Monday, December 17, 2007


Carolyn discovered where I've been the last month (thanks Carolyn for looking for me on my main blog!!).

We've been slowly renovating our 1970's split-level since moving in 2005. And since April, we've been renovating the 1st floor (Dining Room and Front Room). We thought it was only supposed to take 3-4 months -- we had some big plans: putting in windows where there were none, a fireplace where there was none, new flooring, trim, paint, etc etc. Instead, it's going on 9 months and we're still working on it. The last 2 months have been a mad dash to get the room to a point where we can move back in the furniture so I've been neglecting the garden and the garden blog. Who can blame me?

So I haven't been doing much gardening -- obviously, it's snowed about 9 inches here so far -- but I am being really successful in overwintering my potted plants. I had some geraniums and gerbers outside that I didn't want to trash for the winter. So I put them in my sunniest window: the laundry room. And so far they are doing so well they are blooming better than they did outdoors!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fall colors

For the first time, I noticed how gorgeous some of my perennials are in the Fall. It's not only the trees that are changing colors ...

Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
Shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla frucitosa) -- is getting a purplish sheen to it.

Purple Loosestrife ( Lythrum salicaria L.) (despite the name, not purple in the summer)
Hosta -- I know it's dying, but this one looks pretty all yellow.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Memo to Maple Tree

To: Huge Maple Tree
Date: November 9, 2007
Re: Green Leaves

Dear Maple Tree,

I went outside today and saw that you were still sporting the green leaves. Love the look, but I just wanted to remind you that it's November 9th and, while I know you're not a follower, all the other trees have gone ahead and started to change colors. Some of them are already dropping their leaves: Anderson dropped them all in October -- although we know he's an overachiever.

And while I know that technically, I'm not your supervisor. Your work tends to get into my area causing major backup in my production leaf gathering schedule. Plus the weather's getting cold, so it would be great to have this all done by next weekend. Plus, the other guys are thinking you're kind of a bit of a show off, you are the grandest of them all. And with being grand, means lot of leaves for yours truly.

Thanks in advance and keep up the good work,


Friday, November 09, 2007

a big sigh in the suburbs

I am just going to tell myself that the guy I saw putting all his leaves in plastic garbage bags is really using them for composting. Despite them being tied at the end, I'm just going to tell myself that ...

Do I have to drive back past that house and steal them from his yard? Do I resort to this type of renegade activity?

I wrote the title as "a sigh in suburbs" because sometimes I feel like people in the city must be a little smarter than suburbanites when it comes to living organically. And I say that having lived my entire life in the burbs with a few years here and there in the city/collar suburbs. When I find a neighbor or fellow surburbanite who breaks the mold, I just want to embrace them and show them off as trophies to prove that, "Hey, we don't all drive SUVs and put chemicals on our lawns."


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

It blows, it sucks, it mulches, oh my

I was busy in the yard this weekend -- mainly because I wanted to avoid writing my 50,000 words towards NaNoWriMo, but also because I wanted to try out my new blower.

It's not really new, it's just that I never knew it mulched leaves! What a bonus!

When my dad got it for Matt for his birthday last year, I thought, "We'll never use this." And I only used it once to blow and I found it obnoxiously loud. But this weekend I tried out the vacuum/mulcher feature and it's super. Now I can put mulched leaves on all my garden beds and I won't have the carpet of congealed leaves to pull off in the springtime; I can just leave them to nourish my plants... yum!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Plants 101: Nutrition

"Mmmmm, nitrogen.... tasty...." says the plant.

That's what I learned today in my plant class: the 16 macro and micro-nutrients essential for plant growth. if you don't have these in your soil, then your plants can't develop properly. The Cerberus of the macronutrients are:
  • nitrogen
  • phosphorous
  • potassium
These 16 nutrients are needed for the plant's lifecycle, no other element can replace them, and without them, they will die. How's that for dire? When they said, "It's a jungle out there," they weren't kidding.

We talked about a lot in class today. Here are the highlights:

Transpiration: that's the process of the plant absorbing H2O from the soil through the roots, taking it up through shoot, and then releasing it through the leaves (evaporating into the air through the stomata).

Soil: Soil is made up of sand, silt, and clay. It can be either Acidic or Alkaline. Perfect soil is called loam -- we don't like people who have this soil. In our area (Chicago), we're blessed with alkaline soil with tons of clay. Too much clay causes the soil to get compacted, this inhibits roots from growing and from water to soak into the soil. If you get water run-off, this is probably the cause. What to do? Add organic matter (compost) to the soil to balance it out. You'll have to do this all the time so start composting!

We got to look at our soil under the microscope and I found a lot of creepy crawlies hanging out; my teacher said it was excellent.

So that's you lesson for the day: without healthy soil you can't have healthy plant. So mulch those leaves and compost them or throw them into your beds, your plants will thank you for it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Where the kitchen scraps go ...

I have to post pictures of my compost, if only for the pleasure of bragging about how beautiful it all is.

I piled it up in the wheelbarrow and went around the house putting it around my plants and shrubs (do I put it around trees too?) and for the first time, I felt like a real gardener.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Plants 101: Plant Tissues

Yesterday, I sliced open a stem of my Judd Viburnum (Viburnum juddii) and marveled at the interior, pointing out the vascular bundles and the pith, recognizing the Eudicot vascular formation of this woody angiosperm. We checked out the underside of leaves locating the stomatas. And we opened up buds of a Lilac to see next years buds set in.

Yep, no more walks in the prairie, this class is getting scientific.

Yesterday in my 3rd Plants Class, the hot topic was Plant Tissues, and after reading our "real" college textbook on the subject, we had 1 class dropout. For someone who hasn't taken a science class since 12th grade, and then usually cheated off my lab partner, I was amazed I found any of this interesting. But all a teacher has to do is promise us we can slice open things under a high powered microscopes and you get your class's attention.

If you've never studied plants before (like me) you might find all this pretty interesting. I'm sure the majority of those reading this are thinking, "Ahhh, grasshopper, you have so much to learn. He He He."

For our Plant Tissues discussion, we centered on the class Angiosperms (flowering plants) and their highly developed vascular system (the way in which they bring in water and nutrients for plant growth and development). We looked at diagrams of vascular systems both in the root and the shoot. What makes up the vascular system are complex tissues called Xylem and Phloem.

Wait, there's more!

In woody plants, such as the ones we dissected, instead of dying back each season, the vascular cambium (the secondary vascular system that woody plants have) continues to grow thus giving the woody stems girth and thickening the woody stem. (I hope I have that right).

Finally, we talked about the 2 subclasses of Angiosperms: Monocots and Eudicots. The 2 types have 2 different vascular system layouts and different veinal forms. Woody plants are always eudicots.

Oh there's more we learned (simple plant tissues, the primary meristem, epidermis and growth tissues...) and I could go on, but I don't want my blog to be a substitute for Ambient sleeping pills.

But what I do have to say is that you'll never look at your plants the same again after you've viewed them through the microscope.

Next week: Plant Nutrition & Transport and we get to dissect herbaceous plants and view soil under the microscope.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Garden Blogger's Bloom DayOctober

I totally let the 15th of the month fly by me while I was on Blog Sabbatical. But I've posted every month since February and darn it all if I'm gonna stop now!

Unfortunately, there's just not much going on. The only area that looks "alive"is my Triangle Garden. I'm tickled pink with this perennial bed because it was pretty when I moved in and then everything just went to pot. So this spring I had to replace almost everything and it really flourished.
  • The garden mum keeps coming back (and is still big and floppy despite me pruning it back all summer)
  • the grass I divided in the spring is happier then ever in bloom
  • the clustered bellflower I transplanted over the summer is blooming again
  • the irises I moved here last year are large and healthy
  • the 2 dianthus and bloody cranesbill geranium are both not dead (the dianthus doubled in size over the summer)
  • and the potentilla I moved from a shady area in the front also doubled it's size over the summer
Is there some sort of miracle-gro in this ground?!

And I am happy because I actually planted a garden bed with multi-season interest.

For more pictures of this garden over the 3 summers I've been here, click here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Apple Trees Gone

At the last minute, I wanted to stop them and say "No, don't cut down my trees!" But that would have labeled me as the crazy lady on the street who can't make up her mind.

Nope, the trees came down last Sunday and while I was sad thinking about the good times -- the pretty white flowers in the spring -- I forced myself to think about the bad times -- the fallen rotten apples, stinking up my driveway and flower beds and attracting colonies of flies and bees from three counties.

The east side of the house now looks totally bare. And I know I need another tree to balance the FACE we made on the side of the house with the windows and direct vent (from the new fireplace). All I need here is a mouth for it to be complete!

And this is one area that's going to get an overhaul next spring -- it's been the one area of our yard I have never touched. Not for much longer.

The front of the house actually looks nice; it does feel a bit bare being able to see our neighbors better, but when I think about all the sun my plants will now be getting there, I can't wait for next spring. The site of the tree is circled in red.

To see the trees before, see my previous post.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Triangle Garden

Location: Backyard, west facing
Light: Full, part-sun
Water: Near water spigot

2005 (July photo):

  • Japanese Barberry
  • Dwarf mondo grass
  • Vinca
  • Prairie Grass
  • Purple Loosestrife
  • Ajuga

Added in August 2005:
2 hardy mums (one survived)

2006 (June photo):

  • Removed swingset and mulch.
  • A few black eyed susans appeared in the front and I left them.
  • In the Fall, I added 3 tall purple bearded irises I had divided from another area.

2007 (july photo):

  • Ajuga died back in the front, and rudbeckia grew bigger
  • Dwarf mondo grass didn't come back.
  • Pulled out Japanese barberry.
  • Divided the grass (huge hole in the middle)
  • Pulled out the majority of the vinca
  • Irises came back and 1 of them bloomed.
  • Mulched again.

Planted new in 2007:

2 pink chedder dianthus
1 eunymous 'emerald gaity'
1 potentilla from the front that didn't get much sun.
1 Bloody Cranesbill geranium 'Max Frei'
1 clustered bellflower Campanula glomerata
1 garden phlox

Purple Loosestrife, mum, & rudbeckia remained from previous yr.

2008 (july photo)
  • dianthus didn't come back (replaced with annuals and pot)
  • everything else came back healthy and in full force ... the bed was getting too small.Expanded bed a little bigger. And moved geranium down towards the fence.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Plants 101

Today was my 2nd class about "Plants"; the topic was about plant communities and we walked through the prairie restoration area of the Arboretum.

We talked about the ecosystems such as prairies, savannahs, bogs, etc; we talked about the link between plants, animals, and insects. Our reading material and the class in general really stressed how we, as gardeners, have to be sensitive to plant communities and the links between what we create and our surrounding environment. I was inspired by the environmental standpoint of the class, as opposed to "let's plant a pretty garden" frou frou.

Our walk in the prairie was rejuvenating, the tall grasses were almost as tall as we were and it felt like swimming in a sea of yellow. We identified wild sumac, compass plant, prairie clover, baptisia, leadwort, prairie dropseed (which I have in my yard), and big bluestem. I learned that most of the plants in this prairie were taken from settler cemeteries and along railroads in the country, and that without this we would have no idea what our prairie would look like because it is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the country.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Plants 101

I just started my first horticulture class this weekend. After 3 summers of taking care of this garden I thought it was time to get some real education. The Morton Arboretum has a lot of horticulture and gardening classes, even classes leading to a Home gardening certificate. I'm taking the first in the Garden Basics series called "Plants" which is the pre-req for everything else.

So I thought, since it's the Fall and there's less stuff going on in the garden, to talk about my plant classes. Boring? Well I'll try to make them interesting -- and think, if you don't know this already, it's a free education.

Our first class was learning about the "bi-nomial nomenclature" which is the latin naming of the plants. I knew that the latin names were superior to the common names, but I didn't realize that you could tell so much about the plant just by the name. For instance, you can recognize if a plant is a straight species or a cultivar, if it's a variety or a hybrid. I didn't know that the "x" means a hybrid (normally 2 species of plants put together) and a non-italicized name in ' ' means a cultivar. I would see this, but I didn't really know when it meant. I did find out that my Judd viburnum is actually a hybrid Viburnum x judii -- the x meaning hybrid. Then we took a walk in the gardens to look at all the name plaques.

I feel so much smarter already!!

Shorts Aster

I am so excited because my Shorts Aster (Aster shortii) that we got at the Native Plant Sale in April has finally bloomed. It's an October bloomer!

It began blooming early October with three stalks full of these tiny purple flowers; it's such a treat in the shady native plant garden. It really grew from the tiny plant it was in April.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fence Garden: Season end review

In May, I planted my first garden, which I call the "Fence Garden" because it's against the fence (how original, I know). This was the first area that I planted from scratch, as opposed to taking care of the previous owner's plants, or adding here and there.

I know already that I made some mistakes -- mistakes that can be easily fixed next year -- but I was really excited at seeing how this area developed in it's first year, what worked, and what didn't.

For more photos -- click here.

I pretty much had to replace everything on the west end of this garden, which I deliriously thought got more sun than it does. So out went the geraniums, bellflowers, and coneflower that constantly fell over, and in went some ferns and pulmonaria.

I also realize that I should have thought more about "foundation" plants: shrubs and evergreens that would give this more of a footprint. After being reminded by Carolyn to add these, I put in a boxwood and eunymous as an afterthought. Had I thought about this better, I could/should have chosen a lovely shrub which would have given me some nice foliage, flowers, and autumn interest.

In addition, the grass I have is sad ( it was from my grandpa's yard). Another tall grass I think would give this garden some needed height. I also think some more plantings in the front would be good, since I've learned that plants in shade tend to grow slower.

I should have also listened to Carolyn when she suggested adding in some annuals to cover the many bare areas; but I was spending so much money on plants by that time I couldn't do anymore. But I think that I will be more attentive to the bare areas in my garden as a general rule; and I realize that such thing like impatiens really spread as the season goes so a little goes a long way.

But all in all, I feel like I was very successful because last year I was told that I was on the wrong side of the fence, and that nothing would grow here.

NIMG (Not in My Garden)

A while back, Blackswamp Girl, talked about the idea of NIMG -- Not in My Garden. These are things that won't ever happen in your garden -- for whatever reason: you don't like them, you don't have the climate/soil/sun, you don't have the time/patience, or basically, it's just not going to happen.

After a weekend in Lake Geneva with Matt's parents, I found some things that I would call NIMG, so I thought I'd join in on the meme, albeit late.
A Gazebo: I love these, and they make me think of Victorian houses. But in my 70's split level with no backyard, where would I put one that wouldn't look ridiculous. I think they definitely need the right spot, like this one up on a small hill that is overlooking the Lake.

A perfectly manicured, landscaped lawn: I think you can tell when someone has hired a landscaper. Things tend to look neat -- 3 of those, 5 of those, and so on. I tend to just plant what I want, where I want so I'll never achieve this look. And that's okay with me. (Although in this case, I like how the shrubs are more wild and not all Edward Scissor-hands).

Freddy Kreuger edging: That's what I call this razor sharp piercing in the ground. I can't believe a human can actually do this. Matt and I have tried umpteenth times, and what we get is not fit to post. I like this and I don't like this, but either way it's a NIMG cause I can't do it.

Now, this I love. It's just like me: neat, but all wild at the same time. It doesn't have the "appearance" of a neatly manicured lawn, but things are in order; that's kind of my style. The ivy on the house is just perfect with the style of house, and the boxwoods are cute like soldiers holding back the ground cover from taking over (and loose, not rounded). I dunno, I think this is quaint. I'd like it, but I don't know how to get it.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - September

I wrote this post early, but then got sidetracked with the house renovation!

Most of what I have in bloom have been around all summer ... they just keep going and going... much like the Energizer Bunny.

My Roses are still blooming strong well into September. I thank the previous owners for these because I'm scared to plant roses. But for some reason I like roses too much to kill them. These roses did wonderful this year, but my climbing roses didn't bloom at all.
Pink Impatiens -- This might be on a lot of lists as something people hate (or NIMG), but c'mon, what's not to love?! And my cute edger that they pop through ... I love this look. Go ahead, call me names behind my back...
Fringed bleeding heart -- do you see a pink theme here? I read in a book and the author called this a high maintenance plant and she didn't like them. Pshaw. I love everything about this plant (except that it's hard to nearly impossible to transplant); especially the color of the greens. This isn't a good picture of it, it's nestled between some heuchera and hostas, with some black eyed susans in the background.

Grasses -- These are 2 grasses that are in "bloom" I guess. I'm not what they are off-hand.

Here's a wild sunflower that I came theees close to pulling out because I didn't know what it was. I got this at the Native Plant sale last year, but I didn't realize it gets tall and flops over. He's happy sort of laying on this rock.

Other plants: black eyed susans, garden phlox...

Almost ... but not quite there yet...

I say not quite there on the sedum because some are in bloom and some aren't and most of them are half-way there. Here's some sedum under a variagated grass and next to some lungwarts. It doesn't get that much sun here, but they managed to bloom.

And finally ... My giant Home Depot Mum that was not supposed to come back. I bought this for fall color my first year here and literally threw it in the ground not thinking it would come back, triple it's size. Now it's back for year 3, although I trimmed it back throughout the season thanks to advice I got last year (see, I remember). It's still a behemoth, but better. And it's just about to bloom, but alas no cigar.

Bulbs planted

For the first time ever, I planted bulbs. And guess what? It's supposed to get to 40 degrees tonight. Whenever I plant something I always say, "If it grow, it'll be a miracle!" Well this is no exception. The only thing to do is wait until next Spring and see what comes up through the ground.

Stay Tuned!

So I don't forget, here's where I planted the bulbs:

1) along the fence (tulips mid-late spring bloomers)

2)Various areas in the southwest garden bed (3 varieties: early tulips, late tulips, and hyacinths)

Here I also experimented with layering, so I put the early and late tulips together in the same row, so I'll see if that works with the 2 bloom times.
3) Front yard by the front door (early tulips by heucheras, late tulips by hydrangea)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Irises and Tulips

The other day, braving the mosquitoes that have taken over my backyard, I divided this clump of crimson irises. These are such gorgeous flowers, the deep red color is such a contract so all the green in my yard. As with most of the plants in my yard, I inherited these from the previous owners. After division, I ended up with about 50 rhizomes; I replanted about 20+ around the yard, gave 10 to my mom, and have about 20 more to give away or find homes for.

For my own documentation, I placed the rhizomes:
- 10 in the original spot
- clump of 3 next to original spot
- 3 mixed with the purple irises in kitchen garden
- 2 mixed with purple irises in triangle garden
- 2 clumps of 3 along new path in southwest garden
- clump of 3 between coral bell/oakleaf hydrangea in front sun area

I also went to Home Depot today and bought bulbs. I'm sure the big 'ol HD is not the best place for this, but since I'm experimenting, I didn't feel the need to go all fancy. My idea is to have a tulip garden ...somewhere where another plant will grow larger in summer to cover the dying greens.

This may sound crazy, but I'm actually thinking of planting some along the fence. As my neighbors 'annabelle' hydrangeas get big, they spill over into my yard. But in the early-mid-late spring stages, they aren't that big yet. Wouldn't it be quaint and cottag-y to have tulips along the picket fence?

This photo is in July, when the annabelles are at their prime.

The other idea is to incorporate a tulip garden into my southwest garden.

This is the area that I completely demolished this summer, slowly trying to eradicate the ground cover, weeds, and overgrown ferns. I called it "taking back my garden" job. It was the area that just had a life of it's own and I hated walking back there for sheer fear of my life. Next spring, I'll plant the area, but I can always put the tulips in the 1/2 circle area around the tree that I formed by the stone path.

I still have some extraneous ground cover lurching about, but I'm going to leave them. I just wanted to "tame" the wild beast.

It's only early Sept so I have time to think about it.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


So this is not really garden-related ... but our 4th anniversary was the other day and my mom picked us up this cute vase.
Not too long ago we stopped into this re-sale shop that specializes in mid-century modern funiture and fixtures and we loved the "spaceship" designs of the 1950's. My mom said this reminded her of that (and could possible even be an antique). It had holes on the top so each flower stem goes in individually.

And speaking of non-garden related (except that almost every gardener has cats), here's a picture of our new kitten Guiness getting caught in the couch.

He's such a doll except that he likes to jump on Mini's (our older cat) back and attack her. But then she bites his "unmentionables" (is this a family friendly blog?), so I guess all's fair in love and war.

Two Apple Trees

When we bought our house, I was amazed at the sheer number of trees squeezed on this 50 x 135 lot.
  • 2 in the back (a serviceberry and a "unknown" as of yet)
  • 1 on the side (Apple)
  • 5 in the front (plum, 2 colorado blue spruce, another apple, and a crabapple) -- not counting the 2 huge trees (maples?) that sit on our lot line but "technically" belong to our neighbors. Since all their leaves fall on our lot, I count those too.
So let's see...10. 10 trees. No wonder I have a shade garden.

Try and find the house

But I'm not complaining, I love the trees and I love the cool shade. Our house on our block looks like those farm houses -- you know those that have all the trees surrounding them to shelter the house from the tornado when everything else around is flat and treeless. It's kind of cool, like our house is a secret-secluded cottage (read: split level) smacked in suburbia.

But this leads me to the purpose of this entry: The 2 apple trees. If I say I don't like them, will I be forever banished? But I don't. If I had an acre, I would LOVE to have fruit trees -- but away from my house. One of our trees is right by our garage so every apple falls into our driveway, immediately get squashed, and becomes a haven for bees and flies from the three neighboring counties.I like attracting important insects (bees, not flies) to my yard, but that's why I have flowers. I don't want to attract them this way. I opened my car door today and 5 flies flew in. When I try and sweep the apples, I'm waiting to get stung by a bee.

I don't even want to eat the apples (not after they fall onto
the driveway that's for sure). So Matt and I decided to just cut them down.

Here's the two trees:

The one on the side of house isn't as big of a nuisence, but it's hard to garden on that side because of so many insects flying around. I like a tree there so I'm hoping to replace it with a smaller tree -- maybe a Japanese Maple variety (I don't have one of those).

Friday, September 07, 2007


I have been finding all these baby hostas and baby heucheras growing between my paving stones. Just like any baby, they are so cute.
I can't bring myself to pull them out and throw them away because all that's going through my mind is: FREE PLANTS! FREE PLANTS!

Here's one I planted earlier in the summer and so far it's pretty big. I just hope big enough to make it through the summer.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Garden Bloggers Muse Day

The garden in August
Fallen purple flowers
Dead and dying ‘susans
everywhere I look.

Fallen apples, eaten
half-way by the squirrels
Bees and flies abundance
everywhere I walk.

Lazy, dazy evenings
under the purple moonlight
Legs up on the table
staring overhead.

End of summer fading
as so are the bloomings
nights still warm and breezy

Just the way I like it.

Note: Totally irrelevant photo taken last yr in Sugutuck, MI