Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year's

Happy New Year's garden friends! 


"A garden is never so good as it will be next year."  By: Thomas Cooper, American scientist and patriot, 1759-1839

Friday, December 30, 2011

Mon Petit Chou

Mon Petit Chou is a phrase of affection used by the French meaning: "My little cabbage."

Growing cabbage in the garden is not all that popular anymore.  Eating cabbage isn't all that popular anymore. I'm guessing there's a generation that doesn't realize the slaw they get with their chicken tenders is made from cabbage.

The approaching New Year's Day prompts this little cabbage article.  Cabbage has long been considered "good luck" if it's consumed on New Year's Day.  It may go back to the belief that cabbage leaves are a sign of prosperity, representing paper currency. 

The Irish consider eating corned beef and cabbage on New Year's Day insurance for a coming year of good luck and prosperity.  Cabbage has been farmed from as far back as 400 BC and the wild version used for thousands of years BC.  It was credited with saving many lives during the Irish potato famine.

The Germans traditionally have a roast pork with sauerkraut on New Year's Day.  They don't mention good luck; perhaps it's just a favorite tradition.  Again, I suspect there's a generation that not only doesn't know sauerkraut is cabbage, but, would not let it touch their lips on a bet.

As with most holiday food traditions, many came from superstition and a specific legend.  They're often specific to nationality, race or religion.

As you get ready to feed a bevy of Rose Bowl fans or simply fix a Sunday meal, consider the cabbage.  Cook (most boil) with a flavorful meat, add potatoes and carrots (maybe a few onions) and feel the warmth of good cooking.  Some cook with black eyed peas, others in cabbage rolls, stir fry, au gratin and soup.

Come spring, add a few cabbage plants to your garden or flower beds.  They take very little room and attention and are rather pretty.   Plant where no other related plant has grown the previous year: such as brussel sprouts, cauliflower, etc.  They don't like full sun and are perfect for tucking around other plants.  They thrive on compost and about 6 inches of mulch.  They need adequate moisture but the soil should drain.  Put a collar of newspaper around the plant when setting in the ground if you have cut worms.  Use fine meshed fencing around them if you have rabbits.

Cabbage is a good source of riboflavin, vitamin C, glutamine, indol-3-carbinol, and is low calorie.  It is fairly easy to preserve, keeps long in the refrigerator and may be left in the garden until right before it freezes.  Some like the flavor better after a frost. 

Cabbage production is a big industry in other countries with the US being the nineth in production.  If you like US grown and regulated foodstuffs, check the labels and know what US companies sell imported products - or - grown your own. 

You may purchase seeds or starter plant sets at most full service nurseries and on line. 

There are quite a few varieties, including red and curly leaf.  Try a few this year and treat yourself to this delicious vegetable.  Introduce it to your children and grandchildren.  Learn to cook with it.

And here's a couple of cabbage quotes: 

"Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education"  Mark Twain
"I want death to find me planting my cabbage" Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) 

The top photo is from the University of Illinois web site and it also has a lot of good "cabbage growing" information.  The other two photos are from my early cabbage sets prior to the heads being fully formed.      

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Capture the Fire

One of the reasons I enjoy living in the Midwest, in the country and on a hill is the beautiful cloud formations.  Combine those with a sunset and photo opportunities abound.

I tend to take many photos when there's a sky like the one in these recent pictures.  Not only do the different areas of the sky have different views (is that a duh thing on my part), but, as the sun sets, the colors play off the clouds in different ways and colors. 

The above photo is directly west.  Because the sun is shielded by the clouds, there isn't a huge fire ball making reflections in my camera lens.
This photo is southwest and captures some of the wind turbines.  Allowing structures, such as trees, buildings, and these turbines adds depth and perspective.    

As the sun sets over the horizon, the sky pulls in shades of purple, pinks and yellows.

If the sunset is your primary focus, it's important to use hardscapes as frames.  If you're not someone who has artistic visualization skills, it's important to take many different examples.  Discard those that just don't work and keep the ones that are "wow" moments.    

Although the entire photo has branches in the foreground, the sunset is the primary focus.  The colors and intensity of the sun far outweighs the black branches. 

If you're not adept at arranging the subject matter in real time, consider purchasing a photo editor package for the computer.  AND take loads of pictures.  I'm always amazed when a quick click results in a stellar view.  Enjoy the clouds, they not only bring rain and snow, they bring lovely photos to be cherished.   

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Is Coming

Christmas is coming,
The geese are getting fat,
Please put a penny
In the old man's hat.

If you haven't got a penny,
A ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny,
Then God bless you.

The music to Christmas is Coming was composed by Edith Nesbit Bland in the late nineteenth century.
The author of the lyrics is unknown but the popularity of this traditional Christmas song
 is handed down from generation to generation in the form of a nursery rhyme.

Christmas not only came - it went for 2011.  Our Christmas was busy, but, in a good way.  We had one group of family for supper on Christmas Eve and another for Christmas Dinner.  Some were in other states, but, we did get to talk to most.  Eight children, 14 grandchildren, and 2 on the way.  Add to that spouses, etc., and we add another eight more. 
My best laid plan of writing this little wish was pushed aside by cooking and celebrating.  Not a bad way to get side tracked.  As the above little poem/song indicates:  If you can't do it all, then downsize until you can do what your situation allows and "Then God bless you!"   

Friday, December 23, 2011

Waste Note - Want Not

Do you remember looking through Grandma's things and wondering why she kept so many old things? Why were there half-used bottles of condensed strong smelling perfume? Why the many tubes of blood red lipstick - all worn down to the nub? Why were there twenty-three tins of various brands of talc, all open with no smell left? Why was there a drawer full of hand crafted starched and ironed hankies? Why were there five satin bed jackets - all pink and embroidered?

It's because our grandparents (perhaps even our parents) were raised in the era of "waste not - want not". You just never knew when that luxury item would be your last. In an era of soup lines and respectable hard working people losing their life savings - tomorrow was uncertain.

My folks saved the foil wrappers from gum and string from packaging. Every kitchen had a ball of both. They were not only saving for their own use, they were saving to help others. Aluminum foil was donated to the war effort. I have no idea what the millions of balls of string were used for - perhaps it made a great baseball in lean times.

When Gram and Gramps passed, those things got thrown away or went on the hay wagon. I think that might have been when the expression, "Grandpa would turn over in his grave if he saw that." was first quoted.

Much of that era's need to save "for a rainy day” was subconsciously passed on to my generation. We, too, had that embedded fear that tomorrow was not certain and the economy might falter making luxury items impossible to buy.

While that might be true, I had an awakening many years ago when I read an Erma Bombeck article about how she wished she had used those things and enjoyed them before they got all icky from years of waiting for the right moment. I believe Ms. Bombeck was in ill health when she pinned this.

And although I had a college professor make fun of my using Erma Bombeck as quote worthy, she certainly knew human nature.

Even though retired, I use my perfume every day at home. I wear that pretty blouse to the grocery. I put the fragile knickknack on the table. I use grandma's china for Christmas dinner. I pick flowers and have them in a vase in most every room in the house. I don't kill the violets growing in the grass. I use the bubble bath given to me by my grandchild.

“Waste not - want not” is simply using what is available at the time. The unused perfume becomes too strong to ever use. The never used china doesn’t give your own children/grandchildren a lasting memory. Killing violets deprives us of one of the most beautiful fragrant flowers. Saving the hunk of expensive cheese gives you a hunk of mold. And it goes on. Saving precious consumables doesn't save for bad times, it wastes. It wastes the money someone spent on the item, it wastes the potential enjoyment, and it wastes a memory.

What it does not do is help you store up for an emergency. By the time an emergency comes, consumables are past consuming. And that's the difference. Save the foil gum wrappers for recycling if you want, but chew that gum before it becomes so hard it will break your tooth. Erma Bombeck was right.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

W is for Wicked

I featured one of Amy Stewart's other books, "Wicked Plants" and the "Wicked Bugs - The Louse That Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects" has just been released. 

Ms. Stewart's book is not for the squeamish or the Entomophobia sufferer.  It could almost make you lock yourself indoors after thoroughly fumigating the structure.

From creepy to crawly - destructive to deadly - biting to burrowing - let's just say it's really interesting and slightly frightening.  Should you not have a good imagination, the etchings and drawings (by Briony Morrow-Cribbs) will put you right over the top.

I find it interesting to read how certain insects plagued the world in by-gone days.  What ones are still out there bothering parts of the world.  How many threats have been eliminated thanks to heightened cleanliness, medicines or better farming methods.  

Need a little curl-up-on-a-cold-winter-night reading?  Pick up a copy of this little thriller and let me know if you think of any of these the next time you are down on all fours gardening next summer.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wind Turbines

This is a photo of the first portion of two windmills going in behind our property.  The blades are already attached to the gear housing.

This is the crane holding the gear housing and blades as they are attached to the tower.

This is another location about a mile away from our house.  I liked the contrast of the old and new.

Wind turbines (or windmills as they used to be called) are the topic of conversation by neighbors and those afar.  The wind farm will have hundreds of turbines and our area will encompass the first phase. 

Whether residents are proponents of the wind turbines and wind generated energy, most admit it's been an awesome thing to watch how efficiently this project has unfolded.  Dedicated crews are used for each step, they work long hours and they have been careful to create a minimal amount of problems for residents.

Unless we are in a hurry, many residents have sat and marvelled at the equipment being trucked onto farm land.  The size of each blade, the housing and the towers have surprised those of us who have viewed them up close.  The number of cement trucks used during the foundation phase, the amount of gravel put down to secure sturdy roads, and the speed of the project is pretty amazing.

To date, my vote is still out on whether it will be a plus for the area.  Tax moneys, landowner leases, gifts to area towns, workers patronizing local business, clean energy are some of the pluses.  Complaints have often been centered around speculation, the looks on the landscape, and gripes and grudges. 

Maybe it's my utility - energy background, but, I'm enjoying the process.  As those babies start turning and producing, I'll be more informed.  Today they are awesome!     

Sunday, December 18, 2011

80 Roses!

A friend of mine, Brett, recently sent his mother 80 bright pink roses for her 80th birthday.  I'm betting it took two strong delivery persons just to get it into her house.  What a beautiful treat.

What do you do with 80 roses or for that matter a few stems of any cut flower?

It's pretty much the same for florist and garden cut flowers.  Just a few always and most cut bouquets should last at least a week and sometimes weeks.

Make sure the container is sparkling clean.  Wash the residue out of a used vase with hot water and a good detergent.  Rinse.  I usually run mine through the dishwasher after hand washing the residue off.  Aside from making the vase pretty, it's essential to remove any and all bacteria.

Fill with warm water.  Warm water is taken into the stems faster than cold water. 

The little packets of professional grade preservatives have a mixture that will help the flower take up nutrients, water and prevent decay.  Mix into the warm water.

Remove all foliage that will sit beneath the water line.  Wet foliage will quickly rot and ruin the bouquet.

Cut off the end of the stem and insert immediately into the water.  Any stem that has been cut for even a few minutes will have formed a barrier over the end.  The new cut allows water to be taken up.

Change the water (cleaning the vase in the process) every few days and make a fresh cut off the bottom of each stem.

Don't sit the vase in bright direct light or where it will be hit by a cold burst of air (near outside doors) and not on or near heat sources. 

Remove flowers as the wilt.  When a good portion of them have been removed, take the flowers that are left and trim for a smaller vase. 

According to the University of Illinois garden site, doing the above will prolong the life of flowers and foliage.

Side Note:  As the green leaves drop off your poinsettia, cut off the red top with as much stem as needed and place in a vase as if it is a fresh cut flower.  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Come On Honey, I'm Bored

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas - everywhere I go.  Well, perhaps not everywhere.  In the wild Midwest (the Midwest isn't all that wild - but the wildlife in the Midwest): 

Raccoons den up and breed during snow storms.  Mr. Raccoon, "Come here honey, I'm bored."

North American bats hibernate.  Screech and Barred owls call (should you be outside in the evening).  Gray squirrels start mating and continue through February (talk about busy).  Red fox and raccoons breed.  Evening grosbeaks visit feeders.  Unbred does enter second estrus.  Badgers will dig up, kill and eat hibernating woodchucks.  Rabbits use abandoned dens during heavy snow.  Bald eagles move toward open water at locks and dams.  Skunks sleep during weather of 15 degrees or colder.  Beaver feed on sapling reserves.  Whitetails form winter groups.  Canada geese start migrating into southern Illinois.

All this breeding during the cold winter months is not all that different than humans.  The month where most U.S. babies are born is September - during that cold snowy dark winter, men say, "Come on honey, I'm bored."

On December 1st, we entered into the Meteorological Winter or the three coldest months of the year.  Temperatures usually drop at least 10 degrees (on average) during December.  The average snow for the month is 8.4 inches.  2000 saw 32.9 inches.  1889 saw none.  We are currently below average.

The record low temperature for December was minus 24 degrees in 1924 and the record high was 71 degrees in both 1970 and 1982.  Typical average lows are 17-25 degrees and average highs 32 - 41 degrees. 

I'll be looking forward to year end averages and comparisons.  Right now I'm like the rest of the little kids in the Midwest:  I'm wishing for snow for Christmas.

Here's a funny from the facebook page of "The Heirloom Gardener - John Forti"  Whole lot of work for a joke, but, I sure did enjoy his humor. 
Hundreds gather to protest global warming!

Saturday, December 10, 2011


(This is a photo taken from Ah Alaska Blog - eat your heart out fishermen everywhere!) Our nation is so very diverse and this little Christmas video points that out so clearly.  Looks so cold I almost wanted to get a sweater while watching.  It's refreshing to see a video with faces etched by the elements, work and normalcy of neighbors.  (Don't you just get tired of everyone on TV looking perfectly plastic?)
I looked at the coordination and song the first time around, the next time the surroundings and the last time I looked at the faces.  Good job Village of Quinhagak - nice Christmas present to us all. 

And as far as gardening - wow - that would be some tough lessons learned to grow what we traditionally think of as gardens.  A place I'd like to visit and get to know.   Here's a few facts:
This video from the Yupiq Eskimo Village of Quinhagak, Alaska, population 669.  The village dates back to 1000 AD.  Over 96% of the population is Native Americans.  Over 27% of the families are below the poverty line. 

A federally-recognized tribe is located in the community -- the Native Village of Kwinhagak (aka Quinhagak). The community is primarily Yup'ik Eskimos who fish commercially and are active in subsistence food gathering. The sale, importation, and possession of alcohol is banned in the village.  Almost half the households haul water and use honeybuckets. 

There is one school with 225 students and it's mostly the 5th grade class in this video filmed in 2010 by teacher Jim Barthelman.  Check out his BLOG "Ah Alaska!" at  and check out the Alaska Daily Newspaper.
(This is his photo of a 10 p.m. sunset on April 15th - they are having 14 1/2 hours of sun a day.)  Quinhagak is located in a marine climate a mile from the Bering Sea coast. They average 43 inches of snowfall a year. Summer temperatures average 41 to 57 °F, and winter temperatures average 6 to 24 °F. Extremes have been measured from 82 to -34 °F.

Now you know the rest of the story - enjoy the great video.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Say What??

Was reading a little ditty on hardiness zones and low and behold (whatever that means), the zone boundaries have changed.  Seems they haven't been revised in years.  The Arbor Day folks did an average and have revised zone boundaries.  It's not a huge difference although it might encourage some of us on the edge to try something not quite as hardy as we previously experimented.

I've always thought my particular bit of land verged towards the colder zone.  We were listed as zone 5 and I've found anything planted on the west/north/east better be pretty darn hardy to Zone 4.  On the south side of the house, we have fences, bushes, trees and lots of winter growth - we can occasionally over-winter an annual or two. 

To the right of this blog, you will find a link to the hardiness zone finder.  Click on it and enter your zip code.

Remember:  Hardiness zones are "guides" not gospel.  Most garden spaces have a number of hardiness zones depending on the lay of the land, sun/shade exposure, wind/windbreaks, soil composition, and mulch.

2006 Hardiness Zone Map

2006 Hardiness Zones 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Smells of Christmas

WAIT!  Isn’t that supposed to be the “Sounds of Christmas”?  Certain smells just might be as important to your Christmas memories as that favorite yuletide carol.

Think a moment, what fragrances bring a feeling of Christmas even if it’s the middle of June? 

I’ve talked about the human sense of smell and how it is the strongest memory provoking sense we humans share.  Seriously, fry up a piece of bacon and try to keep the smile off your face.

The candle and oil industries have made a fortune scenting our homes.  Something perfume manufacturers knew for thousands of years. 

Let’s take the fragrances most likely to invoke a holiday memory:

·         Pine:  Even if we don’t want the mess of a live Christmas tree anymore, most of us love the smell of fresh pine in our homes. 

·         Pumpkin pie:  This is the dominate smell of cloves and cinnamon.

 ·         Sugar Cookie:  This is essentially the smell of vanilla.  Vanilla invokes comfort.    

 ·         Peppermint:  Peppermint oil is strong and easily resembles candy canes.

 ·         Orange or Tangerine:  For me, this is the smell of Christmas morning when I’d find one of these citrus fruits in my stocking.  As they are peeled, the fragrance fills the entire room.

 Often the cheaper man made fragrances have a chemical smell.  It’s why the more expensive candles and oils still have good sales.  Recreating those fragrances in your home is pretty easy without much muss or fuss.

Pine is simple:  Cut a few boughs (or purchase) and strategically place in arrangements or simply in a vase.  Replace when they become dry.

Pumpkin pie:  Put one cup of water in a two cup measuring bowl.  Add a tablespoon each of ground cloves and cinnamon.  Heat in the microwave until your home is fragrant.  Try in 30 second intervals since it tends to boil over and you don’t want it to have a mess or scorched scent.  Open the microwave and let the scent fill your home – this container will be VERY hot at first.

Sugar Cookie:  Same as with the pumpkin, except only add one teaspoon of pure vanilla to the water instead of the spices. 

Peppermint:  Same as with the pumpkin, except only add one-half teaspoon of peppermint oil to the water instead of the spices.

Orange or Tangerine:  Peel a fruit and lay the peeling in a ceramic/glass saucer.  Hide behind something and let it scent the room for days.  Remove and replace when it starts to dry. 

And “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” fragrance now.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Jingle Jangle

David Davis ParlorAnother home I've mentioned before in relation to their gardens is the David Davis Mansion, 100 Monroe Drive, Bloomington IL.  They also have Christmas tours until the end of this month 9am to 4 pm daily.   On December 17th, their evening tour of three historic homes (David Davis, Broadview & Mystery Mansions) are from 3-6 pm or 6-9 pm.  Visit the   for details.  The Davis home is fully restored. 
The interior photo of the Davis Mansion is from their web page.  The Broadview also has other Christmas events 

Come see the Mansion dressed up for Christmas-Evening candle light tours! Reservations strongly recommended! Call (815) 224-5892 to reserve your tickets today!

The Hegeler Carus Mansion, 1307 Seventh St., LaSalle is beautiful in the winter.  This fantastic photo of the Hegeler Carus Mansion was taken by Kemp Smith of the Newstribune and can be found on their facebook page.  The Holiday Christmas Lights Tours on December 9th - call for specifics.  This mansion isn't restored to original splendor, it is a glimpse at history and the tours and events lend a semblance to walking through a door to another era.

I tend to get a little festive and off "garden based" this time of the year.  I enjoy touring the grand old homes of historically significant families and visualizing their life during those times.

 For a rather different "tour" experience, the Frank Lloyd Wright's Kenneth Laurant home in Rockford, IL is up for auction (December 15th in Chicago).  Many of the original furnishings and a companion 1.2 acres designed landscape will come with the property.  The Laurant's are moving to an assisted living facility and historical preservationists hope to buy the home and turn it into a museum.  This photo is from the realtor's page.       Frank Lloyd Wright 2 Frank Lloyd Wrights Kenneth Laurent House in Illinois Up For Auction

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2011 * 3:00 to 8:00 PM
The annual Decatur IL "Historic  Christmas Tour" is all about eleven stops (both homes and other) and includes several events.  Check out

Most central Illinois communities have Christmas celebrations, lighting, and tours.  Pick a town, google Christmas celebrations or tours and hit the road. 

For the garden purist:  Many of the lovely historical homes have beautiful gardens - even in the winter.   A testimony to good design, the winter "bones" are ideas waiting for you to copy.  Most historic home tours will not allow inside photos, but, they do allow photos of the gardens.

Get your jingle jangle on and add a little festive touring to your December fun. 

Side note:  I simply could not get this article to apply facts where I wanted them.  Pardon the odd parts.    

Monday, December 5, 2011

Shop Small

Hoerr Nursery, Peoria, IL has a gift shop in addition to their greenhouse and nursery services.

Green View, Dunlap IL is like sightseeing your way through a winter wonderland.   In addition to things to buy, they have instruction sessions most Saturdays leading up to Christmas.   

Sunnyfield Nursery, Galva IL, has gift certificates available by calling 309-852-4172.

Dew Fresh Market, Tenney St., Kewanee IL, has pine wreaths, garlands and greenery.  When they are sold out - they close until spring.

Prairie Country Gardens, Galva/Atkinson Blacktop, Galva IL, is taking orders for pine wreaths, garlands and grave blankets.  309-927-8177 for Diane Nelson.

Distinctive Gardens, Dixon IL, always has beautiful, unique and often handmade gifts and decorations.  Although you may be too late for this year, they offer Christmas decorating services.

Old Mill Gardens, Atkinson IL has fresh green arrangements designed locally in addition to a large array of gifts and decorations.  Love those new dusk to dawn window candles.

Emma's Bloomers, Inc. in Annawan IL has locally made Christmas gifts and decorations including some pretty amazing handmade Santa's. 

The Illinois Department of Agriculture maintains a website promoting products made by Illinois food companies.  There are 200 listed featuring everything from gourmet coffee, chocolate, wine and cheese. and then click on the right side of the page entitled Purchase Illinois Products Gift Items Online.                                                                                              

Many of the small towns are running the campaign "Shop Small" encouraging the public to do their Christmas shopping at the locally run mom and pop stores.  With the craziness of big box stores (can you say pepper spraying another shopper?) and the malls, I'm pretty satisfied with the long list of wonderful local offerings.  And - this is a big AND with me:  they are genuinely glad to see you in their store, appreciate your business and strive to make it a good shopping experience.  Your town may have other wonderful locally owned stores.  Shop small - shop locally!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Seasonal Entertainment

A few Christmas events happening in the neighborhood - all have some connection to gardening and gardeners.  Or, just a good time looking at the beautiful.

Everything, All At Once, Forever is an installation of new plastic debris sculptures created specifically for exhibition at the Figge Art Museum by Aurora Robson.  Runs through January 15, 2012.

Among many things the Davenport IA museum store has are handmade lamp work flowers by Lithuanian artisans. 

Start a new holiday tradition: hike Shaw Nature Reserve
The Missouri Botanical Garden  The Garden Gate Shop stocks home furnishings, plants, books, and garden accessories. Shaw Nature Reserve's Visitor Center has a wide selection of books for every interest and all ages.  The number of December activities could keep you busy for an entire week.

Johnson Sauk TrailJohnson Sauk Trail State Park, located between Annawan and Kewanee on Route 78 has winter activities.   The summer hiking trails become 3 miles of cross country ski trails.  The hills are ideal for sledding and the lake is excellent for ice fishing or ice skating.  (Note:  all activities are unsupervised)

Bishop Hill, IL, an Illinois state historical site (see link to the right), has several holiday events including the Julmarknad Christmas Market on December 3 & 4.  Shops are decorated and have a variety of beautiful items.  Plus, hear special music, sample Swedish foods and stroll the streets and village park.

Side note:  Congratulations to Linda and Crystal, owners of "The Filling Station" restaurant in Bishop Hill the past 18 years. 

2012 Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden CalendarThe Garden Conservancy   has numerous garden books, DVDs and their calender for sale. 

Most small towns have Christmas celebrations throughout December.  They offer winter entertainment and locally made gifts and food. 

Looking for a unique family gift: 

My friend, Nancy, is taking her brood on a weekend at Chestnut Mountain Ski

Waterfall frozen in Winter
My nephew's family all gathered at a State Park for the holiday staying at the lodge which has a pool, restaurant and entertainment.  Check out:  Starved Rock State Park, Utica IL.

This is a beautiful park and they have a wonderful lodge.  Check the state's web site for particulars - such as when some things are closed due to hunting season.

The area of LaSalle County, IL, has many interesting sites and December is chocked full of events.  Parks, water, mansions and great food. 

Many events are free - others require reservations.  Broaden your winter gardening experiences in your area of the world.  Sometimes the neighborhood events are pretty darn stellar.    
(all photos are from the mentioned web sites)