Sunday, April 29, 2007

Peonies and probably a weed

Yesterday I found this plant in my front yard. Matt thought maybe it was a tree, but it had a rubbery stem and foliage. Probably another weed, I thought. But we took a nice long walk and I saw the same plant in someone's yard (who happened to be outside) and she told me they were peonies.


This is our 3rd summer in this house and I've never seen these before. So apparently they've either been dormant, a seed blew in from somewhere, or some stranger planted them for us. In any case, welcome Peony plant. I don't know what kind it is yet, but I found this website for ID'ing Peonies.

But I did find another plant in the backyard that I'm sure is a weed. Am I right?

I was joking with Matt that it looked like a marujuana leaf (how many hemp T's did I see in grad school in Madison?!)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Native Plant Photos

To accompany my previous post, here are some photos of the native plantsale and plants we got today.

8:43 a.m. and we're all done. Just looks at those crowds behind me!
Here they all are waiting to be planted.

Blue Phlox

Short's Aster in the foreground, with the columbine and Cohosh from last year in the background. I planted the Aster with the 2 rocks so maybe it'll look pretty later.

The Jacob's Ladder in the foreground and background.

The next 2 photos are the entire woodland native garden. I'm not that great with my camera, it looks much better in person.

Native Plant Sale 2007!

This morning was our local native plant sale. Last year I described it as the Filene's Basement wedding dress sale of the native plant world ... Last year we arrived 10 minutes after it opened and it was almost devoid of plants. This year we were early and prepared.

It opens at 830 a.m. and we arrived at 8:10 a.m. and took our place in line. At 8:30, we were bustled in having already been told "trees to the right, sun plant at the back, shades to the left." Matt has the sun list, I had the shade and we divided and conquered. Oh yes, we conquered.

By 8:46 a.m. we were in the car, plants in tow in the back seat, ready to forage for our much needed coffee.

So lessons learned: Arrive Early -- Have Plant List marked and ready -- Divide and Conquer.

This year we picked up some more woodland natives for under the pine tree (where I've decided to plant a "native woodland" after my success from last year -- the blue cohosh & wild columbines). And we also picked up some native grasses to replace the large evergreen bushes we're ripping out.

Here's the list of what we got:
I'll post pictures in a bit.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Backyard Drawing

It's way to early here to start planting, but I can start thinking about it. I did the unbelievable -- I drew out our backyard.

I didn't draw it for the plants, I admit. I can never get my drawings to look like the ones I see and if they don't look that way, I'm not bothering. I guess I'm annoying that way. I really drew it because in the future we'd like to add a patio where we currently have our mulch garden/compost mountain, and I needed to get some visuals going.

Here's how the plan looks ( keep in mind that I started writing plant names and ideas down so it's kind of messy):
By doing this, I numbered each area of the backyard garden, and I think this is a good way to keep track of what's going on there as I talk about them on my blog.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Arghhh! Rain!

The forecast shows rain for the next three days and my rain barrel is not hooked up yet!

All that wasted water...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The porch project

This morning we got out early (9AM). Matt was motivated to move forward with fixing up the porch in the backyard (one of our 2007 To Do's), and I wasn't going to stop him.

When the previous owners put on the kitchen addition, they added a screened porch in the empty space. We loved it when we moved it, it had cute twinkle lights and we could eat out there without getting eaten by mosquitos... then the money pit happened. The Money Pit is what I refer to when everything starts falling apart. The screens all came undone, the wood started falling off. It was a mess. So last summer we took the screens down and were "sans porch" for 2006.

I have high hopes to enclose this area one day to a "morning room" so we just need to fix it so we can use it -- i.e. we don't want to spend a lot of time or money. So we bought new paint to freshen it up -- Matt's painting the floor with Benjamin Moore's exterior floor & patio paint in platinum grey. We'll do the same with the walls and then add the new screens.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Rain Barrel platform & Shed

I'm just all over the Rain Barrel at the moment ... it's my project du jour.

This morning, Matt and I removed 2 bushes from the side where the RB is going. They had to go anyway -- a japanese barberry and a regular bush, not even sure what it was. Now we can actually walk on that walkway to the side of the house (that alone was a good reason to get rid of those bushes).I kept all these bricks when we removed the swingset in the backyard, so I used them to make a platform for the Rain Barrel. Now I'll just let them set a bit, and next wee we should be read to dismantle the existing downspout and position it into the barrel. (That's the barrel in the background).
After we put up the RB, I plan on covering the area with some nice ornamental grasses. I prefer those tenfold to decidious bushes.

I also cleaned out the shed on Saturday (just another TO DO item scratched off). I'll admit -- sheepishly -- that we've lived in this house for 2 years and I NEVER cleaned out this shed. Why was I waiting? It's so much better now and doesn't gross me out like it used to.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day - April

It's April 15th already?! Time for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

A lot has happened here in Chicago this past month. In March, my pictures were pretty brown and sad. In one month, the daffodils emerged and bloomed, things got green, and then ... we had 3" of snow. Now the snow has melted and things are back to green, but no more daffodils.

Here's what's happening on April 15th in my Zone 5/ Chicago garden:

In bloom:
Daffoldils ( not anymore, but bloomed since March 15th)

Lilac bushes (very tiny buds)
An unknown bush I have in the front (picture below) (very tiny buds) - has very fragrant flowers.


Here's the unknown bush (I have 3 of these).
Last yr, I planted a wild columbine and blue cohosh from the Native Plant Sale at the end of April. I didn't realize by April 15th, they'd be pretty big. I think they love their new homes under the pine tree.

Under the kitchen window, the daylillies, tulips, and irises are bigger than last month (they were just peaking out from the leaves). No blooms yet, still. Too early.
Here's the backyard. Greener than last month, but still April 15th is early for Zone 5.
And here's the front

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Rain barrels some more

It's snowing today. Like really, really snowing. I’m not sure if this is the latest snowfall we’ve ever had, but last year I documented the last snowfall at the end of March.

UPDATE: It hasn't snowed in April in 27 years!

There’s a perfectly good explanation for the snow: it’s because we cleaned up the garden already. Yes, I admit it. It’s all my fault; we’re the reason for the snow. I think it has to do with that tricky law of physics, the same one, you know, where it rains after you wash your car.

On a positive note, the snow is buying me some time to plan and think (as if I didn’t have 4 mos. of that). I’m thinking now about my rain barrel.

I picked up the rain barrel last Friday. It’s just a big, coral-colored plastic barrel. I was going to get 2 of them but I could only fit 1 in the backseat of my car. I can add another one later in the season or next year if all goes well.

So because I only have 1 barrel, I’m wondering exactly where it should go? I checked out a local green landscaper and his site shows 3 rain barrels linked together at 2 different downpouts. My house has about 6 downspouts (that I can think of, at least). Here are the finalists:
  • I have 1 downspout on the northwest side that always floods in heavy rains. It pours out next to the concrete walkway into a small landscaped area of 2 japanese barberries. The previous owners dumped a bunch of small stones there to probably help with drainage; if it helps, I don’t know because it still puddles. The downside is that it’s towards the front of the house and very close to my neighbor.

  • There are 2 on the east side where our lot slopes into the lot next door. The one in the back corner would be a good location because it gets a lot of water, it doesn’t drain well (well, we attached a flexible hose to it to keep it away from our foundation, so now it runs into our neighbors empty lot.) The downside is that it’s not leveled and I would really have to make a secure spot for it.
… I think I’m leaning towards the northwest side. There’s just no real place for that water to drain to. The new neighbors will just have to live with it.

But before I can install, I have to add some accoutrements to the barrel. It came with a spigot to attach to a hose, but it needs to be cut at the top for the downspout to enter. I also need to make a mesh overlay to catch the debris, and add an overflow valve. I found 2 great sites for information (U of Arizona & Watershed Activities). The latter one has excellent pictures of various rain barrels in different set ups, plus some very good drawings of rain barrel components.

I can’t wait to get started!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Rain Barrels

On my TO DO list is the task of setting up rain barrels. I’ve wanted to do this since buying the house, and this year will be a good year for that.

I’m a huge advocate for green living, which is saying a lot since I grew up in suburbia where getting your lawn sprayed with chemicals was synonomous with having money, driving replaces walking, and going to the mall was considered something to do.

How I ever ended up on the opposite spectrum, I will never know. I guess I’m what you call “green”, my family however calls me cheap. But I think they’re the same in some way. Being green (or living consciously, as I like to say) in my opinion is the essence of frugality. It’s the trendsetters who are elevating green-ness into an artform for the privledged.

I mean … Grow your own veggies =free food.
Compost = free fertalizer.
Rain barrels = free water.
Recycling = cheaper garbage costs.
Small car = cheaper fuel costs… and so on.

So back to rain barrels… ever since buying the house and listening to NPR reports on water consumption, turning on the hose makes me cringe. But I have to water my plants. It puts me in such a bind I feel like Jack Benny (when approached by a robber, “Your money or your life?” No answer. “I said your money or your life!?” “I’m thinking,” Jack Benny replied).

So back to rain barrels … once I learned about this solution (from our neighbors, and then web research), I knew I had to do it. I’ve seen really expensive rain barrels, and then I hear people getting them for $5 or free. Since I have a full-time job with a 3-hour commute, I don’t have time to run around searching for the $5 rain barrel from the bottling plant. Nor, however, do I want to spend $100. So I’m getting 2 rain barrels from a local conversation group (the Conservation Foundation in Naperville, IL) – they’re kind of expensive, yes, but at least I’m giving money to this group so it makes me feel better.

I’m picking them up this weekend and will report more when I have them in my hot little hands.