Friday, December 9, 2011

Fern Room Open - Must See It Now (Garfield Park Conservatory)

This past weekend I had the opportunity to walk through the Fern Room at Garfield Park Conservatory.  This was the first weekend it has been opened since the hail damage this summer.

You have to go see it.  It is a totally new experience and perspective on the original design and intent. These pictures below are the waterfall - newly visible are several streams and additional "falls."

Fern Room, Garfield Park Conservatory Dec 2011

Fern Room, Garfield Park Conservatory, Dec 2011

The park district is using this opportunity to refresh the plantings with more unique ferns and period items.  Also to add much needed nutrients and adjuvents to the soil In several areas the plantings have been removed - and it's under design. However, don't take that as a negative as if there is nothing to see!

Since the plants have been reduced - what you can now see and appreciate are several rock outcroppings and structural elements from the original installation by Jens Jensen.  I have walked the Fern Room literally hundreds of times, and I was so surprised by the landscape architecture I saw for the first time.  It really gave me a feeling of being there in 1907! Amazing!

The floriculturist told me that within the next six months the flora will once again have flourished. Plus I think that by next spring construction may start anew on the permanent roof for the Fern Room. All that means is that you have a few months to get in there.

Sign up for a tour - maybe I'll be your guide! Or email me and I'll let you know that dates I'm next there.

Singing Christmas Carols!

Teresa Marie

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory Public Tours - Whoo Hoo!

Garfield Park Conservatory - Oct 2011

It is exciting that Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory is now Offering Guided Tours! I'm one of the Garfield Park Conservatory Guides and did my master gardener training and volunteering there -so I'm happy to show you around. Lots of interesting plant facts, and historical information and just fun!  Each of the tour guides brings their own unique energy and spirit! 

There are three tour options;
1) Behind-the-Scenes (Adults only) - see the propagation houses, works
2) Tropical Treat - (all ages)
3) Conversatory Highlights - General Tour.

Check out the website for more information and click the "Tour Registration for Visitors" button to purchase your tour tickets online.

I'm giving a tour this Sunday!

Hope to see you there - Touring with Teresa!

Humming to myself today :)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Denver Botanic Garden - Great day!

Today I had the pleasure of roaming around the Denver Botanic Gardens at York Street.  This is a "new" botanic garden relative to those in Chicago.  It was started in 1958 in conjunction with the City of Denver - and was based on land that was a former cemetery!  The conservatory was added in the 70's.  Today it is a very impressive botanic garden and conservatory.

The design of the garden includes many elements that we see in Jensen type landscapes
  1. there was plenty of water and movement and it was all done in natural settings. 
  2. There were several "long views" - see the shots below. 
  3. The premise is several "rooms" or vignettes of smaller gardens on a theme that seamlessly meld together to offer a wide variety of impressions and emotions.
  4. The small views and secret areas are abundant!
The diversity of plants is high.  I liked the focus in several areas on Western native gardens, alpine and meadows. There were also green/water saving gardens.  What I didn't like was that the signage was not 100%, if I loved the plant, it was often not labeled. The dessert house is small - but has a nice variety.  The succulents are labeled with numbers - and there was a reference book on the opposite wall with the cross reference. Not sure that many people care about it - but I checked several :)

Keep in mind that there are a plethora of pathways and it can get confusing if you are trying to stick to a plan. Most of the paths are paved and suitable for all levels. Some rock walkways and steps, but not too many. Luckily it is small and compact so looping around isn't an issue.  My whole walk around was less than 2.5 miles. Also although I don't show them here - there are wonderful sculptures as focal points around the garden.

Here are two shots of a few my favorite long views. On the left is the walkway along the greenhouses. You can peer into the windows on the right side of this photo and see into the propagation greenhouses. They were all very clean - I was surprised :)  The shot on the left, at the base of the orange wall is a waterway. There are containers on pedestals at constant intervals. You can see the cactus poking up. That is the container. Just really nice to come around a corner and be surprised by these vistas.

Shady Lane - Lots of places to sit :)

El Pomar Waterway

It's hard to explain all the little details that have gone into melding different gardens into one cohesive display. Take a look at the picture below of parts that I liked.

Lainie's Cutting Garden - Sep 2011
Alpine Garden - Sep 2011

Romantic Garden - Long View, Formal: Sept 2011

Orange Cut Flowers
Blue Cut Flower Bed
Red Cut Flowers

The cutting garden had several beds which were all arranged by color. You can see the white beds in the front.  I thought this was such a nice way to do it.  I'm more partial to blues - although they do not show up so well. I also loved the red flower beds, and the orange was so tall!   The shots of the cutting flower beds have at least four different flower varieties - looks so nice.

Then when I needed a little break - or I saw something that I want to study.  There was a bench or chairs at the ready.  Almost around every corner, some little setting that looked so peaceful and purposeful at the same time. Wouldn't it be so amazing to have this scene below as my backyard, or how about around the corner from my office, or my bus stop!

The food on the Monet Deck is great by the way. Sitting in the shade and looking out over the Monet Pool was enjoyable. I met a nice man named Alan who is a member here. He filled me in on events and concerts they have. 

Happy day today exploring the garden. It was easy to get there from downtown by bus, and I walked back past the capital, and art museum. Lots to see here. Have to take another visit.  I hope I can time it for spring. I think the Alpine garden would be wonderful then - in bloom. Also there is a lilac garden which I bet smells just awesome at that time of year!

Singing Country Western!

Teresa Marie

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dahlia Diversity - Impressive Showing (Flower Show Review)

This past weekend I attended the Dahlia show at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I so enjoyed seeing all the different varieties. Please  enjoy the photos. If I had thought about it at that time I would have jotted down the names of each of these!

A flower show is essentially a display of only one stem with one flower each submitted by a different grower, or in this case member of the Dahlia association. In this photo below you can see how this is all arranged. I also had a chance to talk with some of the members. I didn't know Dahlias were from Mexico, and of course hybridized in Holland, Europe etc over the years. Those guys did a great job showing off the splendor!

Dahlia Show - Chicago Botanic Garden Sep 2011
There were a few rooms with tables of flowers. Luckily I could get up close and explore each flower that interested me! And take lots of photos. The shots here are my favorites :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

One Pane at a Time - Garfield Park Conservatory Update

The other night I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at the Garfield Park Conservatory.  This was part of the launch of the One Pane at a Time campaign to raise funds to recover from the summer hailstorm severely damaged the Garfield Park Conservatory's glass-paned roof.  The resulting damage to the conservatory exhibition halls and propagation greenhouses will take years, many hours and many dollars to fix.

Here are a few shots of the interior as of September, 2011.

Prop house 1 - ~2009
Prop House 1 - Sept 2011

Above are two photos of Propagation House 1.  One the left you can see what this looks like today.  The house is closed until all the glass can be removed and the roof rebuilt.  There is a protective ceiling down the main walkway to allow people to pass through.  If one goes outside this path they need to wear hard hats and protective wear to guard against falling glass.  One the right is the exact same Propagation house in 2009 when I first started volunteering at Garfield Park Conservatory.  There are now few places for propagation and storage of plants.   

Garfield Conservatory Show House - Sep 2011

Garfield Conservatory Show House - Sep 2011

We walked through the Show House.  I recalled that the first room open to the public when the Conservatory first opened.  So much history here.  Even though I know that it had been rebuilt before, it was still shocking to see that it had been cleared - to remove the broken roof and also the broken glass from the floor / plant beds.  Only a few of the larger trees were not removed.  In the pictures below you can see in the photo on the left - the temporary roof that is across the fern room (out the window the building in the back is the roof of the fern room.)  In the photo on the right, you can see how they have removed most plants.

We also passed along through the construction zome to the historic fern room.  With the temporary roof in place and all the glass removed from the beds, the plants were starting to come back.  They did suffer from sun damage, over handling (walking on the mosses and the shop vac to remove glass) - but plants are resilient!  The pond had been drained to be cleaned and at the time of our viewing had not been filled. It wouldn't surprise me if the space is used to store shade loving plants for the winter.

Garfield Park Consevatory Show House Dec 2009

I put to the side here a photo of the show house during the Holiday Show last year.  The Conservatory will still be having a large display of Poinsettias this year and other colorful holiday plants.  This will be displayed around the conservatory as the show house will still be closed.

Thanks for reading this update. Please pass along the word about the One-Pane-at-a-time Campaign.  Individuals are being asked to buy a glass pane to rebuild the conservatory's roof. (or get your employer excited to contribute - email to ask how!)

Today I'm singing various opera arias - so excited for lyric season to be starting soon.

Teresa Marie

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Garden Whimsy - Joy of the unexpected

I enjoy putting a little surprise into my garden through the use of unexpected items. 
Each of the items shown below were secured for free or at very low cost from garage sales, craigslist of freecycle. 

Here are a few examples.

I have a few of these "plastic" gargoyles.  They move around the garden and hide in different spots. They neighbor kids have fun trying to find them!

Gargoyle in the West Garden
Antique Bed Frame as architectural element

The antique bed frame looks really great in the winter when the foliage has fallen.  Last summer it looked much better when the plant in front of it was smaller too!  Nonetheless, it's an unexpected element in the garden. It helps add some interest to all the green, and break up the vertical element of the evergreens behind it.

Old Bronze pump / fountain

This bronze fountain I literally picked up from the side of the road. I first noticed the shine, then the little faucet.  It was in three pieces - but I thought there was some use for it.  After trying to convince my helpers to reassemble it and make it a functional fountain, we agreed that more standing water in the yard was not a good thing. So we just assembled it and put it into the garden.  Here tucked up in the shade, it adds a little visual interest. 

Wire Sculpture
This last picture is of a wire sculpture. We have had several discussions on what exactly this is supposed to be used for.  Options range from plant stand, ivy form, to just plain art.  I have these in the hosta bed on my porch. I was able to pick up two at a garage sale for only $15.  They flank the bay window nicely and add structure and visual interest. 

Gardens - not just for plants :) It's a canvas to your creativity.

Teresa Marie

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Easy Fruit Fly Trap

I'm starting to harvest from my vegetable garden and that always means fruit flies in the house.  A few years ago we stumbled across this simple trap.

All you need is:
- A glass or vase
- A piece of paper (8x11 or larger)
- Tape (any kind)
- A piece of fruit or vegetable peels

Simple Paper cone with hole at the bottom
Here are the instructions:
1) Put the fruit or vegetable into the bottom of the glass
2) Roll the paper into a cone shape so that it fits easily into the glass, flush with all sides, while still keeping a hole at the smallest end of the cone (see picture below)
3) Tape the side of the paper cone so it holds it's shape
4) Place the cone in the glass.
5) Sit back and relax while the trap catches the flies
6) Empty the trap and change the fruit out periodically.

The flies go into the glass to get at the fruit and cannot get out!!! For the most success you must minimize other distractions for the fruit flies - clean kitchen, no fruit or vegetable waste available.
Every day, and sometimes a few times a day, I release the fruit flies outside.  I also periodically replace the fruit at the bottom. The older the fruit gets, the more aroma it puts out that attracts the fruit flies.  But I also worry that as the flies might be laying eggs in the fruit - I could be generating them as well. So I like to change it out!

Completed Fruit Fly Catcher
Success - lot of trapped flies :)

I have a bumper crop of cucumbers - anyone have recipes?

Happy Day!

Teresa Marie

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hardiness and Heat Tolerance - Rays of Change

As a teenager I could remember all the times in my life the temperature got over 85 degrees. Maybe it was that I grew up in Wisconsin, and maybe it was just less common then. I now look at both  U.S. Department of Agriculture's Plant Hardiness Zone Map to see if my plants will survive the winter and the American Horticultural Society Heat Zone Map to see if my plants will survive the summer!

Yes, I do believe in global warming.  Both zone maps were revised in 2003-2006 to reflect the hotter summers and more moderate winters. Case in point, I used to use this website to identify my zone. It lets you put in your zip code and shows the map with very nice detail.  That was until I noticed that it said that days over 88 Degrees were "rare" - Ha! not!   The city of Chicago has plans in development - really scary representation of the estimated climate change by 2090 and the impact on plants and animals.   So much so that I heard the city revised it's tree planting recommendations and not putting in more native trees like White oak because of heat/water considerations.

Differences between 1990 USDA hardiness zones and 2006 hardiness zones (wiki)

I'm only caring for my garden for a little time, I wonder what it will look like in 100 years? Wow I always wanted palm trees....

Today I'm singing "Hot Hot Hot"

Happy Gardening

Teresa Marie

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hosta Pests - Fungus?

I am having three problems with hosta this year. I think it is fungus and / or viral.  Let me share pictures and what I have attempted to date for pest management. Any advice welcome, as you can see from prior post, since I have tons of hosta and would like to get ahead of these problems.  BTW I love this guide to hosta pests from IA extension.

PROBLEM 1: Brown Leaf spot, early spring issue

Brown spots on Hosta -Spring 2011

I LOVE Hostas! - Perfect Shade Garden Perennial

I must have over 20 different types of hostas.  Most have been collected through craigslist or freecycle. Although I have purchased some of the unusual varieties.  I was surprised to learn that hostas are native to Japan. I've been reading up on them and will provide a post of more interesting tidbits at a later date.

For now, please enjoy a virtual tour around my yard - focusing on hostas.

Back yard bed - 5 varieties. Love the large erect blue hosta for pop!

Hosta bed - including miniatures like Mouse Ears (small blue hosta) - 8 varieties

East Hosta bed - initially plant here to see the form, and how they take.

Giant Blue Hosta - on the porch. Added impact.

 Large Blue Hosta - up close. American Beauty in the back.

Night Garden - two types of green/white Hosta and Hydrangea.

You can see I make use of lots of different types. One of these summers I am going to divide and move around to get better impact.  In some places, I have the white edged varieties next to the chartreusse edged ones and I think that diminishes the impact of both. Overall there is also perhaps too much crowding.

Nonetheless, not sure what I would have done with all this shade without these lovely plants!  Also interesting to note that there are many types of hostas that are sun tolerant. I've even been reading lately about a winter hosta - that being one that comes up through the snow! How cool is that?

The song in my head today is At Last by Etta James

Teresa Marie

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Easy Composting Bin from Garbage Can

It's something I've been doing my whole life. My Grandfather got me involved.  My mother and father were fans. Now it's just part of life - yup, that save the earth trend of composting.
We have always taken all grass clippings, leaves, and plant food scraps and put them into compost in our yard. Then each spring and fall it gets rototilled into the vegetable garden, and that soil also gets dispersed around the yard.  Over the years it's really helped improve the soil (and the crops!)  in addition to reducing the amount of trash.  Then, our village recently increased their attention to our "compost pile" and despite the best intentions, some neighbors were complaining that it was unsightly.  So rather than pay for yard waste bags and stickers, we sought a creative and frugal outlet. 
We already had one container and had previously tried a tumbler without success.  I never did tumble the materials - so that was not a good investment.  Some of the containers are so fancy and expensive.   I readily admit that I am not savvy in the ways of composting.  I just put stuff in, it rots, I use it ;)  My dad had a compost container made out of wire stretched around large cement blocks.  He never turned it or minded it much at all, and that worked just fine. I know that I'm not doing this the best way - but it gets the job done, and we don't have to get fancy.  Looking around for raw materials - we immediately thought of two large garbage container that the village had deemed too large for use.  Eureka - we made our own compost bins from recycled garbage cans!

Making Holes for Air Flow - July 2011
 One thing to keep in mind is that as the plant matter starts to decay it will generate heat and moisture.  Here you can see we are putting holes in the bottom of the container to allow moisture to drain out.  I think there is probably a balance between wanting it to drain and not to dry out.  I'll have to see how that goes.
Finished Garbage Can Compost Bin
This is the final garbage can compost bin - we ended up putting about 100 holes around all side and on the bottom.  I like that this container is on wheels, which will help us get the compost to the garden.  We also considered just cutting the bottom off the garbage can all together. I think if we do fill this up with compost it might be too darn heavy to tip over. We can always make that adjustment next year if we need to do so. 
Store bought Bin, and new re-purposed bin ready for duty.

We hid the second container on the side of our yard and will use that one exclusively for grass cuttings and other yard waste. It is tucked up behind some honeysuckle and big hostas, so I'm hoping that our neighbors of the city don't mind too much.

Today I'm singing something trashy! LOL

Any advice let me know!

Teresa Marie

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Garfield Conservatory Devastated - Needs your help!

As many of you know I am a passionate supporter of the Garfield Park Conservatory, a historic landmark and pillar to landscape architecture in Chicago.   What you may not know is that this past week, the conservatory sustained significant damage to the oldest parts of the structure and is closed until further notice.  

Photo from Garfield Park Conservatory Website

I’ve talked with many of the staff and personally share their shock and sense of helplessness.  There is damage to over 60% of the glass roof.  The oldest parts of the conservatory, which had never been upgraded to tempered glass, were hardest hit including the Fern Room, the Show House, and the desert house.  All the propagation greenhouses were impacted as you can clearly see on the video on Fox news with aerial footage. 

While it’s helpful that the temperatures are not too cold so the collections won’t freeze, there are significant challenges. In several rooms the sun may burn and damage plants.   All the water from the rain which will now get into the conservatory  is also likely to overflow the ponds and create additional pest and plant cultivation problems.  Also with restrictions on staff and volunteer access until clean-up, programming and plant management is restricted. Luckily, the Chicago Park District has a disaster plan in place and teams are already mobilized to shore up the structure, clean out the glass, and protect the collections.  (Thank goodness they don’t need to wait for the city procurement process!)  However, it’s going to be a long and challenging road!

A letter from President Eunita Rushing to members called this a "major catastrophe." Other reports indicate that there is risk of loss of over 50% of the collection.

Extensive damage to Greenhouses - Garfield Conservatory July 2011

The Garfield Park Conservatory will be putting a capital campaign in place to cope with this emergency.  I imagine that page will show up on the site in the next day or so.  Until then, if you are so inclined please use the “donate now” button on their site to contribute.  Also anyone out there with a blog, facebook page or other social media connections - please help get the word out.

Today I'm singing the blues

Teresa Marie

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Poison Ivy - my garden's hardiest perennial

I am very sensitive to and have severe reaction when exposed to poison ivy.  So avoiding them is critical to me - but I somehow get into it every year without fail.  I guess I could be 100% certain to avoid poison ivy if I never went into the garden, but that isn't going to happen.  Each year I'm spraying it and pulling it out (well someone else does that.) Then next year - there it is again! I guess that's all part of living next to the forest preserve.  But the seeds can get transported through birds - so it can end up everywhere.

So here's what I know - how to identify it in all seasons, where to look for it, how to prepare for avoidance, what to do when I get into it.

How do you know it's Poison Ivy?   It has three leaflets (groups of leaves on the same small stem coming off the larger main stem), but variations occur.  The leaves are bright green in spring, green in the summer, and red in the fall.  There are white berries. It can appear as a small plant, vine, shrub.  In my yard it also loves to dress up and put on costumes just to surprise me (LOL well it seems that way!)

Poison Ivy hiding in a bed of Vinca

Here you can see the bright light green color of new plants (and the spots from where I sprayed this with aggressive herbicide)

Clear leaves of three - let it be warning sign, plus note that the stem is red.

Where can you find it growing?  I find it frequently in shady moist places. It somehow grows under other plants in the garden. It hides places so that you get into when weeding!

How do you get the rash?  I seem to get the rash by just looking at Poisen Ivy or passing within 10 feet of it, but then I'm just blessed that way. I can also start with one little spot and it blooms into the craziest mess.  Case in point, look at this picture of my latest brush with Poisen Ivy... yuck!   A neighbor inadvertantly burned Poisen Ivy with some brush, wow what a mess and a trip to the ER. So don't do that.  The oil can get aeresoled and then get you inside and out. Also - any tool, towel, clothing that comes into contact with Poisen Ivy can be a source of contamination. Bad news - those tools can come back to bite you, even after several months!

Rash and blisters thanks to Mr. Poisen Ivy. :(

Damn Urishiol!  That's the name of the oil in Poison Ivy that causes the rash.
(also called Toxicodendron dermatitis and Rhus dermatitis).  This oil is contained in various plants, including the shell of the cashew nut).  That's why you cannot get a raw cashew - they have all been processed (heated) to change the nature of the urisiol.  All parts of Poison ivy contain this oil - some parts more than others. That's why they say that you have to break the leaf to get the rash - because there is more oil on the inside. But hey, that ain't a fact for some people like me. :(

So what do I do to avoid or treat? I always always wear gloves, long pants and long sleeve when working in the garden.  No surprise that this latest rash was from contact at that space between my glove and my sleeves.  I didn't even know it happened.  Immediately upon contact, that is when I know I've gotten into it, I wash my skin with a dilute solvent solution (generally alcohol and or acetone) and then follow with solution of soap and water (COLD water - warm water opens the pores and spreads the oil further!) This is because the oil is not water soluble, so the solvents help to remove the oil.  I have a bottle of solvent in the garage and ready to go - because I've read that the bonding of the oil to one's skin can occur in less than 10 minutes, so I don't want to waste time getting into the bathroom or medicine cabinet!  I also use this solution to periodically wash my garden tools.  I friend also just suggested a poison ivy preventative lotion.  There are over-the-counter creams that contain Bentoquatam, this chemical bonds to the Urisiol rather than your skin! So I'm excited to see if this works!

So I'll leave you with two jokes my boys used to think were so funny.
- What do you get when you cross Poison Ivy with a 4 leaf clover? A Rash of good luck!
- "I'm not afraid to walk through Poison Ivy!" said the fool rashly.

The song of the day is the Blues.
Keep singing

Teresa Marie

Monday, June 13, 2011

Propagating Succulents

One aspect that I appreciate about succulents is just how easy it is to propagate them! My friends get to share in the fruit of my labors (or enable my addiction!)  I have decades old jade, christmas cactus, and pencil tree cactus that were all started from cuttings.

There are a variety of propagation techniques - cuttings, leaf starts and offsets. Each of these is described below

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Oh Dear - Damn Deer!

While I live in Chicago in the broadest sense of the word, technically I'm in the suburbs. I'm lucky to be situated near the forest preserve - so wildflowers naturally creep over into my yard.

However, so do the damn deer!

There is a path right through my yard. They sleep curled up by the driveway. The family walk around with the little babies. It's really very nice to see. On the other hand, they eat plants in my garden. DAMN DEER.

They munch on my: oaks, maples, pines, roses, Switchgrass, viburnums, ferns, hostas, iris, tulips, and lots of my perennials. They seem to especially favor the new shoots early in the spring and summer. They graze on the flower buds just before they bloom and new leaves when they soft and sweet.  Then during the summer they ignore my garden. They let it recoup for a few months. Then they start at it again in the fall and early winter. DAMN White-tailed Deer!. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Garfield Park Conservatory Tours

For the past few months I have been part of a small group of volunteers at Garfield Park Conservatory that have been in training as tour guides.   It has been a really wonderful experience.  This past week I had the opportunity to give my first "official" tour for a few new members of the conservatory.

I like giving the member tours on Wednesday night as the conservatory is open late. Also there are generally less visitors there, so it makes for a more private tour.  I had three folks on the tour - below we are in the Monet Garden enjoying the spring blooms.

I was very pleased to know that the gentleman on the left above sent a feedback note about our tour.  It said "Thanks again for the tour; our guide was really great.  As I had mentioned yesterday, a big chunk of my job was giving tours (to hundreds of people a day!) as well as coordinating them and training tour guides.  I know how tough it can be to train and maintain good volunteers, and I have always been impressed with how enthusiastic and great the volunteers at Garfield Park are, and our guide yesterday was no exception.  She did a great job tailoring the tour according to our needs, sharing her own love her plants, and also encouraging us to come back (which is so important for the vitality of institutions such as the Conservatory!)"

Whoo Hoo!

Pretty soon members will be able to sign up for tours on the Garfield Park Conservatory website - after that, maybe the public as well.  Maybe I'll see you there!

Teresa Marie

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spring Wildflowers - Naturalizing

Emerging Trillum Wildflowers - April 2011
Springtime wildflowers are plentiful near my yard.  There are a few Trillium recurvatum  and  White Trout Lily  Erythronium albidum.  and Solomon's Seal (although I don't know if it's a real one or a false one. :)  )  The problem was that these wildflowers shared the same space as and overgrowth of Buckthorn, scrub trees and who knows what.  So it needed to be fixed.

So we reclaimed it - taking out all the small trees and buckthorn, and the poison ivy and kudzu.  We took great care to preserve all the wildflowers as we took out all the garbage.   It took us nearly a month.   We then layered in dirt and had sod put down.  Also put in a stone border.

West shade Garden - White Trout Lily

Here you can see some of the native Illinois spring wildflowers in full bloom.  There are 1000's of the Trout Lily - it's a wonderful blanker of white.  This close up picture shows the neat varigation on the leaves.  They come and go pretty quickly.  They are doing awesome!  The other beauty is the Trillium.  It has three petals, three sepals and three leaves.  I have both red and white flowers. 

You'll see that we also put down sod lawn. It's very shady so I keep putting down seed every spring as well  - although I think there is not enough light for even the best shade seed. Hence, over time this area might take on a more woodsy feel, which is just fine with me!

I spent the whole day today in the garden. It was awesome!

Happy Gardening!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Seed Starting - an experiment

This time of year I think serious gardeners have all started up this years prize annuals and perennials from seed.  I have typically not been one of those folks.

I really hate starting plants from seed - and probably because of that, I'm terrible at it. I've never invested the time to get it right. This year I tried two new things - one was the seed bomb that I recently posted about. The other was starting seeds indoors.

Even after making seed bombs, I still had plenty of old sees around to use for this little experiment.  Plus you know I didn't want to invest in any special trays or pots for my seed starting - so I used leftover plastic from take-out and frozen food containers and similar sources. Reuse, recycle and repurpose!  I took items that were exactly the same size and punched holes in one tray, then nested them together.  These are pretty shallow - but I think for seeds that isn't an issue.

Then I sifted some potting soil to create a very fine "seed starting" mix.  In the bottom of the containers I did put in a small layer of regular potting soil, then topped it with my mix.  Next I placed the seeds and then covered with another layer of the mix - per instructions on the packets.  I made sure they were all moist and happy, covered them with plastic to retain the moisture, and then set back to watch the magic happen. Every few days I add water in between the two plastic containers to keep them all moist.

5-10 days later and I do have a few seedlings appearing.  Here you can see some decorative grass starting.  This perennial grass costs over $50 a container at the store.  If I can get this going - it will have only cost me a few dollars!

A girlfriend came over last night (a real seed starter!) and shared some tips to improve my success. First off I need to continue to maintain the moisture - so that there is always condensate on the inside of the plastic. Secondly the trays need more light and heat.  So I have to work on that.

Nonetheless - I'm calling it a success for now, I have some little plants growing. Whoo Hoo! 

Meanwhile - I'm making a list of the plant sales that I want to hit in the next few weeks!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Clayless Seed Bomb - (Updated 2/24/13)

I first heard the term "seed bomb" while attending a presentation on guerrilla gardening at the Chicago Botanic Garden a few months ago.  It was then that I realized I'd been a Guerrilla Gardener for several years - and even been fined for it as well.

The term was originally "seed grenade" coined by Liz Christy when she started the "Green Guerrillas" in New York City. The first seed grenades were condoms filled with wildflower seeds, water and fertilizer. This was the start of the guerrilla gardening movement in the early 1970's.  Current "seed bombs" typically use clay as a binder to keep the seeds protected from being eaten prior to germination.

For years I have tossed seeds into the lot across from my house in hopes that something wonderful would take root. I've even transplanted a few perennials over there to have at least some bright spot! However, this morning, when I found several packets of old seeds - I thought why not try a few bombs!

The recipe I used did not include clay, as I didn't want to run to the store first. Plus, there are lots of good substitutes for clay, after all it is just a filler. So a creative and frugal approach was born. The clayless seed bomb!  I've also made cast paper seed bombs that I use as gift tags and ornaments. Different recipe, but still easy. That blog post is here. 

Here is what I came up with for recipe and process using items which you have in your kitchen already:
In a large bowl, mix
- 1 1/2 cups of flour and 8 - 10 TBS corn starch 
-  Place seeds into flour and mix. Observe distribution of seeds to estimate amount of soil to add 1/2 to 1 cup of water  & mix into a smooth paste or dough.
- Gradually add 1/4--cup of vegetable oil
- Knead the dough until it develops a firm consistency.
- Sift about 3 cups of potting soil and add into mix (Easy method, just dump it in, but then you'll need to work it more to get is smooth.) 
- Continue to knead to spread seeds and get to desired consistency. 
- Pull of pieces and roll into balls or logs – can add more soil as needed.

Here is a picture of my resulting seed bombs. I did make them rather small.  I had lots of seeds to use and because of the high seed density I made them smaller. Just in case they all germinate - I didn't want too much crowding.  Also since I will be hand placing them I thought I could go with a smaller size.

OK, I'm off to change clothes and then bomb the lot across the street!

Happy Sunday!


PS I updated this recipe. In subsequent trials with the seed bombs I used more corn starch and sifted the soil mix to have only the finest grains. This helped make more homogeneous dough.  I also add the seeds into the flour first. This way I can see how many there might be in a clump. If I use more than 2-3 packs of seems I will add more dirt, but with only 1 pack of seeds maybe just a dusting.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Huntington Garden visit - lovely desert section

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena California.  Classic example of a wealthy individuals creating a large public space – and I thank him for doing so.

In 1903 Henry Huntington purchased the San Marino Ranch, a working ranch with citrus groves, nut and fruit orchards, alfalfa crops, a small herd of cows, and poultry. Today there are 120 acres landscaped and open to visitors. More than 14,000 different varieties of plants are showcased in more than a dozen principal garden areas. My favorite by far is the desert section – which seems to go on and on and on!

For me it is a special treat since I love working with succulents at Garfield Park Conservatory – but here it is all natural and outside. A very different experienceJ.   While lingering in this part of the garden I started to actually prune and clean up many items which appeared to be suffering from too much water. Some also had a blight or fungus on them.  This was much to the dismay of my companion who said that I wasn’t trained to work here – and she was right. So I sought out one of the gardeners and curatorial staff to get a bit more information.  Small world – as we realized that one of his acquaintances had worked at GPCA.

It turns out that it has been a very challenging year from them. In December they received over 12 inches of rain – which is what they typically get all year.  They do not have a way to drain the area – not update the soil for many of these mature plants. Hence, several are suffering from overwatering.  Also the nights have been cold – and the heaters which are arranged around the African cultivars are working overtime.

Two varieties surprised me.  One was a yellow jade tree – I believe a Crassula ovata 'Hummel's Sunset'. It was a stark contrast to the greenery around it. And I do love Jade J  The second I believe was a variation of a Schlumbergera a genus of tree-dwelling cactus which is a tropical rainforest epiphytes.  I took my picture next to it – you can see how awesome this is. 

I highly recommend!  It was a very enjoyable day. And after you wander the gardens – you can visit the art museum and store.