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Article ThumbTool Time

If you grow vegetables, one of the most valuable tools around is a soil thermometer. That’s because many vegetable seeds germinate and grow even when the soil is only 45 degrees. On April 6, I took my trusty soil thermometer and discovered that the top three inches of soil where I grow annual herbs was still only 41 degrees. I waited two weeks and it gradually warmed up so I could sow spinach, lettuce, onions and Swiss chard without having the seeds rot in the cold, wet soil.


Article ThumbGardening for Your Taste Buds

In a few weeks, we can start planting tomatoes and peppers as well as sowing seeds of squash, eggplant, beans and other warm-season vegetables. When you’re planning what to grow this summer, think about what you enjoy eating. There are plenty of cooking themes that can make it fun: a salad garden, an herbal tea garden, a pumpkin and squash garden, a Thai garden with lemon grass, Thai basil, hot peppers, and more.


Article ThumbGardening for Your Taste Buds

In a few weeks, we can start planting tomatoes and peppers as well as sowing seeds of squash, eggplant, beans and other warm-season vegetables. When you’re planning what to grow this summer, think about what you enjoy eating. There are plenty of cooking themes that can make it fun: a salad garden, an herbal tea garden, a pumpkin and squash garden, a Thai garden with lemon grass, Thai basil, hot peppers, and more.


Article ThumbDahlia Delights

Last summer, I had the pleasure of strolling through Cantigny Park in Wheaton, where the floral displays are always spectacular. Some of the loveliest plants there were the dahlias in shades of red, yellow, white and pink, some with burgundy leaves. I realized then that my garden was sorely lacking in these beautiful flowers.


Article ThumbRain, Rain Go Away!

Our official National Weather Service rain gauge clocked in with 3.60 inches of rain at 7 a.m. this morning. And more is falling. The daffodil flowers are nodding down toward the mud. The vegetable garden is a pond. There’s nary a robin in sight to feast on the hordes of worms migrating across the driveway in search of dry ground. And it continues to rain. What a difference from this time last year when gardeners were bemoaning the hot weather and how quickly all the spring bulbs flowered and dried up. But that’s ok. This is a good time to sow seeds indoors.


Article ThumbA Blast from the Past

Back in January 1906, the Gardener’s Monthly Magazine featured these women perusing seed catalogs and magazines.

The article that accompanied this photo, “How to Have a Better Garden” touted that “the whole point of a kitchen garden is this: You get better things than money can buy — fresher vegetables, better kinds. As to freshness, the home gardener can beat the grocer every time. Any beginner can do it. But the better kinds — the varieties that stand for quality, not for ability to ship round the word and last forever — that’s where study and planning come in.”


Article ThumbGo to the Flower Show!

The Chicago Flower & Garden Show opened this past Saturday at Navy Pier and I’m here to report that it’s worth the price of admission. The theme this year is “The Art of Gardening,” and the show is certainly artful. From the moment you enter and see the huge vertical panel draped with plants, accented with moving lights and a pair of bubbly fountains, you feel that you’re in for a treat. Vertical wall gardens are becoming a trend, but even if they’re never going to be something that you can do, the point of a flower show is to see new things, things that make you think outside the box and shake your mindset up a bit.


Article ThumbPolly Want a Cracker with That Suet?

When food is scarce, our little feathered friends make a beeline for the feeders. Most of the birds wear drab colors — a protective camouflage — this time of year. Goldfinches, for example, shed their bright yellow plumage in late fall, and by winter, they blend in with the drab tan and grey of tree bark and stems. Others, like blue jays and cardinals, are particularly colorful against snow-covered branches. However, “If you thought cardinals were impressive, check this out,” says gardener Jan Lord of Midlothian.


Article ThumbAnother 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 contrasting colors, others with interesting shapes or textures,” writes David Culp, author of a new book, The Layered Garden (Timber Press, $34.95). “Layers are more than just perennials, or annuals or bulbs, or groundcovers — they are more than just the ground layer of plants that are the sole focus of many gardeners.”


Article ThumbRecreating that Vintage Garden

When it comes to old houses, it’s not often that you’ll find one with its original garden elements. Wood arbors and fences eventually succumb to decay. Styles change and homeowners may remove trellises, statuary and old concrete urns. It was a pleasant surprise then to discover that the original Victorian fountain was still present outside the 1872 home that is now the Baert Baron Mansion Bed and Breakfast up in Zeeland, Michigan right outside of Holland.


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questions

I’d like to plant a white bark birch in front of my home in my sunny front yard. What can you tell me about Betula utilis var. Jacquemontii?

I am interested in growing fruit trees in my suburban DuPage County yard. Can sweet cherries be grown here? Can you suggest varieties of apples, pears, peaches, apricots and plums that are hardy and disease resistant?

I plan on saving my amaryllis bulbs that I kept outside over summer, but I noticed red streaks on the inner side of the leaves. What caused that? Will I be able to save my bulbs?

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