Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Sunday was about the best spring day you could hope for here: temp right at 60 degrees, sunny, no wind. So I did what any gardener worth her salt would do: I got myself outside and worked all afternoon.

I did a rough clean-up of about two-thirds of the garden beds, and as I cleaned, I noticed many small signs of emerging life.

This is striped, or Lebanese, squill (Puschkinia libanotica).

It’s a pretty little thing if you can get down low enough to see it. It’s much smaller than the package photo would lead you to believe. If all 25 of them had sprouted, they might make a better mass impact, but only a handful got past the squirrels (or maybe they don’t like the soil under the white pine?). They’re supposed to naturalize well, but I only planted them two years ago. It could take a while…

I think this may be another variety of squill, though I didn’t plant it:
I think it hitchhiked its way in with a passalong daylily from a friend. I hope it stays and raises a large family.

These are Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) just popping forth under the crab tree in the front:
After three or four years, they’re beginning to fill in nicely. I’m hoping they will eventually make a thick blue collar around the tree.

I also found lots of new shoots on the dwarf, bearded, and Siberian irises, as well as all the daylilies. And I was delighted to see the tiniest leaves of Corydalis, Dicentra, and Tradescantia, still too small for a decent photo with my cheap camera and mediocre skills. I even noticed a few hosta nubs here and there. Many shrubs have buds as well, including this young ‘Excel’ lilac:
Of course, the daffodils are ready to burst forth in all their golden glory…
This is Alchemilla mollis ‘Auslese’. It’s hard to improve on Mr. McGregor’s Daughter’s description of these as ballerina wanna-be’s. Don’t they look just like frilly little tutus? A few drops from a gentle, early morning rain make a pretty pearl trim.
Not to be left out of the show, the red maple’s plump buds stand out beautifully against the water behind her.
Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima ‘Splendens’) is still sporting her winter blush, but I think there’s some green in there too.
From here on out, I’m sure there will be something new to discover every day. I hope you are enjoying many pleasant surprises in your own garden. (Don’t worry, Jodi! Your glaciers have to melt eventually, and you’ll catch up before you know it!)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Johnny Crocus-seed

They’re here! They’re here! After weeks of watching gardens burst into bloom in warmer climates, I finally have a few tiny blossoms of my own.
White crocus and sedum
My son (then 10) helped me plant these crocuses back in 2004—our first Fall in this house. I worked my way through the flower beds digging small holes here and there. He loaded his hoodie pocket with corms, then followed me around like Johnny Crocus-seed, scattering kernels of future beauty as he went. (Every once in a while I can get him interested in a little task like that.)

We planted over 200 corms all together, of several varieties purchased at local Box-Marts. But as Alan Armitage so aptly puts it, “A crocus is a crocus is a crocus.” Most of them look pretty similar.

Still, for those who like to know these things, here’s what we planted. About a hundred of them were C. tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’.
Crocus 'Ruby Giant'
Don’t be fooled by her name: there’s nothing large, nor even red, about this Ruby. All “giant” means is that she is bigger than other tommasinianus crocuses. But what she lacks in size she makes up in vigor. Tommies are supposed to be the fastest multiplying variety of crocus. They’ve certainly spread nicely here. They’re also known as “snow crocuses,” which tells you something about how early they bloom.

Another 50 were C. vernus ‘Pickwick,’ a slightly larger Dutch crocus that has silvery-lavender flowers with darker purple stripes. The vernus varieties are supposed to be among the later-blooming crocuses, and indeed this is the only one open in my gardens so far:
Crocus 'Pickwick'
Then there were 80 of unnamed mixed species: purple, white, yellow, and striped.
I’m pretty sure that not all those original crocuses survived (Mr. Squirrel undoubtedly made off with his cut), but those that remain have formed nice little patches here and there. I’ve read that they don’t like wet feet, and it’s true that my happiest ones are in raised, well-drained areas.

Thus begins spring. It’s not much so far, but I’ll take it! Besides, big things grow from small beginnings, right? There’s a whole lot of hope packed into those teeny, tiny flowers.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Miracle Muscari

Around this time last year (maybe for Easter?) my good friend Maya gave me a small pot of blooming grape hyacinths. After enjoying them on my kitchen counter for a while, I intended to plant them out in the garden. When they began to decline, I stuck them in a corner of the patio… and promptly forgot all about them.

A couple days ago, during a brief warm spell, I made a circuit of my gardens to see if anything was sprouting yet. And… yippee!...there are many signs of life, including crocuses...Photobucket

and species tulips.
I took note of myriad clean-up jobs that await me, once the weather warms up for real: dried stalks and stems to be cut back, misplaced mulch to be returned to its proper place after our recent heavy rains, windblown leaves and debris to be raked out of corners…

But what’s this? Where did this little pot come from?
I picked it up, pulled the dried plant stuff from the top, and found this:
Puzzled, it took me a minute to dredge up the memory of that pot of muscari from last spring. It must have been rolling around out there in the wind all winter long—and we get some mighty strong winds off of the reservoir behind us, as I’ve mentioned before. How these little bulbs survived—or even stayed in the pot!—is beyond me.

The pot is a very thin plastic, and there’s not much soil in it. It would be like setting a package of bulbs on the ground for the winter and expecting them to sprout. All I can think is that they must have had just enough snow cover to protect them during the worst parts of the winter.

It’s a humbling sort of experience for a gardener. We plan and prepare to get our precious babies ready for the coming cold, yet these forsaken and unprotected little miracles did just fine on their own. Who do I think I am, that they should need me?

“Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.”
—Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Road Trip

This is the week of the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, and I had been planning all winter to go and bring back fabulous photos to show you. But alas, our much-delayed kitchen remodel has finally become a reality, and I’m stuck here babysitting the work crew. If I’m not around, questions tend to get answered the wrong way, if you know what I mean.

Instead, you get some photos of a recent trip the Suburban Sprouts and I made to the Friendship Park Conservatory, in nearby Des Plaines, here in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. The Sprouts (ages 11 and 13) were on the last day of a four-day weekend and were a little stir-crazy, so I posed the idea and surprisingly they were up for it.

I had read about the conservatory in a number of local publications and had wanted to check it out. I knew it would be no Garfield Conservatory, but the website had a couple of nice photos.

All in all, it was okay. It was a 30-minute drive for us, and I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see it if you live further than that. It’s one not-so-large room, with one loop around, which my kids toured in about one minute flat. Then we went back and took a closer look. Most of the greenery seemed like larger versions of plants I have in my own house—nothing terribly exotic.
They did have several varieties of orchid, but most were looking a little tired, and all were identically labeled “#84, orchid.” Here are the only two that still looked half-way decent.
They did have some enormous begonias—I think. Many of the plants were unlabeled.
When labels were in view, they kind of messed up a good photo op.
The trunk of this tree philodendron was interesting, with its “owl-eye” pattern of leaf stem scars…
… and its aerial roots wrapped around the base, looking a little too snake-like for my comfort.
PhotobucketThe Sprouts enjoyed the koi pond next to the bridge at the “high” end of the room…
But I’m sure their favorite part was romping in the nearby playground afterwards…
Or, on second thought, the stop at Dairy Queen on the way back home.

It was no Flower and Garden Show, but it was a pleasant afternoon. I noticed a lot of perennial beds outside, so I may sneak back in the summer to take a peek at those. The outdoor pond circled by an electric train (plus the playground…and the DQ) may be enough to lure my kids back too.

In the meantime, I hope somebody else posts a lot of photos of the show, so I don’t feel like I totally missed out. (Mr. BrownThumb and Mr. McGregor’s Daughter, I’m counting on you!)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Get Your Blotanical Fix

PhotobucketFor the past day or so, many of my garden blogging friends have been in an uproar. “Where is Blotanical? Why isn’t it coming up? It’s been ‘suspended’? When is it coming back? Where is Stuart?????”

To the uninitiated, the fuss may have seemed puzzling. But to those who have joined the Blotanical community, this was a BIG DEAL! I saw words like “hooked,” “addicted,” “morning fix,” “withdrawal symptoms,” “fish out of water,” and “panic” flying everywhere I looked.

It turned out to be a temporary downtime, of course—undoubtedly allowing creator Stuart Robinson to make Blotanical even better than it already is. All is fine now, and we're breathing a collective sigh of relief. For many of us garden bloggers, Blotanical is our main link to each other. We can show off our successes, vent our frustrations, plead for help with a troubling plant, or just enjoy each other’s company for a spell.

If you are not yet acquainted with Blotanical, I encourage you to scoot on over and check it out. And you don’t have to be a blogger to enjoy it, either. You can sign up (at no cost) as either a blogger or just a “civilian” member and partake of its numerous features.

Blotanical offers many ways to find and stay connected with other gardeners. One way is to search by location. I have enjoyed comparing notes with other bloggers right here in the Chicago area. Or, when I’m feeling adventurous, I can pick any part of the world and escape for a virtual tour of bloggers’ gardens there.
Blotanical screen
A search feature allows me to find all postings on any topic I care to dream up. And there are lots of other ways to sort blogs and postings, as well, including most recent, most popular, and posts by new bloggers. If I like, I can choose a list of favorites, so I can always find them easily.

As a new kid on the gardening blogger block, I have greatly appreciated the extra exposure my blog has received through Blotanical—not to mention the encouraging words and great tips and ideas from all my new friends around the world.

We’re so glad you’re back, Blotanical. (Now, can I have my red star, Stuart? :)

#1 Sure Sign of Spring

What is the one sure-fire, never-miss, bonafide sign that spring is on its way to Chicagoland? No, it’s not the first crocus elbowing its way up through the earth. Nor is it the robin’s jubilant wake-up call.

It’s the arrival of the big trucks!

Like clockwork they make their appearance shortly before spring arrives. First, in mid-February, we hear the approaching rumble of the village tree-pruning squads in their bucket trucks…
Pruner 2
Nary a dead nor errant branch escapes their notice. I’m always happy to see the trees get a good shaping-up, but they look conspicuously bare at the moment—like a young boy with a too-short haircut, his newly exposed ears and forehead gleaming against tanned skin. But they’ll fill in nicely again soon.

Occasionally a whole tree has to go and that’s sad. This one used to stand just across the cul de sac from our house. The trunk was half hollow from some ailment or other. We’ll miss its shade this summer.
After the bucket-truck brigade come the road repair crews. The winter snowplowing has left its mark on our streets, and there are potholes everywhere. I missed my chance to get a photo of these trucks today—but that’s not what you came to a garden blog for anyway, is it? How about this instead:
This intriguing live sculpture graces the entrance to a truck company near here. In summer it’s surrounded by a pretty patch of annuals. (My apologies for lopping off the “T”—I left my glasses in the car when I jumped out to snag this shot. Time for a large-print camera…)

Not exactly an idea I’d choose to replicate in my own front yard, but it makes me smile every time I pass. I’d love to get the story on it—Whose idea was it? Who maintains it so perfectly? But I can’t quite bring myself to wander into a truck yard full of burly men and inquire about their topiary and posies. I’m hoping to catch the pruner in action some day and maybe mosey over for a chat.

So that’s that. The big trucks have arrived, and spring can’t be far behind. Patience, my friend!