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Geums Are Gems

I once had a friend tell me, “I am adding more geums to my garden – they are so lovely and delicate. And now they come in more colors than ever.” So I nodded and smiled and kept my mouth shut because I realized that I actually didn’t know what a geum was.

After searching the Internet I found that I knew these flowers well – I had seen geums a thousand times. The native Geum trifolium is what I knew as prairie smoke. But I still didn’t know much about cultivated geums, which are also called avens.

Beyond Violet

African violets are pushing the envelope when it comes to colors and flower forms. Ruffles, anyone?

When I was a child, I was totally mesmerized by the intense colors of the African violets that seemed to bloom continuously on my grandmother’s windowsills. I would stare in wonder at those jewel-colored blooms surrounded by collars of fuzzy leaves, fully convinced that only experienced gardeners of my grandmother’s reputation could get plants to bloom so gloriously indoors.

A New Twist on Terrariums

They’re back, just in time for holiday decorating and gift giving! Terrariums, that is. They’ve recently made a big comeback with a new twist and a few new favorite plants.

If you were gardening in the 70s, you probably planted up an old aquarium, apothecary jar or any clear glass container with an opening large enough to squeeze through a plant. Many of us used long handled tools to strategically place plants and decorative items in containers too small to accommodate our hands. The containers were then covered with some kind of glass lid to increase the humidity.

Butterflies in February?

On a sunny winter day a few years

ago, I strolled into our Palos-area garden looking for signs of snowdrops. The snow was melting, leaving behind large patches of wet soil around the tree trunks. The air was calm and the day was somewhat downright mild for February — almost 50 degrees. Out of the corner of my eye, something darted just above the ground — a mourning cloak! I had read that mourning cloak and question mark butterflies occasionally ventured out from their winter hideaways — they overwinter here and ca

From the Editor - Jan/Feb 2015

Illinois is an agricultural state.

We all know that, right?

But did you also know that Illinois imports 90 percent of its food? This is according to an August 24, 2014 article in the Business section of the Chicago Tribune.

So what’s wrong with this picture? The hard truth is that most of Illinois is a monoculture of corn and soybeans, which goes to feed cattle in this country and abroad. We’re not a state of home gardeners feeding our families from our backyards. When I buy frozen edamame (whole soybeans) at my local supermarket, I see “Product of China” stamped on the bag. What’s wrong, indeed.

Sunny Disposition, Shady Needs

It is always a topic of conversation: What plants work well in sun or in shade? Or both? However, the conversation has taken on a slightly different perspective for 2014.

The plant world has been turned upside down due to a disease that has impacted one of gardeners’ favorite shade plants — Impatiens walleriana. Impatiens are the standard for any annual shade garden, and varieties belonging to this class have died in Europe, the U.K. and now, North America, from a disease called downy mildew (Plasmopara obducens). Infected plants start to drop leaves overnight and only the plant stems remain after a few days. So what can you replace them with to give color in a shaded location? Here are a few suggestions.

Inspiration On the Half Shell

Some people are known as “glass half full” folks and some drift towards the “glass half empty” side. Personally, I’m a “Whoops! I’m sorry I just spilled that half glass of red wine all over your white lace tablecloth” kind of guy.

I know that many gardeners look at the coming year with anticipation. By January, the unspeakable, unending string of horticultural tragedies of the previous season have been relegated to the compost pile of history, figuratively and literally. (Or is that just my experience?) They view the world – which is pretty much limited to their patios, backyards and all-season deck chairs – with fresh eyes, convinced that this is the year that the porcelain berry vine that strangled their prize affenpinscher will be vanquished, that the heptacodium tree, which died under mysterious circumstances five years ago and which now resembles a hat rack for squirrels, will finally be removed (if only by a wind storm), and that the drainage issues that had them considering creating a rice paddy by the recycling bin will miraculously be alleviated by a climate-change-induced drought that begins in April and lasts through, oh, 2023.

Mike’s “Bargain Basement”  Holiday Hort Sing Along

People ask me why, year after inexplicable year, I continue to crank out these bizarre little lyrics for the holidays. Normally, I nod and smile and ignore the question. But when it’s your shrink who is pleading for an answer, uh … let’s just say that I said I would think it over, but, gee, I’m on deadline and I’ll talk to you next week.

I’m not sure that counts as an answer. I’ll let you know next year.

From the Editor - Nov/Dec 2014

It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s a flash mob of garden writers!

Late last summer 420 garden writers from the U.S. and Canada assembled for their annual symposium and ended up dancing to Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” on the lawn in front of the University of Pittsburgh’s “cathedral of learning” (watch the video here: bit.ly/1ttDyjf).

While it may not rank up there with the moon landing, it’s sure to find a beloved spot in the annals of the Garden Writers Association (GWA), founded in 1948 with a current membership of 1500.

Go Pantless … er, Plantless!

If there’s absolutely one thing I’m sure of as I slog through this vale of tears, it’s that the MacArthur genius grant people have, tragically, lost my phone number. Why, I can think of at least half a dozen reasons why I should be cashing one of their big, oversized checks and then retiring to an exotic location like Minot, ND. (Slogan: “Why Not Minot?”)

From the Editor - Sep/Oct 2014

The surprise is that there have been so few surprises. But maybe that’s just what happens when you plant a 5-acre “stylized prairie” in downtown Chicago and half of the species selected are Midwestern natives. Even when the world-renowned plantsman making the choices was from Holland and had never seen a real honest-to-gosh prairie until he came to America several years ago.

The man in question, Piet Oudolf, was in town this summer for the 10th anniversary of the establishment of The Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park, and Chicagoland Gardening was able to steal a few moments from his busy schedule to sit down and get his perspective on what he had done.


Hope Springs Eternal

"Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to another season of exciting action! I’m Bud Blast–“ “–And I’m Hort Holler–“ “And ...

A New Twist on Terrariums

They’re back, just in time for holiday decorating and gift giving! Terrariums, that is. They’ve recently made a big comeback…

Bluebirds, Daffodils and Orchids, Oh My!

The weather outside is still a tad frightful, but the sunshine and the longer daylight this past week seem to have triggered ...

Mike’s Holiday Hort Sing-Along

If it weren’t for the holiday season, we probably would have legislated the month of December out of existence long ago.

Another Good Garden Book for Winter

Does your garden wear the “layered look?” “Garden layers are made up of a variety of plants, some with complementary or ...

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What causes black spots on my orchid leaves?

I’m moving to a townhouse with limited direct sunlight. I would like to put a Japanese maple in a north-facing garden but don’t know if it will do well. What are the best kinds? Also, when is the best time to plant a small tree?

We moved into a house with a lovely azalea that didn’t bloom. We thought it might have been over-pruned. Last fall we did not prune it and now it still hasn’t bloomed. I was hoping to transplant it this year, but it looks rather sickly. Shall we prune it again and give it another year? Can I still transplant it?

calendar of events

Michigan - 01/22/15

February 27

Succulents in a Nest. Create a “succulent nest” out of grapevines and moss and planted with succulents. See a variety of fascinating types and discover how simple it is to grow them. Learn how to start new plants from leaves, cuttings or divisions, and what to do if pests appear. Class includes a tour of the Arid Garden and all materials. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, 1000 East Beltline Ave. NE, Grand Rapids. 10 to 11:30 a.m. $37. Info: 616-975-3155 or meijergardens.org.

Michigan - 01/22/15

January 31

Curious Coyotes: Winter Exploration. A program for children ages 6 to 10. Learn about all that makes winter special: snow, animal tracking, birds at the feeder and more. Fernwood Botanical Garden, 13988 Range Line Road, Niles. $10. Info: 269-695-6491 or fernwoodbotanical.org.

Chicago - 01/22/15

January 24, February 7 and 21

Green City Market Continues Indoors.The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive. 8 a.m to 1 p.m. Info: greencitymarket.org/calendar.

West - 01/22/15

The Growing Place

2000 Montgomery Rd., Aurora (630-820-8088) and 25 W 471 Plank Rd., Naperville (630-355-4000.) Register for classes at 630-355-4000. All classes are organized as Learn, Lunch & Play. All will take place at the Aurora location. Registration required.Please advise if you have any dietary restrictions. thegrowingplace.com

February 7

Miniature Gardening at 11 a.m. Lunch at noon. Make & Take an Enchanted Tree House at 1 p.m. Take an ordinary tree stump and turn it into a magical home for your garden nymphs (or gnomes). Class $5. Box lunch $10. Enchanted Tree House $30.

February 14

Virtual Garden Walk at 11 a.m. Lunch at noon. Make & Take a Succulent Dish Garden at 1 p.m. “Tour” some favorite gardens of Growing Place designers. After lunch, make a succulent dish garden. Class $5. Box lunch $10. Dish Garden – cost of materials.

February 21

Vegetable Gardening at 11 a.m. Lunch at noon. Seed Starting at 1 p.m. Discuss growing tomatoes and other vegetables. After lunch, seed starting. Seeds, soil and containers provided. Class $5. Box lunch $10. Seed Starting $10. (Additional seed packets available for purchase.)

February 28

Carpets of Color at 11 a.m. Lunch at noon. Make & Take Stepping Stones at 1 p.m. Learn about out-of-the-ordinary ground covers and make a stepping stone after lunch. Be prepared to get dirty. If you have something you would like to imbed in your stone, bring it along. Class $5. Box lunch $10. Stepping stone $40.

Indiana - 01/22/15

January 31

“Nature in Symphony.” A class that looks at how nature expresses itself through music. Taltree Arboretum, 450 West 100 North, Valparaiso. Noon to 2 p.m. $17. Info and registration: 219-462-0025 or taltree.org.

See these and more events in our calendar of gardening events.