Sunday, May 31, 2015

Rotating Beauty

Tall bearded iris "Quaker Lady" is an
heirloom.  Introduced in 1909.

Tall bearded iris "Raspberry Wine" has been moved several
times over the years because I kept planting it in the wrong
spot.  This year, in full sun, it went crazy healthy.
The iris are beginning to phase out as the peonies phase in.  It's the beauty and fun of succession planting.  It's been a good year for iris because of no brutal winter, no late cold weather and just the right amount of rain.  Doing a Sunday morning look at some of the beautiful iris from this spring.

I call this "Tiny French Iris" but it's real name
is lost to me. It always performs and looks glowing
against this golden bush.

A historic tall bearded iris "Wabash" is always
hardy and stunning.

Intermediate bearded bitone "Red Zinger" is very hardy
as seen here after a strong rain.

Tall bearded iris "Celebration Song" almost got lost this
summer when strong winds blew it over into ornamental grass.
Tall bearded iris "Pink Horizon" is a stunning
color especially against this blue clematis.

A white Dutch iris of unknown variety;
purchased from a big box store years ago.
Tall bearded "Lacy Snowflake" glows across the yard.

Border bearded iris "Batik" is a strong performer
and an attention grabber.
Tall bearded heirloom iris "Gracchus" is a small iris but
super hardy.

There are others that bloomed and are beautiful but I've left them off here today because they are more common.  These common ones are good performers and either historic or heirlooms and easy to see why they do so well.  So glad they're in my gardens.

Friday, May 29, 2015


Late season picking for preserving as tomato sauce.

What is the best tomato to grow in your garden?  For every tomato eating person in the world, there’s a different criteria.  Criteria may involve:

ü Do you like sweet or tart?
ü Do you only eat fresh in salads?
ü Do you have a big vegetable garden or put them in pots?
ü Do you plan to can/freeze/preserve?

Answer these and the other ten thousand questions and you know what kind of tomato plant to buy. 

Cherokee Purple tomato (pic from the web)
I was recently asked where I buy my tomato plants.  My answer is I buy the healthiest most common tomato varieties at the cheapest nearby store.  For heirloom or for specific uses/tastes, I hunt out what our local nurseries carry.

I don’t put in a huge garden anymore but I still want variety.  I buy a couple of traditional-big-round-perfect tomato type plants such as “Brandywine”, “Better Boy”, “Sun Gold”, “Big Beef”, “Early Girl” or “Mortgage Lifter”.  Many of these great old standards are now classified as heirlooms.

This is the stage where your
taste buds begin to go crazy.
For variety, I sometimes add a miniature tomato such as “Sweet Hundred” or one of the pear shaped tomatoes.  Caution:  Many pear and grape tomatoes will self-seed like crazy bringing you tomato plants for years to come.  Not all bad!

For those of you who like to make your own sauces and relishes:  “Roma” and “Amish Paste” both are full of acidity and flavor.   Choosing a smooth skinned tomato makes peeling easier and you want lots of meaty flesh.

Most yellow and some orange tomatoes have the least acidity, making them not only beautiful but also good for folks who can’t tolerate such high levels.  They turn cooked sauces lighter and you will need to add acidity in another form if you preserve through canning.

Making tomato juice.

I always plant a few heirloom tomatoes because they are so flavorful and it’s fun to taste something a little different.  “Cherokee Purple” is always one of my favorites and easy to find.  Others:  “Black Krim”,  “Giant Pink Belgium” and many more.  Each local nursery has their favorites – tell them what qualities you want and they can recommend some beauties.

The deal with the variety of tomatoes you choose to plant is to experiment with something new every year.  It’s like waiting 72 days to unwrap a surprise Christmas present! 

Sweet tasting tomatoes are a little less acidic and are best eaten fresh off the vine.  Varieties known as the sweetest of the sweet:  Most grape tomatoes, “Mr. Stripey”, “Mighty Sweet”, “Sweet Baby Girl”, “Big Boy” and “Sugar Snack”.

Love the feeling when these babies are done!
For unusual flavors consider the sweet smoky flavored cherry tomato “Sunchocola”.  “Japanese Black Trifele” is a pear shaped variety with deep, chocolate, smokey rich flavors.  “Green Zebra” has a tangy and zingy flavor.  “Black Krim” has an intense slightly salty taste.   

Most folks like a balance of sweet/tart and those are often times the most popular and easiest to find in stores.  

A good on-line informational site is  Some commercial sites will not only have information but they tend to push whatever they are selling which can lead to some misinformation.  Unless you raise your garden tomatoes from seed, I would stick to local nurseries,  stores, produce farms and farmers’ markets for both plants and ready-to-eat tomatoes.

I’ve listed only a very few of the great varieties available.  Some of the older heirloom varieties don’t have disease resistance.  These may require more vigilant monitoring and extra effort to keep them healthy.  They are worth the effort. 

Not all varieties do well every year in every situation.  Experiment, include several varieties every year to make sure some will do well and care for them like your first-born.  Fresh tomatoes are a true blessing in this area of the country – embrace your blessings.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Real Beauty

Male on the left - female on the right.
While taking a walk through the fruit tree area of our yard, something brushed up against my arm.  I looked down to where it landed and saw these two Golden-backed Snipe Flies in the process of mating.  Not to be bashful about invading their moment of intimacy, I took this picture.  

I've never seen this fly and after searching through my insect books and on line, I asked the helpful volunteers at the University of Illinois.  After they identified it for me, I found the following (cause I know you want to hear):

The Golden Backed Snipe Fly ranges throughout the eastern portion of North America and are usually only observed in early to mid-spring on low vegetation in deciduous woodlands.  They lay eggs who hatch into tiny larvae and probably go through several changes.  Nothing is known of their life cycle.  It is thought the adults are predatory on other insects but may not eat at all.  They don't bite humans.  

It's a true fly, relative large for a fly (10-12 mm), has long legs, rounded heads and tapering abdomens.  It has smoky colored wings with dark veins on translucent membrane.  It gets it's name from the brilliant gold hair positioned on the upper thorax.  It has light stripes along the edge of each abdominal segment interrupted in the middle.  Females are more robust than males.  The males have much larger eyes.  

And this is the extend of all knowledge about this one fly (out of approximately 20,000 varieties.)  As humans, we think by now we've pretty much researched every possible thing in this world.  We aren't even close.  Not only that, we are constantly discovering new ones.  I use "we" as in human beings not as in me and my friends. 

If you, like me, get down and dirty in the garden you will see so many different insects there's no way you will recognize or identify them all.  Some are so tiny we won't even notice them.  But, this Golden-backed Snipe Fly is surely one that captures attention.  

These are close-ups from the web site:




Sunday, May 24, 2015


Peony "Cheddar Charm" is a crazy looking flower.  It could also be called fried egg because it looks so flat with a big yellow yoke in the middle.  

This baby has many great qualities.  

It is highly fragrant and will perfume an entire room.  I've planted it near the walk so it shares the sweetness with everyone who passes.  

The huge yellow center is all about stamens covered with pollen.  And the stamens are covered with honey bees.  The bees aren't interested in stinging anyone because they are so busy covering their back legs with what looks like yellow gaucho pants.  If a bee could roll over on its back and wiggle with joy, this would be the place it would choose. 

It produces many flowers.  They lay flat when the sun is shining and on a cloudy day or in the evening, they partially close.  I suspect it has something to do with protecting the pollen covered center.  The petals are very white and look delicate (they're not.)  

I don't know of any bad peonies but Cheddar Charm is certainly up there with the best.  The stems are sturdy and it doesn't flop even when it rains. 

The facts:  Cheddar Charm is a Herbaceous perennial with the Japanese anemone form.  Good up to Zone 3.  Grows to about 30-inches high.  Blooms in May or June depending on the weather.   It's described as vigorous, lush and strong.  It was hybridized by Klehm in 1992.  I bought this beauty at Hornbaker Gardens in Princeton IL six years ago.  

Pick a permanent spot since peonies don't like to be moved.  They won't die but they'll pout for a few years while they re-establish. They like full sun and don't like to sit in standing water.  Once they're established, they will need nothing other than your admiration.  Once planted, a peony will live longer than you, or me, or our next six generations.  A peony is in for the long haul.

One more picture should do it - maybe:


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Loving a Hottie!

I've always thought I ONLY liked a serene garden setting:  Soft colors.  Tranquil scenes.  Balanced.  Serenity.  Cool.  

Little by little bright color has crept into my gardens and it started with chartreuse.  This year I let my inner hottie shine and went all out for bright and crazy annuals.  Maybe I just needed the fun.  Here are some of the new annuals and a few of the perennials I've added over the years.

Petunia "Crazytunia Mandeville" paired
with a white "Prism Sunshine"

Can't wait for these two hoties to spread:  Petunia "Glow Forest Fire"
and "Cascadias Indian Summer"

Daylily "Corryton Pink"

Daylily "Chicago Star"

Daylily "Dorothy Lambert"

Daylily "Orange Vols"

Daylily "Fly Catcher"

Peony "Red Magic"

Posting to this is always an effort in constraint - I would post thousands if it wouldn't be overly hottie!  And, we don't want an overly hottie in the morning.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Gazing at Stars

If you want one of the most easy, fragrant and beautiful garden flowers up to Zone 4a, get a bunch of Stargazer lily bulbs.

Stargazer lilies are an Oriental lily officially called "Lilium "Stargazer" and was hybridized by Leslie Woodriff in 1978.  

The pink, red and white six inch blooms are freckled and highly fragrant on three foot scapes (stems.)  The intensity of the pink will be different by location, year, weather, age of the bulb and who supplies the bulbs.  They are sometimes outlined in white.  By "highly fragrant", they mean HIGHLY fragrant.  It's a strong intense and very sweet fragrance.  It will perfume your yard for a good twelve feet from the flowers.  

The flowers are up-facing and the advantage is they show their coloring.  Some orientals and trumpets face downward and it's difficult to enjoy their beauty.  

They're toxic to cats but I've never had my cats get interested even when they're in a bouquet let alone on those high stems.  All cats are different so you've been warned. 

Stargazer is a long lasting cut flower and often used by professional florists.  Cut a flower before it totally opens.  

The bulbs are not terribly expensive and since Orientals don't last forever, you may want to plant a batch every few years to keep them going.  Plus, the more the better!  I've had batches last over twenty years.

They bloom in late summer.  Plant where other perennials will hold up their stems or stake/tie them.  The flowers are heavy especially if there are several on a stem.  In an exposed (windy) location with no support, they will flop over and not only ruin the Stargazers but anything they crush under them.

The more expensive bulbs will be stronger and last longer than cheaper big box store lilies.  Having said that, you'll have lilies no matter how much you choose to spend.  

I suggest planting several in an area rather than one or in a straight line.  Oriental lilies look best if they're in a more casual setting.  Plant near your porch/deck and they will perfume the air into the night.  Tuck one into your hair and it will look beautiful and you won't need to wear any perfume.  Don't wear in your hair if bees are out - they'll love you way too much.

Plant in full sun.  Seldom needs extra watering in the Midwest.  Follow package directions for depth.  I'm sure they would do best in perfect soil but mine do fine in mostly clay although they don't stand in water (which will rot the bulbs.)

I recommend Stargazer lilies and once you've added them to your garden you will, too.       

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Rich Get Richer

Anderson Japanese Garden, Rockford IL

“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is still the mantra of the dissatisfied.  Spreading the financial wealth of the few to the masses of the less fortunate is a political battle cry.  Unfortunately, this battle cry sells well because it tells the dissatisfied they deserve to have everything those rich people have and they would if only the rich would share.  

If anyone talks against this plan, they’re harshly judged.  Judged to not care about those who struggle to pay their bills or who have had health or job downturns.  You’re an “all around cold heartless uncaring greedy commie pig” if you suggest otherwise.  So let me talk a little about the flip side (try to contain the judging for a minute) and I’ll talk about it while slightly referring to gardening.

Flower walk
Through extreme wealth, present and past, we have some of our most beautiful gardens in the world.  I’m not so bitter at my current circumstances that I can’t enjoy a stroll through Biltmore Castle in Ashville NC, White Garden in Lewisboro NY, Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford IL and so many other estates built and paid for by “the rich”.

Did the owners of these fabulously over-the-top gardens share their wealth and donate to the less fortunate in their lifetimes?  I don’t know.  Do they share their gardens with the public; gardens we could never afford in our own yards?  Most definitely.

There have been instances where the dissatisfied have felt the need to take or destroy everything made by the wealthy class.  All we have to do is read history books (and today’s news) to realize what happens when mandatory redistribution of wealth is allowed to run rampant.   Homes, businesses, museums and gardens destroyed because individual wealth built them.  They may use any number of excuses (religion, social class, inheritance, politics and etc.) for this destruction but it always boils down to "you have something I don’t and I’m going to either take it for myself or destroy it".  Redistribution of wealth at it’s most ugly.
Garden of annuals
Who judges if a wealthy person can keep his or her own money and who will be punished for financial success?  Do we redistribute Robert Redford’s wealth of some $170 million or let him keep it because he does something we like?   Do we take Aaron Spellings’ $600 million estate because his family owned the largest private estate in the US?  Who will be the judge and jury or do we let democracy work instead of politicians.  Whew I’m on a bandwagon and it’s playing the same song the whole parade.  

Although protecting private and public gardens is certainly not the most important issue of the day, it is an example of the big picture.  Do I really believe if I can have the wealth of one of those zillionaires I would make all the right decisions and the world would be a better place?  I would like to tell myself I would but without working for that money, without a lifetime of handing large sums of money, without understanding I would now be hated for what I had, who can say?

I believe in helping those less fortunate and I also put my money and energy where my mouth is on that issue.  I worked hard, I sacrificed and I like to think I used common sense.  Through all this I’m not one of the rich getting richer but I don’t begrudge those that are rich.  I don’t compare my circumstances to someone else and want to punish them for their good fortune.  I live my own life and try to make life better for those around me.
Biltmore Estate

There are citizens who need help from others and we need to keep those programs in place and keep them financed.  If your life is in the category of “the poor get poorer”, you still have the option of how you benefit this world.  Destroying the rich is not how you benefit this world.     

If you’re spitting nails over my comments on redistribution of wealth, you and I can agree to disagree.  I’m still going to be happy I can experience the wonder of fabulous gardens and landscaping without spending more than an admission fee.  Had the owners of these gardens had their wealth (well-gained or ill-gained) redistributed, we would have a less wonderful country.  Will taking these gardens away or destroying them solve the ills of this world?  I don’t believe so.  I believe in personal hard work, helping those less fortunate and a spirit of forgiveness and tolerance will make a better world.  I believe I have the right to do that or not without political or social influence.  Peace and love babe!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Garden and Barn Quilts

Let’s get a little quilt history before taking off on quilts for outdoors.

Today blanket quilts are typically made from new material by folks who have art, precision and sewing skills.  Old quilts were often made from material no longer usable for clothes.  It’s why we see them made from mixed materials, the colors and patterns aren’t always coordinated and most are faded from repeated washings.  The exception was the quilt specifically made as a gift, especially weddings.  It was a gift of love.

Maybe you didn’t realize there was a subculture of quilting all around us: It’s barn quilts and garden quilts.

I’ve been around barn quilts for years because I’m from Indiana where they’ve incorporated them into tourism.  Loosely connected to the large Indiana Amish population, the beauty and skill of traditional bedding quilts has been transferred to a quilt square on the side of barns and now into flower gardens.

The Illinois Tourism Board is hoping to capitalize on already established barn quilts.  The Princeton area is embracing it and the ITB is releasing a list of all Illinois barn quilts (submitted by county tourism boards) in hopes of generating more exposure.

OK, let’s get it out there:  I love bed quilts!  I love barn quilts!  I love garden quilts!

Barn quilts:  Many barn quilts use the pattern from one square of an old quilt.  That one square pattern is then painted on a square of plywood, coated in sealer and hung on the side of a barn.  Others may use a new pattern or a picture that pertains to their family or business.  Whether traditional or newly innovated, they are bright and fun.

I’m hoping the barn quilt squares idea takes off in Henry County.  Barn squares are typically 8 x 8 foot.  You may wish to have a smaller variety on your shed, garage, or posts. 

Garden quilts:  I was first exposed to garden quilts through the Elkhart County, Indiana, quilt garden tours.  It’s an amazing tourism effort embracing local quilting, barn quilts, heritage and garden beauty.  Check out or Quilt Gardens – along the Heritage Trail. 

A quilt garden is developed using a quilt square pattern and then planting that pattern in flowers.  Like all quilting, it is meticulous, complex, takes loads of planning and is wildly beautiful.

Preparing the land:  Clear a square area of all vegetation.  Till the plot.  Make sure the edges are sharp and defined.  Keep in mind a large square will take a lot of flowers because they must be planed close to get the coverage. Since it will be filled with annuals, it will need to be watered and weeded regularly. 

Decide on a pattern: Simple is best for a first try.  Transfer that pattern to your soil using non-oil based spray paint to outline.

Flowers:  Use flowers that don’t vine and are all the same height when mature.  All must be really hardy and bloom all summer.


If you have a barn quilt you’d like to have listed on the Illinois tourism page, contact your county’s tourism council.  In Indiana, they have what they call a “barn quilt trail”.  Quilts may be seen from the road and you won’t be hosting carloads of visitors all over your property.  Check out our local barn quilts; there are several around Bishop Hill.  Or, create one of your own! 

Garden quilt tours are viewed from the road or sidewalk.  Because of the size, labor needed and expense of large garden quilts many are on public or corporate land.  It doesn’t mean you can’t try a small one on your property for your own enjoyment.

Whether bed quilts, barn quilts or garden quilts, enjoy!

NOTE:  The 2015 Bishop Hill Quilt Show will be from May 15 to 17 at the old Colony School and displays at other shops around town. 

Credits:  All pictures are from the Elkhart and other Indiana barn and garden quilt sites.