Sunday, May 31, 2009

Spring Fling '09 Wrap-Up

The Garden Bloggers' Spring Fling is ending today, and it's been a great weekend filled with friendly bloggers and beautiful gardens. Unfortunately I had to miss the Sunday activities, but I wanted to share a look back at some of our other adventures.

We saw all sorts of unique trees at Rich's Foxwillow Pines on Thursday afternoon. This is a weeping Norway spruce (Picea abies 'Reflexa'). I love the weeping habit! I almost made an impulse purchase of a weeping dwarf Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis). I would like to get an appropriate container and then go back for it--it was really adorable! Here's another curiosity, a dwarf spruce with purple cones (Picea bicolor 'Howell's Dwarf'):

On Friday we visited the Chicago Botanic Garden, one of the horticultural jewels of the Chicagoland area. It didn't disappoint. I loved these Icelandic poppies en masse:

The rose garden was the only area that wasn't really exploding with blooms at this time, but it did have some lovely tree peonies.

This one is 'Age of Gold', and it had a very pleasant citrusy fragrance.

Here's a look at one of the native areas. The texture of prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) with the shooting stars (Dodecatheon meadia) floating overhead is just gorgeous.

I'm not even sure which area this technically is part of, but I thought this was a beautiful waterfall surrounded by trees and greenery.

Contrast that naturalistic setting with the geometric clarity of the English Walled Garden:

As you can see, there is great diversity at the Garden. And this is just a sample of the gardens across the property. We covered a lot of ground there on Friday. This was no mean feat because the place is huge!

On Saturday we had a whirlwind tour of a number of gardens. First was Rick Bayless's private garden, which supplies much of the produce for his restaurant. Here's a look at some of the veggies and edible flowers. Note the banana tree in the container to the back right:

There were charming ornamental areas as well:

After a delicious lunch at Andie's (don't miss the baklava!!), Carolyn Gail of Sweet Home and Garden Chicago let us pore over her property. What a great Japanese maple!

Carolyn maximizes a small urban space with different forms, structures, and levels. She has seating, statues, a pond, vines, containers, and varied plantings. This picture captures just a fraction of that creativity with the hanging basket of petunias, clematis climbing the trellis wall of her outdoor seating (I don't know what type of structure that is technically--it's not a pergola, but I'm unsure what exactly to call it), a unique water feature, which Dee from Red Dirt Ramblings is also admiring, the pond in the back right, and a colorful bed surrounding it all:

Then it was on to the Ginkgo Organic Gardens in Wrigleyville, which supplies communally grown produce to a local charity. They devote a lot of space to greens because those are the most popular with the charity's recipients:

My last stop of the day was the Lincoln Park Conservatory, located near the shore of Lake Michigan. They have all sorts of tropical delights, but our southern bloggers explained that much of the Conservatory's collection can be grown in a typical garden in their region. It reminded me how harsh our climate here truly is! I can't imagine being able to grow anything remotely like this outdoors!

All in all it was a fantastic experience. The weather was mostly cooperative, and everyone seemed to enjoy our wonderful city. It was great to meet and get to know so many fun and friendly bloggers, and I hope everyone else had as good of a time as I did!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Letting Go

I had a very parental moment in the garden this weekend. With the weather sunny and warm, I finally planted my seedlings outdoors and watched as they quickly acclimated to their new homes, no longer under my watchful eye at all times. Most of the herbs seem happy; the basil, chamomile, and hyssop haven't wilted under the strong sun, but my spindly cilantro is still concerning me. I suspect that the seedlings' poor growth indoors was due to a lack of light, and hopefully that problem can be overcome in the garden.

(Chamomile with some Italian oregano in the background.)

My moody adolescent, the Eupatorium seedling, is growing into a well-adjusted young adult! I planted him a little farther away from the mother plant than I first anticipated because the area around the mother is getting increasingly crowded by flourishing obedient plants (Physostegia virginiana) and great blue lobelia (L. siphilitica). I didn't want to deprive the seedling of sunlight, so he's in a new but apparently good location. He's in the middle of this photo, in front of the goldenrod and peonies:

The coleus seedlings look even better than I had hoped in their container surrounding my spearmint (which I was too scared to plant in the regular herb garden because of mints' aggressive nature). My container plantings are usually rather pedestrian, and in this case that accusation could certainly be made. It's just a pot full of coleus and mint! But the variations within all the coleus seedlings fill the pot with lime green, neon pink, and dusty amethyst all at once. It's simplistic but pretty. My enjoyment of coleus is really increasing!

(A coleus close-up.)

(This columbine looks so small!)
I'm thrilled with all the seedlings' strong start in the garden, but it is still nerve-wracking to see them, so little and still in their peat pots, amidst the full-grown elders of the garden and fully exposed to the elements. But they're taking their first steps toward adulthood, and I am watching them ever so proudly! Geez, if I get this worked up over seedlings, what will happen when my human children grow up?

CORRECTION: In my May Bloom Day post I gave the incorrect Latin name for yellow pimpernel. It is in fact Taenidia integerrima. Apologies!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lilac Love

They're as common as can be, but I absolutely adore a good old fashioned lilac. I think their scent is heavenly and I am always disappointed at how briefly the blooms are present. I have been making an effort to visit my lilac once a day and inhale its fragrance at least for a few moments. Yesterday, I found this butterfly enjoying the flowers as much as I was.

If anyone knows what kind of butterfly this is, please share! I am no expert.

The blooms will be gone soon, but they've been a great spirit-lifter the last couple weeks. What are some of your favorite flowering shrubs?

Monday, May 18, 2009


...the rain garden! It's complete, and after observing how much rain it trapped last week, I'm very excited to see it in action with all the plants. (Of course, we have no rain forecast this week. Murphy's Law I suppose.) Here is the whole garden. Everything looks pretty skimpy at this point, but that is to be expected.

This is bottlebrush sedge (Carex hystericina), which is so named because of its brush-shaped inflorescences, which are not blooming at this time obviously. I also get a kick out of its Latin name because it sounds like it's a hysterical sedge. There are four of these in the garden.

Here's an extreme close-up of one of the swamp milkweeds (Asclepias incarnata). Another one is directly to the right. Behind the milkweed is an obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana), which looks very similar to the milkweed at this point.

This is one of the four cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis). They are all this tiny right now. It's hard to believe these plants will grow to be 5 feet tall!

My concern at this point is that the sides are too steep. As you can see in this picture, the mulch gets eroded by the rain, leaving the berm bare. I'm not sure if there's much I can do at this point to make the slope more gradual. Lesson learned, I guess!

(From left to right that's a golden alexander (Zizia aurea), bottlebrush sedge, and owl-fruit sedge (C. stipata).

So it's done, and I'll stop babbling about it so much! Hopefully there will be some rain in the near future and the plants will be nourished and the groundwater a little recharged!

On a different note, it's Plant Conservation Day, a newish, loosely organized day to celebrate and protect plants. If you haven't already, go plant some natives, people!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Garden Blogger's Design Workshop

This month's Design Workshop topic at Gardening Gone Wild is of constant concern in my garden: shade. I deal with it all year long, thanks to the seasonal changes to my deciduous trees and the constant shadows thrown by the house itself and the surrounding fences. On one hand, I'm happy to have mature, beautiful trees on my property, which are a rarity in my suburb where most subdivisions have scraggly saplings at best. On the other hand, my garden is already afflicted with nutrient-poor, hard-packed, poorly drained clay. Adding shade to those conditions is the proverbial insult to injury.

I've tried to find the silver lining, however, despite my thwarted attempts at growing vegetables, sunflowers, and the like. I'm a flower fan, so I have learned to appreciate woodland flowers, which are usually spring-bloomers but make up for their relatively short bloom time by displaying extremely unique flowers. There are a number of Dicentra species perfect for part shade. I grow D. spectabilis and D. eximia, and I look forward to adding D. cucullaria soon. As I've said before, it never ceases to amaze me that a flower evolved to have such a shape as a heart dripping blood! I love the fuzzy foliage of Astilbe, which is perfectly complemented by the panicles of flowers. And many woodland flowers dangle, such as shooting stars (Dodecatheon meadia) and columbines (Aquilegia spp.). These flowers don't shout for attention like peonies, daisies, or bee balm, but they're so lovely they don't have to. They just brighten up those shadowy garden spots.

(Aquilegia canadensis in a partially shady location)

For the later part of the growing season, foliage is really the way to spice up shady areas. There is no need for me to re-hash how varied and creative the Heuchera genus has become. The options with these plants are endless, and you'll get some more dangling flowers too! Of course Hostas fall into the same category, but aside from those stalwarts there are ferns that provide rich color, interesting variegation, and tactile texture. Personally, I never get tired of a Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum). For truly colorful foliage, annual Coleus is a quick and easy solution.

(Everyone loves a Heuchera)

Like most gardeners, I still struggle with dry shade. I continually try Midwestern savanna plants (i.e., those shooting stars, columbines, and others like Polemonium) because they'll at least have a chance of surviving. I cherish the sunny parts of my yard where I have much more latitude with my plant choices, and I've taken to growing vegetables in containers because that's the only way to maximize the sunniest part of my yard. (The gas line runs directly underground on the south side of the house. Why is fate so cruel?) But I try to view the shade challenge as just that--a constant learning experience that has a definite silver lining!

Bloom Day--May

There are lots of things in bloom around here, particularly in the shady half of the front bed, where my beloved red maple has put out robust leaves within the last couple weeks. Here's some Lily of the Valley, with a Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium reptans) peeking into the frame...

He's so nice, he deserves his own shot:

Here's another look at the shady section.

There's a shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) back there and the two Dicentras. That Lily of the Valley is being engulfed by a tulip that didn't bloom this year. Somehow, I planted the Lily without realizing it was on top of a tulip! There's also Yellow Pimpernel (Taenidia interrigima) that hasn't bloomed yet. It's new this year, so it may not bloom at all, but I'm interested to see how this plant does here. It's supposed to grow in dry shade, and I certainly have no shortage of that!

The last of my single-late tulips are in full bloom. These were planted by the previous owner of the house, but I like their hot pink color. It kind of spices up an otherwise quiet part of the garden right now.

My lilac is in full bloom and the columbines are starting to blossom, and my peonies and irises are ready to burst soon. I hope you're enjoying many May blooms as well, and be sure to check out May Dreams Gardens for more Bloom Day fun!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Have you seen me?

Can anyone help identify this shrub?

I realize that's not the best picture, so here's some more characteristics: It's about 8' tall with small, pinnate leaves and pink flowers that bloom at the same time as lilacs. Here's a close-up of the leaves and flowers:

I don't have many shrubs in my garden, just a lilac and a forsythia, and I don't know as much as I should about shrubs, aside from a few natives (arrowwood, elderberry, etc.) and I know this isn't one of those. So if anyone out there has seen this shrub, please let me know! Here's one more look:

On a different note, I missed an intense rainstorm earlier this week while I was out of town, but I received a report that my rain garden was filled to capacity and performed admirably. I checked on the sedges when I got back, and I found that this Pennsylvania sedge got a little beat up...

...but the owl-fruit sedges (C. stipata) are doing great! They were a last-minute addition, and I'm very glad that I gave in to an impulse buy.

Hopefully the C. pensylvanicas will get a little stronger as they get better established. The forbs arrive next Saturday, and I'm very excited!

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there! I'm hoping it warms up a little today so that I can spend my Mother's Day working in the garden. I wish the same for all of you!!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Almost there...

The rain garden has come a long way and is almost complete! I finished digging and shaping it, and then I planted six sedges: 4 Carex pensylvanica and 2 C. stipata. Here is what it looks like now:

It's still a little rough, to be sure, but when the forbs arrive it will look more filled out. In general it's going to look rather skimpy this year, but by next year it should be much fuller. The layer of mulch is kind of measly, and I intend to add more after the forbs are in. Here's a (slightly) closer look at the two sedges in there now...

That's C. pensylvanica on the left and C. stipata to the right. The former already flowered; the latter, if it flowers this year, will do so near the end of this month. C. stipata is more upright and has wider culms (stems) than pensylvanica. I intend to bury the downspout extender a little more once we get a good rain and I'm sure that it's in a good spot and the flow is moving well. All in all, I'm thrilled with the progress!

Now this has nothing to do with rain garden, but I just have to say that I love bleeding hearts. Don't misinterpret that; I just find it utterly fascinating that nature developed such a curious-looking flower. Really, what was the evolutionary advantage of this bloom? Maybe this Dicentra spectabilis was bred to have a more exotic, unnatural flower, but I don't really care. It's just so unique!

And yet I don't have the native version of this yet, D. cucullaria. Instead I have D. spectabilis and the tiny D. eximia. It's really only a matter of time until the native joins its cousins here, I guess!

I will be away from the garden for most of this week, and I'm hoping that the rest of my tulips will be in full bloom when I return. I'm afraid they'll peak while I'm gone. Hopefully next weekend the weather will be consistently warm enough to transplant some seedlings. I look forward to finding gifts in the garden when I get home!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Garden Blogger's Muse Day--May

Can you believe it's May already?? I'm astonished at how much faster time seems to move every year. But that's not actually the subject of my musing. This post is kind of an add-on to Carol at May Dreams Garden, who feels May is the most exciting gardening month. I must agree that May is the most garden-centric month for me, mostly because it's the time when blooming really gets underway and the risk of frost here in northern Illinois is reliably past. As a result, May is the time to weed vigorously, plant copiously, and enjoy unabashedly.

I will be picking up two large plant orders from the Wild Ones this month and trying to squeeze in some trips to local plant sales, and I also need to plant my containers, transplant my seedlings, and add new mulch. I feel like I'm already lagging behind! But we're really underway with the gardening season now; I hope you're as excited about it as I am! For more musing, visit Carolyn at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.

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