Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A gardener's best christmas present!

We just got back from our early Christmas in Nashville with my husband's family, and my sister in-law gave me the best present a gardener could hope for ... seeds!

Not just any seeds, but ones from the plants in her garden. I am so excited, but nervous because I normally don't grow from seed and I don't want to ruin any of them. I did read that they should be stored in paper envelopes, so I will do that and then start germinating them in March.

The seeds she gave me are:
Aster 'Wonder of Staffa' (Aster x frikartii 'Wonder of Staffa')
Echinacea 'Cotton candy' (Echinacea purpura 'Cotton Candy')
Gaillardia 'Oranges & Lemons'
Gaillardia 'Fanfare'
Coreopsis 'Snowberry' (Coreopsis auriculata 'Snowberry')
Jamson Gerber (Gerbera jamsonii)

The Gerber and Coreopsis are not in my hardy zone (Gerber is definitely not). But the Coreopsis is a Zone 6, so maybe if I plant it in the best sunny location with good shelter, it may work. It's worth trying, even for just 1 season of flowers.

Thansk Angie!!!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

Another Tree to come down

Last year, we discovered that our tree out in the front had black knot -- post here -- and we did what we could by cutting out the infected branches. But the tree is well over 25' tall and so we couldn't get some of the branches high up. I didn't call anyone in, and I suppose I am at fault but we let it go to see what would happen.

Well, this season it was the worst I had ever seen. Every young branch had it girdling it to death. Even shoots from the roots had it. I looked up some information and talked to one of my Arboretum teachers and the result is: take it down.

I was even told that cherries and plums shouldn't even be planted here because black knot is so prevalent. This tree was planted by the previous owners so it had at least a good 15+ years. And we've enjoyed it immensely with it's green spring foliage and white fragrant flowers. In the fall it turns this awesome purple and stands out among all the other green/yellow fall trees.

It was let to grow shoots, so we inherited it as a 6-trunk tree (1 trunk was removed in 2006). So we are cutting it down in stages. Three trunks have been taken down so far, leaving the oldest 2 trunks (1 of them has almost no black knot). If we can save it, we will. For now we will just see what happens.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Door County is 5A ... huh?

We just got back from a 4-day trip to Door County in Wisconsin. I've written more about the trip here on my personal blog, Crazy Rosie Ramblings.

The Inn we stayed at -- the Blacksmith Inn -- is such a lovely, quint place in Bailey's Harbor and right on Lake Michigan (i.e. the quiet side of the peninsula). They also had an abundant of plants growing and in bloom that I was shocked -- shocked that my yard, 5+ hours south, doesn't have this array of color. Then I looked up that it is 5A, just like me in the western Chicago suburbs. Crazy, right, to think that 5 hours north wouldn't change the garden zone, yet it shows the power of The Lake.

Here are some photos of the Blacksmith's Inn front gardens.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Vegetable Garden Round-up

I just composted the last of the vegetables today - the peppers. I had a good run this summer, harvesting a lot of vegetables in 6 pots on the patio.

Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes
Early Girls
Yellow pear

Golden Summer Sweet Pepper
Chocolate Beauty Sweet Pepper

Everybearing Strawberry Fragaria 'Tristar'

Tomatoes: Last year the Fantastics did better than this year's Early Girls for large tomatoes.
I liked the cherry tomatoes, but I got one plum tomatoe plant inadvertantly this year and those I liked the best. So I would plant plums over cherries next year.
The yellow pears were great, we put them in salads, soups, they were fun to grow.

Peppers: Both the yellow and the chocolates turned out good. The trick is to let them start to turn on the vine, and then you can harvest them and they will turn color. But if you pick them before they start to turn, then they never will -- but are still good to eat. I'd plant both of these again.

Strawberry: I only got about 4 strawberries this year (and 3 more are on the vine ripening as I type), but I like the idea of eating pesticide free strawberries so I'm going to plant this one in the ground over the winter and see if it survives.

For next year ... I started with just tomatoes in 2007, added peppers in 2008, so for 2009 I'd like to add cucumbers and zucchini. Do I have enough pots??

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod in bloom

One of the native plants I picked up at this year's Native Plant Sale (in April) has finally bloomed.

It's the Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia):

I think this one might be a rabbit favorite because it's still really small and according to illinoiswildflowers, it should be 1-1/2-3' tall blooming late summer/early fall. One thing I did notice was that the ants like the flowers - on the flowers are tiny ants.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A Suburban Oasis

On Saturday, Matt and I went on a tour of homes in the west suburbs that are using solar energy to heat and electrify their homes. I wrote about solar energy and the homes we visited on my main blog.
But one of the homes not only used solar energy, but was the home of a conservationist who's house was surrounded by a natural illinois prairie, was situated for ideal passive solar design, and had a green roof. It was a true oasis in the suburbs, a wildlife haven in the middle of manicured lawns and pom pom bushes. I was inspired.
The homeowner was a wonderful host as she allowed the visitors of the solar tour to walk the perimeter of the property as she showed us how they achieved the green roof, and about all the native plant species that make up her lawn. He clothes hung on a line, barely covered by the wild sumacs that grazed the house's exterior. She showed us the placement of the windows and overhangs of the house, as well as the angular roof which had two "spouts" where the roof's rain water spills out into the native landscape (although now the green roof mostly aborbs the water). Every spring, she does a burn around the property to assist the growth of the native plants.
It was really amazing, and it came as no surprise that the homeowner helped restore the prairie at the Morton Arboretum, and is now a teacher specializing in native plants. I loved her spunk, especially when someone asked if the neighbors complain about her laundry hanging. I'm sure she would give a good education on the virtues of not using your dryer in the summer.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Pruning the Korean Lilac

I tested renewal pruning for the first time on one of the Dwarf (ha!) Korean Lilacs in my front yard's Center Garden.

These lilacs have gotten very large over the 3 years I've been at this house, and the most I have done with them is give them a good shearing after they bloom.

As you can see from the pictures, 2006 it was sporting a flat top and was very meatball shaped (must have had the grandpa over to help shear);

by 2007 it came into it's own with a beautiful naturalized shape,

and then 2008 was bloom-rific if not getting pretty big. And it doesn't look like it needed pruning but the inside was just all wood.

So after renewal pruning, it now looks like this:

Kinda small, kinda sparse, kinda sad. We'll see how it takes for next year.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Chicago Garden Bloggers Meet ... in the flesh

Let me repeat, I will not go to the Arboretum again unless accompanied by very smart garden bloggers.

Barbara of Mr. McGregor's Daughter got the Chicagland gardeners together at the Arboretum to get the dates down for the 2009 Spring Fling (May 29-31, 2009), but once that was settled then there was much walking and talking about plants -- which is why I said I can't go back to the Arboretum unless I bring the brain trust with me.

4 of us were there -- yours truly, Rachel from On the Shores of Lake Chicago, Linda from GardenGirl, and Barbara.

Me on the left, the one pretending to be Tina Fey pretending to be Sarah Palin
Note to self, don't slouch and wear a real bra next time.

First off, it was such a pleasure meeting you all. I I felt like the young grasshopper learning from the masters and I only wished I had brought a tape recorder. I just hope I wasn't too annoying with my 100 questions, rapid talking, and insipid story telling (a "Can you grow seed" question led me to go on for hours). But seriously, it was such a nice afternoon getting to know fellow garden bloggers and now I can prove to my husband that you are all real people and not crazies who were going to abduct me in the Arboretum parking lot.

So what did I learn (if I don't get this down it might be lost forever):
  • cutting back mums: Don't be a wuss, cut them back by half in May, June, & July. Only then will they not flop over.
  • Anemones: Can be potential take-overers.
  • Native ginger: a good ground cover for shade under trees (better than Pachysandra because it's native).
  • Mophead hydrangeas: Don't cut them back. For our temps, can cover them with straw to try and stop them from freezing.
  • Fothergilla: Great shrub for shade. And don't buy just any kind, research the varieties and --gasp-- order online?!
  • Stone Silo: LC Shores recommended nursery for buying online. Yes, I can buy online. Yes, I don't have to only rely on garden centers here if I want something special. repeat.
  • Strawberry plant: can put into the ground over winter and then it goes back into the planter.
  • Grow eggplant. But watch out for thorns.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Garden Journal Friday - Photos posted


For my maintenance class, we are supposed to keep a garden journal. Since I have this blog, I thought I'd incorporate my garden "journal" into here every Friday. I guess I "journal" but not like in a true gardening sense. I'm also blessed with a most uncanny memory that I pretty much know everything I planted and when I planted it... it's kind of scary.

So here's my first "Journal" entry of what I did the last few weeks:


In my Triangle Garden I,

  • built the bed bigger and moved some plants around
  • cut down all my tall bearded irises. They did this at the Arboretum, and even though my greens weren't ratty (far from it), I still trimmed them back.
  • pruned some dead wood stems from potentilla frucitosa
  • planted 2 new irises our teacher gave us from the Arb's Fragrant Garden (she was showing us about plant division)
  • noticed the campanula glomerata that I cut back to basal has reflowered like it should have.
  • noticed The pinky winky hydrangea that I planted this year is turning pink. It really did well it's first year. I am really looking forward to how this plant grows.
In the Southwest Garden, I,

  • started removing the ground cover and weeds from along the fence. In it's place I transplanted some varieties of hostas I divided from the front yard, part of the Astilbe from the side yard (that was getting too much sun and not enough water), and some lungwarts. I hope these will be good companion plants to the Pagoda Dogwood.
  • The Pagoda Dogwood is doing great. It's really starting to branch out and show it's horizontal shape. I hope it survives the winter.
In the Porch garden, I,

  • noticed how well the impatiens I planted did here. They also look really nice against the white spotted lungwarts and the variagted fountain grass. I should plant them again here next year.
In the Fence Garden, I:

  • am pretty happy about this garden. This is it's 2nd season and the plants have really come in great (I did plant them with great compost). The pulmonaria around the birdbath leafed out incredibly. I do want to add some shrubs here but I need to widen the bed which I want to do when we put the patio in (next year??). For now I will leave as is and enjoy it as a perennial garden.

In the front of house:

  • I'm worried that I planted the dwarf blue spruce too close to the oakleaf hydrangea, but for now the 2 colors look nice together.
Native Plant Garden:

  • I haven't commented on the Spicebush I got in April, but it's doing really well (see it behind the hosta)
  • The Shorts Aster is such a treat (although it is everywhere at the Arb). It grew triple it's size this year and has fallen over because nothing around it is holding it up. Here is was last year.
Barberry Bed:
  • I moved out the line of stella d'oro daylillies that were obviously planted here when there was more sun, ad replace it with a bigleaf hosta from my mom's yard. I moved the daylillies to the other side where there's more sun.
Circle Bed:

  • I transplanted 2 lady's mantle and another painted fern here, along with some new heucheras I got over the summer.
  • Under the maple, nothing wants to grow big, of course, and they seem to die back soon. So I planted a piece of pachysandra from my mom's yard, we'll see if that takes. I'd be happy with this section as only ground cover.
By the street:
  • Under the plum tree I was having turf wars with the lamium and vinca. I have this going on in a lot of places in my yard and I secretly hope the vinca wins. Here, the vinca will win because I've pulled out the lamium and added a few more vinca plugs. I think it's dark green foliage will look better.
  • I wanted to fill in some bare areas with low maintenance plants so I divided up some lungwarts and added some here.
Whew ...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Meatball Watch

I've just started my new class at the Arboretum called Maintenance. It's part of the required Garden Basics courses I have to take for the Gardening Certificate.

So far the class has paid for itself because I learned 2 important things:

1) When you renewal prune it doesn't mean-- as I foolishly thought before -- taking it "down" by 1/3, but to prune out 1/3 of the canes from the bottom. Yes, I asked that question in class and yes, I am now prefacing all my questions with, "I have a stupid question..."

2) Pruning and shearing are 2 different things. Yes, I have been wearing a gardeners dunce cap this whole time. I thought this whole time I was pruning my shrubs, but I was just shearing them.

And by shearing I mean ... I have a garden of meatballs.

Larry, Darryl, & Darryl, my three Judd Viburnums out front were smaller meatballs when we moved in. I ignored them for 2 seasons in which it was pointed out to me that they were getting so large, that some madman could hide behind them and attack me (this in a neighborhood where I leave my garage open all night and nothing has ever been taken - knock on wood). So I sheared them back out of pure panic and it was such a panic that I'm surprised I didn't shear everything back to 3', limiting myself to being terrorized by only very small madmen.
Darryl & Darryl, with a fellow boxwood meatballer, Bob, who I haven't pruned in 2 years.

So now my goal is to de-meatball the Viburnum
-- a feat my teacher said could happen by:
1) leaving them alone - i.e. no shearing
2) renewal prune out 1/3 of the canes to encourage lower horizontal growth.

And even this might not solve the problem, and it may take a long time, but I am determined to be on meatball watch; to do what I can to transform these spaghetti toppers into lush, naturalized shrubs -- the way that nature intended.

Meatball watch is officially ON.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Evil Fish

We were walking through an Art Fair one weekend and we came upon a man who collects metal scrap and turns them into garden art. So automatically Matt and I fell in love with everything.

He made dogs, cats, even a caterpillar, flowers, and a huge motorcycle. But what Matt and I wanted was something that would stand out in our pint sized backyard filled with patches of purple phlox and annabelle hydrangeas tumbling between the picket fence.

You know, something that would add character and a bit of whimsy to our quaint little garden. Like ... an Evil Fish that stands 7-1/2 ft tall?

Got one of those Mister?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Vegetable Gardening 08

This is my second year of vegetable gardening. Last year I planted 2 large pots and filled them with 2 types of tomatoes (Roma & Fantastic), some green onion, and small leaf basil (mostly all courteous of my grandpa who taught me how to veggie garden). For me, it was a huge accomplishment to tend my own vegetables, to walk out of my kitchen and pick a tomato off the vine for a dinner salad, or basil to throw into pasta sauce.

This year, I added to my collection of "plants-in-a-pot", increasing the number to 6 plastic pots. Now they contain:
  • 3 types of tomatoes: Early Girl, cherry, and yellow plums
  • green onions
  • 2 types of peppers (yellow and chocolate)
  • purple basil
  • dill
  • strawberries
  • and a squash plant that appeared out of nowhere
My little veggie garden in the sun

So far, the troops are doing well. They all hang out on my tiny 8x8 brick patio that is the only place in my yard to get the full sun they need to grow. I'm okay with this because I like to veggie plant in pots ... mainly because of this:

I think this little guy just ate my very ripe strawberry I was waiting to grow bigger. He has good taste, they're delicious.

My green onion is huge. This came from the grocery store in March. I ate it, then saved the roots and grew them in some water before transplating them outside in April. Now they are the biggest green onions anyone has seen. It could be the compost -- all the pots contain more than 50% composted material.
The squash is a mystery. It just appeared in my strawberry plant. I didn't plant it unless it came from a seed that got into the compost (we compost a lot of veggie scraps). If so ... very cool. Right now I have flowers on the squash plant but no idea if I will get a squash.

The peppers are getting bigger and I just read that I should pick them green and let them ripen off the vine, so that the plant has more energy to make more peppers. I have a lot of flowers, but not a lot of peppers.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Garden Class: Landscape Design Finished

My six week Intro to Landscape Design class at the Arboretum has finally ended. For the class, we were supposed to choose an area or project we wanted to design in our own yard and for the last class show what we've done using the design principles we're learned.
It was an Intro class, and one that's mandatory for the Arboretum's Home Gardening certificate, so we covered a lot of ground. I really did learn a lot, and it gave me the time to focus on designing our backyard patio -- a project I always had problems starting never knowing if I was doing it right.

So here was my plan by the end of the class --I have a small backyard (50x30) -- small for the suburbs at least-- I was completely inspired by the Arboretum's small Reading garden off the library, which is a small space with room for small plant beds, a table and chairs, a water feature, and pergola area.
  • I can't recreate the actual stone walls, so I chose to mimic the walls using a shrub border. Something that will spill between the picket fence especially since my fence is ON the lot line.
  • I don't want to use gravel (like the Arb did). but I would like the large squares of bluestone to match the house. And then carve two beds out on the opposite ends (by the window and the tree).
  • The blue water fountain I got for Christmas will be in one of the garden beds.
  • And the Amur Maple will serve as the "roof"
  • We want to cover the screen porch with a real roof, so I want to extend the pergola rails out over the patio with a vine
  • Add a shrub to cover the utility pole and compost pile - and add stepping stones to the compost pile.
  • Finally, redo the garden beds along the fence.
I haven't thought too much about plant material yet. We talked about it in class and what I learned is - figure out what your site is and then pick your plants. Kind of opposite to how I act now -- more like, "I want this... now where will I put it?"

We've been trying to plan this patio for 2 years now, so now Matt is ready to break ground tomorrow! But no, not yet...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Garden Blogger Bloom Day: July 2008

This is a record! I am actually posting GBBD one day in advance, as opposed to one week after.

This summer, I have not been posting as much, but I've also not been out in the yard as much as I want to be. I talked to my neighbor and we agreed that the mosquitos are horrible this year and unless you want to be caked in Eau d'OFF on a daily basis or be eaten alive by potential West Nile critters, then you're mostly indoors thankful for the windows where you can view your yard from the inside.

But I digress .... Here's what's in bloom in my small Chicago western suburbs garden.

Front Yard:

This mophead hydrangea appeared in my yard my 2nd year. It had one bloom on it.
I moved it 3 times before finally settling it in it's "forever" home.
This year I have about 5-6 blooms and it looks really happy. It's alone right now, so I'm thinking about adding a few siblings for him to play with.

Of course, it's not summer without the purple coneflowers.
This one is new to my yard. I picked it up late last summer and it didn't have a tag but the garden center said it was some sort of potentilla. This is it's first bloom and I think it's lovely, although short -lived.
I bought this Astilbe also late last summer and it turned out to have this bright pink frond. I like it paired with the grey tones of the japanese fern.
White and pink yarrow

Side Yard:

My gigantic Astilbe ... planted on the west side of the house ... I didn't do this.
It does good except it needs to be watered regularly, and when it does I get the pretty pink fronds.

Back yard:

Here's my new Pinky Winky Hydrangea I got at the Arboretum's plant sale. It was so tiny when I bought it and I left it in the pot until only about 3 weeks ago. It started to bloom in the pot so I decided to finally plant it. I removed a huge purple loosestrife that Carol/May Dreams recommended and replaced it with this lovely.

Cranesbill geranium
Potentilla fructiosa
clustered bellflower
coral bells
annual geraniums, petunias, begonias