Sunday, July 31, 2011


My niece sent photos from her recent trip to Barcelona - a beautiful city full of spectacular architecture.  One shot caught my gardening interests:  a photo of blue morning glories cascading over a large cacti.   Certainly a combination I'd never imagined and one pleasing to see. 

Sometimes we need to get outside our own environments to expand our own ideas and imagination.  I think gardeners, in general, appreciate the beauty of our world and the differences that make it interesting.

Through the web and especially garden blogs, we are now privy to beauty in remote places like never before.  In many cases it's places we will never visit - some in private gardens and others we may not get to in this lifetime.

Dreaming and imagination, fueled by the beauty created by others, is what inspires our local gardens.  A bit of whimsy gleaned from the grand gardens of estates and public areas is just fine. 
Parque Guell Barcelona Matt Smith
Barcelona facades are covered with mosaics of huge proportions and those may be transferred to small stepping stones in our gardens.

Looking glass water features the size of a city block may inspire a small pond set in the sun.

Garden sculptures by renowned artist in every size and period may grace estates and parks enabling the idea of a small example nestled among your trees.

I may not have the Chicago "bean" but I can have my own sculpture. 

I no longer have my Georgia cacti (attacked my fingers once too often) but I can let morning glories tumble over my lilac bush.  It's a simple transfer of ideas.

Enjoy the beauty of gardens everywhere and spend a bit of time enjoying your own.  Through the eyes of others it just might be their inspiration. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sugar Sugar

"Oh honey honey, you are my candy girl and you got me wanting you!"  Ruby-throated hummingbirds, dragonflies, and butterflies are starting to pass through Illinois on their fall migration south.

If you haven't already, it's time to get those hummingbird feeders hung outside.  I have a beautiful new one from my son, Trent, & family.   I've typically had Farm King cheap and they work just fine but had finally given up to age and fell apart.  My new one is made of metal and glass. 

Since it's been so hot lately, I'll warn hummingbird lovers to change the food every other day if there's any left.  It goes bad and most birds won't touch it or it will not be good for them once it's turned rancid.

Don't waste your money on commercial hummingbird food.  I take my two cup Pyrex measuring cup, fill with 1/4 cup white sugar (granulated) and 1 3/4 cup of water.  Microwave for one minute, take out, stir and let sit until cool.  This will usually fill two feeders each half full.  If you have many birds, you may have to fill all the way or refill every day.

Although there are many different hummingbirds, only one, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, lives this far north and east in the United States.  Most reside along the west coast and south into Mexico.

Typically, they are 3 inches from tip to tip and weigh 1/8 oz.  They are the smallest bird in Illinois. Their bill is long, straight and very slender. 

The adult male is the one with the ruby red throat and black chin.  Bet you never thought of a bird as having a chin!  He also has the metallic green back and white belly. Females and juveniles lack the red.  Immatures may be much rounder and have fluffy feathers.

Typical of hummingbirds, the males start migrating much earlier than the females and immatures.  Because they winter in south and central America, they all must make the 500 mile non-stop trip across the Gulf of Mexico twice a year.  A seriously tough little bird. 

Did you realize the hummingbird is the only bird species capable of flying backwards?  Unlike any other bird, their wings are connected only from the shoulder joint.  The male's wings may beat up to 200 times a SECOND during a mating demo.  No wonder they looked blurred!

The Ruby is solitary and only come together when mating.  Both males and females defend their feeding territories.  How many of you have seen the little birds spending more time fighting off another Ruby than they do eating?  They become more aggressive this time of the year when they need to store calories for migration.  They typically increase their body mass by double, storing the calories as fat to accomplish the 500 mile trip.   

They don't just eat from your feeder.  Think of your feeder as dessert or supplements.  Their preference is flower nectar and small insects and spiders.  The female feeds their babies insects which provides protein for the growing body. 

Most of us never see their nests - the size of a walnut and 10-20 feet above ground.  They may use them several years in a row.  They have 2-3 broods a year and the nest stretches as the babies get larger.

As you know if you are a hummer observer, they become easily accustomed to humans.  I had one land on my arm one summer.  If I hadn't seen him land, I wouldn't have realized he was even there - he was that light.

Next year, consider the hummers and the flowers that attract them.  Natural nectar sources will attract them first prior to your feeders.  Any red or orange shaded trumpet-shaped flower is a magnet.  Hybrid honeysuckle and trumpet vines provide attraction from early spring through fall.  Several annuals, such as cardinal climbers,  attract also.

Enjoy your supply of hummers as they store up food prior to heading south and realize it's an indication our own winter isn't all that far away.  Sigh...   

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Good To Be Common

Common garden plants are late summer attractions for butterflies and hummingbirds. 

Butterflies simply mass all over tiger lilies and phlox.  They are so busy lapping up the free lunch they seldom even notice a human taking pictures. 

Although hummingbirds are more aware of humans, they will flit for hours over hosta flowers.  Hosta flowers are not typically advertised as perfect hummingbird attractions.  They're not totally tube shaped nor brightly colored.  Many are fragrant and in mass they do attract.  Since I have so much shade in the back yard, I've divided and divided my hosta and now have them in many places.

Butterflies haven't been in evidence much since the heat set in on us.  This spring, a lonely Monarch, a single Mourning Cloak, a few Cabbage Whites and a little blue.  This past week, has seen a dramatic increase in both varieties and numbers.

Lately, I've seen Tiger Swallowtail, loads of Silver Spotted Skippers, Hackberry and a host of others. 

As for our visiting hummingbird, she's been a visitor and not a resident.  Our honeysuckle vines are hummingbird first attractions.  Since they bloom continually all summer, we've never been hummingbird free.  It's then that they branch out to my other flowers and the feeders.  Both are near the screened back porch providing plenty of watching.

Phlox, hosta, bee balm, and tiger lilies are all perennials - require little care and are mostly pest and disease free.  Isn't it nice to be able to have inexpensive and readily available plants providing nectar for both of our favorites; bringing them close for hours of entertainment!    

Monday, July 25, 2011

These Boots Were Made For Walkin'

We visited family in Georgia this past week and had a nice, if too short, time with kids, grand kids, siblings and my husband's momma.  We usually find summertime in Georgia so much more hot and humid than middle Illinois.  Not so this time - Southern Georgia was almost ten degrees cooler.  Not to say cool, just cooler and of course humid. 

We stopped taking airplanes several years ago because it took almost as long with the guaranteed delays and a hefty layover in Atlanta.  Plus, it's expensive and just no fun to fly anymore. 

Next we used the interstate highways to make a fast trip in one day - 18 plus hours.  Then we become sane and now take two days (more if there are places we like to investigate.) 

This year we decided to totally stay off interstates.  It took no longer, was so much more beautiful and the stress level decreased.  No more hurried, harried, aggressive, or distracted drivers.  And this is how we wandered by Callaway Gardens in Georgia.

I'd heard about the gardens and we decided to make time to investigate.  It was different than I had anticipated.  I would describe it as a serene get-a-way, rather than what we think is typical for gardens.

Open since 1952, Callaway Gardens is the centerpiece of 13,000 acres nestled in the southernmost foothills of the Appalachians. Founder Cason Jewell Callaway longed for a place where man and nature could abide together for the good of both, and now more than half a century later, his retreat continues to offer solace, inspiration and discovery for all who come here.

To really appreciate the site, you must walk.  Most of the gardens and beauty can only be viewed after a little or lots of walking.  It allows the serenity and natural settings to unfold.  Many attractions are on trails. 
They have also provided many opportunities to attend events or hold events.  They have entertainment such as a high end golf course, beaches, cabins, bicycling, boating, fishing, lodge, chapel, nature centers classes and more. 

I enjoyed the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center and the large vegetable gardens.  I've included some photos that might show some ways to divide a garden (or your yard) into rooms.  Each room providing a different view and more serenity. 

Take your best walking shoes, bug repellent, water to hydrate, and a camera.  It's typical Georgia heat and humidity especially on the trails where nary a breath of air moves.  It does provide places to relax and simply enjoy at most every trail and attraction.

It's not an easy place for folks with handicaps or lacking strength.  They provide a clean, neatly managed, friendly and diverse park for the day trip or for a vacation.  Did I mention it was serene???

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Always A Bridesmaid

Four of our eight children at the latest wedding.
One of the reasons for having bridesmaids in beautifully colored dresses is to make the bride stand out.  It's a frame of color which highlights the star of the wedding - the bride.

Gardens have bridesmaids, too.  One of my favorites is Speedwell "Veronica" from the figwort family.

Veronica has about 500 species - herbaceous annuals, perennials, shrubs and small trees.  Several are considered weeds and look similar to the dreaded Creeping Charlie.  The bridesmaid in my garden is a perennial, good to zone 4a.

Veronica tolerates average to dry soil and will do best with generous amounts of organic matter mixed in the soil.  Do not over water.  It prefers full sun although it is tolerant of mixed shade.  It's deer resistant.  It attracts butterflies, moths, bees, many other beneficial insects and birds.
Veronica longifolia, my favorite, has rigid tall spears with purple/blue tiny flowers that rise above the thin leaves.  Others may have white, blue or pink flowers.  Some are short (mat forming) and others are tall (2 ft) varieties.  They may be divided although many will self seed.

I recommend buying from a reputable nursery or take a division from an established bed where you can see how it behaves.  This way you will get the kind that fits your garden.

Tall spikes of purple/blue flowers form a perfect backdrop for tall bushes and climbing roses.  Shorter varieties look well tucked into daylily gardens and are perfect for rock gardens.

They bloom from June through September especially if they are deadheaded.  Veronica was born for cottage and casual gardens, but, can be used in mass for a formal bed.

Amazingly, purple flowers highlight almost every other color in a garden.  They let the other colors be the star.  The only exception would be to pair it with another deep purple/blue flower where they would both become one color instead of two distinct plants.

If they self seed into areas where you don't want them, simply hand pull in the spring.

The flower lore (as all flowers have) is when Christ was laboring beneath the heavy cross, He faltered.  A maiden, St. Veronica, rushed forward to wipe the perspiration from His brown.  The imprint of His face was found upon her cloth.  The facial marking is on some species of Veronica.

Veronica is a flower that highlights bouquets the same as in the garden.  It just might be the perfect flower to tuck into a bridesmaid's flowers. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


"Bitsy" is a bright clear yellow daylily born on many branching scapes.  It may rebloom even in northern zones.   The foliage is thin grass like.  It has one of the longest bloom times.
I know you realize my daylily examples are from my garden and there are a blue zillion other examples in your yards, nurseries and the wild. 

It would be silly of me to write about everyone else's flowers since only when you plant, baby, love and live with a plant can you know it's personality.  And then, I only know it as it sits in my yard - not another zone, other nutritional and environmental situations, and a host of other factors.

"Raspberry Pixie" is one of those sweet little purples with a bright yellow green eye.

I hope you have some entertainment, enjoy the photos, or get ideas and information.

Today, I'll feature (in orange) some of the little tiny daylilies in my garden. 

First off, I don't think I ever intentionally bought a little daylily.  Big is beautiful - right?  If big is beautiful - then little is surely sweet. 
"Little Pumpkin Face" is almost as small as the impatiens in this pot.  At times it is more pumpkin colored than cream.  The red is bright.

I've mentioned before that the first big mother-load of plants in my current yard came from a person who newly moved into a home and was going to bulldoze the entire yard.  My daughter and I took out three pick-up loads of plants.  Among those plants was an array of little daylilies - all purple. 

"Knick Knack" is the little gold lily to the left of the large spider "Pavlova".  Knick Knack's bloom is a tube shape and bright gold.  It has short scapes and is only suitable as a stand alone or at the front of a bed.

I've never quite figured out what those purples (in my pickup) official names are - with perhaps the "Raspberry Pixie".  All are tiny and sweet.  They snuggle into areas: some as accents and backdrops - others as borders.

The smallest daylily bloom category is for lily blooms under 3 inches.  

"Little Grapette" is always an attention getter, even at it's small size.  Rather a grape juice color with a dusting of pearlization on tall scapes.

Tiny daylily plants have come to me as gifts, a friend offering divisions, and bonus plants.  I've come to enjoy all these little beauties.

Mine are all sturdy, easily increase clump size and can be divided.  Most all have low growing foliage - scapes may be short or tall. 

I hope you will enjoy a few of the tiny sweeties. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Be A Big Girl

We spend the first years of our daughters' lives telling them to be a big girl and when they reach teens, we wish they were little again.  Fortunately, by the time they're grown, we appreciate what a lovely big girl they've become. 

I have a few big girls in my garden and I'm grateful they grew up so nicely.  They are the really large daylilies.

  • Large daylilies can be used in large yards because little flowers often get lost. 
  • They can be a singular plant - to form the spotlight.
  • Used at the back of an area, they draw your attention down a walk.
  • Many large daylilies are spiders or unusual forms.
Here are a few of my large lilies:

"Chicago Star" is not only big, she has a very high bud count, is sturdy and withstands the elements.  A bright yellow gold with a slight ruffle on the edges.  8 inch blooms on 24 inch scapes.  Mid season bloomer and over a long period. Semi evergreen.  Introduced in 1970 by Marsh.  Won the 1974 Honorable Mention.
"Lilting Belle" is my all-time favorite daylily.  It looks fragile and it's not.  Belle is a late bloomer and she keeps color in the garden when other lilies are beginning to wind down.  8 inch blooms on 36 inch scapes, semi evergreen.  Introduced by Wilson in 1983.
"Parade of Peacocks" took a few years to get settled into her grand performance.  It's been worth the wait for these 8 inch flowers on 36 inch scapes.  Mid to late season, dormant, hybridized by Oakes and introduced in 1990.      
It's been the perfect year for "Pavlova".  She tends to shred in heavy wind and rain.  Since we've only had one rain since she started her bloom period, it's been a beautiful show.  She looks especially stunning against dark green foliage.  Note the little "Knick Knack" peaking around.  10 inch blooms on 25 inch scapes, an early bloomer and is evergreen.  Hybridized by Lambert and introduced in 1963.
I took a chance on "Fly Catcher" and it hasn't disappointed.  In fact, it's one of those lilies that exceeded my expectations.  First year blooms are substantial, large bud count and healthy plant.  Reds always attract attention and this multi colored large lily draws the eye to where it sits.   7 1/2 inch blooms on 32 inch scapes and is a mid season bloomer.  Dormant.  Introduced by J. Miller in 1978.
"Chester Cyclone" is an unusual spider because the petals twist.  It's in the first bloom year and I have high hopes this lily will continue to increase in clump size and wow factor.  8 1/2 inch blooms on 30 inch scapes.  Dormant and mid season bloomer.  It  may rebloom.  Introduced in 1972 by Blake and it's fragrant. 
I nicknamed this unknown daylily "Big Banana" because of the shape of each petal.  I've divided it over the years and have clumps in most every bed on the property.  It's just that dependable and pretty.  A mid season bloomer.
Another unknown, I call this "Large Peach Dramatic" because when it's happy, it's the size of a large dinner plate.  It, like most teen girls, is a little high maintenance:  it doesn't shed it's spent blooms and they are so large they make the plant messy if I don't do this every day.  Some years the buds don't want to open in the morning without a little touch to help them release.  A mid to late season bloomer. 

Most large daylilies, require a little pampering to help them look their best.  Daily deadheading is usually a must.  Even the most tough large daylily will get a little torn and tattered in high winds and heavy rains.  Pets and children running through the lily beds may snap large petals.  Just like our girls, they are worth it when they mature and become great favorites.    

Friday, July 8, 2011

My Pretty

Here's a few of the beautiful daylilies blooming in my garden right now.  I like to head outside early before it heats up too much.  Deadheading, taking pictures and trying to put a few thousand Japanese Beetles into baggies. 
Have you ever noticed you have more pictures of a certain few daylilies?  They are the ones that stop you in dead in your tracks and elicit an "ooooooooOOOOOO" - every time.
Sometimes it's the color, or form, or a memory.  Even if you are in an actual daylily field when you purchase a plant, it may be a disappointment in your own garden.  Then - you take a chance on a new daylily and it is so much more lovely than you had hoped, you do your garden dance.
Some daylilies have good years and bad years.  Some only look good after they've been blooming a week.  A few don't hold up well in the sun, or wind, or rain. 
Others take a few years to get settled and then become a "wowzer".  Some take their time opening in the morning and a few hold their blooms well into darkness.  The descriptions of some lilies don't hold true in my garden and it can be highly disappointing or an unexpect beauty. 
Another group of lilies I've put in the wrong place - bad combination of colors, too short for the 2nd row, too intricate to stand out next to other lilies, etc.
I encourage you to take photos to record the performance of your lilies.  It's an amazing comparison through the years.  By recording the differences each year (date of first bloom, kind of winter, amount of rain, issues),  it puts the current year's performance into perspective.  For example, this spring was very wet and the winter held a deep snow cover = one of the best daylily shows ever.
  The photos are daylilies blooming for the first time in my gardens - Top to Bottom:  Blushing Summer Valentine ~  Chester Cyclone ~ Dad's Best White ~ Decatur Gentleman ~ Fly Catcher ~ Spiritual Corridor ~ Myth and Magic ~ Double Daffy.   Enlarge the photo by clicking on my pretties.    

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Pollinator

Even with little agricultural knowledge, most of us understand we cannot have the most bountiful crops without pollination.  Its part of the cycle – its how most plants function – it’s the purpose of many plant parts, birds and insects.

It’s often the bane of allergy sufferers.  Since plants have pollen, we tend to blame all plants (some have been given a bad rap for years).  If you have seasonal allergies, you may want to research pollen more thoroughly prior to developing your yard.

Most seasonal allergens come from native plants and folks tend to put them in the category of “weeds”.  They grow in our roadsides and vacant lots – happily spreading their little pollen fluff balls (yes, fluff balls is my totally unscientific term) on the wind. 

One sure rascal is Rumex spp known to locals as Sorrel or Dock. They are in a genus of about 200 species of annual, biennial and perennials in the buckwheat family. The allergenicity of this weed is moderate to high.  Bad news it pollinates from April through September.  Even if you pull or kill every single piece on your property – the pollen is known for spreading widely on the wind.  This pollinator just doesn’t know when to leave a good party.

I call Sorrell or Dock a weed, but it is actually an herb.  There are male and female plants having no greater thrill than distributing the pollen so as to reproduce.  It’s such an adaptable plant, it grows over most of this continent and others except the most cold or arid. 


In fairness, through the years this plant has had many uses and has been cultivated for centuries:

  • The leaves may be pureed in soups and sauces or added to salads.  It has the flavor similar to kiwifruit or sour wild strawberries. The plant’s sharp taste is due to oxalic acid, which is a poison.  In small quantities sorrel is harmless; in large quantities it can be fatal.
  • R. obtusifolius or Butter dock’s large leaves were used to wrap and conserve butter.
  • R. hymenosepalus is a source of tannin used for leather tanning and the stems used for mustard-colored dye.
  • Dock leaves are traditionally a remedy for the sting of nettles.
  • So long standing, it is used over much of the world in native dishes and drinks.
If you use manure on your gardens, chances are you will be pulling dock for quite some time.  It does have a long tap root so make sure you pull it as soon as it pops its little head out of the ground.

Silphium terebinthinaceum (of the aster family) is Prairie Dock and an Illinois wildflower (you know those pretty little yellow daisy-like flowers seen on roadsides.)  It is not known to cause allergies.

In Illinois, we can’t limit or contain wind born allergens – there are too many and many grow wild.  If you are mildly or a short term sufferer of seasonal allergies, you may just need mild or temporary methods of dealing.  If you suffer a more severe reaction, you may want to become close friends with an allergist.  Wearing a mask, limiting your time outdoors, watching and using air conditioning might help.  The severity of your symptoms, the effectiveness of your treatments and your desire to garden are considerations.

“They know, they just know where to grow, how to dupe you, and how to camouflage themselves among the perfectly respectable plants, they just know, and therefore, I've concluded weeds must have brains."  - Dianne Benson, "Dirt"

Pollen photos:

Monday, July 4, 2011

Standing on the Corner

     Here I am standing on the corner of 4th and Freedom.  It appears to me and I know I'm not your world expert here, but ...  It appears to me, most every country on this earth has the capacity and capabilities to feed and nourish it's citizens. 

In countries where the citizens thrive and have been able to care and nourish it's citizens, it's because that nation and it's leadership fosters an environment for the benefit of all it's citizens. 

How many countries in this world have impoverished citizens because the ground would never again grow crops, the water is too tainted to recover, and no way to make it better?  No matter what side of the "developing" issue you stand on, it isn't the dirt - it's the government's leadership.

I'm often in awe of this area of our world - the black soil, the abundant moisture, the lush growth.  Through the centuries it has changed (some better and some worse) but to date no one has stopped us from developing, enhancing, protecting and utilizing it for our citizens good health.

On this July 4th, I'm grateful I was born in this country where we continue to try to make a better life for everyone.  We are never done and we should never stop trying, but, we are still allowed to try.  I do hope as we celebrate July 4th, we take stock of just how fortunate we are and be grateful for those who have helped defend our freedoms. 

I pray we don't take this beautiful land for granted while it ever so silently slips away.

“Until he extends his circle of compassion to all living things,
man will not himself find peace.” 
- Albert Schweitzer