Monday, May 30, 2011

Thank You Veterans


  St. Luke 12:48 - "...For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Iris Mania

A white Dutch Iris "unknown name".  This was originally from a big box store and has increased & been divided over many years.  The form is dainty and fragile looking but it's quite hardy.  It doesn't flop as easily as the large headed bearded iris.  The larger and heavier the flower, the more easily it flops when filled with rain or whipped in the wind.
 "Mme. Chereau" Germanica bearded iris.  This is a smaller iris in a huge clump simply covered in blooms.   Registered in 1844 by Lemon and bought from Select Seeds.  It's considered an "antique iris".   
Iridaceae "Red Zinger", registered in 1985 by P. Black.  This was from Schreiner's Iris Gardens.  It has received Honorable Mention in 1987 and Award of Merit in 1989.  It's a fragrant re-bloomer.  This has shorter stems and stays more flat.  It looks better where the sun can reflect the bronze highlights.

"Synergy" Germanica Iris was registered by Keppel in 2004.  This was purchased from Schreiners Iris Gardens.  Considered an intermediate bearded, it needs lots of water (unusual for iris) and has been located at the end of a drain down spout.  Tends to flop.  The coloring never fails to stop people in their tracks.

"Batik" Germanica was registered to Ensminger in 1986.  This is a huge flowered robust plant that doesn't increase in clump size rapidly.  It is fragrant and received Honorable Mention in 1988 and Award of Merit in 1992.  Withstands weather well and seldom flops. 

Germanica "Flavescens" has been around since 1813 and is considered an antique.  I found this beauty along a roadside and with permission dug a clump.  It has increased in size and been divided more times than I can count.  A smaller flower on tall stems.  It was registered by Eden Phillpott in 1906.  This is one you will see in old cemeteries and yards. 

"Jennifer Rebecca" Germanica was registered by Zurbrigg in 1985 and purchased from White Flower Farm.  It is a re-blooming (or remontant) tall bearded iris.  It received Honorable Mention in 1989.  It is sometimes light and other times a darker lavender. 
This Germanica Iris is an old bearded variety and I have no idea the name.  I was given this from a preacher in Galesburg in 1997.  This is one huge flower and is fragrant.  It has the true velvet fall.  As with all iris, this flower cuts well and if just open, it stays for several days.  Buds will open after being cut.  This one is perfect for photographing.  Really, you can almost see it stand a little taller as I walk by with my camera.
""Gracchus" Germanica was registered to Ware in 1884 and is an antique.  Purchased from Select Seeds, it's a smaller flower that tends to flop in wind and rain.  As you can see in the picture, it looks pretty with an undercover (which also helps hold it up).  Most of the old antique flowers are smaller, usually very hardy and increase clump size rapidly. 

Large yellow re-bloomer "unknown name" given to me by my daughter, Susan.  The flowers are huge, it blooms heavily and increases clump size.  It is fragrant.  It might be "Harvest of Memories" but not sure.  

"Wabash" Germanica was registered by M. Williamson in 1936 and is considered an antique.  It was purchased from Select Seeds and White Flower Farm.  Purchasing these two of the same kind was the reason I started cataloging my plants.  This will flop if in wind or hard rain but is well worth having.  Even though it's not a huge flower,it shows up anywhere it's situated and increases in clump size.

"Quaker Lady" is a Germanica Iris registered to Farr in 1909 and considered an antique.  This was from Select Seeds.  This has increased in clump size.  It's an unusual smaller flower because it is rather translucent and looks best standing against a dark background or alone.  It is sometimes light lavender (as shown here) and other times a smokey purple.  The silk surface is bronzed.

Germanica "Best Bet" was registered by Schreiner in 1988 and purchased from Hornbaker Gardens, Princeton IL.  It received Honorable mention in 1990 and Award of Merit in 1993.  Many of the newer varieties have sturdier stems which helps them resist flopping.

 Little "Pink Horizon" from the Garden Station in Monticello, Indiana.  This is best located at the front of a border where it will show.  The pale pink petals with orange ruff is unusual. 
"Stairway to Heaven" is a very tall large flowered Germanica in the Amoena style.  It is registered to Lauer in 1993.  It has received Honorable Mention in 1995, Dyke's Memorial Medal in 2000 and Award of Merit in 1997.   This is from White Flower Farm. 

Iris are a beautiful spring accent perennial.  They are not without their little particularities and you may loose a few now and again.  They seldom survive standing in wet soil or buried too deep.  Or sometimes they just disappear over winter.  I always say I'm never going to buy another (because I've lost several) and then in the spring I'm always glad to have so many beautiful examples. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mobile Gardening

My cousin Bill likes to RV travel most of the year.  Given little excuse, he’ll pack up and head out to visit people and places on a moment’s notice.  In addition, he’s a gardener.  The two (traveling and gardening) don’t seem to work well together.  Bill’s come up with a great solution and I thought I’d share it with other “mobile” gardeners.

When we talk about container gardening, most of us think about flowers or perhaps a few herbs.  Bill has over thirty containers chocked full of garden vegetables.  Most everything (except corn and potatoes) he previously grew in-ground. 

Should “wanderlust” set in, a call to gardening neighbors does the trick.  They come over, each will grab a few pots of vegetables and the produce won’t go to waste. 

Not only does this garden trick work for travelers, it works well for those who might find an in-ground garden too physically challenging, time or space consuming. 

I’ve seen gardens growing in repurposed wheel barrows, baby strollers, and wheeled washtubs.

If coordinated beauty isn’t a necessity:  old crock pot inserts, granite ware canners, plastic milk jugs with the tops off, copper boilers, buckets, garbage cans or most anything deep enough to hold the root system.  Adding drainage holes is healthier for the plants.   
  • Add a layer of newspaper in the bottom of the container to prevent the soil from coming out the drainage holes. 
  • Set the pot on a few small rocks, wine corks, or something to allow water to drain easily. 
  • I only use the saucers if the weather is very dry or deck staining is an issue.
  • Add potting soil and your seeds or plant sets. 
  • If you plant sets or once the seeds have a few inches of height, add a layer of mulch.  This will keep the soil from drying out as fast and the soil from splashing out when watered.
  • Use plant braces if it will be a large plant, it vines, or has heavy produce.
  • Containers dry out quickly in summer heat and wind.  Once the root system has dried, it’s very hard to get buds and produce again.
  • Fertilize lightly about every two weeks once the plants start growing.  Make sure the fertilizer reaches the soil and doesn’t just soak into the mulch.
  • Most vegetables like full sun.
Life improves if you don’t have to choose between two great hobbies.
This innovative solution from Bill could be the answer to: 
“Have RV ~ Will garden!"

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Doin' the Walk

Most garden walks are fund raisers for a charitable organization - I'll talk about those today.  A few are for showcasing public gardens or for product endorsements.

If you're thinking about using the garden walk for a fund raiser, here are a few question you may want to consider:

  1. Will there be at least 4 to 8 gardens the public is willing to pay to see?
  2. Are area people willing to welcome the public into their gardens?
  3. Do the gardens have different features/themes from each other?
  4. Are the gardens located close enough that they may all be viewed in one 4 - 6 hour period?
  1. Will your organization have enough volunteers to organize the event and staff the gardens?
  2. Will the profits (after expenses) be used for a specific philanthropic purpose?
  3. Does your organization have up-front capital dollars to spend to sponsor the event?
  4. Can you have the commitment of the gardeners one year prior to the event?
  5. Will you give the gardeners your commitment so they won't work/buy for nothing?
--------------------------organization tips:
  1. Invite all possible garden owners to get together the spring prior to the year you plan the walk.  This will allow them time to consider, commit or decline.  You will know if the plan can work.  They will know they have a whole complete growing season to get ready for the next summer's walk.
  2. Decide what month to hold the walk.  Discuss what season most of the gardens will be the most lush.  Consider the weather during that month (rain, humidity, heat/cold, insects.)
  3. Decide the hours of the walk (when does dark set in, best weather).  It should be long enough for visitors to see all gardens but not so long your hosts and volunteers become worn out.
  4. Decide how much to charge.  This depends on the quality of the gardens, your locale, and your income goal - be realistic.
  5. Have a group of volunteers willing to do everything necessary to get the walk organized and an expanded group to help with the prep and the day of the walk.
  6. Consider if you will sell water, lunch/snacks, other merchandise. 
  7. Will any gardens have music or entertainment?
  8. Do you want to include an art show, plant sale, demonstrations?
  9. Will there be a theme?
  10. Will you include gardens that accompany public areas (churches, municipal parks, business).
------------------------you will need:
  1. Advertisement (paid ad, story articles, posters, brochures, pictures) 
  2. Tickets & programs printed (including a map)
  3. Signs or other walk designation at each house (we used hand painted flags which the owners got to keep).
  4. For the ticket taker:  A table & chair at each garden, money box & change, shade/umbrella for the table if rainy or very hot.
  5. Depending on the size of the garden, additionally, you will need at least 2-4 volunteers to wander the garden to make sure there are no problems.
  6. Develop a plan to thank the garden hosts and volunteers (a present, host a party, etc.)
  1. Not allowing strollers.
  2. If the gardens are not handicap accessible, include in your advertising.
  3. Hold rain or shine - it's difficult to keep their gardens this perfect for several weeks.
  4. Find out if the hosts want to mingle or be gone. 
  5. What is the plan if something is damaged or stolen (the home owner's insurance).
  6. Have the host's house either locked or manned by family. 
  7. Do not allow visitors to use hosts bathrooms.  Have several public restroom options.
  8. Realize a few visitors will be unkind and inconsiderate.  Talk about this with the hosts and volunteers before the walk.
Putting on a garden walk is quite a bit of work for the volunteers and hosts.  With good pre-planning, it will also be a great day for everyone. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gardens, Music & Food

The University of Illinois Extension Macon (Decatur IL) County Master Gardeners are doing some things a little differently for this year's Garden Walk. The Walk will be later in the summer than usual, namely Sunday, June 26th, so hopefully summer plants will be in "full swing." The Walk will also be held later in the day - with the hope of having a cooler Walk experience for participants - from 3:00-7:00 pm. Finally, the event will feature live music - The West End Trio – and light refreshments at one of the gardens.

Some things about the Walk will be similar to previous Walks, however. As always, visitors will discover a wide variety of types of gardens. Different moods are created in each garden. Some gardens are formal and structured, others less formal and more jumbled or cottage-style, one whimsical and fun, one with a wonderful water feature, and others especially suited to evening viewing. Gardens range from small to huge, and from the "started from bare dirt" variety, to those including 50 to 75 year old plantings. Door prizes will again be offered, and will be pots of flowers planted by Master Gardeners. As always, the Walk will take place rain or shine!

This year we are also featuring two of Decatur's old historic homes in the Near West and West End neighborhoods, so it will be an added plus to view the exteriors of these homes up close. The entire Walk will be especially easy to navigate this year, as the seven gardens are all in the Rock Springs, Near West, and West End neighborhoods.

Tickets will be available from Master Gardeners, at various Decatur garden – related businesses, and at the Extension office beginning in mid-May. Tickets are $8 in advance, or $10 the day of the Walk. For ticket information, call the Macon County Extension Office, at 877-6042.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Excellent Watson!

The web is great for finding garden information - all kinds and at all levels of expertise.  For a reliable source, be sure to include your state's university extension site.  Many of their publications are free and on-line.  Most have books available to order on-line. 

The Master Gardener's program and 4-H are but two administered through the extension programs.

The university extension offices use academia's latest research and test results.  They inform about laws and regulations.  Most literature is available in Spanish.  They have sections devoted to the health issues in regards to gardening.  They include vegetable, ornamental and commercial gardening topics.  

They know their insects, diseases, and solutions.  I don't always agree with their methods for control as they have, in the past, been heavily chemical based.  That is primarily because most extension offices are a major resource and research for farming/agri industries and operations.  They are becoming more friendly to other non-chemical options.  Their resources give you choices now days.
Pocket Guide to Good Gardening
Most of the garden specific literature comes with pictures.  I know that sounds grade school targeted but with gardening - a picture is worth a thousand words.  Insects are often very difficult to identify since there are so many that look the same.  To the average gardener, a description of a plant disease can be difficult to visualize in real world situations.  Most of their extension garden literature has full information for the non-professional gardener. 

Most have become user friendly web sites (simply google your state university's extension). The University of Illinois Extension Office has a gardening facebook page that posts a topic most every day.  Some are text and others are short video demonstrations.

In this part of the Midwest, these colleges have extension offices:  University of Illinois, Purdue University, and Iowa State University. 

The interesting and reliable thing about your local state's extension literature - it's focus is conditions in your state.  Sounds obvious but have you ever searched the web for a solution to a garden problem and thought you found the perfect one?  Only to find it was targeted for another climate and not adaptable to your area? 

My local extension is not the only source I use, but, I certainly use it for my baseline information.  I know if I go to a site that has totally different/conflicting information - chances are it's either terribly misinformed, only advertising their own product, or is a scam.  Most states have an extension office in each county (although there has been some major financial funding cuts recently).  Stop by with questions or for literature.  The quality of county extension offices depends on the quality of the local extension director.

Take advantage of this wonderful resource - it is excellent!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pick Your Battles

One of the summer garden entertainments I especially enjoy is visiting beautiful public gardens or garden walks.  I've encouraged readers to walk local shows and gardens and to take advantage of public gardens while on vacation.

The benefits and enjoyment are many.  The opportunity for taking photos, see new and unusual flowers and arrangements, ideas and just plain fun.

Maybe you're the type of person who goes, enjoys, and returns home contented with the day - never to go beyond that point.

OR - Maybe you're the type that wants to come home and implement something you saw.

Choosing to implement something new is great UNLESS you over estimate your talent, your stamina and your budget.

Large estates and public gardens often have used landscape architects and designers.  They have used serious hired labor to install large features.  Most have a large staff (constantly grooming the gardens) managed by a trained professional.  They are often funded by endowments or high level employment. For many (or most) of us, it is impossible to duplicate their efforts.

Yet, we visualize the large pergola, topiary garden, intricately laid stone patio, waterfalls, lakes, and foliage of every make and kind in our own yards.

I've seen some wonderful gardens where they have adapted some glorious feature into their own garden and done it with success.  I've also seen gardeners get discouraged because their own effort didn't turn out to be palatial estate worthy.

You may have the time and money to adapt a few features.  An example is a farm yard outside Galva.  The caretaker (whoever that might be) has a perfectly trimmed front hedge and several bushes trimmed in a decorative style.  They are always perfect and always a beautiful surprise in a farm setting.

What this person doesn't do is try to duplicate a public topiary exhibit with an entire yard of intricately shaped specimens.  This person picks his or her subject, limits the number and intricacy and produces a beautiful exhibit for their own needs and wants.  They pick their battles.

When you over extend any of the needed categories (Talent - Stamina - Budget) the result may never be satisfactorily completed.  It may cause pressure to always try to keep it perfect even when the rest of your time is needed elsewhere.  It can cause serious garden burnout.

I'm reminded of a hosta garden I visited on a garden walk in Galesburg years ago.  Other than trees and turf grass, this gardener had few other plants except hosta.  The hostas were perfectly groomed, placed selectively and with the eye of an artist.  What this gardener didn't do was have anything else to take his time (he did all the work himself).  If you'll notice, many fine individual gardens accompany simple homes and surroundings.  These gardeners pick their battles.

An individual's garden should be a place of personal refuge and enjoyment.  If you have the resources to have others help you - great.  The trick is realizing just where your talent, stamina and budget limits are.  Then, work within those limits to produce a personal refuge for your enjoyment.

“When your garden is finished I hope it will be more beautiful than you anticipated, require less care than you expected, and have cost only a little more than you had planned.”

 Thomas D. Church (A garden salute)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Garden Walk - Peoria

My friend, Marge, sent this to me.  A garden walk in the Highpoint Subdivision of Peoria.  As with most garden walks, this one benefits charity - in this case "Look, It's My Book".

Should you need additional encouragement to walk a garden event, think about the following:

Chance to see a large variety of styles, sizes, garden maturity levels, plants, decorations, and themes.
Chance to have a day out with family or friends.
Chance to get ideas - either what to do or not do.
Seriously cheap entertainment.

If you would like your garden walk featured on this blog, send a brochure to me.  I prefer garden walks that benefit charities or non-profits.  I don't mind featuring walks anywhere since this is an open public blog and it might just work out for others traveling in "your neck of the woods" while on vacation.

I admire those folks who are willing to have their gardens featured on a walk.  It takes a lot of work for most.  Even if you hire all the landscaping and upkeep done by others, it then takes a lot of money.  Either way, it's giving of yourself and not by any small measure.

I've been on the other side by being a chairman of a garden walk.  Another large job.  One thing nice is most people who have done this are willing to share their experience and suggestions with the newbie.

On the day of the walk, both the residents and the organizers see the fruition of months of work with a glorious day for gardeners.  Gardeners really are a group of nice people and thank you to everyone offering up your gardens for the enjoyment of others.  

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pack Up and Go!

There's never a lack of garden related places to visit - either for viewing or for purchasing.  Here's a few that's been forwarded to me:

~ Tour Boerner Botanical Gardens, Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, and Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum and Renaissance Garden, Wisconsin~

 Sunnyfield Nursery's Garden Tour will be July 13th.  Double click on the brochures to read or use the reservation form. 

They will not go unless they have at least 20 paid reservations, so get yours in quickly to make sure this happens. 

Looks to be a wonderful day of seeing some Wisconsin displays and leave the driving to others.  Always a great plan.
 Sunnyfield owners, the Johnsons, are hitting their stride after buying the nursery.  They are making it their own, using their own ideas and have obviously worked hard to establish their reputation. 

~Chicago Botanical Garden Tour~

The Oak Run Garden Club will sponsor a bus trip to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe on June 7th.  Cost of bus reservation, box lunch, admission and guided tram tour is $95.  Reservations due May 20th.  email or call Rick at 309-639-2686. 

~ Illinois State Governor's Mansion Gardens ~

The Illinois Executive Mansion is the largest in the US.  The gardens are being restored under the direction of a professional and using volunteer workers and donated plants.

The mansion is open for free tours Tuesday and Thursday 9:30 to 11:30 am and 2 to 3:30 pm.  Saturday from 9:30 to 11 am.  Call for special hours or to reserve for occasions.

Harry Lewis is offering several hands-on gardening workshops at the mansion.  There are fees for these events - register at 217-766-2292.  Self guided walking tours of the gardens are free.

May 19 - 6-9 pm:  Flowering annuals for every location.
June 26 - 1-3:30 pm:  The Governor's Mansion and Gardens - a special tour and fundraiser.
July 14 - 6-9 pm:  Garden florals in indoor arrangements.

A few local retail establishments offering plants and garden "things"
(there are quite a few others)

Retail establishments aregreat day trips, idea gathering, visual treat, and of course they hope you buy.  Reputable garden retailers seldom mind if you're "just looking". 
  • Wolf Ridge Gardens and Greenhouse, 9568 Wolf Rd., Geneseo IL
  • Maple City Florist and Garden Center, 802 S. State St., Geneseo IL
  • George Bowman Hostas, 404 E. South St., Cambridge IL
  • Prairie Country Gardens, 2213 County Highway 5, Galva IL
  • Old Mill Gardens Floral & Gift Shop, 108 E. Exchange St., Atkinson IL
  • Red Barn Nursery, 15722 - 645 E St., Sheffield IL
  • Sunnyfield Greenhouse Garden Center, 2440 E 2550 St., Galva IL
  • Dew Fresh Market, 249 Tenney St., Kewanee IL 
We're getting a nice gentle rain today - just in time to wet down those freshly planted gardens - Enjoy the day!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Logging the Log

Been holding this little bit of text for several days due to problems on the Blog site.  Didn't stop viewing - only creating.

I tend to over "record keep" my garden info.  Not that I consider it over-keeping although others may refer to it that way behind closed doors, in hushed tones and with a few "tisk tisks" thrown in for good measure.

Since I take pictures during different growing seasons, it became visually obvious many of my trees had finally settled in and were growing - a lot.  "Just how much is a "lot"?" I asked myself.  This sent me to the web for "how to measure the height of a tree" when it is taller than any sane person would want to climb.

The following information was on so many web sites, in exactly the same form, word for word, I'm not going to bother crediting it to one source.  It's not my creation and that's credit enough.

There are several ways to measure the height of a tree. 

"To measure a tree’s height, an Abney hand level, clinometer, or transit is recommended."  OK, I've no idea about these devices and sure they aren't in my garage tool drawer. 

This "Shadow" method sounds easy:
  • Stand next to the tree or the object to be measured. For best results, do this method on a bright, sunny day. If the sky is overcast, it may be difficult to tell exactly where the shadow’s tip is.
  • Measure the length of your shadow. Use a tape measure or yardstick (meter ruler) to measure your shadow from your feet to the tip of your shadow. If you don’t have someone to assist you, you can mark the end of the shadow by tossing a rock onto it while you’re standing. Or better yet, place the rock anywhere on the ground, and then position yourself so the tip of your shadow is at the rock; then measure from where you're standing to the rock.
  • Measure the length of the tree’s shadow. Use your measuring tape to determine the length of the tree’s shadow from the base of the tree to the tip of the shadow. This works best if the ground all along the shadow is fairly level; if the tree is on a slope, for example, your measurement won’t be very accurate. You want to do this as quickly as possible after measuring your shadow, since the sun’s position in the sky (and hence the shadow length) is slowly but constantly changing. If you have an assistant, you can hold one end of the measuring tape while he or she measures the tree’s shadow, and then you can immediately measure your shadow.
  • Calculate the tree’s height by using the proportion of your shadow’s length to your height. Since you know the length of the tree’s shadow, and you also know that a certain height (your height) produces a certain shadow length (the length of your shadow), you can determine the tree’s height with a little math. Multiply the length of the tree’s shadow by your height, and then divide the resulting number by the length of your shadow. For example, if you are 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall, your shadow is 8 feet (2.4 meters) long, and the tree’s shadow is 100 feet (30.48 meters) long, the height of the tree is (100 x 5) / 8 = 62.5 feet (30.48 x 1.5 meters) / 2.4 meters. Note that the order of your multiplication does not matter.

This is called the "yardstick" method: 
  • Using a yardstick, stand exactly 25 feet from the tree being measured. Hold the yardstick, with the zero end downward, 25 inches from your eye. Line up the bottom of the yardstick with the base of the tree. Without moving your head, look to the top of the tree. Where it crosses the yardstick, read off the measurement in inches. Each inch will equal one foot in the tree's height.
  •  If the tree is taller than your  yardstick will measure, stand 50 feet away. Again hold it 25 inches from your eye, as before, only this time multiply your result by 2 to get the correct height. If it is taller still, then step back to 75 feet, multiplying your result by 3, or 100 feet, multiplying the result by 4, etc.
So - there you have it - measure and record to your heart's content. 
This photo is of what was once a State of Illinois record setting Chestnut tree.  It's located on 400N in rural Galva IL.  It is no longer the record holder because it is damaged, but, still pretty amazing.  There's lists of record setting trees on the web.    

Monday, May 9, 2011

Shy and Refined

I was a shy child, always looking and waiting.  Every once in awhile I'd have a burst of chatter and immediately followed by mortification.  Although I've since learned to talk with others more easily, at my core I'm still shy and quiet.  Give me a choice between going to a big party with lots of people and staying at home by myself with a good book and my nature says, "stay home."

The Eastern Redbud tree Cercis Canadensis L. has much the same personality.  A spindly little thing with simple small pointed heart-shaped leaves.  Most of the year, it's hardly noticed.  This native Illinois tree wakes up in early spring with a show of magenta pink flowers borne on the leafless shoots.  During that brief period, it makes a grand statement and then after realizing everyone is looking at it, it drops the tiny flowers and is again nondescript.

Redbuds only grow between 15 & 30 ft. with a trunk up to 1 foot, and the crown is usually broad and flattened.  The shape and size lends itself to specimen planting and oriental gardens.The flowers only bloom on last year's branches or on the trunks.  The fruit is a legume which may be as long as 4 inches.  It self seeds rather easily and transplants well.

The Redbud will grow in most any soil, including clay as long as it 's well drained.  There are several hybrid varieties producing different results.

The Redbud does have some interesting history. 
  • It is used as a food plant for the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including the Mouse Moth.  I found that interesting since the individual little flowers are shaped like little mouse heads. 
  • The tree was frequently figured in the 16th & 17th century herbals.
  • Another name for the tree is "Judas Tree" because Biblical lore has the Redbud as the tree Judas Iscariot hanged himself from after betraying Christ.
  • The flowers are used in salads and for making a pickled relish.
  • The inner bark of the twigs is used for a mustard yellow dye.
  • The flowers are pollinated by long-tongued bees such as blueberry bees and carpenter bees.
  • Green twigs may be used as seasoning for wild game such as venison and opossum and may be known as the spicewood tree.
  • It's the state tree of Oklahoma.
  • It will grow in full sun or in the shade of larger trees.
  • Native Americans consumed Redbud flowers raw or boiled, and ate roasted seeds.
  • The tree is often used on city right-of-way and under utility lines because they will not get tall enough to cause problems.
  • There's a small town in southern Illinois named Redbud.
The National Arbor Day Foundations has these facts: 
  • Native to North America and Canada with cousins in Europe and Asia, the Redbud was first cultivated in 1811.
  • The Spaniards noted Redbuds and made distinctions between the New World species and their cousins in the Mediterranean region in 1571.
  • George Washington reported in his diary on many occasions about the beauty of the tree and spent many hours in his garden transplanting seedlings obtained from the nearby forest.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Going to the Birds

My belief:  The reason people live in areas with changing seasons is we like the "surprises" each new season brings.  We are the residents who "oooo" and "awww" each spring over the daffodils and tulips.  Each year it's like the first time we've seen them. 

Every spring I marvel at the beauty and lovely sounds of the birds.  We rush to the window to catch a glimpse of color or stop our yard work to listen to a particularly beautiful song.

We're the group of hardy souls who would be bored if the yard was perfectly the same beautiful all year.  Our life would be a little empty if the same birds inhabited our yards year round.  Call us crazy (and some do) we're the ones who celebrate the first snow. 

Yesterday, as I was weeding, a Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) serenaded me.  Known as having the most beautiful and large array of songs in North America, I feel very fortunate they return to our trees year after year.
Some birds are here all winter and are more easily appreciated as they molt into their summer colors.  The American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) is our best example.  The males have been bright gold for about a month.

Many have commented and my observations are the same:  The American Robins (Turdus Migratorius) are fatter than I've ever seen before and in larger numbers.  Most have now laid their eggs and are busy protecting their nests.

The much maligned sparrows are as busy as always and rank right up there with the Thrush in their array of sweet songs.  We have several different kinds, with different songs and habits.

My least favorite birds, the European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), have finally migrated out of our trees.  They always stop for a few weeks in our trees - just long enough for me to get tired of their irritating chatter - and then off to some other poor neighborhood.  Whoever named them vulgaris certainly had observed them up close!

The Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelains phoeniceus) are now taking up residence in the fields and roadsides instead of our woods.

Although residents year round, the Morning Doves (Zenaida macroura) can now be heard cooing their evening sleep song in the trees.  That sound never fails to remind me of my childhood.

The red Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are still fighting their images in mirrors and windows.  Mothers are no where to be seen and must be nesting while papa is still confused.

Other busy birds (some migrated - some overwintered) in our yard and woods: House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus), Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristalta), Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis), Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), and the petite House Wren (Troglodytes Avedon).       
What brought this to mind this morning was the sighting of two male Indigo (blue) Buntings (Passerina cyancea).  These little birds simply glow in the sun.  This color of blue is unusual for nature in our area which makes it all the more thrilling. 

“My favorite weather is bird-chirping weather.”
~Loire Hartwould


Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Grass Is Always Greener

Ornamental grass is a huge category of decorative garden plants.  There are annuals and perennials, short and tall, invasive and well-mannered, native and exotic. 

(Left:   Sedum "Crazy Ruffles")

They may be used for a big landscape statement or in pots.  Most garden pots only contain flowers or at the very least just one vertical accent of foliage.  While recently visiting area nurseries, we saw many pots planted with all or mostly foliage.
One such example was a large formal gray pot with silver/white foliage.  Consider the many green leaves showing stripes in light colors, blue tints, or a silvery fur.  Add a little accent with white flowers and this planter will show up beautifully against dark colors and at night.
Salvia argentea
Rock gardens (both in the ground and in pots) are perfect for the all-foliage statement.  Succulents come in all sizes and shapes and can withstand some neglect.

Pots may be planted with annuals or perennials.  If you take your pots indoors for the winter, many plants can be used for years.  They may take a little pruning, sometimes replacing with new potting soil, and regular fertilizing.
(Right:  Salvia - Silver Sage pictured/available at "Annie's Annuals and Perennials" )

Here are a few different plants that make great foliage arrangements:
  • “Graceful Grasses King Tut”, an Egyptian Papyrus, is a quirky tall (4-6 ft) annual.  The ends of the stems look like green fireworks. 
  • “Japanese Blood Grass”, Imperata Cylindrical Red Baron, is a (12-18 in) perennial.  The long upright blades are bright red tipped.  (Pictured above)
  • “Japanese Forest Grass”, Hakonechloa macra Aureola, is a 2 ft perennial weeping yellow and green striped grass that can stand the most shade of any ornamental grass.
  • “Cordyline Red Sensation” australis, this annual has 18-20 in. leathery strap shaped bronze-red leaves.
  • “Amazon Sunset Parrot’s Beak”, a spreading annual Lotus vine has silver foliage and bright orange beak like flowers.
  • “Live Wire” Isolepis grass has soft cascading mounds of finely textured foliage with little tuffs on the ends as flowers.  This 8 in. annual likes sun. 
  • “Cuban Gold” Duranta erecta is a 24 in bright yellow sun lover.  Used in the tropics as a shrub, this annual is a bright spot where ever it’s planted. 
  • Any of the Dusty Millers, Artemsias, hostas, ferns, lavenders, Lamb’s Ear (pictured below),  and sedums. 
  • A great annual. “Marguerite Sweet Potato Vine”, Ipomoea.  This bright chartreuse plant may vine ten foot if nourished well.  Other colors of this vine are dark burgundy, a two-tone green, and a blue-green.  Consider planting among your perennials for an informal ground cover.
Next time you’re planting your garden pots, consider trying a mostly foliage rendition.  Every nursery or garden center will have its own specialties.  Make a white/silver arrangement, a red/burgundy, a blue/green, a yellow/chartreuse, or an emerald green. 

Seriously, the grass can be greener on your side of the fence.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

O is for Origanum

"Origanum" is the herb Oregano (sometimes called wild marjoram).  Greek for "joy of the mountain," oregano was almost unheard of in the United States until soldiers came back from Italian World War II assignments raving about it.

European Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is the most bland.  Greek Oregano (Origanum herva-cleoticum) is the most common for cooking.  Both belong to the mint family and are related to both marjoram and thyme. Mexican Oregano (Lippia graveolens) is in the verbena family and is one of the most spicy.  The Mexican variety is included in chili powder.  Golden Oregano is used for it's decorative look and not for eating.  Some are hardy to Zone 5.

You may find some oregano mislabeled: 

  • Mexican Oregano can mean Poliomintha longiflora.  It is considered similar in flavor, but stronger than oregano.

    • In Puerto Rico and Cuba, Plectranthus anboinicus can be found labeled as oregano.
    • Thymus nummularius is often used in place of oregano, in Spain.  It is used in perfume.
    If you are planning on making tomato based sauces, plant Oregano in your herb garden this year.  The leaves of oregano are used in meat (especially sausage), salads, pizza, soups, Mexican foods and barbecue sauces.   It is also used in making some kinds of liqueur.
    Oregano Leaves
    Factors such as climate, seasons and soil composition may affect the aromatic oils present, and this effect may be greater than the differences between the various species of plants.

    Some oregano is a tender perennial and may be over-wintered inside.  Try cutting down and heap mulch on top for over-wintering - just might make it through.  In the south, it may be invasive. 

    Oregano leaves are often used in the dried form for cooking - although they may be used fresh as easily.  The dried form may be more flavorful than fresh although it's a different flavor.

    The leaves retain their flavor better in hot dishes if added toward the end of cooking. Heating too long results in bitterness.

    Oregano grows easily in well drained, good garden soil where plants receive full sun. They enjoy a sandy soil.  It requires routine watering. The flowers should be kept cut back to encourage thick foliage - the level of essential oil decreases as it flowers. You can begin to harvest when it reaches 4 inches.  It makes a good container or hydroponic plant but should be replaced about every 3 years when it becomes woody. 

    Oregano planted from seeds may cross pollinate and you may not get what you expected.  The "richer" the soil, the less potent the flavor - do not fertilize.  Oregano has few pests.  Keep area weeded and mulched.  May be added to flower gardens.  Pick in the morning before the leaves warm to get the best flavor.

    An idea:  Put a 1/2 inch thick slice of feta cheese on a salad plate. Serve it sprinkled with oregano (and fresh pepper if you like), and drizzle with olive oil.  Serve with flat bread or crackers.

    And in case you need this:   From Gerard's Herbal (1545-1612-English): "Organy cureth them that have been poisoned by drinking Opium, or the juice of Black Poppy or Hemlock, especially if it be given with Wine and Raisons of the Sunne".

    Photos thanks to Herb World.

    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    Spring Fling

    Had a delightful yesterday visiting "Distinctive Gardens" in Dixon and "Red Barn Nursery" by Sheffield.  Always so much fun to see what's new in the plant world. We enjoyed a rainless day made twice as nice because I was with friends.

    Every nursery and garden center is different.  Their individual focus is what delights. 

    My first time at DG, it was obviously a visit with the visually inspired owners.  They are particularly adapt at creating combinations of plants for beautiful and unusual container gardening. 

    Area stores are having more of the cone shaped hanging baskets and here are a couple of their offerings.

    Many of DGs most beautiful planters contained mostly non flowering plants.  Most of us have been conditioned to expect mostly flowers in our pots.  The foliage containers opened a new door - and were certainly beautiful.
    Shown at left and potted in a fiberglass "rock", this is an example of how well they combine plants.  DGs is about inspiring through display. 

    I'm sure their landscaping and other plants will only improve as the season matures.  In addition to the plant sets and containers, they have a nice selection of trees and bushes and some beautiful hand crafted items in their shed area.

    After a great lunch at ZBest Restaurant in Sheffield, we headed to the "Red Barn Nursery".  The RB is not about display, it is totally about offering an abundance of healthy beautiful plants which they grow themselves. 

    RB is often the place to find "the hard to find" and heirloom plants.  Their herbs are always a treasure.  Since they raise their own plants, this is a place to return to as the season progresses.  Some things come on early/some later.  Unlike big box stores, when RBs supply of plants is gone - it's gone for the season.

    RB offers some of the most beautiful and unusual geraniums in this area.  The supply you see pictured will be mostly gone by Mother's day.

    Both nurseries are privately owned and managed.  Both show a real love for the beauty and individuality of plants.  Both are a treasure and both have reasonably priced plants. 

    So - what did I buy?  I managed to put off garden vegetable and herb plants because of the cool weather we are having.  Besides a nice "Delft Lace" Astilbe for my new bed at the front of our woods, I focused on plants for my pots.

    A few of those geraniums from RB and a selection of foliage from DG.  I was especially excited to find "Graceful Grasses' King Tut"  I'll show more on the individual plants later.

    Meanwhile:  Support your locally owned nurseries and garden centers.  Most (as are both of these) are hard working and talented business owners obviously passionate about their profession. 

    “What a desolate place would be a world without a flower! It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome. Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heaven.” - A.J. Balfour