Fall is upon us but there’s no reason to put your garden to bed just yet. That’s because the show goes on with birds, thousands of which are migrating and stopping daily in local gardens for a bite to eat or a drink of water. And the activity doesn’t stop there. Monarch butterflies will be looking for nectar – a rich source of energy during their long commute to Mexico. Bees remain active and there’s an assortment of insects – praying mantis and other “beneficials” – that are present until the first fall frost about mid-October. There’s plenty to observe and enjoy.
In our family, my sister Chris hosts Christmas and I host Easter. Among her many talents, Chris pulls out the stops when it comes to holiday decorating. Even in the dead of winter, her house brims with festive greenery, twinkling lights and potted poinsettias.
Then comes early spring and Easter. How can I compete? The ground is muddy at best or still snow-sodden at worst. No buds have popped yet, and any early bloomers have, more often than not, petrified pitifully in a late freeze. Being a gardener, I consider it a point of pride to find a way to jumpstart the season in time for the spring holidays.
Containers are a great solution since they can be moved to protect against volatile spring weather. But what plants might work well in early spring – I’m talking late March or early April – and where do we get our hands on them?
George and Theresa Rebersky enjoy growing an assortment of colorful annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs and gigantic pumpkins in their suburban Worth backyard. But along the driveway leading to their detached garage was a triangle of lawn that separated the drive from the sidewalk. It ran 13 feet on two sides and another 6 feet wide along the patio. There was no connection to the rest of the garden, which has a large arbor, raised beds and a spectacular collection of dahlia flowers and hanging baskets. “The triangle was a dead spot,” George says.
When David Van Zelst comes home after a busy day running his landscaping business, he likes to cook. No surprise there, since the owner and principal designer at Van Zelst, Inc. in Wadsworth once considered becoming a chef, with architecture the other serious possibility. Both interests continue to play a commanding role in the life that he and his wife Cindy have built for themselves on the North Shore.
It was just four years ago that the pair designed the expansive Italian-style house and garden they now enjoy on their wooded 2-acre lot. “I’ve had the privilege of developing landscapes and gardens for world class homes since 1979,” Van Zelst says, “so all along I’ve collected ideas.” Those stored ideas came to the fore when it was time to design what he clearly sees as the family dream home.
The first time I taught an adult photography class, I asked the participants to list what they hoped to gain. A novice photographer said, “I only have one question. Why, when I take a picture, it never looks like what I saw?”
I was speechless for a moment. Then I realized that this is what photographers spend their life trying to accomplish.
The human eye and brain are an incredible team for seeing the world. The eye can change focus on near and far objects so rapidly that we think we see everything in focus at one time, but the camera records only a frozen moment in time and focuses on only one element layer in each image. The rest is out of focus.
When we look at objects in changing light, the brain makes these color shifts seem normal, but the camera records only the color of the light as it affects the film or chip in the back of the camera.
How many times have you thrust your nose into a bouquet or a flower and come up empty? Or worse yet, been knocked back by an unexpected fragrance that was surprising in such a beautiful blossom? Peony scents, for example, have been classified into five categories: rose, honey, lemon, yeasty but also bitter and medicinal.
Scent has often been sacrificed for larger, longer-lasting, more colorful blooms that dazzle on first glance and hold up on the long journey to the florist. Producing fragrance draws on the plant’s resources and takes energy, which is why fragrant plants don’t last as long in bloom as the non-fragrant varieties. The breeder may thus decide that the plant’s energy can be better spent on producing larger flowers. When it comes to roses and faced with the choice between hardiness and fragrance, commercial breeders have often chosen in favor of hardiness.
This South Side Chicago garden attracts an astonishing variety of butterflies thanks to the biodiversity it offers in a neighborhood of otherwise sterile green lawns.
I’m pretty sure that in the pre-Google era most everyone who spoke of or asked about moss was trying to get rid of it. Even now googling “moss in the garden” produces five “how to kill” results before the first “how to grow.” But I recently attended a lecture at the Chicago Botanic Garden given by Dale Sievert, whose passion for and expertise about mosses made me question how anyone could contemplate mayhem against such a beautiful, ancient and eco-friendly organism. Since mosses have slowly, over the past few years, begun to colonize the damper, shadier parts of my tiny urban forest (i.e. my front yard), I was happy to be urged to encourage the process rather than fight it.
For Denise Johnston, it started at the county fair. As a child, she’d make a “beeline” to the hive observation frame in the agriculture building, where she would become mesmerized by the bees’ activity. Then, about ten years ago, she met Bob Engle, the man behind the hives, at an antique tractor show.
He asked if she was interested in a class he was teaching. Johnston signed on to a series of five 3-hour classes detailing how to start your own hives. After attending all 15 hours, she ordered her first batch of bees. Now Johnston is secretary/treasurer/newsletter editor of the Northwest Indiana Beekeepers Association, sells her own honey and teaches classes. (nwibeekeepers.com)
You may have seen an air plant hanging in an open-faced glass vase or hanging from a seashell at your local garden center. They are becoming popular. Air plants are easy to grow if you follow a few rules – and easy to kill if you don’t. Air plants may be sold with the hype that they live on nothing but air, but this is not the case.
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