Sunday, May 24, 2015


Peony "Cheddar Charm" is a crazy looking flower.  It could also be called fried egg because it looks so flat with a big yellow yoke in the middle.  

This baby has many great qualities.  

It is highly fragrant and will perfume an entire room.  I've planted it near the walk so it shares the sweetness with everyone who passes.  

The huge yellow center is all about stamens covered with pollen.  And the stamens are covered with honey bees.  The bees aren't interested in stinging anyone because they are so busy covering their back legs with what looks like yellow gaucho pants.  If a bee could roll over on its back and wiggle with joy, this would be the place it would choose. 

It produces many flowers.  They lay flat when the sun is shining and on a cloudy day or in the evening, they partially close.  I suspect it has something to do with protecting the pollen covered center.  The petals are very white and look delicate (they're not.)  

I don't know of any bad peonies but Cheddar Charm is certainly up there with the best.  The stems are sturdy and it doesn't flop even when it rains. 

The facts:  Cheddar Charm is a Herbaceous perennial with the Japanese anemone form.  Good up to Zone 3.  Grows to about 30-inches high.  Blooms in May or June depending on the weather.   It's described as vigorous, lush and strong.  It was hybridized by Klehm in 1992.  I bought this beauty at Hornbaker Gardens in Princeton IL six years ago.  

Pick a permanent spot since peonies don't like to be moved.  They won't die but they'll pout for a few years while they re-establish. They like full sun and don't like to sit in standing water.  Once they're established, they will need nothing other than your admiration.  Once planted, a peony will live longer than you, or me, or our next six generations.  A peony is in for the long haul.

One more picture should do it - maybe:


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Loving a Hottie!

I've always thought I ONLY liked a serene garden setting:  Soft colors.  Tranquil scenes.  Balanced.  Serenity.  Cool.  

Little by little bright color has crept into my gardens and it started with chartreuse.  This year I let my inner hottie shine and went all out for bright and crazy annuals.  Maybe I just needed the fun.  Here are some of the new annuals and a few of the perennials I've added over the years.

Petunia "Crazytunia Mandeville" paired
with a white "Prism Sunshine"

Can't wait for these two hoties to spread:  Petunia "Glow Forest Fire"
and "Cascadias Indian Summer"

Daylily "Corryton Pink"

Daylily "Chicago Star"

Daylily "Dorothy Lambert"

Daylily "Orange Vols"

Daylily "Fly Catcher"

Peony "Red Magic"

Posting to this is always an effort in constraint - I would post thousands if it wouldn't be overly hottie!  And, we don't want an overly hottie in the morning.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Gazing at Stars

If you want one of the most easy, fragrant and beautiful garden flowers up to Zone 4a, get a bunch of Stargazer lily bulbs.

Stargazer lilies are an Oriental lily officially called "Lilium "Stargazer" and was hybridized by Leslie Woodriff in 1978.  

The pink, red and white six inch blooms are freckled and highly fragrant on three foot scapes (stems.)  The intensity of the pink will be different by location, year, weather, age of the bulb and who supplies the bulbs.  They are sometimes outlined in white.  By "highly fragrant", they mean HIGHLY fragrant.  It's a strong intense and very sweet fragrance.  It will perfume your yard for a good twelve feet from the flowers.  

The flowers are up-facing and the advantage is they show their coloring.  Some orientals and trumpets face downward and it's difficult to enjoy their beauty.  

They're toxic to cats but I've never had my cats get interested even when they're in a bouquet let alone on those high stems.  All cats are different so you've been warned. 

Stargazer is a long lasting cut flower and often used by professional florists.  Cut a flower before it totally opens.  

The bulbs are not terribly expensive and since Orientals don't last forever, you may want to plant a batch every few years to keep them going.  Plus, the more the better!  I've had batches last over twenty years.

They bloom in late summer.  Plant where other perennials will hold up their stems or stake/tie them.  The flowers are heavy especially if there are several on a stem.  In an exposed (windy) location with no support, they will flop over and not only ruin the Stargazers but anything they crush under them.

The more expensive bulbs will be stronger and last longer than cheaper big box store lilies.  Having said that, you'll have lilies no matter how much you choose to spend.  

I suggest planting several in an area rather than one or in a straight line.  Oriental lilies look best if they're in a more casual setting.  Plant near your porch/deck and they will perfume the air into the night.  Tuck one into your hair and it will look beautiful and you won't need to wear any perfume.  Don't wear in your hair if bees are out - they'll love you way too much.

Plant in full sun.  Seldom needs extra watering in the Midwest.  Follow package directions for depth.  I'm sure they would do best in perfect soil but mine do fine in mostly clay although they don't stand in water (which will rot the bulbs.)

I recommend Stargazer lilies and once you've added them to your garden you will, too.       

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Rich Get Richer

Anderson Japanese Garden, Rockford IL

“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is still the mantra of the dissatisfied.  Spreading the financial wealth of the few to the masses of the less fortunate is a political battle cry.  Unfortunately, this battle cry sells well because it tells the dissatisfied they deserve to have everything those rich people have and they would if only the rich would share.  

If anyone talks against this plan, they’re harshly judged.  Judged to not care about those who struggle to pay their bills or who have had health or job downturns.  You’re an “all around cold heartless uncaring greedy commie pig” if you suggest otherwise.  So let me talk a little about the flip side (try to contain the judging for a minute) and I’ll talk about it while slightly referring to gardening.

Flower walk
Through extreme wealth, present and past, we have some of our most beautiful gardens in the world.  I’m not so bitter at my current circumstances that I can’t enjoy a stroll through Biltmore Castle in Ashville NC, White Garden in Lewisboro NY, Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford IL and so many other estates built and paid for by “the rich”.

Did the owners of these fabulously over-the-top gardens share their wealth and donate to the less fortunate in their lifetimes?  I don’t know.  Do they share their gardens with the public; gardens we could never afford in our own yards?  Most definitely.

There have been instances where the dissatisfied have felt the need to take or destroy everything made by the wealthy class.  All we have to do is read history books (and today’s news) to realize what happens when mandatory redistribution of wealth is allowed to run rampant.   Homes, businesses, museums and gardens destroyed because individual wealth built them.  They may use any number of excuses (religion, social class, inheritance, politics and etc.) for this destruction but it always boils down to "you have something I don’t and I’m going to either take it for myself or destroy it".  Redistribution of wealth at it’s most ugly.
Garden of annuals
Who judges if a wealthy person can keep his or her own money and who will be punished for financial success?  Do we redistribute Robert Redford’s wealth of some $170 million or let him keep it because he does something we like?   Do we take Aaron Spellings’ $600 million estate because his family owned the largest private estate in the US?  Who will be the judge and jury or do we let democracy work instead of politicians.  Whew I’m on a bandwagon and it’s playing the same song the whole parade.  

Although protecting private and public gardens is certainly not the most important issue of the day, it is an example of the big picture.  Do I really believe if I can have the wealth of one of those zillionaires I would make all the right decisions and the world would be a better place?  I would like to tell myself I would but without working for that money, without a lifetime of handing large sums of money, without understanding I would now be hated for what I had, who can say?

I believe in helping those less fortunate and I also put my money and energy where my mouth is on that issue.  I worked hard, I sacrificed and I like to think I used common sense.  Through all this I’m not one of the rich getting richer but I don’t begrudge those that are rich.  I don’t compare my circumstances to someone else and want to punish them for their good fortune.  I live my own life and try to make life better for those around me.
Biltmore Estate

There are citizens who need help from others and we need to keep those programs in place and keep them financed.  If your life is in the category of “the poor get poorer”, you still have the option of how you benefit this world.  Destroying the rich is not how you benefit this world.     

If you’re spitting nails over my comments on redistribution of wealth, you and I can agree to disagree.  I’m still going to be happy I can experience the wonder of fabulous gardens and landscaping without spending more than an admission fee.  Had the owners of these gardens had their wealth (well-gained or ill-gained) redistributed, we would have a less wonderful country.  Will taking these gardens away or destroying them solve the ills of this world?  I don’t believe so.  I believe in personal hard work, helping those less fortunate and a spirit of forgiveness and tolerance will make a better world.  I believe I have the right to do that or not without political or social influence.  Peace and love babe!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Garden and Barn Quilts

Let’s get a little quilt history before taking off on quilts for outdoors.

Today blanket quilts are typically made from new material by folks who have art, precision and sewing skills.  Old quilts were often made from material no longer usable for clothes.  It’s why we see them made from mixed materials, the colors and patterns aren’t always coordinated and most are faded from repeated washings.  The exception was the quilt specifically made as a gift, especially weddings.  It was a gift of love.

Maybe you didn’t realize there was a subculture of quilting all around us: It’s barn quilts and garden quilts.

I’ve been around barn quilts for years because I’m from Indiana where they’ve incorporated them into tourism.  Loosely connected to the large Indiana Amish population, the beauty and skill of traditional bedding quilts has been transferred to a quilt square on the side of barns and now into flower gardens.

The Illinois Tourism Board is hoping to capitalize on already established barn quilts.  The Princeton area is embracing it and the ITB is releasing a list of all Illinois barn quilts (submitted by county tourism boards) in hopes of generating more exposure.

OK, let’s get it out there:  I love bed quilts!  I love barn quilts!  I love garden quilts!

Barn quilts:  Many barn quilts use the pattern from one square of an old quilt.  That one square pattern is then painted on a square of plywood, coated in sealer and hung on the side of a barn.  Others may use a new pattern or a picture that pertains to their family or business.  Whether traditional or newly innovated, they are bright and fun.

I’m hoping the barn quilt squares idea takes off in Henry County.  Barn squares are typically 8 x 8 foot.  You may wish to have a smaller variety on your shed, garage, or posts. 

Garden quilts:  I was first exposed to garden quilts through the Elkhart County, Indiana, quilt garden tours.  It’s an amazing tourism effort embracing local quilting, barn quilts, heritage and garden beauty.  Check out or Quilt Gardens – along the Heritage Trail. 

A quilt garden is developed using a quilt square pattern and then planting that pattern in flowers.  Like all quilting, it is meticulous, complex, takes loads of planning and is wildly beautiful.

Preparing the land:  Clear a square area of all vegetation.  Till the plot.  Make sure the edges are sharp and defined.  Keep in mind a large square will take a lot of flowers because they must be planed close to get the coverage. Since it will be filled with annuals, it will need to be watered and weeded regularly. 

Decide on a pattern: Simple is best for a first try.  Transfer that pattern to your soil using non-oil based spray paint to outline.

Flowers:  Use flowers that don’t vine and are all the same height when mature.  All must be really hardy and bloom all summer.


If you have a barn quilt you’d like to have listed on the Illinois tourism page, contact your county’s tourism council.  In Indiana, they have what they call a “barn quilt trail”.  Quilts may be seen from the road and you won’t be hosting carloads of visitors all over your property.  Check out our local barn quilts; there are several around Bishop Hill.  Or, create one of your own! 

Garden quilt tours are viewed from the road or sidewalk.  Because of the size, labor needed and expense of large garden quilts many are on public or corporate land.  It doesn’t mean you can’t try a small one on your property for your own enjoyment.

Whether bed quilts, barn quilts or garden quilts, enjoy!

NOTE:  The 2015 Bishop Hill Quilt Show will be from May 15 to 17 at the old Colony School and displays at other shops around town. 

Credits:  All pictures are from the Elkhart and other Indiana barn and garden quilt sites.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Never Felt More Like Singing the Blues

Annual:  Bachelor Button

Most people don’t think of blue as an adaptable color in the garden.  I do! 

Blue can be a neutral because it goes with all other colors – yes ALL!  It can be the blank canvas of your garden’s picture.

Think big picture:  Blue skies are a major portion of a garden.  The blue of water also blends perfectly.

Art enthusiasts know how the primary colors all look good together.  Plus, shades of primary colors can look good together.  Add a little white to true blue and we have soft blue.  Add a little black to make navy blue. 

Perennial "Forget-Me-Not"
Mix red and blue and there’s purple; add white to purple and we make lavender.   Yellow and blue make green.   Green and blue can make turquoise.  It’s depends on the amount of each you use in the mix as to the shade or depth of color.  Shades of colors determine if a color cools or heats up the picture. 

Some traditionalist won’t go outside the traditional color wheel rules while other free spirits mix with abandon and love the look.  Try mixing blue annuals first which allows experimentation without a big permanent investment.
Ornamental Perennial grass
 "Festuca Elijah Blue" 
Blues all look good together by mixing shades and other colors.  It’s all in the theme you want to paint in your garden.

Perennial Globe Thistle
If you LOVE, love, and love hot bright colors, light blue and lavender will provide a soft halo for the bright colors to shine.  Orange looks stunning with a pale blue shaded background.  Red, white and blue will look fresh and patriotic.  One of my current favorites is royal blue with chartreuse.   

Turquoise is often used for beach and nautical themes. The darker teal is the fashion industry’s number one color for 2015.  Adding clear bright blue or dark navy can let the turquoise stand out while adding depth.  Or, just a little turquoise can make a small pop in a sea of blue and green.

Every local nursery has an abundance of blue plants.  A few blue plants easily found (although the list would be huge if I included all.):

Blue Spruce
Trees and bushes:  Blue spruce trees become large and can anchor a blue theme in an otherwise green garden. Blue fruit from a blueberry bush is a seasonal blue accent.

Blue perennials:  There are no true blue daylilies.   Some hostas have blue-green leaves.  Globe Thistle has blue flowers and leaves.  Leadwort has blue flowers.  Several salvias and sages are blue.  Forget-Me-Nots, varieties of ornamental grasses, vinca, Monkshood, Corydalis, blue bellflower, succulents and many more.  Easily found are blue roses.     

Bearded Iris "Full Tide"
Bulbs and rhizomes: Virginia bluebells and many varieties of blue iris.  Selections of blue spring flowering bulbs such as Hyacinths and scilla.   

Blue annuals:  Morning glories, violas and pansies are notables.  The complete list of blue flowered annuals is extensive to list.

Blue glazed pot right after potting
Blue may be brought into the garden with pots, birdbaths, fabric, gazing globes and anything paintable. 

 If you’re afraid of blue in your gardens, try a little bit at first.  Blue can calm or excite and expand your summer days.  The only “blues” nature is singing is a happy song.

And for decorative art or crazy garden lady, here's a few blue things from my back yard.

Blue wine bottle flower

Some pottery patterned blue

Clear blue gazing balls and
some others from thrift stores.

Even in the winter, this blue wine
bottle tree adds zing.


Do it NOW

Crab apple

Crab apple

Ornamental Plum

Red Bud

If you live in this part of the Midwest, get in your car in the next couple of days and take a drive.  Why?  Because this is the year that all the spring flowering trees are perfect.  No late frosts, no huge ice and wind storms and just the right amount of spring.

BUT we are expecting several days of rain, possible thunderstorms, and the trees will surely loose most of their petals.  This is a car trip you can't put off until the weekend.

No need to drive hundreds of miles, simply take a trip down any street or county road (even the interstates are beautiful in places.)

If you ever wondered why anyone would plant a crab apple tree, this year is your answer.  They are stunning.  From light pink through all shades until a brilliant mulberry pink.

Stack the kids or neighbors or granny or friends in the car and share this summer's beauty AND leave the electronics at home.  Tulips are at their height of bloom, lilacs are just starting to bloom and then those lovely apple, cherry, plum and other spring blooming ornamentals.

Birds are excited and are more interested in building nests and mating than hiding.  Take along a camera, binoculars, bird books, crayons/paper for the kids to copy the beauty and maybe even a P&J sandwich and have supper on the road.  

Go! Tonight!  Seriously!  Tonight!