Monday, May 28, 2012

Winding Down May

Been crazy busy for us.  How does that happen to retired people?  Spent a couple of days in Chicago with granddaughter, Ashley. 

How did I forget the most important element of clothing for Chicago:  comfortable shoes?  The old saying "It's only a few blocks." and wowzer I should have worn something besides those cute sandals. 

Besides all the things we love about Chicago, I especially enjoy their public gardens.  The sidewalk planters were just beginning to be filled with yellow pansies.  The gardens around Millennium park had red roses blooming but not much in the way of annuals had been set out.  My guess Chicago streets and parks departments are on a schedule and hell, high water nor early spring gets that schedule moved.

Our granddaughter lives in Atlanta GA and she noticed one thing very different about Chicago:  it's so clean.  Pretty great difference and a lot of work.

Veteran's Honor Hybrid Tea Rose
Being the Memorial Day weekend, the city was full of residents and visitors alike enjoying beautiful weather and many activities.  We had front row seats (curb) at the Memorial Day parade.  No one does a parade like Chicago.  It's big production while keeping the feeling of neighborhood.  Over two hours of military, former military, police and fire units.  Bands, flags, uniforms and a few floats. 

We took the architectural boat tour of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.  Perfect day for a boat ride and interesting.  I'd done the walking tour with an old friend who was then a guide volunteer.  Next, I'm ready for the guided tour of Chicago gardens!

If you haven't already, it's time to finish putting in your vegetable garden plants.  Mulch heavily this year.  It appears having enough moisture will not be one of our summer blessings.

Thanks to all our servicemen and women, our veterans, military injured and killed and their families.  Today, we can enjoy our peaceful gardens, abundant flowers and food, and a military parade that focuses on showing our appreciation.  If you're the praying kind, offer one today of thanks, good decisions and an appeal for their protection. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

If It Isn't One Thing

If it isn't one thing ~ it's another. 

Raise your hand if you're holding an event and decide it's the perfect time to do a little sprucing up of the house and gardens.

The one little thing that will make everything look perfect. 

The one thing you've wanted to do for ages.

The perfect excuse for getting something done.

Are we all in this together? 

I feel the pressure to have at least a half way decent looking yard when we have a group of people coming to the house.  For some reason some people think just because I do this garden blog it translates into a magazine-cover garden straight off House Beautiful.

Alas, nada.  I'm just an average procrastinator who can envision perfection better than I have time to accomplish.  Crazed by good intentions in the dead of winter, I agreed to host a grandson's graduation party, a ladies' meeting, a post garden walk soiree, and a baby shower - starting this weekend and into June. 

We had the cement walks done and in the process had to tear out the front porch steps.  So I say to my honey, "Honey, I think I'll change the color of the porch ceiling.  I've always wished we had made it blue like the back porch." 

At which point the porch flooring didn't match and "Honey, I think I'll paint the floor and new steps a dark blue." 

In the process I realized the trim on the bay window no longer matched and I painted it the dark blue.
I've always wanted to give the bay an extra Victorian zing and proceeded to add another color.

Finding it was impossible to make fine lines - the result of adding another color could be described as done by a two year old except a two year old would be insulted.

This new paint made the railings look old and dull so started painting them. 

During this painting spree, I managed to pull the most offensive of the weeds which meant they had to be cleaned up.

That's when Honey started mowing the grass and the blades broke and it took five hours to finally get a new ones which had to then be retrofitted.

In the process, I had a meeting (two hour drive), needed to get to the grocery, cleaned the house and at almost dusk, we are putting one coat of paint on the porch floor (it needs two). 

The pots are clustered in a none too graceful glob on the driveway - without plants.  The porch isn't totally painted.  The bad paint on the bay is still bad.   My garden mulch is not down but in a big pile.  The veg. garden has started to grow weeds and only has cabbage.  I've got something eating my rose leaves.  The winds were gusting to 40 mph and my clean back porch is now covered in a thin layer of dust.  We're leaving at 8 am tomorrow for two days on a long planned trip to visit a granddaughter in Chicago.

Sunday is the graduation party.  We're expecting from 20 to 80 people.  Seriously, invitations to 20 and then it went on facebook. . . .   Kids!   (On the up side, my son came out and cleaned the shed's game room where the party will take place - thank you Ian!!!)   

I'm figuring this is all meant to be humbling.  And now it's time to sit back and let it roll.  Maybe it's my subconscious effort to make others feel more comfortable.  Naw ~ it's that home true ism:  You can't do one thing without it making another.  And another.   And another.

Photos of this year's beautiful peonies are just for fun.  Photo of the graduate is the whole grandma thing.     

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Rose is a Rose?

"A Rose is a Rose" seems to be more intellectual than garden based.  There are so many variables with roses that it would take us both days to sift through the what and why of it all.  I'll just go with the here and now on one of my favorite roses:


There are so many positive attributes about this rose. 
  • Alchymist is called a large flowered climber with 10-20 foot branching. 
  • It's hardy to Zone 4 and has survived well in my garden of mixed winter weather.
  • The flowers are called "very fully double" -  that's rose talk for the four inch blooms that look similar to a David Austin hybrid.  It's not a Austin rose, but, was hybridized in Germany by Kordes in 1956.
  • It's VERY fragrant.  A bouquet can scent an entire room and will last about 4 days in a vase.
  • It's resistant to mildew and rust.
  • It is "once blooming" in the late spring/early summer.  It blooms for a long time.  This year it started fully blooming May 5th and it's still covered with flowers and buds.
  • The stems are substantial.  Leaves a deep green.
  • Trains easily on an arbor.  (Mine is on a heavy wood trellis thanks to my son, Ian, for building.)
  • The rose opens with soft gleaming tones of egg yolk yellow then turns a fresh apricot as it ages.  Most years it has a blend of colors depending on the weather, timing during the bloom season and extend of flower opening.  The colors resemble a Monet painting. 

 If it has negatives, they would be:
  • It is susceptible to black spot although my plant hasn't been bothered.
  • It has thorns similar to a hybrid tea rose - meaning big.

Definition of Alchymist is someone who practices alchemy and alchemy is:

1.  A form of chemistry and speculative philosophy practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and concerned principally with discovering methods for transmuting baser metals into gold and with finding a universal solvent and an elixir of life.

2.  Any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.  Often referring to gold.  
Pretty good name for the beautiful rose. My rose is from "Rogue Valley Roses"; purchased in 2008. 

A rose is a rose, but oh my, this is surely some great rose! 

And - I have to add one more photo.  It is one of the flowers that begs to have it's picture taken every time I go into the gardens.  Being a dutiful slave, I obey...

Note:  Double clicking on the photos allows a full screen view. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Downside to Looking Pretty

I live in a home built in 1897.  To survive that many years, occupants, weather conditions and the quirks of fate, it had to be built pretty darn well.  Oh sure, like all aging divas she has to have regular fawning and gifts of intense labor, but, we love her all the same.

Some of the more beautiful characteristics are the ones that require the most upkeep.  The quirky Victorian trim, the sitting porches, and the brick walks.

Lore says our home was built by a descendent of an original Bishop Hill family on land that was once part of the Bishop Hill settlement.  Being a history buff and enjoying our neighboring village, I’ve tried to not alter the home in ways that take away from the historical significance. 

Flame thrower!
Having said that, we did install all new custom sized energy efficient windows when historical significance lost to the prospect of freezing on this windy hill.  And now I’ve had to make a decision on a similar issue:  Replacing the majority of my brick sidewalks with cement.

When we bought this place, we didn’t even know there were sidewalks.  I found them when I was using a shovel to transfer some plants and hit something hard.  Digging down about six inches, I found brick.  Whenever I’d want to take a break from the work inside the house, I’d go outside and uncover a few more brick.  Eventually, I had a brick walk in front of the house and down to the driveway. 

Not only was the foundation and chimneys Bishop Hill brick, our walks were the same brick.  Oh joy!  Oh historically correct!  Oh quaint and picturesque!  Oh huge amount of work to maintain.

The old brick is soft and isn’t glazed.  Water is one of the main reasons brick fails and these conditions beneath six inches of soil for who knows how long was a recipe for brick death.  If you’re a brick mason, please have patience with my lack of technical knowledge. 

The old walks apparently didn’t have much of a gravel base either.  I’d spend spring time digging out failed bricks and replacing with another (every square foot of this yard has some kind of debris constantly pushing up including brick). 

They’d heave and turn and sink and flake.  Then the weeds would take hold and that was another constant battle all summer long.  I’d sit with a small paint scraper and pull them out.  I’d use weed killer.  It was constant.  Then finally it became too much.  They were failing at a more rapid rate and I was failing to get younger and more agile.  They had moved into a time-consuming hazard. 

Last week we replaced our front bricks with cement walks.  Quaint and historically correct they are not.  The restoration purist will shudder and condemn.  But, as I was researching brick failure, the comment, “the downside to looking pretty” hit the nail on the head.  And my granddaughter spent last evening bouncing a ball ever so perfectly on the new walks because they were so smooth and fun.  That pretty much counts as a big plus in my book.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mulching Options

Read an article recently that cautioned mulch made from rubber tires contains the toxins aluminum, cadmium, chromium, and other heavy metals and should not longer be used.  On the other hand, it's been categorized as perfectly safe by the EPA.

Sawdust is another option that comes with duel reviews.  Sawdust from green treated or other chemically treated wood is not recommended for mulch as it may leach those chemicals in harmful quantities.  Sawdust can become compacted and slimy if not mixed in with the soil. 

Wood chips can be obtained packaged, which is somewhat regulated, or free (often a utility) chipping fresh cut trees.  The advantage of obtaining chips from a free source is they're - wait for it - wait for it - they're FREE.  The disadvantage is certain types of wood could damage plants (walnuts, some cedars, etc.)  Another is they could be infested with termites or other wood damaging insects that could migrate to your home.  Fresh chipped wood can be "hot" and burn the surrounding plants.  Fresh chipped wood seldom is uniform in size or color. 

Even packaged wood chips can come with problems.  Wet wood chips can attract insects.  Slugs do love a good wet mulch.  Same with termites and earwigs.  The uniform color comes from dye.

Rock mulch doesn't have the above issues.  The down side of rock or gravel is it doesn't insulate.  It absorbs the heat and throws it back in much higher temps to everything around.  This can stunt or kill some plants.  It's extremely difficult to plant or weed through rock mulch.  HUGE task to remove.

Pine straw (basically the needles) works well in the south but will decompose in one winter in the north.  Some plants may be sensitive to the pine sap. 

Mulch made from fallen leaves is a good option where the wind won't rearrange.  As they decompose, they add nutrients to the soil.  Raking is over rated!

Tumbled glass is used more for decorative accents rather than as a mulch.

There are many options for fabric that goes under mulches.  Make sure you use the kind that lets water pass through and only in spots where the mulch can be applied deep enough to adequately cover.  I think we've all seen landscape fabric peaking through an otherwise nice garden bed making it look unkempt.

Garden mulches such as newspaper, shredded office paper, cardboard, old rugs, and so on are good when looks don't count.  Don't use slick or colored newsprint on your gardens.  Slick won't absorb water and colored may contain chemical dye.

When considering a mulch, first think about where it's to be used; against your home foundation, near a pond or stream, on a vegetable patch, where children play or around tender plants.  Most mulches have benefits and down sides. 

Benefits are decorative, a green solution, weed prevention, retain ground moisture, adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes and evens out temperature.  One current idea being bantered around in the landscaping field is to simply plant everything so close it shades out weeds.  It's all about choices.   

Nothing in the gardening field is perfect for every instance.  All mulch requires some heavy lifting and maintenance for upkeep or to replenish.  Perfect comes at a price even if it's free...

Sunday, May 13, 2012


A rose can say "I love you",
orchids can enthrall,
but a weed bouquet in a chubby fist,
yes, that says it all.
~Author Unknown

Happy Mothers' Day!


Friday, May 11, 2012

The Tortoise

Little tortoise in this case is the garden plant "turtlehead".

Turtlehead is another little garden gem that seems to have faded from popularity.  Turtlehead is also known as balmony, bitter herb, codhead, fish mouth, shellflower, snakehead, snake mouth, and turtle bloom.

My garden boasts:  The large pink Chelone obliqua speciosa given to me by my friend, Shelly.   A little pink variety whose name is unknown to me.  A pretty little white variety called Chelone glabra L. "Alba" saved from a garden about to be bulldozed. 

Let's start by stating the positive qualities:
  • Perennial.
  • Planted in favorable conditions, they might outlast all human owners.
  • The Chelone obliqua speciosa is a native Illinois turtlehead wildflower.  It and other varieties are native to the Eastern part of the US.
  • Attractive to pollinating insects.
  • Stiff upright 2-3 foot stems topped by flowers blooming from midsummer to early fall.
  • Highly pest resistant.
  • Deer usually don't eat the bitter leaves.
  • Foliage is pretty all summer.
  • Great for bogs, stream and lake sides. 
  • Herbalist use Turtlehead plants as a natural medicine. Traditional practices create a tonic from this plant that is claimed to be beneficial for indigestion, constipation, and stimulating the appetite. It is also an anthimintic (de-wormer) and a salve from the leaves may relieve itching and inflammation.

  • Plant in full sun to partial shade.
  • Likes rich, humusy, moist and well-drained soil.
  • Mow or pull if it spreads into unwanted areas.
  • Likes consistently damp soil.
  • Water during drought - keep mulched.
  • Cut down or break off dried stalks in late fall or spring.
  • Zone hardiness to 4.
My turtlehead plants grow in less than perfect conditions and still do well. 
The Cute:
The turtle head shaped flower is the whole cute point of having this plant.  From the Figwort family, it is often described as looking like a snapdragon.

Always fun to know the reason plants are named:  The genus Chelone contains 4 species of North American native perennials that are named after a mythical Greek nymph. The nymph Chelone was too loud at Zeus' wedding and as punishment was transformed into a tortoise by the angry god, condemning her to eternal silence.

Turtlehead is another of the old time flowers that gardeners might want to bring back.  You may have to beg it from a friend as it's not often in nurseries.  A few on-line sources claim they carry.   

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Fragile as a Rock

Most gardens need more than hardscapes, angles and a few big pieces.  To pull the big together, it helps to intersperse with something light and airy. 
The trouble with light and airy is it’s often fragile.  Not so with Aquilegia, better known as Columbine.

·        It’s a perennial which eliminates yearly replanting.

·        Columbine waves in the spring winds but doesn’t get tattered. 

·        It self seeds but isn’t invasive. 

·        Most do well in partial sun and some shade.

·        They start blooming right after the spring bulbs and continue on and off all summer.

·        A late spring frost doesn’t hurt them.

·        Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds love them.

·        They are not terribly expensive and gardeners often share starts.

·        Columbines are mostly pest and disease free.

·        They make a great cut flower.

·        It’s deer resistant.

Columbine plants have a low leafy patch that sends up long stems.  The flowers nod off the stem – most hanging down – some upward facing. 
The pretty orange and yellow columbine “Canadensis” is a native wildflower of many states including Illinois.  It’s the state flower of Colorado. 

Many have spurs where the hummingbird will seek nectar.  Others are honeycomb, double, spur less, flat or long.

Plant in well drained soil and add a heavy mulching to keep the roots cool in the middle of hot summers.  Once established they are drought tolerant; making them excellent for rock gardens.
If you want one Columbine plant, deadhead the flowers.  I do caution Columbine is a short lived perennial for a single plant.  If you don’t deadhead, you’ll have many other plants to take its place.
If you plant from seed, they won’t flower until the second year.  The flowers come in a full range of colors and many are bi-colored.  Flower sizes are dainty to almost three inches.  Some are fragrant.
They serve as an important early spring food source for insects and hummingbirds.  It’s the larval host for the Columbine Duskywing butterfly.  

The only negative might be Columbine cross pollinates with other Columbine thanks insects; mostly bees.  If a hybrid is cross pollinated, it will normally return to its parent stock next year or in the seed it produces.  A bed of many beautifully multicolored Columbine may eventually be a bed of same color and shaped flowers down the road.  It can also happen by planting seeds.
I’d advise buying your Columbine plants at local nurseries.  They don’t seem to stand up to packing and mailing.  Most nurseries have a few examples although you may have to ask another gardener to share the old fashioned native kind. 

Enjoy a little dainty and sweet by planting Columbine.  It will soften the looks of a landscape yet be tough.  Plant close to your porch or deck and enjoy the bees, butterflies and hummers.   
Columbine has been around for centuries and our own Native Americans used it as an herbal. A Native American fact you will want to know:  It was believed crushed Columbine seeds rubbed on the palms of men was a love charm.  They also used it to treat poison ivy.  Not sure how those two worked together, but I’m sure there’s a joke in it someplace.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Daylily Madness?

Just received the following note from Region 2 AHS members.  If you're interested in all things daylily, live within driving distance of Peoria IL, contact Dale and Cindy before the 19th.  


We are interested in starting a new daylily group in the Peoria area. We spoke to a few folks last fall that expressed an interest. This is an attempt to get an idea if there is enough interest to make the endeavor successful. Membership in the Peoria group would not be restricted to AHS members. So, if you know of anyone else that might be interested, please pass this along. If there is enough interest, we would like to hold an organizational meeting in June. If you are interested, or have questions, please contact us at the email address or phone numbers below by 5/19/2012.
We are contacting most of you through the AHS portal. If you receive this and are not in our area, please forgive us.  

Dale and Cindy Sherman
309-472-0926 (cell)


As a side note, I had my first daylily bloom yesterday - crazy early.  Someone else told me their mums were blooming along side a peony.  Tornado watch out this evening.  Aw, yes it's spring in the Midwest.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Yeah ~ It's May

Happy May Day Garden Friends!  May Day celebrations started back in the pre Christian pagan era and have continued to include the May pole dances, May baskets, and a general celebration of nature's fertility.  Basically, celebrating all things possible for the coming growing year.  It has always included flowers.

Some of the things traditionally happening in this area in May are:
Morel mushroom season peaks (this is dependent upon the weather).
Wild turkey poults hatch.
Coyote pups emerge from dens.
Pheasant and quail lay eggs.
Hummingbirds nest when the columbine blooms.
Warbler migration peaks.
Deer give birth to fawns.
Doves, geese, wood ducks and ruffled grouse hatch first nest.
Beaver, skunks and bobcats are born.
Canada geese residents peak hatch.
Typically the Redbud and Dogwood bloom but these are well past this year.
Nurseries and flower stores hold open houses and classes.

Temperature by the end of May:  79 degrees
Rain in total:  4.25 inches
Snow:  Trace
Tornadoes:  322 per year

Records in May:
High:  104 degrees in 1934
Low:  24 degrees in 2005
Rain:  Most 11.43 inches in 1974 ~ Low 0.31 inches in 1992
Last accumulating snow:  0.3 inches on May 3, 1935
Last flurries:  May 22, 1917

This year, duties in the garden are running about a month early.  Although we still have to be careful of the cold nights and chance of frost.  Some of these you may have already accomplished.

In the garden:
Divide summer and fall blooming perennials.
Plant pansies, snaps, violas and perennials.
Cut back ornamental grasses.  (It's too late to burn)
Plant potatoes, asparagus, rhubarb, onions, peas, radishes, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, corn
Near the end of the month, plant spinach, lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes, melons and peppers.  Also, tubers such as caladiums, cannas, dahlias and tube roses.
Prune grapevines and clematis if your variety calls for it.)
Watch for frost warnings.
Start harvesting asparagus, rhubarb, radishes and strawberries.
Remove flower stalks from rhubarb.
Prune out dead branches. 
Feed lawn around Mother's Day.
Prune lavender.
Pinch pine candles if you're trying to shape your white pines.
Plant Gladiolas - plant every 1-2 weeks for flowering all summer.
Pinch out terminal inch or two on new phlox, asters and chrysanthemums.  This will cause them to bush instead of getting tall and flopping in the fall.
Weigela, flowering almond and forsythia may be pruned after the blooming has stopped.
After last frost:  set out sweet potato, coleus, geranium, impatient and wax begonia.
Plant alyssum, dill and rue for beneficial insects.

If you want to watch birds up close, keep sunflowers in your feeders.
Keep the bird bath full.
The male gold finch is again gold.
Bats should begin to emerge on warm evenings.
Rose Breasted Grosbeaks, Brown Thrashers, Robins, Indigo Blue Buntings, House Finches, Cardinals and sparrows are all busy building nests, raising young and singing.   

“Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s Party!” 
    - Robin Williams