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UP in the Garden, UP in the Prairie, UP in the Lake

It’s the end of March and the weather has been down (a horrible cold blustery day last Sunday, March 29) and UP (today is 60 and sunny). I heard a radio report  that ships won’t be able to get to Burns Harbor, IN for another two weeks because the Lakes are still too frozen. But out in the the gardens, it’s fun to notice hints of color popping UP thru the soil. And yesterday was, “Drop Everything Day! It’s perfect for the prairie!” so off we went to the farm to be pyromaniacs. Fire it UP! And then on the way home, two geese in Redwing Slough in Antioch gave me a great big chuckle…Bottoms UP!

color in the garden 
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witch hazel

snowdrops

prairie burn

prairie burn 2

prairie burn 3

pond
HAPPY EASTER TO ALL WHO LOVE PLANTS AND ANIMALS.##                

A Potpourri of News…

Can you believe it’s June 1st already?! Sorry to have been out of touch…planting season…our farmhouse gardens to be photographed for Country Gardens Magazine

Country-Gardens-cover

…family…volunteerism…Leah’s college graduation…technical issues with this website…such a busy time of the year. Even the local wildlife is busy. When I drove into our driveway today, there were six (!) chipmunks running around like nut cases on the asphalt. They were glutinous, eating the seeds of maples, a phenom I had never seen before.  BTW, we are assured that those little seed nuggets are entirely edible, tasting like peas. You first.

Gardening world good news: tulips, redbuds, and big lilacs are done, but smaller (Syringa meyeri Palibin, Miss Kim, and ‘Boomerang’) lilacs are blooming with the azaleas. Huge amounts of foliage clothe all the shrubs and trees this year–even a lot of the ash trees aren’t as dead as I expected them to be. Wild geraniums, iris, wild phlox, hawthorns, variegated Solomon’s Seal, shooting stars, tree peonies, primroses and dogwoods are glorious. Fringe tree [Chionanthus virginicus] is about to “feather”. Did I mention the foliage and growth of the Beech trees–amazing! The bad news is that my (formerly) incredibly shaped Seven Sons Flower tree (Heptacodium miconoides–I love saying the name of this amazing tree which you must put in your garden) took a big hit from the winter wind (I think) and I had to chop it all to hell. Also, a big Redbud, a fragrant Viburnum carlesii, and a Juniper s. ‘Skyrocket’ died from drowning.

Did I mention the elegance of my all-time favorite shrub: Viburnum plicatum?Look at how beautiful this shrub is:

Viburnum plicatum Mariesii close up

Sometimes (well, ok, so often that I’m shocked not to have caused an accident) I’m driving around and see a sight that I am compelled to photograph. For example, this small conifer garden outside the investment house of VennWell in Lake Forest is fantastic. Small, deceptively simple, and a great contrast in textures. Voila! This is really all one needs to enjoy a garden. Kudos to its designer, Brent Markus, who specializes in four-season landscapes featuring Japanese maples and dwarf conifers. Brent mostly specializes in finding the most unique trees. I nearly drove off the road when I saw Acer palmatum ‘Lions Head’–a fantastic mop of leaves with red seeds that Dr. Seuss would love. Look at this crazy wonderful tree:

Acer palmatum Lions Head

Acer palmatum Lions Head

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ALERT! PERENNIALS ON SALE: Didier Farms in Lincolnshire has a wonderful selection of perennials–not limited to the “usual suspects”. Those very same perennials are on sale for $6.99 through July 12. Which makes me a little crazee because I just paid retail for some plants at Didier for one of my design customers. (Well, I couldn’t find the plants anywhere else at wholesalers.) But I’m definitely making another run to Didier’s soon…cool stuff.

Now I have to go outside to wrap our pear tree in nets so maybe the squirrels will be deterred. Last year, they managed to get in and eat all the pears despite the nets. Maybe this year will be different?##

Fave-rave spring plant, but what is it exactly?

lathyrus 5-1-2013 12-02-36 PM 4320x3240

Listen up, people! Queen Bee orders you to purchase this plant: Lathyrus. But even the Queen, in all her excellence, does not know exactly which Everlasting Pea she is recommending. It is not a fragrant Sweet Pea [Lathyrus odoratus], as alas, this flower has no fragrance. It is not Lathyrus latifolius, which has no fragrance but is a vine. It could be Lathyrus vernus, aka Spring Vetchling, but the garden center catalog I’m consulting says that Spring Vetchling blooms in June-July, and my Lathyrus definitely blooms in April-May. And it blooms its little head off for weeks. Which is why it’s a favorite plant and you MUST HAVE IT.

[This is where garden centers are supposed to comment that they not only know it but they stock it.]

So…a little botanical background. This plant is cool because it is a Lathyrus. Which means it is a Pea, which means it is a Legume, which means it fixes nitrogen in the soil which everyone knows is important but no one knows why. Lathyrus is in the Fabaceae family of plants, putting it with cousins like chick peas and soybeans and clover and redbud trees and wisteria. Which makes it WAY BETTER company than my cousins, except for the evil Crown Vetch which has the same disqualifiers as my cousin Peter who is a real overreaching hanger-onner too. But I digress. If you consult a botanical tome, you will find out something wonderfully arcane but useful on the garden tour: the leaflets of legumes open in the day and close at night, but this sleepytime movement is actually a circadian phenomenon not dependent on light or dark. OOOH, that’s cool, man, what’s it smokin’?!

To continue, this is one great plant. It is one of the first to bloom in my garden. It throws off seed out of its green, then brown, seed pods and little babies are born and they transplant really easy and then you have my really really favorite thing: a FREE PLANT! What is not to like here, folks? And did I mention the pollination aspects? Oh, well I don’t know what those are because it’s too early for butterflies but possibly bumblebees are gulping its nectar. [Readers, inform me!]

PS What is not to like? Well, I’ll name one thing…if you follow Internet links far enough you may, as I did, come across the caution, “The seeds…if eaten in large quantity, can cause lathyrism.” Oh, really? What the heck is lathyrism and do I have it? Search some more, and Queen Bee will find out that apparently she has been ingesting a few too many Lathyrus peas. Uh-huh, uh-huh, we know this because lathyrism is the “inability to move the lower limbs and the atrophy of the gluteal muscles”. OMG: that’s why Queen Bee wants to lie on a couch and she got a saggin’ ass! But isn’t it nice to know that it’s the plant’s fault?!##

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Tulip Mania!

P1040568I snapped this photo of tulips while passing by the gatehouse at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I’m usually not a fan of tulip mixes (too gaudy), but I thought the yellow/orange and blue/purple combo used here was excellent. If you want to copy the example, the tulips used are: Tulipa ‘Big Smile’, ‘Blushing Apeldoorn’, ‘Caravelle’, ‘Gavota’, ‘Golden Parade’, ‘Jenny’, ‘Negrita’, ‘Salmon Pearl’, ‘Yellow Present’), backed by fragrant viburnum (Viburnum farreri) and underlaid with Fizzy Fruit Salad pansy (Viola wittrockiana ‘Fizzy Fruit Salad Mix’).

And then all you need is lotsa money and a musclebound hunka-hunka to plant 1,000 bulbs, but no problem with finding those, right?##

A Gardener’s April Musings

This is the way my mind works, on fertilizer…

  • Dream of the day when I whip out my wallet and plunk down $20,000 so we can go on a garden tour of England. Scotland, too. H’mmm…maybe the kid’s life-saving operation could wait…
  • Regret that I bought 1,000 daffodil bulbs and planted only 5 before the hard frost arrived. They woulda looked nice.
  • Consider if this year the tomatoes will have time to ripen, unlike last year. And the year before that. Or will it be 100 degrees for 60 days and it’s too hot to go outside and pick the damn things?
  • Send in a seed order from one catalog, then another. And another. Later realize that I ordered the same seeds over and over. I sure love basil.
  • Variation on above: Order $300 worth of seed after looking at all the pretty pictures. Plant only the marigolds.
  • Congratulate myself on planting 1,000 tulip bulbs. Ponder whether the insanity defense will apply after the deer eat every last one, the day before they bloomed.
  • Vow I will weed every week this year no matter what. Then learn to spell h-e-r-b-i-c-i-d-e. [Just kidding, don’t send hate mail.]
  • Part 1: Resolve that this year I will hire a landscape designer.
  • Part 2: Finally get around to calling several landscape designers only to find out that all are completely booked until 2016.
  • Part 3: Decide to design the garden myself. Then realized it’s an awful lot of trouble to measure everything and find a big piece of paper to draw on. Much easier to buy the plants and then decide what to do.
  • Think about calling an arborist and having him prune that BIG limb hanging over the roof. (What was it I heard about ash trees?) While writing “tree guy” on my to-do list, hear a loud crash.
  • Wish that I had built a coldframe for growing seedlings instead of growing them on the windowsill, which is sagging from rot caused by watering the seedlings. While wishing, watch the seedlings wilt from too much watering.
  • Invest big bucks in lights, plant stands, trays, soilless mix, seeds, i.d. tags, and heating mats. Later realize that that itsy-bitsy head of lettuce set me back $840.
  • Haul out the dirt, the trays, the water, and the ever-so-carefully transplanted seedlings. Next day, come downstairs to find the cat is very happy and the floor is very messy.
  • Decide to replace the lawn with wildflowers. Buy a big bag of seeds and after killing the grass and sowing the seeds, be told it’s full of wildflowers that won’t survive in Chicago. The ones that will survive are noxious weeds.
  • Wonder why I didn’t manage to go on even one garden walk last year. Vow to do better this year. Hope that no one EVER wants my garden on their walk.
  • Wonder if 85 degrees on May 1st is “climate change” and we’d better get used to it. Feel overwhelming fatigue coming on…better go inside and sit down. Thank God for ice cubes–which count as gardening because they involve “water” and “hoses”. And vodka is made from a garden product, right? ##