Sunday, November 18, 2007

field trip #2

As promised, another post! Wow, two in one weekend.
I seem to have saved up all these posts in my head and now it's time to give the imaginary blog a rest.
A few weeks ago I played hooky and visited the Chicago Cultural Center. There's a great installation of crocheted corals arranged to resemble a brilliantly colored reef. Apart from just looking really cool, this project was begun to raise the ol' awareness level of the sad state of our coral reefs as well as physically representing a non-Euclidean approach to geometry called 'the hyperbolic plane'.
This was all explained to me during a hands-on workshop where some lovely people helped me crochet my own piece of acrylic coral.
It was so well explained it actually made sense for a few minutes.
It no longer does.
But, if interested, this link will explain all...

Hopefully, these pictures help as well

Saturday, November 17, 2007

two months?

Yes, two months. Nothing like a blog to let you know the last time you wrote. Here is a brief list of the things I've done:

-went to a 25 year grade school reunion (?!)
-finally potted the few remaining cheap perennials I picked up at the big box

-checked on the wayward tomato plant growing in the alley next to our garage. It's a testament to the very warm fall we've had and it's still hanging in there with its little yellow blossoms. If I get tomatoes in December I'm voting for Al Gore.
-planned and planned and planned for next year...but didn't do a whole lot.

One thing I did do was visit Waters Elementary School back in October. It's your classic CPS neighborhood school with a decidedly green mission. They have many programs to introduce kids and the community to an environmentally aware lifestyle, but I found their huge organic garden on site so impressive.

Here, look:

See? And these don't really give you a good sense of the scale of this.
I have a few other field trips to report on, including the inspiring soil workshop I went to today, but that will have to wait. Just hopefully not two months.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

a bit tired...

It's amazing how quickly the garden gets tired, or I get tired of the garden. Either way, I'm not interested in what's happening much now. My plans are for the future.
The Karl Foerster is nice, and the goldenrod just keeps going. I'm not enjoying them so much as plotting their future. The main plan is to get rid of most weedy participants. I love Joe Pye weed, but there are three large plots of them close to a fairly busy street and I'm not sure what is contributing to their legginess more, the exhaust or the exhaust. One needs to go.
I pulled out some asters and a few phlox last week and I'm still feeling guilty.
I must muster the courage for a big coneflower push, and drastically reduce their numbers. But when I see all those Golden Finches, (that never seem ready to be photographed when I am), visiting their blackened seedheads, my inner hippy rebels.
Decisions, decisions...
In the meantime, while delaying actual physical labor, a harbinger of fall...

Sunday, September 9, 2007

some pig

some pig indeed, Charlotte. I wish I could come up with some kind of viable excuse as to why I haven't touched the garden in two weeks, like maybe because I'm frightened of all the killer spiders lurking in the dead zones, but I can't. Suffice to say I'm back at work and slowly accepting that summer is on its way out.
In case I was really resisting, there are funnel webs (like the one above), and orb webs nearly everywhere.
This funnel web (or grass) spider is in a prime location. He/She has taken up residence in a corner near the composter and mosquito epicenter. There is no lack of protein here.
I really don't want to disturb this compound, but those coneflowers aren't going to relocate themselves, and fall is their slated moving/decomposition date.
Fall has been slated for many a garden project, so many I am often overcome with a type of paralysis while pondering which to do first.
I will make a list. Not on post-its.
First, plant all these discounted perennials while trying to remember what the grand scheme was.
Note the Hakone 'Aureola'. $3 at the big box! The tall, purplish one is a variety of Joe Pye weed and may have white blooms. Hmmm...

Friday, August 24, 2007

the effluvial plain

of our basement created these pretty cool patterns of silt deposits. Watching the water bubble up out of the drains was hypnotic and in between the moments of panic, kind of beautiful.

If it continued for millenia, and that really was silt, maybe we'd have a mountain rather than the stinky slick that's colonizing the basement right now.

Luckily, my husband thought of the camera and took these.

Very luckily, we had no tree damage. Yet.
The only casualty I could find was this ridiculously tall dahlia that just bloomed last week. I brought it in for some freshly-cut flower scent, (on account of the aforementioned stinky slick), and found this tiny, tastefully colored ladybug-type.

It took a while to realize there were two.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

mycelium delirium

"Mushrooms...are merely the surface features - the strange fruit - of much larger organisms known as mycelia. Their mazy tendrils creep beneath the forest floor, over rocks and roots, under bark and leaf litter, through rotting logs and decaying bones, digesting the dead and sustaining the living."


There has been rain every day, nearly all day, for the last few days. Everything is damp and fetid, and these little mushroom forests are popping up overnight.

Mushrooms can really fascinate and disgust me. This patch appeared on a very neglected square of parkway where a massive box elder grew for at least 80 years. It fell over two years ago, pretty spectacularly, and left a huge mound of mulch in the middle of which the city planted a tiny maple.

It's growing quickly, and so are the weeds and these mushrooms.

I usually try to avoid the area.

Last night I read this article about mushroom hunters in the
New Yorker with all sorts of crazy mushroom facts.
For instance:
  1. The world's largest organism is a mycelium in Oregon. It covers 2000 acres and is more than 8000 years old.
  2. Apparently, mushrooms can grow in one's body.
The world is a wondrous place, but maybe some things are better left alone. Like mushrooms.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bloom day, the day after the day after.

Pee gee hydrangea, Hydrangea Paniculata, I think


Yeah, I'm late. I'm always a dollar short as well. I do appreciate the blooms of the late summer plants. They're always a surprise when many others begin to look tired. These hydrangea bushes bloomed in early spring, and while not having much of a scent, they are really dependable and beautiful.

I am also a fan of most sedums. I'm going to assume most of these are 'Autumn Joy' because many of the perennials that were here when we moved in were planted by the previous owner, a landscaper. In the six years we've lived here I think I've managed to identify most of them. I realized over time that most shrubs and perennials here are very popular in the Chicago area, and pretty common. It's only fairly recently that I've gained enough confidence to change the plans a bit, and every year 'the grounds' get a little more personalized.

Ok, not exactly a bloom, but this here's my first compost! Chicago has a great subsidized composter program that offers homeowners a deal on the 'Earth Machine'.
I bought one last summer and have been diligently saving compostable food scraps since. I have also been negligent toward my bin.
I don't turn very often, and I don't keep it moist regularly. I don't even know if this is really compost. But it came from the bottom and I through it in with a transplanted lady's mantle.
If it withers and dies, I'll have to rethink my scoop of 'black gold'.
I should probably attend some compost workshop.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

I've always wanted to know what it would be like in the Amazon river basin..

...and now I know. Chicago has been as humid of late, and while no howler monkeys scamper in the understory, if you close your eyes in the heavy damp of the evening the locust choir takes on a tropical tone, and one can imagine. Just like it!

On to more pressing matters...
July 15th

August 9th
This is a sea holly I have in a sunny bed. I planted it last summer ('06), when just a babe.
Earlier this year (spring '07), I tried out an Echinops ritro bulb right next to it. They look a bit similar, and I figured may the better thistle win. I do this in the spring. Toss in bulbs and walk away.
One day, I will know what I've planted.
I thought this was the Echinops. But no. It is the sea holly, an Eryngium.
I think it's Eryngium alpinum, but it could be a different cultivar. Since this is the first year it's flowered, I'm not sure if the rains we've been having have done it in or if this is its natural state of decline after blooming. Aside from the swarms (see earlier post where I called it Echinops), I've been really pleased with its appearance. Except for now.

Now this plant, Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis), is a pal. It is not fussy. It is hardy. It always blooms.
Its dark green foliage stays healthy and a little glossy the whole season, with or without care.
It passes the gauntlet of my neglect and still manages a slight exoticism.
The only toil it requires is some periodic containment. I can handle that.

Monday, August 6, 2007

dog days, or how to save the right front bed with my 3 point plan...

One of the main reasons for starting this blog was to have a place for all my garden notes and hopes and dreams, which seems to be a large part of gardening for me.
There is the practical need of having a site to place all the ideas for Next Year, a site that's easier to locate than the countless post-it notes I scribble on. There's also the need to have a site to place all the ideas I have about what I'm trying to accomplish; what sights, what smells, what kind of a place is my garden?

I have many ideas about this in March, and now, in full August heat, I'm trying to remember what those were. This is also the time when most plants in my beds seem a little pooped.
And so, on to Next Year.

This is a close up on one of the many patches of coneflower I plan to pull up. I've managed to pull up a few of the tattier ones, but I was struck by this one's white-green glow that doesn't really come across in this photo. I'm striving for more variety, but when I see so many pollinators hankering for some coneflower, I feel a little guilty yanking them out...

This right bed has a little lushness, but some of the phlox need to go. I also need to remember the no-grow zone in the front that's a favorite spot for many dogs. It took me a couple of years and many plants to figure that out.

There's still a little of the ho-hum to the front beds and while I know that most spectacular blooms are subject to pee, picking, or poking, I think it's time for a rotation.

Although I haven't had much luck in the past, I have lots of grand plans for growing from seed next spring. I'm also going to pick up as many end of the season sale pots I can. I would hate to have to resort to a life of crime to feed this little habit.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


We went for a walk in the mountains and found what you'd expect: marmots, meadows, and lots and lots of lodgepole pines. But I didn't expect the wildflowers. It just seemed strange to find so many different kinds growing above the tree-line with very little water.

For instance...

This lunar pass was at 10-11,000' elevation and seems sparse without a good hard look at the ground...

These pink tufts are oval-leafed eriogonum and come in all sorts of colors in all sorts of zones.
The petals aren't petals, but sepals instead. Not sure what the exact difference is, but their tube-like quality lend them a nice sci-fi vibe, especially with the various lichens and whatnot.

In addition to the types of plants you'd expect to see in a very dry area at high elevations...

like this Anderson's thistle (which, according to the one book I have, was eaten by some Native Americans, raw or cooked)...

turning the corner, or endless switchback, could reveal a mini oasis with any spring. The yellow flowers are called seep-spring monkeyflower and the moss, well the moss was so...mossy. And if I ever move to the Pacific Northwest, a-moss gardening I will go.

This hiking trip we decided to limit our panoramic photography because it's really difficult to get a sense of the dizzying scale. The views one is privileged to experience just don't translate in a two dimensional snapshot.
So, we tried out lots of macro settings and close ups. I'm really happy with them because, oddly enough, they seem to detail the complexity of the place.

And the bugs looked cool too.

That fuzzy pea is the fruit of the large-leaf lupine, a beautiful blue delphinium-like plant. I'm not sure about either bug, but I'm telling myself the black bee is the Franklin bumblebee, a California native that's been MIA for two years.

After a few days we said goodbye to the heights and howls and headed back to the Midwest.

Returning from a trip is always a little hard, and the biodiversity of the back yard wasn't holding up too well against the mountains.

But then I saw a black swallowtail on a coneflower...

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bloom Day, the day after

Went a little nuts with the camera yesterday in service to a gardener's bloom day and our upcoming vacation. I've arranged for cat care but feel all perennials will need to fend for themselves. Not really sure what will make it, but at least we've got pictures. I'm most concerned about the containers. What is it, pray for rain and pass the tubers? Something like that...

I was really happy we didn't miss the Canna bloom, although it almost looked a little cooler right before it actually bloomed. Loved the Bird of Paradise look. This, along with the elephant ear, is going to be overwintered in my first ever attempt at saving money and bulbs down in the cool, dark basement. Cross your fingers.

Veitch's blue globe thistle (echinops ritro) is doing well and good, just a wee bit floppy but a true blue in thistle and stem. I attempted some blue sea holly right next to these that never showed this year, but I may be surprised next season. I'm attracted to this plant's blue glow 'round about the shank of the evening (7-ish), but I don't admire the flies, gnats and other riffraff constantly hovering around its globes.

Other faves, slightly underexposed...

Strangely, I'm not much of a fan of phlox in groupings, but individually their interest is highlighted. I guess you have to get to know them...

I don't know what this is. I never realized this chicks and hen I fumbled into a corner on the rock pile/garden would flower. I feel confident in its tenacity, happy for its surprise. Semper vi.

This is the second monarch I've seen all summer, and it literally landed in my frame. All I've been seeing of late is loads of painted ladies and hope there's no Monsanto-type catastrophe affecting monarchs. Happy to see this one, love to see more. Maybe I shouldn't clear out all the coneflower...

Other blooms, botanical names to follow (later, really)...

Joe Pye weed
Rose of Sharon
Sedums ( a little early?)
Bee balm
'Endless Summer' Hydrangea
Japanese anemone, just about

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Horton's soft clover...

That's the only name I can come up with for this exotic, Dr. Seuss-like perennial. I'm calling it a perennial because it's in the same location every year, but I'm not the architect. Just an admirer. And coveter. I do want this plant. This bloom turns into a brilliant red fuzzy ball 'round about August and it does resemble the fluffy puff of Whos Horton hears in that other perennial classic, 'Horton Hears a Who'.

Judging by its street side sunny location, I think it could handle my front parkway "prairie" bed. I call it the prairie bed because most of the residents are (thankfully) extremely low maintenance and native, I think.

There's false indigo (Baptisia Australis), goldenrod (Solidago), black eyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta), lots of liatris and a bit of yarrow (Achillea millefolium). All of these, however, are getting crowded by the coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and I'm looking to mix things up a little.

Maybe this Horton plant would offset the wispy, ok weedy, textures without too much fuss. This is all part of next year's plans, of course. Vacation's coming up and then it's August. Time to find out what's really drought tolerant. Maybe I should call that bed the Darwinian bed...

So, all I need to do is head to the garden center and ask for the beautiful, freaky famous Horton's soft clover.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

"Joyfull Newes out of the newe founde worlde"

It's hot. I spent a large portion of the holiday on the couch reading 'Nature's Government', a book about "Science, Imperial Britain, and the 'Improvement' of the World". Yikes. There are some good bits about botanical history, though. Apparently, one of the driving forces behind botanical collections of the16th-ish century was to literally collect all the plants that had once been in the Garden of Eden and then scattered on account of events related to the fall.
Hence the "Joyfull Newes". If you could just gather them all back, in one place, in one garden, Eden would be returned and we could all call it a day.
Seems so noble. I'm not sure if it seems noble because it's so impossible or so optimistic or both. Maybe it seems so noble because there is an actual philosophy, crackpot though it may be, guiding a garden's design.
This is something I admire yet find difficult to adhere to. I understand the value of planting native species and restoring a bit of prairie, but coneflower, even with its hypnotic seed head, can get a little invasive and a little tiresome.
I waver. I see Giant Japanese Butterbur in a magazine and want it, native or not.
I'm working on a wish list of marginal plants that may take the place of some perfectly hardy, drought tolerant natives. I'll leave the ethics for another day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

forest for the trees

This is my very first post on my very first blog about, of all things, gardening. I could fill a forest with the things I don't know and can't identify, but I do try. We moved into this landscaped bungalow 6 years ago barely interested in or capable of green things. I've changed. I find myself googling ground covers and planning, always planning, to someday have my imaginary garden meet what's actually shaping up and filling out all around us. It is a source of constant, industrious distraction.

Speaking of distraction, on my way to a long overdue weeding session I spotted this growing in a shaded corner on the southern side of the house. It's either my new favorite weed or a very long distance volunteer. Maybe somebody's unwanted impatiens. Any ideas?