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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.

Basement Bounty

Decisions, decisions. What’s a devoted gardener to do with brugmansia as winter approaches?

For opulence and tropical splendor there’s nothing like angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia). Tall, elegant, with draping fragrant bells of bloom, it can dominate a patio, balcony or an entry way like little else.

But here’s the rub. It’s not hardy in Chicagoland. So this raises the sticky issue of overwintering. Should you just toss the plant when winter comes? Some do. Others would like to save it for another year. But how?


Amazing Amaryllis

They bring color and joy to those dark winter days. With a little attention, they can return for years and years.

When it comes to growing just about anything in Chicagoland, the go-to person is clearly Richard Tilley.

Now 87 years young, Tilley is renowned in his Wicker Park neighborhood as the transplanted Englishman who starts 5,000 annuals from seed in his basement every spring, donating many of the results to the Wicker Park Garden Club’s annual plant sale.


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.


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questions

I have twelve beautiful blooming violet plants on my office desk, placed 12 inches from a light source that’s kept burning day and night. I water them from the bottom and let the water remain in the saucer.

No matter what I spray, I continue to have gnats and other insects in my soil. I also occasionally start to get yellow spots on the tips of the leaves and then the spots start going down the leaves. What’s going on here?

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?

With all the emphasis on growing fresh vegetables, I think I should use a cold frame but I am not sure what to do or how to go about it. Any ideas?

calendar of events

- 03/06/15 Chicago - 01/16/15

The University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners of Lake County will beholding their annual plant sale – “From our Garden to Yours” –Saturday, May 16th, 2015 on the Extension grounds, 100 S U.S. Highway 45,Grayslake, IL. The sale runs rain or shine, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Plants available include perennials shared from the Master Gardener’s gardens,herbs and vegetable plant seedlings. Used garden-related items will be available for sale in our “Garden Treasures” area. Payments accepted in cash and check only. Come early for the best selection. As an example ofthe plants that may be available, the previous year’s plant list is posted at: http://web.extension.illinois.edu/lm/lakemg/4140.html. A map will be available the day of the sale locating three additional plant sales in the Grayslake vicinity.

- 03/06/15 - 03/06/15 - 03/06/15

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