Thursday, October 1, 2015


Starting a new roof with Walt VerVynck Construction,
Kewanee IL
We’ve had this 1896 built home since 1996.  We brought it back from the brink of “tear down” but that involved some financial choices.  It wasn’t a “Let’s buy the best of everything to have a perfect house” kind of effort.  It was a pick and choose on quality and cost to fit our budget.  And at that time, some things we wanted to do were cost prohibitive in this area. 

We’ve done much of the work ourselves and had contractors do the big stuff.  We’ve been blessed by many good contractors, local business owners who are talented and take pride in their work. 

Now it’s time to do some final upgrades to either last us through our lives or to make the house more marketable should we have to move.  (Or as I like to say:  "Do they wheel me out the front door to the nursing home or find me toes up in a bed of daylilies with a fist full of weeds.) 
Dana Well Drilling, Kewanee IL
Today we have started the process of installing a steel roof.  Almost twenty years ago, the options for a steel roof were not easily available at our house.  Today we have J Mac Metals right here in Galva: American made – Galva made – Henry County installed:  perfect!

I’ve talked about having contractors work in yards where gardeners care about plants.   See “Contractors in the Yard” published April 27, 2009 that still has relevance today.  Some things I’ve learned since that article:
New coating of old fashioned plaster
by Gary Hirsch, Cambridge IL

Remove anything that is easily breakable no matter how far away it may be from the work site.  There’s always a lot of material and movement in any outdoor project.

Unless it’s emergency repairs, schedule work to be performed in the fall.  This is the time when most valuable perennials are going into dormancy.  An example:  Stepping on a daylily in the fall is not a killer.  Stepping on a daylily in the spring or summer will definitely mean no flowers that year and may kill the plant. 

If you have a valuable plant in the vicinity of the project, talk to your contractor about possible solutions.  Can it be moved?  Should you box it in with wood?
Cement walks base by
Arnie Cordrey Construction

Kewanee IL

Accidents happen.  I’ve done enough home projects to know even when the person working cares something can go wrong.  A good contractor knows this and builds that into his cost plan, his insurance and his customer service.  A good customer works with the contractor to help make any damages simply get fixed and not a major hissy fit throwing incident.

Successful contractors are a breed all their own.   They have been smart and worked hard over many years to be successful.  They have an array of talents because they must know every aspect of the business.  It isn’t enough to know how to lay a brick if you aren’t good with money, managing employees, customer friendly or a million other business decisions.  Respect this. 

Most mature contractors have job related health issues.   You don’t do really excellent hard manual labor without it eventually wearing your body out.  It’s why you see old guys on the ground directing and young bucks hefting the supplies.
First paint - Alan Anderson Painting, Altona IL

How the house first looked once we cut down the weeds.

Contractors can be Divas.  Face it; most manual labor jobs have a large element of creative and artistic flare.  The job is their canvas.  They compose the project as if they are painting a picture.   They take pride in how well it will look once they’ve finished.  It’s an extension of who they are.  Divas love praise and are sensitive to criticism.  Although no contractor will warm up to being called a Diva, take my word for it:  Approach all your comments about the work with this in mind.

If possible, trim up growing things that will constantly frustrate your contractor.  How many times does that worker need to be hit in the face with that branch before he begins to dislike you and your yard? 

Keep your teenage girls away from the workers.  I know a tough task but keep the blinds closed in the bedroom/bath and no sunbathing.  A young stud hanging from a ladder does not need to be distracted. 

Find a perfect place for your contractors to park their trucks, stack their material and access the property. 
Arnie Cordrey installing a new basement wall.

Point out where they cannot drive heavy equipment.  This would include drainpipes, septic systems, cement edges and walks. 

Repeat back to the owner your understanding of all the understandings.  I have learned this the hard way that my understanding of his words may not be the meaning he was wishing to convey.

Yes, they will most probably have a radio and it will be loud and it will have a station you hate.  Close your window and ignore.  They are young and you are not – it makes their day go faster so leave them alone on this one.

There are some plants that may have to be moved.   If it isn’t after the middle of October, plant in an out of the way place, mulch, keep watered until the first freeze and move them back in the spring.  Contracting ahead of fall will allow you time to figure this out instead of last minute inappropriate growing time moves.

If you have children, keep them out of the way to prevent injury to them and annoyance to the workers.  That kid may be a cutie pie but cutie pie will wear thin if they are always in the way or get in the supplies.  And don’t ask the contractor to hire your unemployed child or grandchild – just don’t. 

As I’ve stated before, the contractor/owner’s reputation is their most important advertisement.  If you walk away with a job done right, your yard intact and would use them again, you have been blessed.  Thank them, compliment them and reward them by paying in full and on time.   Then tell anyone who will listen your good experience.  It’s part of the deal.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Viola self seeded in cracks.
Seems as if every year the garden throws a surprise volunteer plant.  They're the plants that have self seeded from last year's pots or were dropped by a bird or was washed away by rain.   Or who knows (which is often the case.)

Having volunteer annuals is a lesson in "Don't be too eager to pull every unidentified plant."

Morning Glories.
I've also noticed volunteer annuals come up in the most unlikely places:  cracks in the walk, out of gravel, a totally shaded place and etc.

When (and IF) I deadhead my pots, I now throw the seed heads into my beds in hopes they will be one of my surprises.  
This little petunia went on to be lovely all summer.
For a couple of years, I had petunias coming up near where my pots sat.   

Another couple of years, I had violas in the cracks of the brick walk.  Although technically they are short lived perennials, they are often sold as annuals for pots.  
Nicotiana coming up from that little crack
between the porch and cement.  
This year I noticed some very large leafed plants peaking out from under my front porch in a space next to cement.  It ended up being two huge nicotiana plants; one old fashioned creamy green and the other a sweet rose.  Another plant is far away from where any pots might have shed and it's one of the "who knows" plantings.

Dill weed coming up in the brick sidewalk.
I've also had dill weed self seed and this is a big plus if you enjoy butterflies.  Since I seldom use dill for canning or cooking anymore, I plant to attract the

Annual seeds are not typically hardy enough to overwinter here in our zone 5 hardiness area.  I suppose some find that one little place where leaves or plant debris protects.  

Some other plant seeds that have made it through the winter in my yard are:  Cleome, Cosmos, Four O'Clocks,  Morning Glories, fall flowering mums, annual poppies.  Rose Moss, and Sunflowers.

The only way to have self seeded annuals is to let the seeds fall to the ground which means you can't dead head until those seeds are perfectly ready to drop.  Deadheading before the seeds mature will stop that process.  In other words, you have to reduce your tidiness level to have these surprises.  

Nature:  There are some of the surprises thrown at us that are perfectly wonderful.  

If you haven't seen the pictures and read the story of area farmers and businesses helping an ailing neighbor harvest his corn this past week, make time for a truly wonderful example of small Midwest town and a good people true story.  450 acres picked, trucked and stored in ten hours.  God Bless these good neighbors!  And God's mercies on the this family.

On Facebook:  Jason Bates.  In the Galva News this week.   

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Daylily "Nicholas"
We've been in Georgia this past week celebrating the life of our seventeen year old grandson, Nicholas.  

Nick was diagnosed with a rare childhood bone cancer when he was fourteen.  Today, it's not a curable disease but can be held inactive.  Nick fought with grace and bravery.  On September 8, he lost that battle but he believed (as we do) he would now be resting in the arms of his Savior, cancer and pain free.
Nick and his mother last year.
Nick was described as an "old soul" as children become when they must suffer too much.  He had a peace and maturity that not only carried him through so much but carried those who loved him, too.

I won't lie, it's been a tough time for everyone who cared about him.  As grandparents, we would like to thank everyone who offered inspiration, kindness, and care in an effort to hold our family up.  We have been blessed by Nick and by those of you who have shown us support.

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness month.  If you feel led, get involved in pushing for research and new treatments (the last new childhood cancer drug was introduced in 1980.)  Develop a better understanding to help combat a disease that takes seven children out of the arms of their family every day.    

I May Miss the Harvest

 “I may miss the harvest but I won't miss the feast - And it looks like you're gonna have to see me again - And it looks like you're gonna have to see me again - And it looks like you're gonna have to see me again - Illinois, Illinois, Illinois, Illinois.” 

The song written by Illinois’ own Dan Fogelberg sparks memories of cool autumn nights, bonfires and harvests. 

Is it me or did this autumn sneak up on us right when we thought we were still having a wild wonderful summer?

At first I saw an occasional red maple leaf or falling walnut and chalked it up to a seasonal fluke.  The soybean field by the house was getting a little gold around the edges but that must be from the sun hitting it more than the rest.  And then WHAM:  Fall rolled over the fields, trees and flowers like a wildfire out of control.

Summer flowers struggling to hang in there look more like the fluke than the mums for sale at every store in the big towns.  It’s no wonder we associate orange and gold with fall; it’s the colors of nature.

One of my favorite fall plants is the perennial aster.  I have a couple of hybrid asters in shocking pink and glowing purple.  My gardens are full of naturalized dark lavender asters.  The woods and roadsides have the beautiful wildflower aster typically called Smooth Aster or “Aster laevis”.

There are other aster varieties in wildflower patches all across Illinois.  Check out the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers” book for help in identifying these beauties.  And don’t feel bad if you can’t distinguish between varieties, the book says, “The many small-flowered asters found in our range are often difficult to distinguish from one another…” We’re in good company.

I sometimes struggle knowing the benefits or purpose of some plants and insects but the aster flaunts its purpose upon first bloom.  It’s a pollinator magnet and butterflies will cover the blooms until they seek winter habitat.

I realize it’s difficult for the gardener who must have order and symmetry to incorporate asters in their gardens.  Asters are wild and crazy looking until September.  They’re tall and tend to spread out as much as you allow.  Some gardeners may even mistake them for weeds and pull before giving them a chance to bloom.

First you need to know what the entire plant looks like or you’ll surely tag it as a weed.  The leaves are long, thin, soft and dull emerald green.  Hybrid asters will be about 24 inches tall.  Naturalized aster wildflowers may be over 40 inches.  I find it best to prune them when they reach about twelve inches back down to six.  Don’t prune too late in the season or they won’t produce flowers.

Typically the stems are sturdy and woody.  The flowers look like tiny daisies.  Most have a yellow central disk and soft dainty petals (often called rays) of white, soft lavender or pink and darker or brighter shades of the same.

Hybrid asters hold up well in a vase but the wildflower petals may curl.  They are numerous enough it’s always worth a try to cut some for a beautiful fall bouquet.

All but the hybrids self seed.  Not in an ugly kill all the neighboring plants kind of way and they can be thinned out where you don’t want them.  I would advise planting where they can spread out and enjoy the sun and air and not shade shorter plants.

Plant asters in full sun to light shade.  In deeper shade they reach for more light and flop in that direction.  They will tolerate most any kind of soil.  The wildflower varieties will state exactly where they are best suited.  Some even include marshlands.  Besides what nature provides, they don’t need any extra water once established.

Now excuse me while I go all autumn on you with a little Fogelberg. “I may miss the harvest but I won’t miss the feast” – the feast of the beauty of an Illinois fall.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Fallacies You Should Not Believe

Perennial ground cover "Potentilla" as it takes
over a garden bed.

I can manage an invasive plant so it won’t take over my gardens.  

Over-the-counter medicines don’t have any side effects. 

Garden/field chemicals aren’t strong enough to hurt humans.

There’s no learning curve.

I’m going to plant a wild flower garden to eliminate work.

I’m laughing with you not at you.

Life is just a bowl of cherries.

The government will take care of me.

Chemical insect killers only target the bugs I don’t want.

Cute baby animals grow up to be cute adult animals.
I needed thick leather gloves to pull these "Horse Nettles" 

I’ll pull that weed tomorrow.

The rain doesn’t fall on the same dog’s bum every time.

Gardening is not an addiction.

If I had your money, I’d be happy, too.

I’ll water my pots tomorrow.

New cars are sporty, beautiful and will be classics.

They have all the bugs worked out.

We don’t need no Ed U kay Shun.

This is a sure-fire way to make your yard bug free.
My folks' headstone

I’ll see you as-soon-as I get some time.

This plant is guaranteed to produce more than any other plant EVER.

If it’s on the Internet, it’s true.

This plant is guaranteed to have fifty different colors all at once.

Electronics makes our life simpler.

You can eat that insect.

We will become a paperless society.
"Praying Mantis" hanging around being a good bug.
The only good bug is a dead bug.

You will not be sucker punched if you learn to tolerate evil.

We only had one mouse in the house this fall.


I’ve built up a tolerance to poison ivy.

I can’t afford to insulate my house.

This year’s weather is unique.

I have it all done.
Washing up after preserving tomatoes.

Preserving vegetables is quick and easy.

I can do it myself.

If I whisper, the kids won’t know what I’m saying.

All you have to do is teach your children to love broccoli. 

Mom will understand if I don’t visit.

It’s my body and I have the right to do whatever I want.

This hose is guaranteed not to kink.

Somebody else will do it.

Holidays are too commercial so we shouldn’t buy anything for anyone.

It’s all about the bass. 

You can’t trust anyone in authority.

It’s stress free.

My kids/grandkids would never do THAT.

Cheap garden pruners are as good as more expensive pruners.

I can’t do anything about it.

I’m only going to pull one weed.

I didn’t have time to get my spouse something for our anniversary.

Hard work never hurt anybody.

We’ll fix the roof next year.

Women don’t really like to get flowers.

If you build it, they will come.
2009 Spring floods
I’m singin’ in the rain.

They’re too old to learn.

One of these days I’m going to take cookies to my neighbors.

My business failed because of everything and everyone but me.

If I had that barn, I wouldn’t let it fall down.

I can decorate my entire house and yard from looking at Pinterest.

It’s as easy as pie.

Teachers, police, firefighters and soldiers are over paid.

Dogs and cats are more work than they’re worth.

Big boys don’t cry.

Our government only funds worthy programs.

The new hybrid plants are superior to old varieties.

I don’t gossip, I’m just concerned.

We don’t make enough to have a retirement plan.
Neighbor combining beans.
Farmers should stay off the roads.

Better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.

I’ll put my savings into planting walnut trees.

No one will see me in my garden clothes if I run to the store for one thing.

I’d never do that.

It’s as cheap to do organic, as it is to do it traditional.

I only hit my wife/girlfriend when she needs it.

A skunk won’t spray you if you’re quiet.

I never did that when I was a kid.

If I post a video of me doing something stupid, then it makes me cool.

Bigger is better.

That plant just needs a little water to recover.

My hands aren’t dirty.

I can nurse that plant back to healthy.

They’ll get over it.

 There’s always tomorrow.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How Old is Old

You know you’re getting old when you see this romantic beach scene with a table, chairs, lace cabana, hanging lights, tablecloth, napkins, wine glasses, twelve course meal and all you think is “It would take three mules and a land rover to haul that back and forth.”

I’ve never seen a picture of a dog or cat dressed in a costume that it didn’t look like it wanted to bite the hand that feeds it.

Scott Caravello rocks!  Cares enough to manage his customers’ entire prescription needs when they either don’t know how or are too sick AND cares enough to volunteer and support others.  

I hope I never grow too old to love clouds.

I’m thankful my internal brain to mouth filter works and for the times it doesn’t I apologize.

How old do you have to be before you know sleeping outdoors in a hammock isn’t romantic, its painful and buggy?

Do you ever talk to a perfect flower and ask it to never go away – ever? 

Have you stopped to realize just how many local people volunteer for worthy causes?  We are a society of caring people – at least in our neck of the woods.  Take the test:  Name fifty local people who have volunteered in the past 12 months.  I’m betting you could up it to a hundred.  Telling them “thanks” never hurts.

Here’s a shout out to all those preservationist who keep our beautiful prairie plants from disappearing.  Talking about you, Kathy Huffman!

I’m excited about the new Illinois state vegetable:  Sweet corn.  How obvious.  How perfect.  How corn fed.  How like every little farmer kid roadside stand.  How the best summer vegetable EVER.

You can tell the Midwest is into eating because every festival is centered on the local food of choice:  Hog, rhubarb, bacon, beef, corn boil and more.

The reason old people get discouraged is they see things coming around again – those things they did when young and learned the hard way.

A repeat:  Never enlarge your gardens and flowerbeds when you’re young larger than you can maintain when old.

Taking a Sunday sightseeing drive still appeals to those that love a relaxing interlude at someone else’s backbreaking work.

Talcum powder was used by the Victorians prior to deodorants and air conditioning.  It’s still a wonderful product on days when the humidity and temperature is in the 90s.

It’s about Northerners thinking Southerners are crazy for living in all that heat and humidity and Southerners thinking Northerners are crazy for living in all that snow and cold.  Both are a little bit right.

If you have a good township road commissioner, you are fortunate.  We are fortunate to have Ron Werkheiser.

Trees are not planted for us; they are planted for our grandchildren’s generation.

Just because an old person’s garden is a little ragged doesn’t mean they don’t know gardening.  They have common sense knowledge you can’t have without living it; it’s the body that’s letting us down.

Jason Bates is the kind of example of a good man every child should hear about.  He’s made caring for people, who can do nothing for him, a passion and our area is better for having him.

We may have been in the older crowd at the Back Road Music Festival but we sure did have fun.  Thanks to  Nick Grafelman and Tyler Glazer and their many hard working volunteers.

A parent that instills fear instead of knowledge of nature is robbing their children of a lifetime of wonder and joy.

DNA testing is all the rage for both medical and fun reasons.  I’m sure every died-in-the-wool Midwesterner has DNA indicating a love of four seasons.  It’s the gene that speeds the heart at the first snowfall, first spring tulip, first autumn leaf to fall and first neighborhood wiener roast. 

That Midwestern gene is the same one that makes an old person put up a Christmas wreath every winter, plant tulip bulbs every fall, put annuals in a pot every summer and plant pansies every spring.

I’m good with the new state pie being pumpkin.  I composted my Halloween pumpkins last year and now have a very healthy vine adorning the fence.

If you are “into gardening” and are getting old, consider digging up divisions of some of your beautiful perennials, asking some young gardeners over and letting them pick what they want.  Legacy can mean giving a living plant from your heart to their garden; It’s a special kind of love. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Going to Phlox

There’s a small-unincorporated community in Indiana by the name of Phlox.  It’s so small it’s described as being at the intersection of two roads.  It was named after the plant “phlox”.  It’s this plant’s variety “Phlox paniculata”, that I’m going to talk about today.

Historically, phlox is Greek for flame and there are 67 species of perennial and annual phlox.  The seeds explode out of the capsule although it would take a patient person with a good camera to catch this event.

This phlox talk is about the good, the bad and the spectacular.

Phlox plants feature bunches of small flowers with a strong fragrance.  You either love or hate the smell as it resembles a fragrant woodsy musk.  

The individual flowers are small star-shaped growing in a pom at the end of the stem. 

Phlox varieties have red, pink, orange, blue, lavender, purple or white and many have different colored eyezones.  In addition to the variety I’m describing (fall/garden/border phlox) there are:  woodland and low mounding phlox species.

Fall phlox is a perennial and once established one of the easiest to grow.  They prefer full to partial sun, may be divided and some varieties are mildew resistant. 
I’ve never lost a plant due to cold.  

They are perfect for the back of a border or spaced throughout your gardens and yard.  Most are from 36 to 40 inches.  There are hybrid compact varieties but the spring creeping phlox is a different variety.  

This variety blooms continually from mid to late summer.  If you don’t care about self-seeding, remove the seed heads after blooming and it may rebloom before frost.  For this specific species:  Pretty much any loamy or clay soil will do as long as the roots don’t sit in water.    

One reason it does so well in our area is it’s a native wildflower.  There is still wild native phlox growing in ditches, prairie gardens and other uncultivated ground.  I have a white/pink flowering phlox along the old fencerow north of the house.

Native Americans called April’s full moon the “Full Pink Moon” because it was a sign wild ground phlox would be blooming – one of spring’s first flowers.     

I tend to dislike phlox most of the summer months because I have the old variety that mildews in hot humid weather. I pulled the worst, cut down the semi-worst so it could come up healthy and left the mostly decent.  Because I’ve had phlox for years, I didn’t need to worry about not having enough since it had self-seeded in most every area of the yard.

It’s preferable to plant it where it can get good air circulation, which may help with the mildew issue.  Cut it down after the first killing frost if you don’t want it to self-seed.  Leave up all winter if you want to feed birds.  If you have an especially bad mildew year, cut down and burn (never compost mildewed plants.)   

I find my phlox cross pollenates and I always have a wide variety of colors and blends. It’s easier to grow hybrid phlox from plants rather than seeds although the birds seem to know just how to accomplish with my old varieties. 

You may find hybrid phlox a little difficult to get started and I recommend buying potted plants locally instead of mail orders where they are likely bare root or small.  Or, get some seeds or a start from a friend.  Some of the newer brighter crazier hybrids are more difficult and may take longer to establish and multiply.   Worth it but wanted you to have reasonable expectations.

The foliage is food for the larvae of some Lepidoptera species (moths) including the Hummingbird Hawk-moth.

Now for the spectacular:  Butterflies will come to your fall garden in mass for phlox. Bees and other pollinators will love them, too.  Phlox works as good as any butterfly bush.  It’s especially attractive to the large swallowtails.  There’s a lot of good, some bad and it’s all worth it for the grand spectacular butterfly show.