Tuesday, April 25, 2006

In the Garden -- April 25

It's freezing today. But here are some pics of plants growing outside on April 25.

The Lily of the Valley's have begun to emerge. On the side of the house, the lily of the valey have taken over (they're fighting territory wars with the vinka). But I love them and last year I had the house full of them in vases.The center garden (between my house and my neighbors) has exploded with tuplips! We share this area and we have sedum, tulips, prairie grasses, purple echinechea, a butterfly bush, among other things that we take care of together.

This is a ground cover that last year was small, and so I planted it here and it's really grown. I had the name last night, but now I can't find it-- and it's like cabbage leaves, very hearty looking. Right now it's got purple flowers, but they don't show up well in the photo.

I think these are violets and I did not plant them, nor did I see them last year (I don't think). They look really pretty and are along the back fence area where we want to grass up a bit, so I have to remember to move them back.

Planting the native plants

Saturday, we planted our native plants under the big ol’ pine tree closer to the house – not to be confused with the big ol’ pine tree farthest from the house.

Let me interject and say that we live in a very “mature tree” area of our suburb, but of all the trees on our block, we must have 50% of them sitting on our tiny 50’ x 135’ lot. In the font yard alone we have 7 trees:
  • 2 pine trees
  • 1 crab apple
  • 1 apple
  • 1 funky type of elm
  • 2 I haven’t ID’d yet

So we planted the Native plants under the pine tree after we raked about 12 layers of old much and pine needles from the area. We planted the Blue Cohosh in the middle with the woodland sunflower and wild columbine scatters in front. They look good and haven’t wilted from the transplant or anything …. however … Monday after work we noticed a casualty. One of the woodland sunflowers got burrowed out by an animal. I’m not sure if it burrowed the entire thing out or just ate the leaves but we’re mourning our losses here. 6/7 on the Native plants in 2006. so soon. snif.

On the other hand however, I have 3 more indications that I’m not a complete gardening loser.

Like I said in another post, my wild geranium is back that I planted last year, and so are 2 more native plants I planted last year. One of them is --I think-- an aster, I saw a white flower peeping up from the mulch and realized the plant that looked so pecid last year was still alive! The other is an upland aster (for sure) in the front yard that is now part of the landscape.

But my biggest triumph are the bluebelles my neighbor gave me last year -- as I wrote about them last year:
"Unfortunately, I am 0/4 on the lovely bluebells my neighbor gave me. I planted them right away and now they are lying there, like they just ran a marathon and pooped out."
And again this year, my neighbor asked if I wanted more. I told her, "I planted them but I think I killed them. Unless they haven't come up yet." She answered, "Oh no, they're spring plants, they'd be up by now," Well, I guess I did kill them," I said sheepishly remembering their limp bodies strewn on the mulch. BUT ... the other day as I was puttering, I saw something blue and low and behold ... they came back. I dont know how, I don't care. They are alive. I am not a plant killer!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Backyard April 22

In honor of Earth Day - we spent the morning at the Native Plant Sale and the rest of the day in our backyard ...

If you remember, last weekend, we took down the swingset from the backyard. So, as much as we would just like to be lazy on the weekends (not happening lately), we wanted to get that area ready for it's future as "grass" and a "vegetable garden."

So after the Native Plant Sale, talking with a grass guy at Ace, and our weekly coffee break at Sally's (her lemon coconut homemade muffins are the best -- as well as the ginger peach, mmm...), we started working out back.

We did several things that caused our backs to break:
  • We raked the entire yard to get off all the dead grass (a lot from last year's drought);
  • We raked off all the mulch off the swingset area (the swingset sat on top of several layers of mulch)
  • Then, we got rid of the tarp underneath the soil; this was murder - all we did was shovel and pull the tarp. It was painful. But the soil underneath was beautiful looking.
  • Finally, we added what we composted from last year (which by the way, turned out beautiful) to the soil and tilled it in, and Matt made sure it was all even.
Now it is all ready for some grass seed ...
My hopes are to start off with a small vegetable garden -- tomatoes, basil, and other herbs I think are good to start with -- grass the remaining area and then create a flagstone walkway with some ground cover out the gate. Yes, okay I feel like a lousy gardener just putting in grass, but ...

... this is our front yard!

Native Plant Sale II

I could have sworn it started at 8:30am and Matt and I got there at 8:50am. The place was hopping ...
I had a list as long as my arm for my mom, so we divided efforts and it's a good thing because I got the last Indian Paririe grass for my mom after discovering one while another woman was looking for one. I offered it to her, but she let me have it. Unfortunately, Matt found the wild geranium I wanted, but he had to find me to unload some plants and when he went back the 5 little plants were gone. Did't I tell you? Eerily reminiscent of a Filene's Basement wedding gown sale.

Us in line - heads not purposefully cut off!

Our main goal was to get some shade loving plants for our area under the Pine tree where right now, not much is growing.

We didn't get everything we wanted but we came away with 3 different kinds of plants:

Woodland Sunflower

Wild Columbine

Ed correction: I thought I bought blue cohosh (that's what they told me) but it was Celandine Poppy

Of course, right now, they look more like this!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Native Plant Sale

2 more days until the Native Plant Sale in my town! The native plant sale only has plants native to Northern Illinois (duh), and it's part of a movement in our town to encourage more native growth for the ecosystem.

It sounds like a quaint quite affair, but it's pretty much a "Filene's basement wedding gown sale" of the gardening world. Instead of pulling the A-line taffeta gown out of some totally undeserving biatches hand, you're smiling nicely at your fellow gardener all the while nonchelantly grabbing the plastic pot closer to you. It's polite, but don't you dare accidentally make off with someone's White Wild Indigo, she'll chase you out the complex and you'll be blacklisted for next year.

The best way to avoid all this is to do 2 things:
1) Come early. It may say 830 - Noon, but the only thing left at noon are twigs.
2) Prepare! Print out the plant list and have your list ready otherwise you'll be mulling over the list and fighting over the last semblance of green on the table.

Last year, I had no idea what I was doing and Matt and I walked around like tweedle dee and tweedle dummer trying to read the list and find plants at the same time. I ended up buying what some people told me to buy -- a wild geranium, an astor and 2 that I had forgotten the minute the wind blew away the markers. I planted them and was 4/4 on the native plants all summer meaning they weren't dead within a week--although they weren't really growing either...except for the geranium, it was growing but then it got yellow. But it wasn't dead.

And guess what -- it's coming back! It's my first indication of having any gardening skills at all. Here it is a few minutes ago. It looks happy; except I'm worried it's gonna turn yellow again. On the tab it says "part sun/ part shade" which is where I have it -- kinda. It get's sun and then shade. Maybe that's why it's turning yellow. Maybe it needs more shade.

If that's the case, then I'll move it to the front where I have a lot shadey places waiting for a good looking plant.

Ok, stop ... I just looked at the Native plant list and there's a plant called "Dutchman's breeches" - no way. Don't tell me that gardeners aren't any fun! They do look like breeches don't they?

So what am I gonna buy this year?

Matt says not to go beserk and buy too much (that's what he said last year too.) I don't think I can go beserk when I've been staring at this list, looking up plants, and analyzing the yard and I haven't made any progress.

Buy hey -- the geranium is happy. maybe I should just get more of those?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Chopping things down

When my grandpa came over on Saturday, he also brought his saw with him. Like most men, he likes to chop things down and he was salivating at the thought of us letting him loose in the yard.

Like we would ever really let him loose! He would chop down everything! And I think that us following him around the yard really hindered his creative juices. But we did let him have his way with a few bushes.

One of them was the lilac bush in the back yard, southwest corner. This is how it looked last year (April 27, 2005) and now:

There were 3 large trunks and 1 of them was completely dead. The other one was partly dead and that's what we removed and then thinned out the one that was left. This is good for now although our neighbor and my gardening book says you should take off the biggest part to have a dramatic re-growth. Maybe next year.

We also trimmed up:
It was also a productive yard weekend because I got a chance to talk "plants" with P next door and she pointed out a prairie grass that we could divide into 4s (picture at left). She said that the roots probably go so far deep that we would have to raise it up with a shoevl and hack it with a sharp shovel (or a chainsaw).

I also told her my idea of lining the back fence with tall prairie flowers and she let me know that nothing will grow there because it's north facing. So she suggested prairie grasses.

Order up more priaire grasses!

Day 2: Spring clean up

I cannot believe it only took us 2 days for spring cleanup!
That? Oh that's the pile of leaves that we haven't composted or bagged yet. Alright, so I guess we're not done yet. But it only took us 2 days (not full days, more like 2, 1/2 days) to rake everything and make this lovely pile. Now we just have to bag it.

Right now it's sitting on my mulch garden. In the backyard we have 2 mulch gardens. 1 was where the old swingset used to be (so it won't be a mulch garden mulch longer -- get it? ha ha mulch longer ... stupid gardening joke...).

The other is here on the east side of the yard. There's trees surrounding this area and the only thing growing was vile ground cover, some lungwart, and a hosta. I don't need a mulch garden for 3 plants, so our plan is to grass the area. I know, pretty boring for a garden blog, but I haven't been able to post all the pictures of the front yard so you can see that I have enough to land manage.

Right now, I'm basking in the glory that all my raking is done. I promise this week, it'll all be bagged. How much you wanna bet?

More space

Saturday, my grandpa came over and he helped Matt take down the swingset. During the middle of it, I got a call from a girlfriend and by the time I went back outside, it was crew of neighbors all analyzing the demolition. Leave it to destruction to bring everyone together!

Unfortunately, so much of the wood was rotted and put together with nails that we can't give the swingset to those nice people -- they would have had to replace almost 50% of the wood and that was just not worth it. Now I have to tell them. I feel so bad because I am so sure their kid(s) were looking forward to this.

So my demolition crew -- grandpa and matt -- just tore the whole thing apart. At one point, Matt was using the electric drill to get the screws out of the slide. My grandpa walks up to him and says, "Matt, not like that. Just smash it with the hammer," as he grabbed the hammer and started to smash the slide apart. I told him, "Grandpa, Matt's a WASP. He doesn't know how to smash things."

While it's a sad day for those kids, for us, it's like being reborn. I can't believe we waited this long to take it down. We gained 25% more yard space that is almost full sun and perfect for a vegetable garden. Our future kids will just have to contend with going to parks because I don't think we'll be erecting another one of these in the yard. And isn't a park 10x more fun?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The swingset is coming down!

We have a swingset in our backyard that came with the house. It would make us so happy if we knew that real kids -- i.e. not me and Matt -- were enjoying this swingset. I called some charitable organizations in the area but no one wanted it (maybe for liability issues, who knows?)

It's a really nice swingset, it just happens to be standing on the site of our future vegetable garden and must come down. After a year with the "super swingset", Matt and I decided we must part ways and move on with our lives.

Well, I am happy to announce that it will have a new home on Chicago's north side! After putting up the notice at work, 3 different people wanted it --and who wouldn't want a free swingset?!

After we "sealed the deal", Matt and my grandpa didn't waste any time starting to dismantle it on Sunday after Brunch. Only after they tore down the swing part and made a mess, they realized they didn't have the proper tools to take it apart completely -- which really is not a shock since all the tools we have around here amount to a hammer and a few screwdrivers!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Day 1: Spring clean up

I took a rare moment to reminisce about last year and my initiation into the "gardening" world. [Sigh ...time for reflection and pensive thought.] Then I started to think, "Don't I have a congealed mash of leaves to clean up... like soon?"

A congealed mash of leaves, that's how I referred to Fall's leaves that were left on the garden last year and I am sticking with that name. Last year it took us 3 weekends to clean up the front and back yard and after we were finsished composting and bagging and hauling and raking and back breaking and leaf picking and splinter removing and callous hurting and complaining and ... I told Matt, "You know we'll have to do this all over again next year." I almost thought the For Sale sign would go up right then and there.

I read somewhere that Spring cleanup should take place in March but I wasn't too antsy about getting out there with my rake. March was so funky this year (60 degrees one day and snow the next), I thought I should wait for a "sign" to tell me when it was ready to get out there. And it appeared ... in mid-march. I saw my neighbor and her husband out there cleaning, braving the cold for the sake of her garden (don't forget, she "gardens", whereas I "land manage") while Matt and I, toasty under the covers, watched them from our window. "Wow, they're cleaning up already," we observed as we drank our coffee. Lethargic and shivering at the thought, we looked at each other and fell back into the covers -- that was gonna be us... and soon.

Fast forward 4 weeks -- here we are, in the yard cleaning up. Better late than never.

My legs look incredibly short in this picture, but Matt wanted to take it because I'm wearing my JLo glasses. Hey! If I have to be landmanaging when I could be reading magazines and/or biking, I better look cute while doing it.

We have about 5 trees on our front yard alone. And our total yard is only 50 x 135. That equals = a lot of friggin' leaves. Oh, did I mention the crabapple tree? So raking is a BIG part of spring clean up at our house. We have a lot of landscaped areas with plants and mulch so when you're raking, you're trying not to take off too much mulch.

Plus, there's a lot of ground covering. Last year, I referred to these as "viney things" so I feel proud to refer to them now as ground covering. Although I haven't identified what kind of GC they are yet, I imagine they are called sado-masochist ground covering. They actually thrive from being pulled out, yaked, and raked through. The tougher I am with them, the more they grow. Frankly, they scare the bejeezus out of me.

For about 4 hours we raked the front and back yards and we still didn't finish. In the end, we ended up with a pile that any child would pay us to jump into. And we're still not finished!