else summer and fall brings, but so far, the rain garden is becoming one of our favorite garden spots.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Signs of Spring

Helloooo, cutie pie!
We all know how rough a winter it's been in Chicago. I still have piles of icy snow stubbornly refusing to melt along the driveway. However, there are signs and signals that spring is indeed upon us. I've spotted little nubbins of green as the snow recedes among a metric ton of rabbit poop. Well, at least it's fertilizer.

I treasure my early spring bulbs as they save my sanity. I try to add more each year as the rodents take their toll. I have mixed success with snowdrops. They seem to do best when they reseed themselves. Crocus, if it escapes the bunnies and squirrels, does just fine. I have a soft spot for the tiny early ones. I'm not sure what variety the above is, but it's doing a grand job of cheering up my late winter world.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Saving My Sanity with the Help of Flowers

Life's been pretty busy, so unfortunately, I haven't been able to chronicle the slow upward spiral of late winter into spring. Oh, wait. Winter is still here. Along with a healthy heaping of snow and ice. I am on strike from shoveling. I'm obsessively watching the buds on the trees and bushes expand by microscopic increments. Spring really is coming. Honest!

As usual, I am saving my sanity and that of my friends and relatives by hauling everyone out to the conservatories in the Chicago area. We all immediately relax and breathe deeper when we set foot inside a humid glass house filled with green and blooming plants. Ahhhhhh. The shoulders unknot, smiles tug at our lips and luscious fragrance tickles our noses. Try it. It'll make your whole week better.

To combat winter fatigue, I usually force some bulbs. This year, I am thrilled to report that both my amaryllis came back! I love plants that thrive on neglect. Thems my kind of houseplant. The big Red Pearl is blooming as of yesterday. Who needs amaryllis at Christmas? I need big tropical flowers in February and March! Come here, beautiful.

This year, I potted up all the spring bulbs since days off and weather conspired against me when trying to get them in the ground. My pots of crocus and snowdrops are showing signs of life. At least the crocus is pushing up tiny leaves. I'm holding my breath for the snowdrops. They are one of my favorites.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Now This is Winter!

I'm sure everyone has noticed that Chicago has survived the deep freeze of the Polar Vortex and now is a festival of slush and ice as we get a little thaw. This is the snow in action:

I admit it. I LOVE winter! I love warm socks, bundling up, frozen eyebrows - all of it. I've shoveled 18 inches of snow so far, my favorite aerobic activity. All my new perennials in the rain garden are tucked under a nice insulating blanket. The bunnies are eating the roses as usual.

What gets my horticulture heart stirring is the string of negative temperatures. I've been talking with folks at The Morton Arboretum and elsewhere about what the chances of this cold snap to kill off the big bad insects. So far, the news is cautiously positive. Bagworm and gypsy moth populations will definitely be knocked back as they overwinter on exposed trunks and branches. Japanese beetles, however, are tucked under a nice blanket of snow and soil, so they'll unfortunately, be just fine.

The burning question is will this cold kill emerald ash borer. Well, maybe. Some. We shall see. Here's information from a study from the U.S. Forest Service and an independent paper discussing their cold tolerances. Pretty much we had to get down to around -20 to see a significant impact. We got close at around -16, so maybe some of the evil little critters got zapped. If you're treating your ash trees, I wouldn't count on this winter saving your tree. Sorry. At least the oaks will have less gypsy moth to deal with!