Monday, April 30, 2012

Flaming Spikes

I've mentioned before, we have lots of black walnut trees.  Through mostly trial and error, I've found what plants won't grow near these trees.  The walnut chemical "juglone" is certain death for some plants. 

We put a casual fence between the backyard and the woods.  To keep the weeds from spreading into the area, I heavily planted spring flowering bulbs and Hosta.  It was then heavily mulched.  The idea is to have foliage so dense it will help with the weed issue. 

In this heavily shaded area, it's difficult to have flowering plants - in addition to the juglone issue.  It's the perfect spot for the perennial, Astilbe.  Astilbes are also commonly called false spirea, feather flower, meadowsweet, and false goat’s beard.

Since I've learned the hard way (loss of plants, IE cash), I only planted one Astilbe last year.  It was a super healthy specimen from Distinctive Gardens (Dixon IL).  It did well throughout the summer.  It's the over wintering that is the kiss of death for juglone sensitive plants. 

This year, I have a full healthy Astilbe Chinesis "Delft Lace".  This is an apricot/pinkish/lavender flowered plant.  The foliage is maroon in the spring.  Glory Be!

Feeling this was an all clear, last week, I planted a nice Astilbe japonica “Maggie Daley”.  This plant has lavender/purple flowers over shiny dark green foliage and was from Red Barn Nursery, Sheffield IL.

Pushing my luck, I bought a package of six roots from a big box store.  Three each of "America" (rich pink) and "Amethyst" (deep lavender).  Yesterday we were graced by a nice steady rain.  Perfect!  

Astilbe flower stems are1-4 foot tall.  The stems of flowers look like "flaming spikes."  The flowers attract butterflies. 

The how to for astilbes:  They will grow in full shade to partial sun.  The more sun, typically the more leaf color and shorter the bloom time.  The most IMPORTANT thing to remember is they must have evenly moist well drained soil ALL summer.  This means if you have it in full sun or live in the South, you MUST keep it watered.  I recommend mulch.  It can't sit in water or the roots will rot.  Bottom line:  it will die if it doesn't get moisture. 

If you don't want to be tied to your Astilbe duties, plant in a spot where nature helps with these conditions.  My slightly sloped site, shaded, years of decomposed leaves, near the water runoff at the low depth of our rolling hills ensures optimal conditions.  During severe drought, it will still need to be watered on a regular basis.

Astilbe will tolerate average soil although fertilizing in the spring before it flowers may help improve the display.  If it's planted in amended or rich soil, fertilization isn't necessary.  Leave the flower stocks until spring so you will remember where they're planted.  Its deer and rabbit resistant.  Plus, pest free.   

Astilbe bloom starting in June for 6 - 8 weeks.  Flower colors range from shades of peach, lime, white, pink, red and lavender.  Leaf color and shape is varied.  The flowers make a nice cut flower or dried flower.   Astilbe is a native to North America.

(Top photo was the first summer for Delft Lace.  Three remaining photos are from web examples of Delft Lace, Maggie Daley, and Amethyst.)                           

Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Pride and Joy

Here's a man singing about his garden.  No, really.  It's true - honest.  Seriously!  His sweet little thing, his pride and joy is his garden.  I know this for a fact.

OK, OK, OK - but, I'm sure he would have meant it about his garden!

What's your favorite gardening or garden song?    

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

BF Goodrich

Do you remember old car or tractor tire planters?  People would lay them on their side, fill them with soil and plant flowers.  They were usually in the front yard, sometimes with a matching twin, and the classy ones were painted white.  The really artistic would cut little wedges and curl them upward.  

They were a good use of something no one wanted.  They were the forerunner of raised beds.  They were virtually indestructible.

Then came a society who turned their noses up at having a tire "for heaven's sake" in the yard.  It was trashy!  Tacky!  Seriously not cool!

And then what goes around - comes around and tires are back "in" style.  They're hip!  It's "green" to recycle!  It saves the planet!  It's innovative!  And society does a hundred and eighty.  Live long enough and you'll see most every phase come and go.  Each new generation thinks it has been terribly clever to invent something new. 

Here are some photos of tire planters from various net sites.  Some are pretty cute.
I thought this was sideways until I realized they were mounted to the side of a building.

This one is a store display with dried branches.

This bright display could dual purpose as a fence.
Not a planter but certainly kid friendly.

For the gardener who has A LOT of tires.

If you've priced hose holders, you know this is a pretty good substitute.    The good news with tire recycling:  the brand, the original cost, and the wear doesn't make any difference to the success of your planter.     Go eco friendly GO!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Puttin' on the Ritz

Puttin’ on the Ritz is exactly what chartreuse does to gardens.  The color chartreuse draws the eye, brightens a bed and it simply sparkles.

A whole yard of emerald green foliage can be boring even with multi colored flowers.  This is especially true if you have a large quantity of trees and bushes.  What to do?  Add chartreuse!

Every year new bushes are introduced with chartreuse foliage.  Some that I’ve found hardy, easy and beautiful:  

Coralberry “Taffa Silver Edge”:  A 3 ft. bush attractive to bees, birds and butterflies.  Takes average light, water & soil.

“Golden Mops” False cypress:  Low mounding evergreen with slow growth.

Juniper “Old Gold”:  A compact evergreen preferring full sun.

Privet “Gold”:  This 6 ft. shrub turns purple in the fall.  Full sun for best color.

The “Golden Weeping” Willow tree is stunning all year with golden winter stems, early spring gold buds and gold leaves in the fall.

There is chartreuse foliage on a huge array of perennials. 

Chartreuse Hosta can really add zing to a shady spot.  Some that work for me is “Emerald Tiara”, “Golden Sceptre” and the popular “Sun and Substance”.   I noticed a really pretty Coral Bell at a nursery this week.

When looking for annuals, consider the chartreuse sweet potato vine. This color can actually highlight bright summer flowers. There is an especially pretty chartreuse zinnia. When included in a vase of bright flowers, this zinnia ties them together nicely.

I find I need to see the plant to realize if it’s really chartreuse because most use the word gold. Gold is usually accurate when describing flower color but often a matter of opinion with foliage.

Some plant foliage will have chartreuse foliage only under certain conditions. Perhaps only in the sun or they must have certain soil nutrients. Others are only that color during specific seasons. Not a bad thing, just be aware so you  won’t be disappointed. 
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention chartreuse hardscapes.  A flower pot, seat cushion, bird bath, and more will flood the boring right out of a garden.  Right now the fabric world has embraced it in stripes (often chartreuse, white & blue), abstracts and floral.

Whether you love to watch the elegant Fred Astaire version or Gene Wilder’s Young Frankenstein version of “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, add some Ritz to your gardens with chartreuse!

Alright everybody, let’s bring this one home:

If you're blue and you don't know where to go to
Why don't you go where fashion sits,
Puttin' on the Ritz.”
From web of Fred Astaire in "Puttin' on the Ritz".

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Love Them To Death

Sometimes we want to do everything possible for our pretty plants.  The motto is water, fertilize, mulch and prune them into perfection.  And then, sadly, they don't bloom or die.  They've been loved to death.

Some plants just want to be left alone.  Today I'll talk about those plants that shouldn't be fertilized.  The reason in most instances is the plant will produce an abundant amount of foliage and no flowers.  Here are a few that don't want fertilization:  

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
False indigo (Baptisia australis)
Pinks (Dianthus spp.)
Rock roses (Helianthemum spp.)
Sea holly (Eryngium spp.)
Bee balm (Monarda didyma)
Speedwell (Veronica spp.)
Cornflower (Echinacea spp. & Rudbeckia spp.)
Most succulants
All perennial ornamental grasses
Nasturtiums  (in all my pictures in this story)

Most commercial fertilizers are basically salts.  Too much can burn the plants or in the case of grasses, they won't absorb water.  If you must use commercial fertilizer, apply at half the strength it's recommended.

If your soil is healthy when you plant, seldom is additional commercial fertilizer necessary.  One exception is plants in pots and window boxes.  The soil is basically to hold the roots in place and do little or nothing to enhance the nutrients.  You can use a time release at the time of potting.  A regular very mild dose of liquid fertilizer is necessary if you want it to be as pretty as those wondrous nursery examples.  BUT, if you fertilize any of the above in pots, they won't be happy.

If your vegetable garden isn't fertilized with dried manure, a general rule-of-thumb:   Fertalize the first time is in the spring, before you plant. The second feeding time is typically halfway through the growing season when your plants are ready to produce.

If in doubt, check each plant variety before you fertilize.  Reversing the effect of too much or the wrong kind is almost impossible. 

Some folks add bone meal to bulbs when planting.  If you have dogs or squirrels, they will smell it and dig up your bulbs. 

Don't get fertilizer on the trunk or stem of any plant.  I don't recommend digging holes around trees and bushes to insert fertilizer - it can burn or damage the roots.  A tree that is stressed from disease or insect damage will usually have more stress if you add a bunch of fertilizer.  If trees and bushes are heavily fertilized too late in the fall, they may fail to go into dormancy or put on a lot of new growth which will have winter kill.

Most large State universities and extension offices have agriculture web facts about fertilizers and how to use them.  They also explain how to read a fertilizer component description. 

Love your plants - just don't love them to death. 

Side Note:  Distinctive Gardens, Dixon, is having a free container workshop April 21 at 10 am.     

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Um diddle diddle diddle um diddle ay! 
Um diddle diddle diddle um diddle ay!

Even though the sound of it
Is something quite atrocious
If you say it loud enough
You'll always sound precocious

That pretty much sums up how gardeners react while visiting a garden nursery.  There are so many supercalifragilisticexpialidocious plants ~ annuals, perennials, hardscapes, hanging baskets, trees, bushes - Oh my gosh let me gasp for air I'm running on high.

We've a couple of new nurseries in this area and I wish them well.  The nursery business is so "tender" and that's not a pun.  They have such a big investment and it can go bad from so many of nature's little surprises.  I'm all about supporting our local retail businesses.

The Galva News featured 19 year old Ryan Werkheiser's new nursery "Nature's Creations".  I bought a beautiful little succulent last year from Ryan.  Open 9 to 7 Tues. - Fri. and 9 to 6 Sat. & Sun.  309-932-3834.  GPS it at:   21229 N 500 Ave, Kewanee IL.

"Pink Prairie Gardens", 16301 Weber Rd., Geneseo IL is open daily 10 to 7.    309-944-2371 or at     Nick and Kim Gehling are the owners.

Both of the new nurseries have unusual offerings.  Isn't that why we go to every single nursery within the area - because they reflect the owners' interests and are always offering something different from the next one.   They're simply Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

This is a photo of my granddaughter enjoying lilac Sensation

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Princess & the Pea

This drawing from the original work "The Princess and the Pea" is certainly a raised bed.  BUT not quite the kind I had envisioned for my garden.  My little fairy tail started like this:

Once upon a time, grandma said to grandpa, "The weeds keep creeping into my garden and it makes it hard to keep it clean." 

Once upon another time, grandpa ignored grandma.

Grandma put down "Preen", layers of newspapers, manure, different kinds of weed block fabric and cardboard (which I'm still picking up from where the wind blew it mostly to the east).  Lots of heavy rocks and brick to hold things down created a walking hazard.  And, there's still weeds.  Poor grandma.

Grandma would pull weeds, hack weeds, hoe weeds, and still there were weeds.  Poor grandma.

The lettuce, rhubarb, and asparagus at the edge of the garden got totally lost in high weeds.  Grandma weeded and weeded and still there were weeds.  Poor grandma. 

Then one day, grandpa got the idea to make a raised bed where the garden stood.  And he did - he really did.  The whole thing was weeded, shot with weed killer and a layer of good landscape fabric was put down.  The sides are 14 inches tall.  To this was added 10 ton nursery grade black top soil.  Grandpa raked, shoveled, leveled, tilled, and smoothed the soil.  Poor grandpa. 

And as the spring planting season starts Grandma dreams that all things are possible:  a weed free garden, huge beautiful perfect veggies, people coming from miles around to take pictures of a perfect garden example and we have to set up a vegetable stand because we have so much produce and almost, but not quite, make back the rather large investment to make a raised garden bed.  And they live happily ever after.

Grandpa is in his recliner, with his remote in his hand and fast asleep.  Grandma is happy.

Is this where they get the saying, "If grandma ain't happy - ain't nobody happy?"   

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It's Hip To Be Square

Most of my garden friends live in small towns or the rural communities.  We're not the "hicks" described in old movies; we enjoy the serenity.  We chose to live a less complicated lifestyle within easy access to big city opportunities.

There's a competition going on right now:   "This Is Retail" video contest.  My favorite gardener - yes my very favorite is daughter, Susan Kaufman.  Susan's video of her Market Alley Wines retail store was picked as one of the top twenty videos in the nation.  Pretty awesome stuff for this small town (Monmouth, Illinois) store run by an awesome daughter.

Susan's video is up against some heavy weight competition such as Macy's and Brighten.  How can a little retailer, in business for less than one year, successfully compete?  You did ask "how" didn't you?  The answer is it's now entering into a weekly voting contests and YOU can have ten votes for Market Alley Wines a day.  The top three winners will get some much needed money for their business. 

Please consider voting for Susan's Market Alley Wines video this week.  Please vote your ten votes every day this week.  Share on your facebook page.  Access the voting at:
The Market Alley Wines Facebook page.

Do it for daughters everywhere.  Do it for gardeners.  Do it for wine drinkers.  Do it for small communities.  Do it for the small retailers.  And thank you so much!! 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Too Old To Learn?

Too Old to Learn?  NEVER!

Isn't this photo of dew clinging to a cobweb on the ornamental plum tree pretty?  We'd had a major fog that morning and this was the result.  Photographers just never know when we'll find the perfect picture.   

I have three friends who offer great garden photography programs:

Nancy Anderson, retired art teacher and Master Gardener.  Nancy has a nice slide show with beautiful examples and instruction she gives to clubs and organizations.

Roger Luft, retired teacher and professional photographer.  Roger knows his way around a camera and has instructed some excellent classes for the Galva Arts Council.

Kathy O'Malley, retired WGN radio personality and photographer.  Kathy is currently scheduled for a Garden Photography workshop at Hornbaker Nursery, Princeton, on May 26 at 10 AM.
The area nurseries are opening with their spring array of temptations.  March 31 - July 10 - Hornbaker Gardens, Princeton
  • Monday-Saturday from 8 am - 5 pm
  • Sundays from 12 pm - 5 pm
  • Check fall hours on website  April, May, and June - Sunnyfield Nursery, Galva/Kewanee
  • Monday-Saturday 9:00-8:00
  • Open Sundays 10:00-6:00
  • Open Father's Day
  • Check fall hours on website  March - December - Distinctive Gardens, Dixon

  • Monday-Saturday 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
  • Sunday 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM   (April-June)  April - September - Red Barn Nursery, Sheffield
  •  Starting April 2nd:  Monday-Saturday 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM - closed Sundays
  • May:  Monday-Saturday 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM - Sunday:  1:00 - 5:00 PM
  • June-July 3rd:  Monday-Saturday 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM -  closed Sundays
  • July 5 - Mid September:  Call for an appointment

Each of these four nurseries are fun, exciting and offer different things.  There are other nurseries in the area and yes, it's fun to visit them all.  I just happen to visit these most often.

It's been an unusual ride this winter and now the same this spring.  Nurseries are feeling the early warmth and have adjusted their opening dates.  Most gardeners have gotten their spring tasks completed and are now fighting the mega weeds because of little winter kill.  I've seen pots and window boxes filled with pansies and know there's been mega itching to put in annuals. 

Some perennials are blooming and progressing right on time.  They go by the length of daylight.  Others are about 2-4 weeks ahead of normal.  They are going by warmth. 

Happy beautiful April!  Enjoy the evening.       

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Lilac, the color.
Lilac, the smell
Lilac, the flower
Lilaceous, all things lilac

Was killing weeds in my brick walks and then ran out of weed spray.  Didn't want to waste a pretty day going to the store for more (besides looking like I was a creature from mars with all the covering I wear when spraying).  So decided to cut out the dead on two rose bushes.  Then decided another rose needed an arbor I had put someplace else.  That required cutting a lot of vines out before moving.  Got so hot, I decided to pull weeds on the east side of the fence.  When all of a sudden (at 4:00 PM) I thought:   Iced tea!

It's a warm (78 degrees) beautiful day and I need iced tea even though it's only April 1st.  But first I picked a huge bouquet of lilacs.  Then a few tulips and a branch of the crab apple tree.  And now I have my glass of tea. 

Here's my mother-in-law's perfect iced tea recipe.  Being from Georgia, they always have sweet tea, but it'll work either way.  I added the spice tea for just a little more flavor.

Margaret's Gibson's Iced Tea

8 cups (2 qts.) - Cold water
6  - tea bags (any kind such as Lipton breakfast type)
1 - tea bag of Constant Comment spice
1 pinch - baking soda
Optional - 1 to 2 cups - Sugar
4 Quart - pitcher

Remove paper tags from tea bags
Put cold water and 7 tea bags in a large pan
Bring to a boil
Turn off heat
Add a pinch of baking soda (it will bubble up)
Remove bags
(Optional: put sugar in pitcher)
Add hot tea - stir if using sugar
Add another 2 quarts of cold water to tea mixture.

I know this is a basic recipe.  By following these steps it'll be really great iced tea. 

Now to arrange those lilacs in a vase and enjoy the scent for a few days.  Lilaceous!


Top photo is the first Red Admiral butterfly I've seen this year.  He was enjoying this old-fashioned purple lilac as much as I was.
Second photo is of a very old white lilac original to our old house.  Very scented.
Third photo is of lilac "Sensation".  It doesn't have much of a smell but certainly is beautiful.
Bottom photo is a pink lilac called "James MacFarland".  It has little scent and blooms late.  Yep, mark them down as lilaceous!