They don’t look alike. Not even close. But kinfolk come in all shapes and sizes. True of people and true of plants.
With people you can often tell at a glance who’s related. Sometimes that’s also true of plants.
Look at any daisy-shaped flower, for example – rudbeckia, coneflower, aster, sunflower, Shasta daisy, silphium – and you immediately know they’re in the same family. They’re all composites, members of the Compositae. Kissing cousins, as it were.
Not so with the poinsettia and its kin. Also known as a spurge, it and other members of the Euphorbiaceae family are as diverse as you could possibly imagine. Did you know that the white-flowering Diamond Frost that started adding sparkle to our gardens, especially our container plantings, about 10 years ago is in the Euphorbia genus? Euphorbia hypericifolia ‘Inneuphe’, to be precise. Big splashy red “petals” (modified leaves called bracts) on poinsettias. Teeny glilttering white blossoms on the Diamond Frost.
Sure, you love the holidays, but maybe you don’t 100 percent love red and green. Yes, they always make a dynamite pairing, but do they always have to be the go-to colors for decorating every year? You’d really like to broaden your horizons, see what else you might do to offer a festive face to the world.
Such was the challenge a customer presented to the design staff at The Growing Place, Naperville and Aurora. “The customer wanted to stay away from the traditional reds and greens that are everywhere during the holidays,” says co-owner Carol Massat. “But she loves mauve and burgundy, so we custom designed this container using a variety of evergreens and two types of eucalyptus that had been preserved and dyed – all natural materials. Then we added some lime green color to brighten it up a bit.
Who says that gardening on a former cornfield is doomed to fail? Certainly not Laverne and Pete Bohlin, whose garden is a happy mix of prairie, vegetables and flowers.
Last spring my sister called to say that she had found a wonderful new anemone to add to her collection in a mixed flower border. When she described the flower, the deeply saturated color and the black center, I knew she had purchased Anemone coronaria, a summer-flowering tender bulb. She was disappointed to learn that these magnificent flowers would not overwinter in her Indiana garden and that they must be lifted in the fall and replanted each spring.
Most of you have read many statistics about the plummeting number of monarch butterflies in the United States, Canada and Mexico, their migration site. According to a January, 2014 USA Today report, “The number of monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico plunged this year to its lowest level since studies began in 1993.”
Each of us can do something to help reverse monarch numbers and assure that there will be monarchs in our future. And that is … plant milkweed … the only plant on which monarchs will lay their eggs. The lack of milkweed, the monarchs’ host plant, is an important factor in their drastically declining numbers, along with urban sprawl, extreme weather, new farming practices and illegal logging in the butterflies’ winter habitat in Mexico.
Yes, I know it’s a mouthful, but I love it even so. When I’m feeling tongue-tied, I can always refer to it by its common name: beautybush.
I received this shrub, Kolkwitzia Dream Catcher maybe 10 years ago as a trial plant from Spring Meadow Nursery in Grand Haven, Michigan. Actually, there were two plants, seedlings really, just a foot or so tall on a single stem. A lovely surprise since I had read about kolkwitizia but never seen it in the flesh, let alone grown it. I decided to make room for the pair under the bay window at the corner of the house, a spot where my sunny front border transitions to the semi-shady side yard.
In a way you could call it a kitchen garden, and why not? Although there’s not a vegetable to be seen, it was designed while Brian Helfrich was sitting on his usual chair in the kitchen, staring into the backyard, thinking.
A construction manager with Aquascape, Inc., Helfrich explains that he treats every garden he does the same way, designing from inside the house looking out. “I lived in that chair by the kitchen window,” he recalls, referring to the period in which he planned the multi-purpose garden that he built for his Downers Grove backyard.
If Mother Earth had a full-time assistant, it would be Kay MacNeil. For more than 25 years, the Frankfort resident has advocated and gardened for those with no voice — Eastern bluebirds, butterflies, hummingbirds and many other struggling creatures that most people take for granted.
Many of the homes in her subdivision, which surrounds the Prestwick Country Club’s golf course, sport manicured lawns and neatly trimmed shrubs. That look is a far cry from her garden, tucked away on a cul-de-sac where native wildflowers, trees and shrubs mingle with flowering vines and passalong plants from her late parents, grandmother and friends.
It’s like the emperor with no clothes. The crown imperial stands 3 to 4 feet tall, its Sun King-bright flowers lording it over the spring garden with the hauteur of Louis XIV, utterly unaware that its dignity is fatally undercut by the absurdity of its green bad-hair-day topknot.
Not every spring bulb has the classic sculptured grace of a lily-flowered tulip. Yet many bulbs beyond the ordinary have charms that can grow on a gardener, adding variety and interest where tulips, daffodils and crocuses may seem old hat.
Tulips come from Turkey, but woodland wildflowers come from Chicagoland. Why not have some of both in your springtime garden?
I knew it would be a goner as soon as it was proffered. “I don’t have the right conditions for it,” I said. “Yes, I have shade in my backyard, but the soil is clay and besides, there’s no water.” But my hostess insisted, and so I went home with a marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), even though I had no marsh. The plant died within a year, my sighs of regret tempered by some inner I-told-you-so satisfaction.
Do you sing in the shower? Um, I know that’s kind of personal and you don’t need to tell me what kind of soap you use but ...
A garden clad in lustrous green velvet – what could be more beautiful? Time to reconsider moss.
Kay “The Bluebird Lady” MacNeil advocates (and gardens) for wildlife.
Purple coneflowers (Echinacea) have been a staple in my garden for 25 years. I’ve grown them from seed, purchased them in ...
This is our “Ideas Issue,” designed to be a keeper, although of course we hope you keep all of our issues. So to get this ...