Tag: garden

Baby Steps…….

Early this evening I stepped outside to watch my son riding his scooter in the driveway. Before I knew it a weed in the side bed had caught my eye. Pulled one, then another. Soon I found myself dragging out one of my garden trugs and attacking this bed. Wait a minute, the side bed is not on my list of where to start this year. But yet, once again, I find myself impetuously tackling this area.

I started with the perennial crabgrass weaving through the clumps of daylilies and hostas. I’m not sure if I was more surprised by how easily the roots pulled up in this soil, or how long those roots were!

The soil….. After gardening for 15 years in hard clay, here handed to me in the garden I’ve been avoiding is the soil of my dreams. I’ve never had such friable loamy soil as this. OMG, I just described soil in *my* garden as friable loam. Hot damn! It has that wonderful soily smell too – not sour, not stinky but fresh, composty, ALIVE. Non-gardeners may never understand how this can make a gardener’s heart sing!

The back side of the bed, behind the tree, had little rosettes of green leaves peeping up at the surface. At first glance, they seem like innocent little seedlings.

Dying to know what they are, because innocent they are not, nor seedlings. Pulling one up, I found a big juicy root. Then masses of big juicy roots. Talk about shutting down the song and putting fear in my heart. This is not good. But I’ve beaten worse, I’ve had to take back a bed after a poor, poor decision to plant Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’, kept Artemisia ‘Oriental Limelight’ in check. I will beat this mystery plant!

The good news is the soil made it easier to dig through with my hands and pull up the roots. Masses and masses of roots.

Yes, much better. Think maybe something is telling me that this is where I should begin. That maybe I am creating a small little blank slate to call me own, to re-connect with this long passion of mine.

Now this is a old, familar sight. Thankfully I had changed out of “good” clothes before those weeds caught my eye. Too many times in the past, the garden has side-tracked me, pulled me in while wearing work clothes, dress shoes. I get lost in the garden…so imagine this scene but in clothes that don’t bounce back quite so well.

Another familiar sight. Why I don’t even try to grow my nails as a gardener. Why I keep them cut as short as possible, and am a manicurists nightmare. I know, I know, wear gloves. But how can I when the feel of dirt on my hands is one of the best feelings there is!

Where to begin……

There’s plenty of evidence around my yard that someone at sometime had some professional landscaping done. In fact it appears that maybe multiple someones at multiple times – some professionally done, some not so. I found this plat drawing in the folder of appliance manuals and other household info the previous owners left behind.

Problem is it is also apparent that no effort was made to making these “improvements” over time cohesive. Nor was any effort made to maintain the plantings. Which leaves me struggling in the unknown territory of a shady yard, and unlike the other gardens I’ve created – the lack of a blank slate to create as my own. Instead, I must build upon what I have – make decisions about what to keep, what to lose, and most importantly, where to start. It will be 2 years in July since we moved in, and I’ve let the garden and yard plans fall into a bit of inertia.

My sister in-law and brother tried to jump start me last Memorial Day with an impromptu decision to cut down what I referred to as the “damn yews” along the front of the house. While that did lead to a little plant buying spree (yes, I am a bit of a hortaholic by nature), other than several container plantings, nothing new happened in the yard.

This year I am ready. For a variety of reasons. And frankly it’s time.

I know I will keep this original edging along most of the borders of the yard.

Problem is, most of this area has also been allowed to go wild. Lots of junk trees, rampant suckers. Not a lot to keep. But probably also not a first priority.

Instead I’ve got my eye on (read want to remove) two areas which seem to be later additions. The edging doesn’t match, the island one is out of scale, and the plants inside, just bad. Lots of common (and invasive) honeysuckle.

On the side of the house, yet another type of hardscape, probably the most recent addition based on the retaining wall material. Actually not a bad area, even if I’m not overly fond of this manufactured stacked concrete material. Most of the bed is hostas, want to do some sort of low shrub at the top, and that front lower bed is empty except for a couple of wild ginger (Asarum canadense). Figure this is where I’ll start playing with shade perennials.

But the area where I really need to focus. Where I can make the most impact. Where I have the closest to a blank slate is the front of the house. The place we cut down the damn yews. This is where I need to get out my design pencil and put on my thinking cap. Yes, astute reader, that’s yet another form of edging. Want to expand the beds, change the lines. Have ideas. Time to put those to practice.

Meanwhile, we did make a smidgen of progress on the side. Bed full of overgrown, gangly sumac (Rhus aromatica). Cut them back hard. Just going to mulch this bed this year. Hoping to get them shaped up, at least presentable for this year. Know they will be replaced. But not this year. Because I think I’m beginning to see the starting point. Should be an interesting journey. Come with me, ok?

Changing of the guard…an update on Chicago Streetscaping


Last June when I wrote about the streetscaping and plantings around downtown Chicago, I mentioned that it would be fun to watch these evolve over the summer. Evolve they did. Now with the return of fall’s cooler weather and frost imminent, that evolution has dramatically accelerated as crews mysteriously rip out the old and replace with the fall mums, kale, pansies, etc. Somewhat sad that the planter outside of Union Station was switched to mums last week, before I could re-stock my supply of Verbena Bonariensis seeds. Or that the masses of coleus along Willis Tower and on Michigan Ave were replaced before I could put my “grab some cuttings at the last minute before frost” stealth operation into gear.

I’ve had several trips into the city since June, and on each one have discovered new plantings, new gardens. And on each visit, I have snapped many, many pictures with my phone. All within downtown, all walking distance from Union Station. Thought I’d share some of my favorite spots, and how they’ve changed since June….

I am especially taken with the series of annual beds along Michigan Ave, just south of the Art Institute. On my first trip they had just been planted. This is them on June 23, August 1, September 9, and today the last day of September. The Castor Beans are stunning. Taller than me, providing strong interest in the center.

Of course a visit to those beds requires a quick hello to the lions outside of the Art Institute and the grand plantings they watch over. In their summer glory and today in the new fall look.

The Willis Tower outside patio used one of my favorite garden combos – yellow and blue. Here it is as it was last week with the blue Salvia and yellow Cannas sharing the stage with the chartreuse Ipomoea batatas or sweet potato vine, and today in fall colors, salvias gone replaced by mums and kale:

An early morning walk on my trip the 1st week of September had me stumble upon this grand example of an ornamental kitchen garden.

And of course, that wonderful dark leaved, yellow flowered Dahlia that enchanted me back in June, continues to pull at my heart. So much so, that during the Rock-n-Roll Chicago half marathon, I paused for a second to grab a picture when I realized I was running on Michigan Avenue right next to the plantings.

Finally a single planting, outside a business, a perfect example of a balanced fall grouping…..


There’s so many more…but another time, another post.

Secrets to my success…..


A question I often received from my neighbors was how did my hanging baskets, container plantings, pots, etc. always look so good. While I’m sure the use of good potting soil, supplemented with additional organic material such as fine compost, along with ample doses of a semi-organic fertilizer like Epsoma’s Flower-Tone helped, the real secret was water….and plenty of it. I learned quickly that in the heat of summer, particularly as the pots filled out and the plants became lush that the pots needed water at least once a day. Maybe twice.

And in our two-career busy family that presented a problem…..which was easily resolved by the use of a battery operated watering timer and plenty of drip irrigation and tubing. In fact if you look at my last post, that Louisville deck was during the time my son was an infant…to two careers plus an infant = must have automatic watering system. Some of the supplies I’d find locally, but a great on-line source is DripWorks. I was even able to find some white supply tubing to use around the inside of the front porch. Here’s early spring with the lines still mostly in their winter rolled up spot, and then snaked down with the chains to the hanging baskets..

I used the 1/2 supply lines in most places with the lines to the pots using 1/4 tubes and emitters. I also discovered 1/4 soaker hose that worked very well…almost better (and cheaper) than the emitters. When we put in the patio, I ran a supply line with the 1/2 tubing along the edge, just under the mulch. New sidewalks always had a 3″ or so piece of PVC pipe laid under to allow supply line/hoses under the sidewalk. In this set of photos you can see first an early spring shot of an empty pot with a 1/4″ soaker hose circle, then a late summer shot where it is hard to even notice the supply line.

I even ran supply lines out to some of the garden beds for containers placed within beds. Each of the posts in the photo below had a 1/4″ supply line with a drip emitter in each pot.

At the last house, I had two systems set up, one on each side of the house, each with a two outlet timer – this allowed four unique plant groupings (some with 15-20 pots) each on their own schedule. My only real worry was that the battery would go dead, or an emitter would clog or blow off. However, I took enough walks through to enjoy the garden that problems were easily nipped in the bud so to speak.

Don’t need no stinking land…….

Look closely at the picture to the left. Looks like a nice shot of a border bed, doesn’t it. Wrong! It’s actually on my deck. You can see the wood slats, and if you look real carefully at about the middle along the left edge, there’s the hint of a clay pot. One of the lessons I learned from that first fire escape “garden” was the value of masses of pots to create gardens. Wish I had pictures of that fire escape. From memory the flowers were fairly pedestrian, petunias, violas, my beloved moss roses, whatever I could get at the convenience store in our neighborhood which sold plants each spring. I hadn’t learned to mix plants in a pot, that i could grow herbs, veggies, the tropicals/tender perennials, and even actual perennials in these container gardens.

More shots from the same deck. This was my Louisville home, the transition garden between life on the farm and my new life. A home with a nice deck, but little yard. While I wasn’t yet digging in the dirt to start a new garden, I couldn’t resist the masses of plants…..some I’d moved with me when I left my former life….others purchased anew. A mix of annuals, tropicals – the dramatic cannas to the gawky but yummy smelling night blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum). Coleus played a large role, as did herbs, esp lavender, rosemary, grown more for their scent than any other use.

When we did move on, and build our house outside St Louis, I continued this practice of massing pots. On the driveway to hide the air conditioning unit…

One each corner of the patio………..

At this new Milwaukee house, I’m just starting to feel my way around the garden. Unsure where to take this one. Did plant the couple of wooden barrels the old owners had left behind. One to herbs, the other to a more decorative mix. The first thing I’ve noticed from my earlier gardens is how the cooler temps, esp. nights, have slowed the plant growth. The plants are settling in, but not growing to the abundance I expected. I know, with time it will come…really hoping posting these pics below the ones above, will shame these plants to grow…esp. you ‘Black Magic’ Colocasia…you are supposed to be the tall focal point here..please take note of the one above by the air conditioner. I’ve got my eye on you, and that is more what I am expecting!

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