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Chicagoland Gardening

April 2012

In this issue:

Now that the temperatures have stabilized and we’ve got a moment to catch our breath, let’s sit back and see what just happened. After two months of glorious snowdrop displays, it turned 80 F and they wilted away for another year, replaced in turn by about three days of scillas. Really, I scarcely recall seeing them at all this year what with the heat. Ditto for the magnolias. The daffodils along Chicago’s South Lake Shore Drive have been terrific, but I’ve been fearing they too will come and go in a whoosh of untimely heat. While that may soon happen, so far so good.

But what truly makes me happy right now is seeing the hellebores. It has taken years, frankly, but when they’ve matured into nice big clumps they really do stand out and command attention. The stems stand up straighter and taller and the flowers don’t seem to be drooping as much as they used to. My flowers are lime green and burgundy and a cross of the two since I seem to get seedlings all over the place. And while this is a blessing, growing hellebores from seed takes time, so what we all need to do this month is to jump in the car on April 14 to 15 and head to Gethsemane Garden Center in Chicago for their annual open house. They will be offering  — can you believe it! – 20 different varieties of hellebores ready to snatch up and take home with you. I can’t wait.

Carolyn Ulrich

The Other April Flower

The world of horticulture is many-faceted and if you’re an orchid maven, April is when you roll into high gear and strut your stuff.  So mark your calendars for April 28-29 when the Illinois Orchid Society celebrates its 60th anniversary with a gangbuster of a show, bringing in exhibitors and vendors from as far away as Taiwan to display exotic orchid flowers, photographs, artwork and jewelry. The show will be held at the Chicago Botanic Garden and the competition for ribbons is sure to be fierce.

Want to join or just learn more about orchids? The Illinois Orchid Society holds its meetings at the Chicago Botanic Garden on the second Sunday of the month.  Meetings are open to the public.

One of our writers who is sure to be attending the show is Jeff Rugg who no doubt grabbed your attention with his March/April article on the benefits of snakes in the garden. Jeff is also a passionate orchid grower, and in our upcoming May/June issue he has written a story about an orchid he swears all of us can grow, the psychopsis. Be sure to look for it.

"Chicken Chat"

In the last newsletter we announced the founding of a new garden club for both men and women on the far south side of Chicago. The club was started by Nancy Block “to bring educational seminars to the area with particular attention to bee keeping, attracting butterflies, organic gardening, winter gardening, backyard chickens, garden designs, canning & drying herbs.”

The topic for the group’s second meeting on April 11 at 6 p.m. is “Chicken Chat.” It’s legal to raise chickens, so come find out how easy it is to have chickens in your back yard and fresh eggs all the time. Meet in the music room of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. 3807 West 111th St., Chicago. Park by door 8. For further info: e-mail

The World is a-Flutter with Fairies

Every time we turn around, it seems someone is offering a class or a talk on fairy gardens. The Growing Place in Naperville and Aurora offers classes, and our friend and garden writer Betty Earl has just written a book on the topic. It’s coming out any day now, and we’ll be sure to let you know when it arrives. Also take note of Tree Star Hollow, based at Spring Bluff Nursery in Sugar Grove. Its grand opening will take place April 21, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will include workshops and other activities.

And here’s an item that arrived on our doorstep too late to make it into the March/April calendar of events. On April 28 West End Florist and Garden Center, 3800 Old Glenview Rd., Evanston, will be hosting a Fairy Garden Day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fairy garden supplies and plants will be available for purchase and you will be able to make a garden on-site with experienced professionals to assist you. Free fairy garden design demonstrations at 10 a.m, 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Refreshments. Info: 847-251-1943 or  

What to Do in the Garden

  • Enlist some local fairies to help you clean up your garden. It’s time.

  • If you have hellebores, keep an eagle eye out for seedlings around the base of your plants. The leaves are distinctive, shiny green with tiny serrated edges. When they get about 4 inches tall, transplant or give away.

  • If you want to encourage seedlings, don’t mulch heavily under your hellebores. The seeds will fall from the mother plant but they won’t have any bare soil in which to germinate.

  • Divide perennials like celandine poppies, phlox, columbine, hostas, catmint, daylilies, and anything else that has been looking overlarge.

  • Trim out dead rose canes and cut back as soon as you can.

  • Leave your hydrangeas alone and wait to see what’s alive and what’s not.

  • If you don’t have any Kerria japonica resolve to buy one – or three. This is a shade-tolerant shrub that blooms in March and April and is covered with yellow one-inch blossoms that resemble single roses. In my garden they have lasted for several weeks this spring and they’re not done yet.  How many shrubs are there that bloom in shade? Think of it as the “plant of the month.”