Monday, March 28, 2011

Why you should have a rain garden

A few weeks ago we experienced an intense rainstorm, and as I stood looking out my back door I saw my rain garden in full effect, filled to the brim. This reminded how I've wanted to figure out how to quantify just how much water the rain garden collects. After a quick internet search, I found a handy formula to calculate the cubic feet of water contained by the rain garden when it's full, and how many gallons that equals.

Based on these calculations (3.14 x [length x .5] x [width x .5] x depth x 7.48), my little rain garden holds about 140 gallons of water. That means that if it gets filled ten times in a year, it absorbs 1,400 gallons of water! (In the link above I used the elliptical measurement because my rain garden is an oval, not a rectangle.)

Now, none of this is hardcore calculus or anything, and if my measurements are found to be wrong I welcome corrections from anyone with a stronger understanding of math than me! I also found round measurements that didn't account for the length of the water feature. Using this calculation my rain garden clocked in at a still-respectable 94 gallons capacity.

Assuming either calculation is correct, that's pretty impressive. Approximately 100 gallons of water held by one little 6'x4'x1' rain garden! If more people could help absorb 100 gallons at a time in their gardens (while enjoying beautiful native plants like milkweed, cardinal flower, golden alexander and sedges), imagine what a difference that would make for our aquifers, rivers, lakes and stormwater systems! If a little rain garden like mine can absorb over 1,000 gallons of water a year, how much pollution, fertilizers and sediment could be kept out of waterways by 10 more rain gardens of a similar size? What about 100 more?

I spent two days digging this rain garden, which was the most difficult part. Finding the right plants was fun, and it's needed very little maintenance since it was completed. (I have to dig out leaves and mulch occasionally, which is partly my fault for making the sides too steep. At 6'x4', that's still easier to accomplish than my regular weeding chores.) A couple days' work equals roughly 1,000 gallons of water conserved a year. Not a bad equation, if you ask me!

I had been planning this post for a while, but I was finally motivated by two things to get it out there. First, this is part of Jan's Gardeners Sustainable Living 2011 in honor of Earth Day on April 22nd. Visit her at Thanks for Today to read more! Also, Prairie Rose posted about a rain garden information session she attended and I'm piggybacking on that too. I encourage you all to seriously investigate planting a rain garden to help keep stormwater and runoff out of our sewers, rivers, lakes and oceans and to help recharge our aquifers. To help that, I will post more about how to site a rain garden and what are appropriate plants to use. Or, if you don't feel like waiting for me, check out the Prairie Rivers Network (link is also on my sidebar under Chicago-Area Resources). They have lots of great information!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: Stratifailure

I'm really disappointed in my columbine seeds this year! Well, it's probably not their fault so I'm not really disappointed with them, but rather with the germination rate. I only have this one teeny tiny seedling, when for the last few years I've had an excellent germination rate from these same types of seeds gathered from the same columbine (Aguilegia canadensis) plants in my front border given the same stratification/scarification treatment. What gives?

There are some possible culprits:

1. The seeds weren't viable: Possible but not likely. It's very easy to tell when columbine seeds are mature. The seedheads are dried and brown and sound like a rattle when you shake them. Plus the mature seeds are a distinctive shiny black. Unlike some other seeds (i.e., Eupatorium, coreopsis) these ones are a dead giveaway for viability.

2. Mis-Treatment: Again, possible. I moist stratified these a little longer than usual this year (five weeks instead of 3-4). But I would think that would increase the chance of moisture absorption. Although, maybe all that time in the wet paper towel did some wouldn't be the first time that's happened!
(Note: I rubbed the seeds gently between sandpaper to scarify the seed coat, or outer covering. Then I placed them in a moist paper towel, put that in a ziploc and left them in the fridge for five weeks. That is "moist stratification.")

3. Not enough light and/or heat: Hmmm...for some silly reason with the columbine seeds I didn't use the fluorescent desk lamp that I pretend is a grow light for the first week after planting them. Then when I planted my broccoli and lettuce seeds I started using it. We also finally got some sun at that same time. The vegetable seeds sprouted immediately (ruling out soil or water issues because they're all in the same soil mix and same self-watering seed starter kit). But I've never used a heat mat and have never had an issue with columbine germination, even when I've started them earlier in the year, like late February.

So it remains a mystery! Hopefully I can coax along this one little guy and not kill him in the delicate transplanting process (one reason why I like to have multiple seedlings but I guess no such luck this year!). Fortunately I found some self-sown seedlings in the garden last weekend during my spring clean-up!

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted by Gail at Clay & Limestone. Go there to check out more posts about native plants around the country!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

GBBD: There Will Be Blooms

Well, there's nothing yet blooming outside but I have reason to hope. In the course of garden clean-ups I found:

tulips sprouting underneath my oregano (need to do something about that this year!)...

...columbine foliage coming to life...

...tell-tale signs of spring, hot pink peony shoots...

...hellebore buds...

...and golden alexander (Zizia aurea) and smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) are showing new foliage already.

I have yet to clear away the mulch and turn into the soil the soggy, decomposing bottom layers of it, so there are many more surprises to be found. Hopefully temperatures will finally warm up by later this week!

Bloom Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Garden. Check out what else is blooming on this Ides of March!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chicago Flower & Garden Show 2011: Odds and Ends

This is the final weekend of the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, so if you haven't seen it but wanted to you better hurry!

I just wanted to share some final thoughts and pictures of an assortment of trends and interesting plants...

First, this year there was nary a native to be seen. In fact, in my perusal of the display gardens I found one. Literally one: this shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia).

There were probably more somewhere, but they were well-disguised, that's for sure. After having an entire prairie restoration display last year, I was rather disappointed. This one shooting star was located in the Silent Poetry garden by Rich's Foxwillow Pines. Every year their display does not fail to disappoint.

In addition to the requisite rare conifers, this year's display included Shona sculptures and bright bromeliads, creating a rather exotic feel (and yet that shooting star made its way in).

Speaking of bromeliads, they were incorporated into a number of displays. I'm a big fan of bromeliads so I thought that was cool. But even more than bromeliads, succulents were a huge craze this year. Here are the two types together!

Echeverias in particular were incorporated in all sorts of displays.

Bulbs were well-represented: cyclamens, narcissus, and this river of tulips which I loved:

The impact of the color was forceful, to say the least. I meandered around it taking pictures of varieties to look for this fall. Check out these gorgeous Ad Rems:

Prairie Rose fell for these too! And how can you not?

Edibles, particularly kale and cabbages, featured prominently as garden plants. In most places they looked great, like in these containers.

In other places it seemed almost contrived, like these sharp rows of cabbages with other annuals.

And vertical gardens got their own display too:

I like the vertical gardening idea, I'm just not really ready to jump into growing one myself yet.

Random sightings: What a nice table setting...

...but upon closer inspection...

...who wants robin eggs on the menu?! Weird!

PS-At the GWA Regional Meeting we got a look at some truly black petunias coming out this year from Ball Horticultural, and the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park will be holding a plant sale on Saturday, May 7th. According to the Lurie brochure they'll be offering "7 different plants that are superstars of the Lurie Garden." And quart-sized perennials will set you back all of $5 each. It might be crowded and chaotic, but I would think about checking that out!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chicago Flower & Garden Show 2011: The Sport of Gardening

If you've read this blog before, you probably know that I'm an avid sports fan (the MVP award, repeated baseball references, etc.). So naturally I was intrigued to learn the theme of the 2011 Chicago Flower & Garden Show was "The Sport of Gardening." How would sports translate in this setting?

This was definitely the year for this theme, with the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup last summer, the Bears nearly making it to the Super Bowl, and the Bulls being generally awesome. I wanted to see how the show would bring this theme to life. The answer was...not that well.

Sports greeted visitors right when they walked in. At first glance this looked like the only sports-related display.

Ozzie and Konerko, OK...

...I like the throwback bench...

...but Jermaine Dye hasn't been on the Sox for two years! C'mon, where are the fact checkers?

Eventually I found an entire Blackhawks garden, which was good because a couple measly jerseys in the front display were not sufficient for the reigning Stanley Cup champions (at least, in my opinion that is).

It turned out to be more of an "outdoor living" display than a garden. But I must say the hockey rink water feature was cool. As the fountain water reached the "rink" it took on the appearance of smooth, glassy ice.

However, it had the worst replica of a Stanley Cup ever!! Another major oversight by show management! I know they're not getting the real thing for a garden show, but really? This was the closes approximation you could come up with?

But they made up for it with...

...a coleus Indian Head! I want one! My husband would actually be excited about the garden! (BTW, Indian Head is the organization's official name for this logo, not my un-PC-sounding terminology.)

This display was not easily replicable in a home setting but I was glad to see the Hawks incorporated prominently in the show. I wasn't too sure what this was, though:

A random wire box of used pucks? In the middle of the pathway? Not exactly a comfortable bench, if that's what they were going for. As for the garden part of the display, it was pretty hosta-heavy along with some grasses that looked like liriope, but don't quote me on that. Lots of greens, and not enough reds or blues drawing out the colors in the rink.

Strangely the Bears were hardly represented at all, with only this little part in the front display:

Now, I'm as upset about the loss to Green Bay as anyone, but surely we shouldn't ignore the team? (No disrespect to Richard Dent and his new, well-deserved status in the Hall of Fame!)

Even more strangely, the Bulls were completely non-existent! Not only are they fantastic this year, but their biggest star is named Derrick Rose! Where was his jersey with red and white roses? Am I really the only person to think of this?!

Next year's theme is going to be fashion, and I sort of felt like the garden designers were already focused on that one rather than the sports theme. Horticultural trends like vertical gardens, edibles-as-ornamentals and succulents were everywhere, but that's another post for another day...

The Chicago Flower & Garden Show is going on now through March 13th at Navy Pier. I'll have an odds-and-ends post coming soon!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Happy blogoversary to me, happy blogoversary to me,
Happy blogoversary to meeeeee,
Happy blogoversary to me!

A big thank you to the readers of this blog! The wisdom, ideas and tips you have shared with me over these two years have been invaluable!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Chicago Flower & Garden Show: My Favorite Part

This year it was the Meditation Garden: unique and exotic but not ostentatious. This garden wasn't a traditional in-ground or Zen garden; it featured a series of containers lining a winding path of tree trunk steps, leading to a golden statue of Buddha cradling an echeveria.

It was like all of my guilty horticultural pleasures at their most peaceful and beautiful.

Why can't calla lilies grow with tulips all the time?

Bolting kale, tropical trees, enormous containers bursting with color: all the things I never grow or can't do well but love anyway!

Obviously Midwestern natives are the heart and soul of my garden. They are the plants that belong here and they're the key to my gardening fulfillment here in the Midwest. But this was a different type of plant love. Tender perennials, succulents and annuals exploding out of huge urns! If only I could replicate this type of beauty in some alternate universe where the temperatures, maintenance and watering requirements didn't apply!

The only drawback? You couldn't walk through this garden! This bamboo stick kept me (and everyone else) from wandering down the path which, I must admit, maintained the peaceful aura.

I could only look from the outside in and dream of what it might be like to stand amongst those containers, those plants...just like in regular garden life!

The Chicago Flower & Garden Show is going on now through March 13th at Navy Pier. I'll have more posts on other aspects of the show coming soon!

You May Also Like

Related Posts with Thumbnails