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Got Milkweed?

If you are reading this, doubtless you know the Golden Rule of Biodiversity: plant milkweed. Please. No, I take back the “please”. Just do it. Even if you garden on only a balcony, grow some milkweed in a clay pot. However you manage it (ie “float” its diaphanous seed in the parkway or the alley), be a guerrilla biodiversifier and…plant milkweed.

You know why I am pushy about this plant: because its leaves are the only thing that Monarch butterflies can eat. As noted entomologist Doug Tallamy says, “To have butterflies, we need to make butterflies. To make butterflies, you must use a native species that serve as a host for butterfly larvae [Ed: that’s a caterpillar] as well as a supply of nectar for adult butterflies. Butterflies do not lay their eggs on any old plant. They lay their eggs only on the plant species to which their larvae are adapted”. And that means…Milkweed.

You even have choices when it comes to which milkweed, but three species are commonly available in garden centers or via seed packets:

The Common milkweed [Asclepias syriaca], which has husky leaves, roots that grow to China, and a handsome dusty rose globe of a flower. [If you are worried about this being too aggressive, look for its cousin, Sullivant’s milkweed, which grows slowly, albeit by rhizomes, which means its good in tough-to-grow-anything-else spots. Nonetheless, I like the Common milkweed in gardens–it provides a tall, solid, almost tropical contrast although you might have to tie it up with a strong shoelace.]

 

Common-milkweed-

Common Milkweed

The Butterfly weed [Asclepias tuberosa], which has flowers the extravagant color of a Navel orange, does well in dry, “crappy” soils, and makes a great bouquet;

1-P1060073 butterfly weed

 

 

The Red or Swamp milkweed [Asclepias incarnata] has a two-toned pink flower, narrow leaves, and a pleasing way of gracing a moist spot–especially nice en masse if you have a lake edge to landscape.

Swamp milkweed [Asclepias incarnata]

Swamp milkweed [Asclepias incarnata]

And if Monarch’s weren’t good enough for you, at least 11 other species of butterflies and moths reproduce on milkweed as well. Goldfinches eat the insects that get trapped in the flowers and also use milkweed seed “down” for nesting material, and you may see (good) beetles on the plants as well. Biodiversity can be easy if you try!

Milkweed pods and the seeds that float on the air...

Milkweed pods and the seeds that float on the air…

Okay, I’ll be nice again. PLEASE plant milkweed someplace on your property. Or your balcony. And now I won’t be nice: if you work for a municipality, we gardeners expect to see milkweed growing everywhere around town. It’s the law.#

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?

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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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Thinking Spring Means a Trip to Chalet Nursery in Wilmette, IL

Beautiful spring day. I swung over to Northfield, IL to check on the seedlings that I’m growing  in 90 year old Aunt Sue’s greenhouse, and then I couldn’t resist a detour to Chalet Nursery in Wilmette. It has the best selection of plants on the North Shore, and before opening for the season it underwent a needed facelift inside and out. Well done: someone is very talented at merchandising displays.

Here are a few new plants that caught my eye:

Syringa-Tiny-Dancer

Syringa vulgaris ‘Tiny Dancer’: grows only 3-4′ high and wide, smaller than another full-scented small lilac that I’ve used over and over: Syringa v. ‘Little Boy Blue’ which grows to about 5′. ‘Little Boy Blue’ is pretty hard to find, even wholesale, so I was glad to see it for sale at Chalet.

Spirea-Double-Play-Big-Bang

Bright orange foliage? Whoa, look at this bad boy: Spirea ‘Double Play Big Bang’ (which is also called ‘Tracey’, go figure). It’s orange now, but is yellow the rest of the summer, with bright pink blooms. That’s where I get off the bus. Bright pink on bright yellow? Combine with bright red cedar mulch, and you have….vulgar!

Forsythia-Show-Off

But I digress. I saw a Forsythia that was awesome. Brightest yellow I ever saw: like a fake flower. Evaston, IL landscape designer Karen Koerth emailed to say that Forsythia ‘Show Off’ has the largest flowers she’s ever seen on a Forsythia as well. She says it looks like a small yellow single rose.

locust-twisty-baby-branches-tree

I spied a Black Locust ‘Twisty Baby’ [Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Lace Lady’] that grows 15′ high and wide and has the Locust’s usual fragrant white flowers. My honeybees love our Black locusts. I wish “conservationists” wouldn’t be in such a hurry to cut them down. I know they sucker, but that means that they also hold soil on steep slopes. AND they fix nitrogen. So what’s not to like? Huh? Huh?

One more fine occurence at Chalet: I ran into Jennifer Brennan, who has worked at Chalet for 20 years and hands-down is the most enthusiastic garden geek (also, voted most enthusiastic human) I’ve ever met. She has linked up with Mike Nowak, similarly crazed person, to create a TV show, Dig In. Watch them on Saturday mornings at 8:30 am on WCIU or on Infinity channels 248,360; RCN, channel 35; or WOW channel 170. Such nice people–please support their work! Find them on Facebook under their names or at diginchicago.

Chalet-new-garden-under-Larch

Last, thanks to Chalet for protecting the roots of the huge ol’ Bald Cypress [Taxodium distichum] when they moved the old check-out shed and installed a new garden there. Chalet had a damn fine idea and built an arcing pedestrian “bridge” (barely noticeable) instead of taking the cheapo route and putting pavers right up against the aging beauty. Bald Cypress, by the way, is a great tree: tiny female cones release tasty seeds eaten by squirrels, songbirds, wild turkeys, egrets, herons and ducks. The wood of this tree is so hard it is used for building water tanks–like the ones on rooftops in Manhattan.##

How Many Inches of Rain Does It Take to Fill Lake Michigan?

This morning landscape architect Deidre Toner kindly forwarded information from The Morton Arboretum which said that 17.81″ of rain have fallen there in 2013. In April, the official count was 9.78″ of rain! I got pretty pumped thinking that must mean that Lake Michigan has completely recovered from being two feet below “normal”. But (duh), Queen Bee, think again and maybe have another cuppa coffee this morning. Seventeen inches translates to only two inches spread across Lake Michigan, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers. If you are a weather freak, here’s the link to the Corps’ charts on Lake Michigan water levels: http://www.lre.usace.army.mil/Missions/GreatLakesInformation/GreatLakesWaterLevels/WaterLevelForecast/WeeklyGreatLakesWaterLevels.aspx

Erosion on beach at Lake Road 4-19-2013 3-34-56 PM 4320x3240By the way, I’m posting this nasty photograph which shows how a significant slice of beach eroded in Lake Forest after the deluge of April 18, 2013. Water from municipal and private stormwater pipes ran so fast and furious down the narrow ravine leading to this section of beach that it cut this sharp gouge in the sand. There’s much to be done to solve these (highly solveable) erosion problems, but there is a dedicated team of people working on regional solutions. The Alliance for Lake Michigan has produced an excellent ravine webinar. You will not regret spending an hour listening–and if you are a ravine or bluff owner or if you are in the landscape contract and design trade, please sign up for their emails because the Alliance, together with Openlands and “Plants of Concern”, is working on creating brochures of plants appropriate for various ravine conditions, a “rapid response assessment program” for training gardeners in assessing ravine health, and educational ravine seminars at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Thank you, Alliance!##