Osmocote Advertisement

Garden Tool Maintenance

Story & Photography By Jeff Rugg

A Clean Tool is a Safe Tool

In the garden, everything has its season. Fall is the season for cleaning and preparing tools for spring. Dirt and rust are harmful to just about everything, but especially to garden tools that are often wet and dirty. We depend on our tools to be safe and effective. Dirt and rust make our tools less safe and make us work harder. Water may be great for the garden, but it is the enemy of our tools.

Oil to the Rescue

Water on metal promotes rust, and on wood it promotes mold and mildew. A thin coat of oil on wood or metal will protect them from moisture in the air.

Back in my grandfather’s time, garden shovels and rakes were often stored in buckets of oily sand. Used motor oil needed to be disposed of by the mechanics of that time period. Used oil was poured into the bucket of sand. The shovels were cleaned of any dirt and then pushed into the bucket several times to polish the metal with the sand and to coat the metal with oil.

Few of us have used motor oil on hand anymore. Even if we did, recycling it would probably make more sense. Also back in the day, steel wool was used to scrub the shovel, but now we just use a green kitchen scrub pad. If there is a thick patch of rust on a tool, steel wool or a wire brush may be needed.

Another thing that every garage workbench used to have was an oil can. It had a long spout that could reach into hard to reach squeaky spots. I doubt that your house has a working oil can, but I would bet it has at least one can of WD-40.

WD-40 was invented by chemists trying to prevent rust on rocket parts. WD-40 literally stands for Water Displacement, 40th attempt. I don’t know if it will do the 2,000 household hacks as seen on the internet, but it will do exactly what we want it to do on our garden tools – stop water. It can be sprayed on the metal or wood of any tool, although don’t get it into the electrical components of a power tool. Even though WD-40 is petroleum based, it doesn’t take the place of oil. If you need to ‘oil’ a squeaky hinge on a pruning tool or ‘oil’ a slow wheel on the wheelbarrow, you should use actual oil, not a water displacement product.

Keep it Sterile

Even plastic tools need to be clean. Are your tools used in more than one garden location? Do you help friends or neighbors with their garden? Are the tools used in a community garden plot and in your landscape? If you answered yes to any of these questions, what do you do to prevent soil-borne insect and disease organisms from spreading from one garden to the next? After the tools are cleaned of any dirt, you can sterilize the tool with a solution of 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water. I find this solution damages the metal on some of my tools if I don’t thoroughly rinse it off and quickly oil the tool. I prefer to use rubbing alcohol straight from the bottle to sterilize the tools.

Types of Tools

Hand Tools

Wood is long lasting and durable when it is properly cared for. Tool and wheelbarrow handles dry out if not oiled occasionally. Dry wood cracks, creating splinters. Sliding your hand down a rake or shovel handle and hitting a splinter will ruin your day.

First, do a light sanding to get rid of any nicks or splinters. Wipe the wood down with oil, let dry and oil it again. Linseed or Tung oil are two popular oils for tool handles as they are designed for outdoor use. I prefer not to use paint or varnish on handles as they can wear off, and the chips can lift up like splinters.

Garden tools are made from several metals, including iron, steel and aluminum. All of them benefit from cleaning and oiling, but especially iron tools that rust quickly if not cleaned and oiled. Wash them with soap and water and then wipe them dry. Wipe or spray them with oil and lightly dry them so the oil won’t drip off.

As a young Boy Scout, I learned that sharper knives and axes are safer. For instance, a dull ax can bounce off of the wood and strike your leg. A sharp pruner or saw cuts with less effort. If you are struggling to make a cut, you can break the tool or push too hard and injure yourself. If you don’t sharpen the cutting tools before each use, do it at least once each year. Since you are cleaning dirt and sap from the blades before storing them, go ahead and sharpen them now. And then coat them with oil. Some pruners have replaceable blades.

Power Tools

Every power tool comes with a set of instructions on how to maintain it. If you are like me, you don’t remember reading them and don’t know where they are now. They may be online at the manufacturer’s website.

Every power tool will benefit from being wiped clean and having its blades sharpened. Check the cord for damage and replace it or the whole tool if it is damaged. As you are cleaning the tools, gently fold any hoses or belts backward. Do they show a lot of cracks? They may need to be replaced.

If the tool is powered by gasoline, you have two choices for winter storage. Run the tool until it is out of gas or store it with gas in the tank. Which way does the instruction manual say is best? Running the engine until empty can allow water, dust and debris into the engine, gas tank and fuel lines. Nothing good can happen here. At the same time, if the manufacturer says to store it dry, then that is best.

If you are going to leave gas in the tank or in the gas can, water can contaminate the gasoline over the winter. Old fuel in the gas tank can go stale. Who knew? Adding a fuel stabilizer to the gas and running the engine to get the stable fuel throughout the system will prevent the fuel from going bad over the winter.

Most gas-powered tools have an air filter and maybe a gas line filter. Both should be cleaned or replaced.

If you can’t do this power tool work, then take the summer power tools in winter to a good small engine mechanic who can clean, repair and tune up the tools when there is no rush to get them back. Even though a slightly handy person can sharpen a lawn mower blade or replace the spark plug on a lawn mower, a professional will probably do a better job. Prices can vary, so do a little calling around or ask your neighbors where they take their tools. Next spring when you pick up your mower, drop off the snow blower.

Watering Tools

Many people neglect their garden hose, but it is a very useful garden tool that will last longer if properly stored over the winter. After you finish washing the other tools, straighten it out and make sure water runs out as you coil it up. Water left in the hose can expand into ice and create weak spots in the hose. Store it out of sunlight. UV rays from the sun will ruin the plastic or vinyl if it is left in the sun. Don’t hang it on a single nail where it will kink over the winter. Make sure all of the nozzles and sprinklers are dry so water can’t rust and ice can’t damage them.m

Jeff Rugg is an Internationally Certified Arborist, an Illinois certified nurseryman and a registered landscape architect with a background in zoology, horticulture and landscape architecture. jrugg@sbsmags.com



From the Editor - May/June 2019

I never met a rose I didn’t like. Or almost never. Over the years I’ve amassed 20, and I would happily acquire 20 more if I only had the space. Most of them came into this world fairly recently, and I can confidently say that Lady Elsie Mae, ‘William Baffin’, Home Run Red and ‘Jens Munk’ are all superior plants. These are roses whose parentage is well known and documented. But there’s one rose whose origin is a bit of a mystery – ‘Harrison’s Yellow’, which seems to have arrived on its own in 1829 in the backyard of a lawyer in New York City named … Harrison.

‘Harrison’s Yellow’ is a behemoth, and if you have a deer problem, this is the rose for you. It shoots up 8 to 10 feet tall, spreads by suckers to 12 feet wide, and it is very, very thorny. The flowers are, of course, yellow, semi-double, slightly fragrant, and they appear around Memorial Day, only blooming once. The pioneers took it west with them since it was easy to move. Hack out a cane with a section of root, toss it in the covered wagon and off you go.

My rose has its own pioneer history. The 19th century ancestors of my neighbor across the street brought a division with them when they trekked westward from Ohio to Iowa where they settled down and became farmers. One day my neighbor, who grew up on this farm, took a piece of it back east to Chicago, and when she never got around to planting it in her own yard, ended up giving it to me. I feel honored by its presence.

But my little excursion into the world of roses pales in comparison to the rose garden that’s featured in this issue. William Radler, known as the breeder of the KnockOut roses, grows thousands of plants in his Greenfield, Wisc. backyard, although that word hardly does justice to the magnificent space where he trials his plants and does so much else besides. See the story by Melinda Myers on page 47.

Also magnificent is the northwest Indiana garden of Peggy and Mark Buffington, overflowing with colorful annuals as described by writer Beverly Thevenin. (Page 52). Our cover story features summer-blooming bulbs, including the red-flowering beauty on the cover. It’s a dwarf gladiolus called ‘Atom’, one of several summer-blooming fascinating plants we don’t grow as often as we might.

But this issue isn’t all about eye candy. Jeff Rugg tells us the nitty gritty of how to propagate amaryllis by slashing into the base of the bulbs. Who knew you could do this? (Hands On page 24). Always full of practical information, Jeff also writes about solving runoff and drainage problems in the Problem Solver story (Page 33)

And while we’re always advising you on what you should plant, Patrice Peltier steps in to lament her shopping mistakes in “Why, Oh Why, Did I Plant THIS”? (page 17) Some plants are too much of a good thing.

All good advice. But I swear, if I come across another rose that I can just possibly fit into my garden somewhere, by golly, I’m going to buy it.

The Garden ‘Splainer™

See what I did there? That little “TM” next to the title? It means “Get your grubby, dirt-under-the-fingernails mitts off my idea! PRONTO!”

There are so few original concepts left in the horticultural universe that the nanosecond one of those puppies pops up in your feverish, pesticide-shriveled frontal lobe, you need to slap a “™” or a “©” on that baby before it shows up on social media and suddenly Martha Stewart is selling Gardening Chaps™ emblazoned with the only original idea you’ve had in 20 years.

Bet you didn’t realize that the gardening world was so cutthroat, did you? And you probably also didn’t know that Garden Communicators (can I TM that?) are on an unrelenting quest to cash in on an idea whose time has not yet come and, more than likely, will never arrive.

Neither did I. After all, I’m the guy who thought that the path to fame and riches was through a local radio gardening show. Okay, okay. When you finish snorting coffee through your nose, you can wipe off the page and continue reading.

Have you heard about my book, Great One-Time Use Gardening Tools©? Of course you haven’t! Who wants to buy a gardening tool so they can use it exactly one time? However, that’s a very different question from Who buys a gardening tool and then uses it exactly one time? The answer to that: millions of people. Heck, I have a few of those tools in my garage right now, as bright and shiny as the day they were purchased, probably not by me but by well-meaning friends. I’m not going to name them – the friends or the tools – because I’m already losing friends at an alarming rate and the tools probably have TMs or ©s on them and I’ll end up in court. Again. You’d be amazed at how often garden guys get sued.

Then there was my follow up book, The No Maintenance Ever Ever Ever, Not Even Putting the Plants in the Ground in the First Place Secret to Successful Gardening™. That one was going to make me a zillion dollars ... if the technique had worked even a little bit.

So as I sat in my garage next to the pile of never-used gardening tools and the hundreds of boxes of books that were never going to be purchased, I was Struck By Lightheadedness™. At first, I attributed it to stacking hundreds of boxes of books and forgetting to stay hydrated. But I suddenly realized that another idea had climbed into my brain (without my permission) and had started germinating. (Yeah, I’m creeped out, too.)

The idea, though, was brilliant! I’ve never wanted to be a gardening guru, and not just because that phrase has already been copyrighted (or trademarked, whatever) It’s more about not wanting the pressure of being responsible for actually knowing stuff. That sounds like a lot of work, if you ask me.

On the other hand, I already have the radio show and I’m a Garden Column Guy™ (ooh! I don’t think that one’s taken yet!) So, like it or not, there are already folks out there who expect me to ’splain what’s going on in their gardens.

Voila! The Garden ’Splainer™©℠®*LOL ESPN (I’m covering all my bases. Come and get me, Martha!)

The great thing about this role is that I don’t really have to know anything. All I have to do is ’splain. Genius!

Here are some examples of how this works.

Question: Why does it take so long for my tomatoes to ripen?

The Garden ’Splainer: It’s nature’s way of passing judgment on your garden design. And probably your taste in music. That’s a pretty ugly tie, too.

Question: What’s the proper way to prune an apple tree?

The Garden ’Splainer: Wow. That’s a tough one. Okay, you ready? Look it up. Google would be a good start.

Question: What plants do you recommend for a shade garden?

The Garden ’Splainer: Oh, c’mon, that all you got? You want plants that will do well in ... wait for it ... shade!

Whew! I’m beat. It ain’t easy being The Garden ’SplainerNIMBY*TTYL.

I think it’s time to grab A Cold Frosty OneOMG and come up with few more ideas for my Get Rich Quick in Horticulture© audio books before I get Struck By Lightheadedness™ again.

Coming Up?

Something strange is going on in my backyard. Hey, stop laughing. Yeah, you, reading this there on the couch. I’m talking to you! And you on the train. Knock it off, both of you! Don’t make me come over there!

Boy, sometimes you can’t start a column without somebody ruining your mojo right out of the gate.

Like I said, something strange is going on in my backyard. Here’s what I mean.

We’re at the time of the year when things start to appear. That’s the fun part. Ah, spring! The season of renewal and eternal optimism. No matter where you live, your baseball team is going to win the World Series ... unless you’re a Cubs fan (if you haven’t figured it out by now, the thing that happened a few years ago was a statistical anomaly – it will not occur again in your lifetime), you’re finally going to drop that excess weight that has been dogging you for ... uh ... has it really been 25 years? And everything you put into the ground in the fall is going to be lush, bloom prolifically and lead inevitably to a photo spread in Chicagoland Gardening magazine.

There’s only one drawback. If you’re like me (now cut that out!) the problem is remembering what the heck you slammed into the ground at the very last second at the end of November, about three months later than you should have, which pretty much reduces the survival percentage of the plant from around 80 or 90 percent to 0 to 5 percent. Again, if you’re like me (stop it!), all of that planting happened at the end of the day, in the dark, so not only do you not know where you planted things, you’re fairly clueless about what you planted.

There is an exception to that scenario — spring blooming bulbs! Here’s a secret for all of you sad sacks who think that you have a brown thumb: bulbs make gardening idiot proof!

Almost. As long as you get them in the ground before, oh, say Groundhog Day, they’re not going to die. Think about that. Bulbs are your friend. Bulbs have got your back. And, speaking of groundhogs, the only thing you have to do to enjoy the beautiful blooms of your bulbs is to keep the squirrels, moles, voles, chipmunks, deer and a dozen other hungry animal species out of your yard. No problem!

Unfortunately, not only did I not plant any new bulbs last fall, but the daffodils I dug up while I was re-designing the yard (in the dark) got left outside when the first freeze hit. The good news is that the paté I made from them was the hit of the Christmas party. (The secret? Ranch dressing. Lots of it. And a little bit of rum.)

But back to my story. I’ve been watching with interest as various things are popping out of the ground in my yard. As soon as the weather started to turn, I saw what looked like a vine erupting from the soil — a bean vine, actually. On Tuesday, it was a couple of inches above the soil line. On Thursday, it was taller than the garage. On Saturday, I looked up and saw that the top of it had disappeared into the clouds. I’m thinking of climbing it to see what’s up there, but I’m not sure that’s a good idea.

About the same time, I noticed that some fence-post-like structures were emerging. I soon realized that they were fence posts. And now there’s a new fence in my yard. It’s a little disconcerting that it divides the yard in half, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Soon after the fence posts began growing, some other poles sprouted. These were much larger and are, as far as I can determine, telephone poles, since the metal climby-thingies are attached.

The latest thing to emerge is a bit less solid. In fact, it’s kind of ... bouncy. I’m not exactly sure, but I think that’s a fully inflated bounce house that’s establishing itself in my yard. I suspect that I’m going to be the star of the block party this year.

At this point, I don’t know what else to expect. But I have two bits of advice. 1) Don’t plant things in the dark in late November, and 2) Don’t spike the daffodil patés.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going out to bounce in the house.

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist, environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

From the Editor - March/April 2019

If this were a perfect world, I wouldn’t be writing this editorial for the March-April issue of Chicagoland Gardening at all. I would just reprint the text of my favorite poem ever and call it a day.

In high school (where an elderly English teacher once assured me in all seriousness that I would be a famous poet someday), I came to love literature, especially poetry. My favorite poet was e.e. cummings, an American with a streak of anarchy who rejected punctuation and capitalization in his writing but embraced the wider world of nature and beauty and love. He was especially enthusiastic about spring, and so my favorite poem ever begins with the phrase “when faces called flowers float out of the ground …” Each of the three stanzas end with the line, “the mountains are dancing together.”

In all of literature has there ever been a better image for expressing joy than that?

So instead of listening to me gush about how wonderful it is to see the new sprouts of hellebore and the beginning shoots of crocus in my garden, just think for a while about the mountains dancing for joy.

And then move on to reading this new issue of Chicagoland Gardening, where we highlight many of the things we have to be joyful about. Our cover story features the incredible springtime flowers that are native to the upper Midwestern woods. Hidden gems, we might call them. Lovely for shade gardens. We also portray two home gardens. For our Gardens of the Pros feature, we visit Jim Nau, longtime employee of Ball Horticultural Company and current curator of archives and cultural advisor. We also gaze in admiration at the tulip extravaganza that Paul Duke displays at his home every spring.

For practical help, Jeff Rugg tells us how to handle those early arriving bare root roses and other woody plants while Michelle Walsh gives us the lowdown on starting plants from seed. Our Natives story offers extensive information on all the different sedges you can grow as an alternative to lawn. There are two stunning container designs using hydrangeas, and our Indoor Garden story is a hush-hush affair, highlighting plants for the bedroom and relaxing sleep. You will also get the lowdown on the city garden contest that will return this year for the third time. Think about entering.

But for now let’s think about spring and the lovely ending to that e.e. cummings poem:

all the pretty birds dive to the heart of the sky

all the little fish climb through the mind of the sea

(all the mountains are dancing; are dancing)

Can never have too many dancing mountains.

Sweet Midwinter Dreams

It’s the bleak midwinter. Or is it the weak midblinter? Who knows? I’ve been staring at the ceiling for what seems like days. I roll over to look at the time on my cell phone clock. 2:27 a.m. Oy. Must…shut out…these thoughts…must…sleep.

But sleep is not in the room or on the window sill or even perched on the gutter outside the window, preparing to leap into the room and save the day. Or night. Perhaps my looming birthday is causing me anxiety. It’s not helpful when a news headline proclaims the date on which you celebrate your entry into the world to be the most depressing day of the year. I’m not making that up. And while being on the slippery slope past the age of 40 (okay, OKAY! I’m a little older than that! Give me a break.) doesn’t help, I don’t think that story was aimed at me personally. But you can never tell.

On top of that, visions of the previous gardening year are relentless and unforgiving. What was I thinking when I made that pruning cut? Why, oh, why did I wait until November to transplant that perennial? What the heck was that tomato disease and why is my finger still moldy? Why can’t I unhook the hose from the spigot? Why can’t I find that shovel? Why can’t I find that trowel? Why can’t I find the backyard? I know! Lists! Yes, lists will save me! I’ll just go down the alphabet and I’ll fall asleep well before I get to “Q.” Okay, a category. Need a category. Hmm…how about birds? Birds! Yes, birds! Okay…

A: Albatross, the one around my neck that keeps reminding me of my gardening failures. B: Bob-o-link, species in decline. C: Cardinal, like the one that knocked itself out attacking the mirror in my backyard. D: Dodo, extinct. E: Eagle, we narrowly avoided wiping it off the map. F: Finch…finch…Peter Finch, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Wait. This is not working. Okay. I know. A more benign category. Yes, that’s what I need. I’m a gardener…of sorts. How about plants? Sure, that’ll work. Plants. Here we go. I’ll just pick up where I left off.

G: Ginkgo, like the one I killed a couple of years ago. What? Nobody can kill a ginkgo. They’re practically impervious to disease and pests. But I managed it. No plant is safe in my yard. I could kill a cyclone fence. I could kill a block of concrete. Stop it! Move on, move on! H: Horsetail plant, sometimes known as horsetail fern. Don’t. Ever. Plant. This. Thing. It’s a holdover from prehistoric times, when these plants were the size of telephone poles and could stop a dinosaur in its tracks. Its mission in life is to take control of your garden and render it useless. Stop it, stop it, STOP IT! Keep moving down the alphabet! I: Impatiens. Yes, yes, yes…lovely plants. Ahh. I remember planting impatiens. Okay, when was that? Oh, I remember. Shortly after becoming a master gardener, I worked for a landscaper who left me in front of a house with a thousand impatiens to get in the ground in an afternoon. Just me and a trowel and flats and flats and flats and flats of impatiens. Nasty, gaudy, insipid impatiens! Another letter! J: Japanese honeysuckle. Nope, invasive. Uh, Japanese barberry. Whoops, invasive! Um, Japanese knotweed. Whoa! Invasive, invasive, invasive! Next letter, next letter! K: Kudzu…ahhhhhhh!!

This. Is. Not. Working. I might be awake until 2024. All right, another category. Oh, lordy, what could possibly be a safe subject? Planets? Not plants, but planets. Oh, come on, there are only eight, since they demoted Pluto and destroyed my faith in science. How about diseases? Yikes! No! I can feel my blood pressure increasing as I lie here. Mammals? Oh, sure, I’ll get to B is for bats with white-nose syndrome and burst into tears.

I suppose I could consider automobile makes and models. I mean, I don’t find that very interesting, but I could start with—oh, I don’t know—Acura and…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist, environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

From the Editor - JanFeb 2019

Once again I have been proven right. Gardening is the cure for all that ails us.

I was reading the paper one morning and came across a column by George Will with the headline “A Nation Mired in Loneliness.” (Chicago Tribune, Oct. 16, 2018) It was a response to Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse’s latest book in which he states that “There is a growing consensus that loneliness — not obesity, cancer or heart disease — is the nation’s No. 1 health crisis.”

As I read those words, the solution immediately popped into my head. Gardening! More people should take up gardening!

At its most fundamental level, gardening is about connectedness. First, the connection with the world around us — the plants, the birds, the insects, the soil, and, for many people, God. Putting a plant or a seed in the ground and watching it come up and grow is an indescribable thrill. You realize you are suddenly a contributor to life, to beauty and the world around you. You are being useful and bringing added value to the universe. It’s a spiritual moment.

Gardening also connects us to people. As neighbors walk by and stop to talk, we forge new relationships and come to realize that we are a part of a neighborhood, that we belong here. Again we see that we are making a contribution. This is a good feeling. As we become more involved in our efforts, we may end up becoming a member of a local group of gardeners or maybe a national plant society of people devoted to our favorite plant and we go to conferences to learn more and, by golly, we have fun. No room for loneliness here.

So here we are at the beginning of a new year and rarin’ to go once the weather permits. Until that happens, we have a magazine full of interesting articles to read, beginning with our annual review of the new plants we saw at Ball Horticultural in West Chicago this past summer. For our Gardens of the Pros story, Jean Starr visited noted plantsman Wayne Gruber in northern Indiana while Cathy Maloney shows us a garden in Riverside that brings joy to its outdoorsy homeowners even in the heart of winter.

A curiosity in this issue is that witches abound. We have a Natives story on witch hazels (by Susan Crawford) and a Hands On story about witch’s brooms by Jeff Rugg. We didn’t plan it like that, but there it is. Patti Peltier, one of the cheeriest persons we know, wrote a helpful Problem Solver story about hell strips. (They’re nicer than they sound.) And we get to see two reworkings of the same design framework in Howard Nemeroff’s spring, and then fall, containers.

This will keep your mind busy until you can get outdoors and put the rest of your body to work.

In the meantime, stay connected.

Issues - 2019 - March/April

Issues - 2019 - January/February

An Xmas Carol

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. I had done the deed myself: agonized over the decision, chosen the tools, picked the day, performed the execution, tidied the area, and retired to my quarters for some Netflix reflection and a libation. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.

So it was with a start that I awoke in my easy chair, libation now spread across my khakis, to confront an apparition in my home entertainment room. It was gnarled, gaunt, branched and stark. Something straight out of The Nightmare Before Christmas. And completely blocking the view of my brand spanking new mega 80-inch flat screen TV.

“Who are you?” I ventured, trying to keep the conversation breezy, while craning my neck to determine if I could see around the thing, and wondering just how many libations I had managed to consume before nodding off, and exactly how far back I would need to rewind to catch up with the plot line. After all, this vision could simply be an undigested bit of pepperoni, a blot of melted chocolate, a crumb of a cheese stick, a fragment of an underdone corn dog. “There’s more of gravy than of grave about you,” I thought, wondering how in the world that popped into my head.

“Ask me who I was.”

“Well, if you’re going to play Twenty Questions, whatever. Who were you then?” I sighed, perhaps a bit too obviously.

“In life I was your tree. Marley.”

Uh-oh. I suddenly became aware that we had an issue here. “Do you mind if I refresh my libation?” I ventured.

At this the Spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with such a dismal and appalling noise that I figured I’d sit and wait out the drink for a few minutes.

“Mercy, mercy me!” I exclaimed. “Things ain’t what they used to be! Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?”

“Man of the cable-free mind!” exclaimed the Ghost Tree, “Do you believe in me or not?”

“Dude! Absolutely! But what’s with the chain?”

“I wear the chain-link fence you built next to me in life,” the tree replied. “Do you know what happens when a tree grows into one of those things? Do you know how freaking impossible it is to separate chain-link fence from xylem, phloem and bark? These are the patterns I bore, link by link and yard by yard; girded onto me by lousy siting and indifferent care. Is its pattern strange to you?”

It was at this point I began to understand that this could escalate into a serious standoff.

“Okay, okay, I feel your pain. But do you know how expensive one of those trendy wooden fences is? All of them eventually rot. And this was my first home with real trees. I didn’t really know what I was doing. Besides, I was always pulled away by my business–“

“Business!” cried the Ghost Tree, shaking its branches and littering twigs and stems all over the carpet, couch and snack tray. “Horticulture was your business! Some decent pruning was your business! Mulching, watering and a little TLC were all your business! The dealings of your career were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of your backyard business!”

That last sentence left me scratching my head, but the Spirit seemed rather agitated and I thought it best to let it get all of that frustration out of its system.

“Hear me!” cried the Ghost. “My time is nearly gone. You will be haunted by three Master Gardeners.”

“Whoa! No!” I blurted before I could stop myself. “No offense, but I have a conference call first thing in the morning and I will be going full tilt boogie for the whole week! I don’t have time for that stuff!” I was stunned by my own forcefulness, and so was the Spectre.

I dialed back my energy. “I have a suggestion for Plan B,” I said, trying to judge how that would play out with the specter that had invaded my rec room. “Is there a movie that you’ve always wanted to see?”

The Ghost Tree swayed in the ectoplasmic breeze, contemplating my offer. “Well…everybody tells me that Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy is really cool,” it said, a little shyly.

“Done,” I replied, heading to the kitchen. I’ll make some popcorn and you make yourself comfortable. Try not to shed into the chip dip. Marley, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist, environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

ATGP - Nov/Dec 2018 - Best Houseplants

From the Editor - NovDec 2018

I’ve been thinking about the difference between renovating the kitchen and gardening. Some people in this world see them as essentially the same. Yes, the kitchen renovation can be a colossal upheaval — but when it’s done, it’s done. You put in a new stove. Done. Ditto for the refrigerator and cabinets and dishwasher. Then all that’s left is to enjoy it.

There are people who think gardening is like that. Hire a bunch of guys. Have them come in with a truckload of plants, dig some holes and leave. Or find everything you need to know on the internet. Surely there’s an app for that.

But gardening doesn’t work that way. Gardening is a process. You may happen to get it started, but a garden evolves over time. The universe intervenes.

If it’s a new garden, it won’t look great the first year after it’s planted. And the second year isn’t going to be much better. So as you go along, you learn a thing or two about patience.

Then the weather plays tricks on you. Too much rain. Too little rain. Wind. Hail. You start to realize you can’t control everything and you’re not in charge. At best, more of a facilitator. So you learn a thing or two about humility.

Somewhere along the way, you notice that those blue-flowered hydrangeas in the catalogs are pink in Chicagoland. Against your will, you learn a thing or two about pH and soil chemistry and science since what blooms blue in the acidic soil of the Pacific Northwest will stay pink in the alkaline Midwest. And so you learn to accept reality and be reasonably content. Calling this the beginning of wisdom might be a stretch, but you get the idea.

The lessons multiply with time.

The mission of Chicagoland Gardening is to showcase gardens throughout the region whose caretakers have learned these lessons. Over this past year we’ve featured gardens in the western suburbs, the north shore, northern Indiana, the northwestern and south suburbs and the city of Chicago. This coming year we will add in the Wisconsin garden of Bill Radler, the man who gave us KnockOut roses. For all of these homeowners, their gardens didn’t “happen” overnight. As has been true throughout history, they developed, plant by plant, into the noteworthy creations that we so enjoy showing to a wider world.

Since winter doesn’t afford us Midwesterners many opportunities to work in the garden, our current issue includes a tropics-in-the-winter excursion to several of the small conservatories and greenhouses in the region where you can get away from it all. We highlight ten but there are more. We also offer holiday decorating tips from the four homes that participated in the most recent Cup of Cheer house walk in Naperville. For our Gardens of the Pros series, we travel to the rural garden of Bob and Robbi Hursthouse, a marvelous mix of natives and non-natives on a property enclosed by towering oaks.

It’s been a grand year, and now we look forward to portraying another 12 months of handiwork from the region’s gardeners. All accomplished with care over time. No apps.

Issues - 2018 - NovDec

ATGP - Sept/Oct 2018 - Shrub Survival

From the Editor - SeptOct 2018

Looking for some good public plantings? Head for an airport. Not just any airport, but the airports in Chicagoland. While I haven’t been in every airport around the country, I’ve seen enough to take a look and sniff, “Chicago’s airports are better than this.”

The approach to O’Hare is always impressive with masses of colorful annuals and hanging baskets. Someone (taxpayers?) has spent an obviously impressive sum of money to make this happen, and I, for one, am happy enough to pony up.

I spend more quality time at Midway, also admirable for its year-round efforts to alleviate the travails of traveling. Early summer brings us hundreds of Japanese tree lilacs (Syringa reticulata) waving fluffy flags of white as we wend our way down Cicero or along 55th Street. They’ve been underplanted with colorful annuals, which are sure to be still chugging away come fall.

And if you drive to the airport along 55th Street (Garfield Blvd.) between the Dan Ryan Expressway and Western Avenue, a giant median parkway of multicolored green trees will keep you company. (A remnant of the 1900s City Beautiful original goal of linking Chicago’s parks with parkways.) Trees come and go, of course, and the emerald ash borer has taken its toll, but replacements have been planted, and early summer found northern catalpas in full bloom in the median. No Southern belles languidly fanning themselves to ward off the vapors, these catalpas are zone 4 hardy and tolerant of both our alkaline soils and drought.

Up in Milwaukee, Melinda Myers writes in this issue’s Wisconsin regional report about another off-the-beaten-path site where we can find interesting trees: cemeteries. With no heavy construction equipment or traffic to trample their roots, trees in cemeteries are left to their own devices and live out their lives unencumbered. Think of cemeteries as a destination. Especially as autumn moves in and trees are gearing up for their last hurrah.

Fall is about dwindling light and shorter days (sigh) but also vibrant color. It doesn’t come just from the trees. Container displays have made a great leap forward in artistic sophistication the last few years. Chrysanthemums are still the go-to plant of the season, but nowadays you’re likely to see them tucked into massive planters alongside bromeliads and kale and artichokes. No longer are they just sitting solo in a pot.

Fall color can also come from ornamental peppers, the subject of this issue’s cover story. Not quite all the colors of the rainbow, but close. Think of them as the latest hip bedding plant. That’s what the designers at Cantigny Gardens did a few years ago. See them growing by the thousands in our coverstory on pages 42-45.

But innovative public plantings can be found everywhere, even in inauspicious places like airports. The last time I was at Midway, they had recently planted towering castor beans in the median strip going down Cicero Avenue. With those red flowers and purplish leaves, they should be quite the autumn treat right about now.

Fake Gardening

I’ve been trying to characterize exactly what happens in my yard as the days grow shorter and the nights grow colder. Many garden writers wax poetic about “winding down” and “wrapping up” the season. How lovely for them. The verbs that come to mind for me as I get to the finish line are “careen,” “stumble,” “bumble,” “blunder,” “wobble,” “list,” “tilt,” “lurch,” “crash-land,” not to mention the ever-popular nouns “pratfall,” “belly flop,” “nosedive,” “calamity,” “fiasco,” and “debacle.”

My shrink wants me to stop logging onto the thesaurus website. I, on the other hand, am determined to face my horticultural — and lexicological — demons.

So as I slink towards another winter of my discontent, I’m beginning to wonder if I am simply a casualty of the age and culture in which I live. After all, we have fake news, fake presidents, fake facts, fake identities, fake meat, fake money, fake memories and fake fingernails.

What if I’m a fake gardener? It would certainly answer a lot of questions. For one thing, it might account for the fake dirt under my fake fingernails.

For instance, I don’t wear a floppy hat in the garden. Aren’t all gardeners supposed to wear floppy hats that make them look adorable? And I refuse to go near clogs. I have an unnatural fear of toe splinters and of folk dancing. (By the way, did you know that clogging is the official state dance in both Kentucky and North Carolina? Or is that a fake fact? You’ll have to look it up in your fake Important State Lists.) Regarding garden attire, I suspect that I’m somewhere on the fringes of the bell curve if only because I often put on a suit and tie before grabbing a shovel and a bag of compost.

But it’s not just clothing that makes the gardener, as the saying goes. It’s the accessories! In the case of gardeners, that means tools. I know, some of you thought I was talking about garden gloves. My rule of thumb about garden gloves goes something like this: “If you’re spending more than $1.99, you’re paying too much because you’re going to lose one in the yard waste bag anyway. And if the glove has been stitched to include an actual thumb hole, yeah, you’re paying too much.

But back to tools. Alas, this is where I fear I once again fail the fakeness test. I don’t think I have the proper respect for “the right tool for the right job.” (That sound you hear is my dad turning over in his grave. Of course, that was more about cars and getting an oil change in a timely fashion and trying harder not to run out of gas on the freeway and proper installation of a lug nut and such, but a tool is a tool is a tool.)

I can’t remember the last time I actually purchased a trowel. Oh, I have trowels — many of them, in fact. When you’re “The Garden Guy” on radio, trowels have a way of showing up in your goodie bag. Where they are at any given time is a bit of a mystery, but I know they’re on my property…somewhere…maybe. At least they were at the end of last November. So, if I need to dig a hole, I might use a trowel, or a garden shovel, or a snow shovel, or an old piece of rebar, or my shoe (gee, a clog might come in handy), or just skip it altogether and have a glass of wine.

When it comes to pruners, I’m a heretic because I don’t have the top of the line model (and everybody knows exactly which brand I’m talking about, so there’s no need to give them free publicity here.) I figure that, sooner or later, I’m going to lose them in the yard waste bag (see cheap gloves, above), so I might as well get something a little less expensive.

Speaking of lack of respect for tools, I once — true story — backed a truck over a chipper-shredder. It wasn’t mine. Well, the truck was, but not the chipper-shredder.

And let’s not even get started on chain saws. I already have nightmares about snipping off my digits in my cheap gloves with my cheap pruners, let alone trying to trying cut a tree using what feels like a Tyrannosaurus rex head with handles.

Hmm. I think it’s time to visit my fake thesaurus online, set up another fake session with my fake shrink, and have another fake glass of cabernet.

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist, environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

Issues - 2018 - SeptOct

Memories Through Gardening

Back in the spring of 2013 Herb and I moved and acquired a yard with trees, green bushes, one hosta variety, a bridge and a gazebo.

As we began planning how to turn this half-acre into beautiful gardens, I asked Herb, “What was your mother’s favorite flower?” He responded, “Lilies. She loved lilies.” That’s how it all started.

Today, there is nothing formal about these 10 gardens, just a copious amount of perennials, roses, multiple hydrangea varieties, other flowering bushes, vegetables, herbs, lots of art and music.

Each garden is dedicated in memory of loved ones and features their favorite flower. We started with a lily garden on the perimeter of the property that now contains over 50 beautiful lilies. Soon thereafter I was faced with two loved ones being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which led me to plant a garden in the center of the front yard dedicated to Alzheimer’s patients. At that point, I named the gardens “Memory Gardens.” Each spring and summer, the area contains purple flowers mixed with wildflowers and of course forget- me-not’s.

Creating a Memory Garden can be very rewarding and requires little planning, just memories of what your loved ones cherished. Ask friends and family to assist with planning. It’s a great healing process for everyone. Incorporate a seating area in each garden to provide a place to rest and reflect.

Music and a water feature accent my patio area. The sound of the water is so relaxing and music brings back all those great memories. Most areas have a great amount of sunlight, so there was no need to limit what was planted. Feeling the warmth of sunshine radiates positivity into the area.

Along the south end of the house there is a very shady walkway. We all know how those shady places can be challenging. I incorporated five hydrangea varieties including the oakleaf ‘Ruby Slippers’, five hosta varieties including ‘Empress Wu’, bird feeders, a bird bath, plenty of solar lighting, art and a street sign with the name of the person being remembered.

In the sunny backyard, there are five gardens and a potting shed. Springtime brings several daffodil varieties, followed by patches of Siberian Irises, lilies, coneflowers and roses. Even the act of building and maintaining this garden helped to keep my mind focused on something beautiful while dealing with my grief in a constructive way. There’s always something to make you smile. As you develop your garden, try to keep these elements in mind. It’s a long lasting tribute to a loved one and offers a place for survivors to remember and heal.

When selecting plants, consider the favorite flowers of the individual you are honoring. What season did they prefer? If it’s spring, put in a bulb garden. Perennials make great summer and fall gardens.

Consider fragrances and color. Perhaps they loved the smell of roses or lavender. Include plants that have the same name as your friend or loved one. I planted herbs in the garden dedicated to Herb. If the garden is to remember your spouse, plant sweetheart roses.

Red, white and blue is a great combination for war heroes and veterans. Include varieties such as red poppies and daylilies, white phlox and peonies, or Siberian irises. For a bird lover, add a birdbath to attract backyard songbirds.

Add a bench and water feature. As you work in the garden or visitors drop by, it provides a quiet place to rest and reflect.

If you live in an apartment or don’t have a backyard, you can still create a memorial. Container gardens can be excellent, and once the weather turns cold, take them indoors to overwinter.

What makes it a memorial garden, though, is that it’s planted from the heart. If it’s meaningful to you, plant it.

My most recent garden is in memory of Herb.

From Home Garden to Production Garden

Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo

This is the story of the Bayless Garden. Well-known restauranteur Rick Bayless grew up in Oklahoma City, was closely involved in the family barbecue restaurant, went on to study the regional cuisines of Mexico and opened the wildly popular Chicago restaurants Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. Seeking sources of locally grown foods, Rick was instrumental in building a local food movement in the Upper Midwest. Ever moving forward, Rick sought out and found the perfect Chicago residential space to have a working organic production garden in his own backyard. The Bayless Garden was born!

The Bayless garden is situated on three contiguous city lots, with two residential spaces, an attractive outdoor kitchen and several patio and deck spaces for al fresco dining, entertaining and relaxing. A 1000-square-foot backyard edible garden shares space with lush beds and container plantings of annuals, perennials, tropicals, trees and shrubs. The Bayless residence is also home to a wide variety of tender perennial plants that overwinter as houseplants or in an attached second floor greenhouse. A portion of the basement area supports the production of microgreens grown under fluorescent lights.

News of this unique garden spread among urban growers, including me.

My career in urban gardening had begun years earlier when I was studying and became inspired by the incredibly productive small space backyard gardens I had seen in Central America. By the time I was introduced to Rick, I had been a professional grower for nine years and was seeking a more challenging urban garden project that would allow me to really explore the full productive and aesthetic potential of a small residential space.

Based on our shared mutual interest in urban food production, Rick and I agreed to establish a partnership for running his garden. He would supply the space and all needed supplies and use all the food produced onsite for his restaurant, and I would hire and train my own crew and be responsible for overall management, design and site upkeep. Our shared goals for the space included significantly boosting food production, maintaining an attractive outdoor entertaining space, increasing onsite compost production and exploring ways to incorporate an educational component to the garden.

When growing for a chef, crops must be grown in quantities useful to the restaurant and supplied on a consistent, predictable schedule. To produce for a restaurant in a very small space such as this, it is essential to focus on growing a narrow variety of crops. While crops such as heirloom tomatoes are beloved by many, including celebrity chefs, they are simply not prolific enough to be useful in a small space production garden.

At first glance, the Bayless Garden appears far too small to supply meaningful amounts of food for a busy restaurant such as Topolobampo. But it does. My team and I have delivered our organic greens and more to the Bayless restaurants every week for the past 11 years!

Here are the simple, yet highly effective growing methods we use.
• Fast maturing crops including microgreens that yield tiny greens in as few as seven days from seeding, and baby (3-inch) salad greens yielding crops in 3-4 weeks from seed. By growing these crops to size, harvesting the entire planting, then clearing and replanting the space immediately, a significant amount of greens can be produced in a very small space. This method is called succession planting.

Astoundingly, fast-growing salad greens such as arugula and lettuce are planted up to 28 times in one Chicago growing season. Microgreens are planted 52 weeks a year. For Rick this means a steady, bountiful supply of high quality greens for his restaurants.

• Season-long crops that produce over an entire growing season (or longer) such as Chinese long beans, parsley, garlic chives, mint and lemon verbena. Season-long crops are relatively low maintenance and produce a harvest every 1-3 weeks, allowing growers with multiple plantings of a crop to stagger the harvests for a predictable, weekly supply.

• Space efficient, high-value crops including a wide variety of edible flowers, many well-suited to growing in containers indoors and out. Growing in containers frees up more space in the garden for salad greens.

• Vertically grown crops such as climbing winter squash provide two crops and edible flowers all summer long, followed by a bountiful harvest of tasty squash fruits each fall. Concord grapes grown on an arbor above a garden deck are also multifunctional, providing a pleasant, dappled sun environment all season along with a substantial harvest of grapes that are prized by Rick’s pastry chefs.

• Crops suited to growing indoors. Years before partnering with Rick, I realized that chefs that work with locally grown produce crave a year-round supply and that there was money to be made by mastering the art of growing food indoors. The tiny salad greens called microgreens had just come on the scene, and when I brought samples to local chefs, they were immediately hooked.

At the Bayless Garden indoor-grown microgreens were the only off-season crop. I knew that we could expand on this, so I focused on testing and developing other crops suited to growing in the indoor environment. I discovered that many crops we were growing in the outdoors such as pak choi, baby salad greens, and a wide variety of herbs and edible flowers could also be grown indoors in containers. I was now able to frequently utter a phrase that is music to a chef’s ears, “This crop is now available year-round.”

In addition to the edible garden, the Bayless Garden virtually overflows with a large number of ornamental planting beds, vertical plantings and container gardens, all requiring design and grower attention and care. The plantings are designed to give the garden several themes. For example, colorful showy displays of tropical plants alongside a tranquil waterfall and goldfish pool give the viewer a sense of being in a lovely Mexican garden.

Nearby, tall native perennials and shrubs towering over the center mounded garden are the garden’s nod to the Prairie State. Various medicinal and edible plants, not used for the restaurant, are scattered about, serving as an acknowledgment of the importance of plants to our health and well being.

The vegetable garden is designed to demonstrate that a food garden can, at the same time, be exceptionally bountiful and beautiful. A rainbow of colorful salad greens anchors the entire center area of the garden.

Surrounding plantings of Italian parsley, garlic chives, wild Sylvetta arugula and a very old, but highly attractive sage plant provide a visual anchor and textural interest to the space. A planter bed filled with stunning nasturtiums, dianthus and marigolds and vertically grown butternut squash (all providing edible flowers for the restaurants) provide a large scale focal point in the background.

Keeping all this planting bounty in top shape requires not only a skilled crew but a high quality soil. The Bayless Garden’s composting systems are the key. All crop residues, trimmings, even woody material from the garden are shredded and composted in a timber-lined bin quietly tucked away in a corner of the garden. This compost bin, along with worm bins used to process food wastes, produces nearly two tons of high quality compost every year. Applied to plantings of all sorts, this compost, available year round, provides immediate and detectable increases in plant health and vigor.

Finally, the educational component for the Bayless Garden has been quite successful. For the past 10 years my team and I have hosted hundreds of tours of the garden. Tour goers get to see the garden up close and learn about methods for designing and maintaining organically-managed urban-ornamental production gardens.

The garden is staffed by a combination of paid growers and interns, all in training to be professional urban growers. A garden of such complexity requires growers with a very large horticultural skill set. Training, therefore, is a top priority and ongoing task. I am pleased that many of my former assistant growers who started as interns have gone on to successful careers in urban horticulture.

Now entering our 12th season, I feel the partnership between grower and chef has been exceptionally fruitful. The garden itself is an ongoing learning experience and, as I frequently remind my assistant growers; “Most of what I have learned about gardening, I have learned from studying the plants themselves. They are the master growers.”

Bill Shores is a garden designer specializing in space-efficient edible/ornamental gardens. He can be reached at urbanedible.net

10 Great Shrubs You’ve Never Grown

Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo

As a 50-something gardener, I have happily clocked in thousands of hours on my knees – digging, dividing, snipping and cajoling all varieties of flowering perennials. I have ignored very few fragrant Iris or heavenly-blue Delphinium at garden centers and plant sales over the years. Lately, however, my eyes have been wandering over to the woody-stemmed plants.

In garden design, shrubs are always important elements that create a visual link between the smaller perennials and larger trees. They can lend a feeling of permanence and stability to gardens and the larger landscape. Yellow Forsythia provides shelter for the nests of tiny birds, winterberry (Ilex verticillata) offers scarlet berries for holiday decorations and bushy lilacs (Syringa spp.) remain the definition of spring. Yet, the impetus behind my new shrub “fascination” is … my knees hurt, I must confess.

With that in mind, I have been chatting with other gardeners, checking out garden nurseries and snooping in backyards. I edited these suggestions down to 10 offbeat shrubs that might prove interesting to all gardeners. So, avoid the pain. Take two shrubs instead of two aspirin, and employ an energetic teen to dig the hole.

1. ‘Garden Glow’ Dogwood
(Cornus hessei ‘Garden Glow’)

Brilliant lime green foliage glows among the darker greens of summer. Mark Maradik, from Pasquesi Home and Gardens in Lake Bluff, recommends the dogwood shrub, ‘Garden Glow’. “It will be the bright spot in a partially shaded garden with its yellow-green foliage.” White flowers appear in early spring, followed later by berries and burgundy-red leaves in autumn. Bright red stems remain for winter display. It is perfect for smaller spaces at a compact size of 2-3 feet tall and wide. ‘Garden Glow’ is disease and insect resistant and cold hardy from Zones 2 to 7.

2. Ural False Spirea
(Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’)

‘Sem’ is one tough cookie. After our last winter, gardeners should be very interested in a hardy shrub such as this. Its parents came from tough Russian stock that originated in the harsh climate of the Ural Mountains in Siberia. Little ‘Sem’ is a combination of two larger Sorbaria selections, but don’t be fooled by its visual delicacy. In spring, fern-like leaves emerge in shades of pinkish red. Later in summer, the foliage changes to a chartreuse green with a brush of bronze red on the leaf tips. After that, all leaves turn darker green and become the background for creamy white plumes. “The plant looks like a mix of spirea, astilbe and mountain ash,” states Jill Bondi, marketing manager at Midwest Groundcovers in St. Charles. “Its orange-red fall color is exquisite!” ‘Sem’ matures into a compact and rounded habit 3-4 feet tall and wide. It thrives in partial shade and needs a fertile soil with good drainage. This adaptable plant attracts butterflies while being deer-resistant. It suckers lightly, so keep an eye on it. Don’t be afraid to hack it back in spring. Plant in
Zones 2 to 7.

3. ‘Viking’ Black Chokeberry
(Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’)

This chokeberry is a welcome addition to any North American native garden. ‘Viking’ is tidier than most chokeberries at 3-5 feet tall and 5-6 feet wide. Clusters of clean white flowers appear in spring followed by abundant purple-black fruit the size of blueberries. Green summer leaves change to vibrant glossy red, orange and yellow in fall – comparable to serviceberry foliage. Aronia is a very low-maintenance shrub because of its drought tolerance, deer and pest resistance and adaptability to clay soil. It also thrives in full sun to part shade. Sales associate Buddy Lynsgo from Chalet Nursery in Wilmette added, “The ‘Viking’ is self-fertile, so you only need to plant one for a full crop of berries. The fruit starts ripening from late June to mid-August and the red to black berries will persist on the plant into the fall until the birds have eaten them all. The berries are super sweet and edible for humans, too.” Put this one on the list for bird-lovers! Use in Zones 3 to 8.

4. ‘Northland’ Blueberry
(Vaccinium ‘Northland’)

Dreaming about a shrub that’s beautiful in your garden as well as one that packs disease-fighting antioxidants into its fruit? The ‘Northland’ blueberry bush sparkles with glossy, leathery leaves from spring to summer and glows with vivid scarlet fall foliage. ‘Northland’ is smaller and tidier than most blueberry shrubs at 3-5 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide. Flowers bloom in mid-May, and you can pick homegrown blueberries around mid-August. To grow the healthiest shrubs, plant them in full sun in a low-pH soil with good drainage. Tony Fulmer, chief horticulture officer at Chalet Nursery advises, “To acidify your soil, incorporate elemental sulfur at the time of planting. Add it to the surface of the soil multiple times a year. Do not add it over mulch. It helps to plant at least one other variety of blueberry shrub to cross-pollinate and promote fruit set.” Because blueberry plants are shallowly-rooted, make sure to water them deeply. ‘Northland’ is an especially good selection for our cold winters and is hardy in Zones 3 to 8.

5. Double Take Quince:
(Chaenomeles ‘Orange Storm’, ‘Pink Storm’ and ‘Scarlet Storm’)

Imagine seeing camellia-like double flowers blooming in your Midwest garden in April! This deciduous Japanese quince reinvents an old favorite. Jill Bondi with Midwest Groundcovers stresses its finer points. “… Midwest hardiness, double flowers, deer resistance, thornless stems and fruitless. The flowers also bloom inside the branches to create a unique and beautifully shaped shrub.” The Double Take Series is even drought and heat tolerant, once established. Choose from three bright, velvety colors: orange, pink and scarlet. Plant in full or part sun, but more sun brings on the most blooms. It’s 36-48 inches tall with a dense, spreading habit. Elegant, flowering branches are perfect in a vase, too. Zones 5 to 8.

6. Ironclad Viburnum
(Viburnum sieboldii ‘KLMFOUR’)

This shrub was developed by Roy Klehm in the open fields at Beaver Creek Nursery in northern Illinois. Initially, its hardiness was proven in trial gardens where it was the lone survivor of a seedling planting. In mid to late May, the Ironclad viburnum offers cymes or clusters of creamy white flowers. Summer-green, 5-inch leaves show off prominent veining and give these shrubs its rough texture. Red fruits change to black in fall as leaves change from green to burgundy. It thrives in an acidic, moist but well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Hardy, disease and drought resistant, viburnum shrubs provide excellent cover and food for birds and butterflies. It matures to 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide in Zones 4 to 7.

7. Leptodermis
(Leptodermis oblonga)

Sweet! This dwarf, mounding deciduous shrub caught my eye with its medium-green leaves and tiny violet-purple flowers. Clusters of tubular fragrant flowers bloom abundantly in late spring for four to six weeks. Afterward, occasional blooming will occur on new wood throughout the summer and fall. Its small size, 12-18 inches tall and 18-24 inches wide, is perfect for smaller spaces and hedges. This shrub is as tender as other “die-back shrubs” such as butterfly bush (Buddleia), but it is easy to care for with minimal pruning. Use it instead of boxwood for rock gardens, edging in borders or in containers. It attracts pollinators such as honeybees and has no known insect or disease problems. This little shrub seems like an interesting option for full sun to partial shade in Zones 5 to 8.

8. Golden Spirit Smoke Bush
(Cotinus coggygria ‘Ancot’ )

In spring, the chartreuse leaves of Golden Spirit sparkle like a sunny day! The chartreuse-yellow leaves turn to a golden hue in summer and finish up the year with coral, orange and red. In June and July, puffy clouds of white-pink flowers put the “smoke” in smoke bush. All smoke bush shrubs are extremely hardy plants that fill out and get bigger leaves with consistent pruning. Prune tall branches in late winter/early spring, or it will mature to 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide if you slack off. This “no worry” shrub can take the cold and drought in Zones 4 to 8. Even the Golden Spirit in my garden emerged victorious after last winter’s blast. Pair this one with the purple-leaved, varieties such as ‘Grace’ or ‘Royal Purple’ for an eye-popping contrast.

9. Pink American Beautyberry
(Callicarpa americana ‘Welch’s Pink’)

Are you a pink addict? In spring and summer, this shrub’s deep-green leaves aren’t particularly interesting, but wait until fall when the show begins with unusual pastel pink berries that cluster between the leaves on its arching branches. The pink color is important to us humans but not so much to the birds that flock to berries and take shelter in the branches of ‘Welch’s Pink’ as well as the more common purple-berried American beautyberry that attracts wildlife just as easily. Tasty berries also tempt the colorful migrating birds that fly through our area in the autumn. These shrubs look best planted in groupings of odd numbers, and there will be more berries because of increased pollination. Give the beautyberry moist, well-drained soil and a range of full sun to partial shade. Since it is a tender, Zone 6 to 9, shrub plant it in a protected spot and mulch it in late fall. In the warmer southeastern states, the American beautyberry bush matures from 4-6 feet tall, but in colder zones like ours, it will die back to the ground in winter. However, it blooms on new growth, so you won’t be cheated of flowers and berries. Even if it becomes a one-year wonder, it is certainly hard to resist.

10. Dappled Willow
(Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nashiki’)

The dappled willow is an interesting shrub with mottled green and cream leaves and shrimpy-pink new growth. When pruned into a large standard, it is an especially interesting shrub. Tyler Gurklis from Pesche’s Garden Center in Des Plaines dubbed this shrub “a cotton ball on a stick.” Willows thrive in full sun but demand a deep watering – especially in extreme heat. Keep your pruners handy if you want to maintain a smaller size, or sculpt this willow into a standard. If you don’t keep it in line, it can mature up to 6 feet tall and as wide. Look upon it as “living” sculpture as it was displayed on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tours at garden designer Craig Bergmann’s garden, “The Gardens at 900” in Lake Forest. Plant it in Zones 4 to 9.

Susan Randstrom Bruck is a former garden columnist and graphic designer for the Chicago Sun-Times. With a B.F.A. in Design and a certificate as a Master Gardener, she continues to enjoy the best of both worlds.

From the Editor - JulAug 2018

A lovely handwritten letter recently slid through our mail slot. Penned by Lou Emmons of Richmond, Ill., the letter had been sent to thank us for our most recent issue, especially the article on iris.

A subscriber since the magazine’s beginning, Lou recalled our very early story about Virginia Umberger, whose shade garden in Elgin was ahead of its time. Virginia started planting native woodland wildflowers when they were almost nonexistent in local garden centers or mail order nurseries. Yet she persevered and in time created a garden that became famous for its collections of springtime ephemerals that thrived beneath her massive oaks. She always said the key to her garden’s success was the oak leaves that fell every year and decomposed, nourishing her soil. Alas, Virginia sadly no longer with us, having passed away last year at the venerable age of 108. She was a kind and gentle soul, beautiful in more ways than one.

Remembering Virginia brings to mind the many amazing gardeners we have profiled in these pages over the years, and the current issue is no exception.

You will surely marvel over two featured fabulous home gardens – one in Munster, Ind. and the other in Lockport, Ill. The Munster landscape is a many-faceted marvel with one distinctive element that stands out beyond all others. See it for yourself on page 46.

The garden in Lockport (page 52) is a marvel of another kind – a historic property with limestone structures that softly glow in the soft light of late afternoon. With its skillful placement of giant ornamental grasses and large ornaments, this space is an homage to the region’s past and also a modern illustration of the importance of proportion and balance.

Want flowers? Our cover story (page 40) highlights easy-to-grow annuals that you can still dash out and purchase for a cheery midsummer pick-me-up. The New Gardener section provides the basics of growing a cutting garden (page 14). And if you’ve ever fantasized about what it might be like to run a teashop where the menus are based on the weekly harvest, check out the article about Pinecone Cottage in Downers Grove (page 22).

To see fabulous gardens in real life, check out our listings of garden walks on page 61. Wisconsin, in particular, is brimming with options.

At the recent Chicago Flower & Garden Show, we were thrilled whenever folks stopped by our booth and raved, “I love your magazine.” I hear the same comment whenever I go out to speak to garden clubs. And what inevitably follows is a remark about how they so appreciate a magazine that caters to our region, our climate, our soils and the achievement of our gardeners.

It’s great to livie in the upper Midwest, and we appreciate your support.

Nature Talks! (Garbo Listens)

I think I’m speaking the wrong language.

No, no, no, I’m not talking about English. I actually do all right with the mother tongue. Heck, I’m part of the 0.0000023% of Americans who know how to use lie, lay, lain and laid properly, and I know that a squiggly red line under a word I just typed means that I guessed the spelling wrong and that I should keep trying different letters until the squiggles go away.

I’m talking about the language of nature. You know how nature seems to “speak” to some people? At least that’s what those people tell you when they write their self-help books about discovering themselves. For instance: “It wasn’t until we gave up our three-flat in Manhattan and immersed ourselves in our 60 acres of wooded bliss in Connecticut that I truly began to understand the song of the thrush.” Of course, if you have enough money to own a three-flat in Manhattan or 60 wooded acres in Connecticut, you can probably pay to have thrush songs transcribed and sung to you by the cast of “Hamilton.”

When I write my own self-help book, it will probably have a passage that reads, “It wasn’t until I immersed myself in the mulch pile that I truly began to understand the song of the roly poly bug…and I also began to itch terribly.”

The point (which I lost track of in about 1987) is that nature doesn’t seem to go out of its way to communicate with me. Was it something I said?

Inanimate objects do, however, occasionally talk to me. For instance, the other evening I was sitting on the back porch when my neighbor’s clothes dryer spoke up. It said, “How ya doin’? Just wanted to let you know that I’m drying stuff here in the basement next door. Did you notice that they’re using fabric softener? I figured you did. The wind is blowing that way and I’m venting in your direction, so instead of cool evening air, you can suck in fabric softener scent. Some people think it smells nice. Of course, some people think that new car smell is nice, too…just before they pass out from it. Hey, how do you like my rhythm? Fa foom click, fa foom click, fa foom click, fa foom click. Cheers!”

My garage speaks to me, too. It occasionally says, “You know what? Today, for no particular reason, I’m going to open up while you’re away from home. Yup, that’s what I’ll do — just let that big old garage door slide up so anybody who needs an extra lawn mower or a rake or a can of WD-40 can help themselves to yours. Hope you don’t mind! I love seeing your expression when you drive up!”

And when nature does deign to communicate with me, its intentions are often malevolent. Like when the basement door blows open on the coldest day of the decade — minus 19 — and I discover that fact four hours later. “Whoops! My bad! It’s a shame that you were keeping all of those houseplants down there. Did you see that bucket of water? It froze solid! So did everything else! Impressive, huh? Did I tell you it’s going to be 60 degrees tomorrow? Climate change sure is fun, isn’t it?”

I can handle the odd weather anomaly, though I struggle to understand what message is being delivered by events of biblical proportions, such as when the skies open up while I’m addressing a birdie putt and the round is ruined by a shower of spicy tofu scramble.

Taunting is another matter altogether. I tried to dig up some orange daylilies last year. “Duuuude! You really think you’re going to dig us up? Do you know who we are? We’re DAAAAYlilies.” They kept saying it like that: “DAAAAYlilies.” You know, trying to get under my skin. “What you got? A shovel? Hahahahahahahahaha! Lookie here! He has a shovel! Oooooooh! We’re so scared! How about a stick of dynamite? Dig away, pal! We’ll be back next year! And the year after that. And the year after that. When you and the rest of civilization are nothing but bad memories, you know who’s still going to be here? Cockroaches and Creeping Charlie and mint and bishop’s weed and orange DAAAAYlilies!”

I don’t know about you, but that kind of trash talk hurts my feelings.

Uh-oh. I see storm clouds and I smell bacon bits.

Something’s cooking up there. Gotta grab my dinner plate and run.

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist, environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

Issues - 2018 - JulAug

Cantigny’s Project New Leaf

Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo

A requirement during my horticulture education was an internship at a public garden. I did mine at Cantigny Park in Winfield. After a very hot, humid summer I was left with no illusions about how many endless hours, the number of people, and how much work it takes to plant and maintain a public garden. This experience was invaluable.

Recently Cantigny’s Project New Leaf has been all the buzz in the gardening community. I recently had the opportunity to tour the grounds with the Director of Horticulture, Scott Witte and Senior Manager of Communications, Jeff Reiter.

“The renovation will take four to five years to complete,” said Reiter. “Phase one consists of the Upper and Lower gardens, the First Division Museum and the Visitors Center. Phase I will be complete by mid-July.” He explained that they have also relocated the Rose Garden, now a part of the Upper Garden, so that it will lie within a few steps of the Le Jardin Restaurant.

“The whole idea behind the new design is to give the 350,000+ annual visitors ease of movement with comfortable, wide, newly paved paths leading from one garden display and public building to the next,” continued Reiter. “Once all the phases are complete, you will be able to see out to wide vistas and gardens beyond where you are standing.”

“We are also introducing the new Pond Garden,” added Witte. “We’ve included stone steps which will allow visitors to sit right at the water’s edge and enjoy the natural shoreline and native aquatic plants.”

Cantigny Park is being completely being renovated from top to bottom. I learned that ‘bottom’ part of the renovation is truly under your feet. Just below the paved paths is a newly designed water retention system that will direct all of the runoff to detention areas that will in turn be used for irrigation and water features such as the creek that runs near the Museum and the Fountain Gardens.

New yew (Taxus) windbreak walls will provide structure and privacy to various gardens. Littleleaf linden trees (Tilia cordata), trimmed to towering box hedges, will give the upper garden some unique architectural features. In addition, huge arched arbors covered in flowering vines will provide shady spots for visitors to rest.

One of the features Witte and Reiter are most excited about is the colonade. Fashioned with a double row of oak trees, it will create a canopy and obvious pathway from the parking lot to the visitors’ center.

“As part of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, established in 1958, Colonel McCormick donated 500 acres and his home to the public and dedicated it to education, recreation and community engagement. For decades this property has been open to the public to enjoy its many display gardens, main house and museum. His gift to our community has largely remained the same since its opening. This is one of the reasons we are so enthusiastic and can’t wait to share the renovated gardens,” explained Witte.

Originally called Red Oak Farm, Cantigny derives its current name from a French village where McCormick fought a battle during World War I. “He was so affected by the battle and the liberation of the village that he renamed his property,” said Witte. “He was a man whose service to his country and community were very important aspects of his life.“The First Division Museum was originally located in the visitors’ center and then in 1992 moved to its current location. This is its first major update since that time. A new gallery called Duty First is devoted to the 1st Infantry Division’s contribution to our country. McCormick was a true believer in duty first. The First Division Museum is home to the American Legion Post 556. We are proud to sponsor The Honor Club, which is open and free to all veterans,” said Witte.

Personally, I can’t wait for a tour of Phase 2, which will consist of renovations of the gardens from the fountain down to the prairie areas toward the east end of the property.

innovation and new garden concept is truly a sight to behold.

Debbie Notaro is a certified horticulturist and landscape designer, freelance writer, coordinator for Gardenology Geneva, a member of the American Horticulture Society, Geneva Garden Club and a former master gardener. She gardens in Campton Hills. dnotaro@sbsmags.com

When Garden Clubs Go Bad

I had the weirdest dream last night…

“Okay, kids, let’s simmer down! Hey, everybody, we only have the room until 9 o’clock. The Corpse Flower Club is coming in and we don’t want to be around when that happens, if you know what I mean.

Okay. Great turnout tonight, folks! There are still a bunch of threats — I mean treats on the table by the door. We can thank Sylvia for the lavender-infused blueberry tofu mushroom cupcakes. Are there any left? What? Lots left? Try ‘em with some of that mango clam peanut butter sauce. Or not. Whoa, Lou, go easy on the absinthe! You doing your Toulouse-Lautrec impersonation or something? Save some for the rest of us! Grab a seat and don’t forget to give it back at the end of the evening.

Okay. I understand we have a couple of guests here tonight. Would you please stand up? C’mon, don’t be shy. Thank you. Get a good look at those faces, folks. You are looking at a couple of Russian bots. Spies, right?”

“No, we were invited–”

“Sure you were, Natasha. Save it for the judge. We know how the world works in the 21st Century. And we’re fine with that. Like the song says, everybody’s trying to be my baby. Hey, all in good fun. Drop a sawbuck in the tip jar and we’ll let you stay. Alright, Arlene has a couple of announcements. Arlene?”

“Thanks, Darlene. As you know, we’re having our ‘found’ garden objects sale next month. This is our biggest fundraiser of the year, so go out and ‘find’ those garden objects! For those of you who haven’t done this before, some good places to ‘find’ garden objects — and you might notice that I keep using air quotes — are your neighbor’s back porch or your neighbor’s garage. Relatives are good, too, especially during backyard cookouts, when things get a little crazy — especially if you use your kids as a distraction. I don’t know how, but a couple of years ago my brother-in-law’s wheelbarrow ended up in my van. Oh, well.”

“I’ll bet he’s still looking for it, Arlene!”

“Looking for what? By the way, we still have some tickets for the trip to the Artificial Turf and Plastic Flower Show at the Buy ‘N’ Cry Superstore Parking Lot next month. Thanks to Lois and the good folks at A-Plus Plastics for donating the passes. Matter of fact, we have plenty of passes left. I’m telling you, best thing about this show — rain or shine, nothing gets ruined! Well, unless somebody wants a few of those tickets — just get your hand up — do I see any hands? Uh, that’s all I got, Shirley.”

“Okey poke, Arlene. Moving on, there are a couple of books in the back that need a good home. One of them is a set of books called Everything About Gardening, A to Z. Actually, it’s a set of book. The letter “K,” to be precise. So, if you’re a big kohlrabi fan, you hit the jackpot. ‘Course, I can use it as a small cheese plate if nobody needs to study up on kudzu. Or kiwi. But it’s there for the taking. Don’t everybody pounce on it at once. And there’s another book…Dan, you found that in your basement, right? Award Winning Gardens of the 48 Great States. When’s the last time you went down into that basement, Dan? Oh, and it feels like this meeting is brought to you by the letter “K.” Are we on Sesame Street or something? And Marlene has a few trays of some darling little K-plants that she wants to share with the group. What are those things, Mar?”

“I’ve got dozens and dozens of them, and you’re all welcome to take as many as you want. As far as I can tell, they’re called “knotweed” and they’re the easiest things to raise. They practically grow themselves!”

“Put me down for half a dozen, Mar. Well, we’re very pleased to have Mr. Nowak with us today, who will give us a demonstration of garden hose coiling, followed by his hori hori knife juggling tricks. So let’s all take five, grab a cupcake and shot of absinthe, and get back in our seats for a great presentation. Okay, kids?”

That’s when I awoke in a cold sweat. No more bedtime absinthe for me. And if you want me to speak at your garden club, please include a couple of references. No particular reason.

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist, environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

From the Editor - MayJun 2018

Where I grew up, it was common for us country people, whenever we found ourselves in a town, to drive around looking at the different neighborhoods, scrutinizing the houses and front gardens, noting what we liked (or not) and, if we were younger, dreaming of one day living in something similar. A dutiful teenager, I enjoyed sitting in the back seat with my parents in front, giving a running commentary, as we rolled along. This is what passed for weekend entertainment in north central Kansas in the 1960s.

After I graduated from college, my husband and I moved to Oxford, England for a year and, good Midwesterners both, we naturally expected to relax on Sunday afternoons by taking little drives around the city looking at the houses and gardens. We soon found ourselves turning around and going home.

English people live behind tall hedges and walls, with the gardens in the back. The English like their privacy and don’t want people looking in on them. They promptly close the drapes when the sun goes down. The English journalist/memoirist/gardener Beverley Nichols comments on this preference in A Village in a Valley, one of the books in his Allways trilogy that I read recently.

The American penchant for openness, on the other hand, was articulated explicitly during the 19th century by garden designers and tastemakers who saw fence-less, wall-less streets linked by one continuous sweep of green lawn as a glorious symbol of democracy. “We are all equal!” they preached, and we became believers.

As luck would have it, an example of this 19th century group-think recently arrived in my Inbox. The man who runs my neighborhood’s Good Neighbors group email includes a photo with his daily posting, and this week he sent an old photo of a whole row of fence-less lots linked by identical democratic lawns on the 4800 block of Chicago’s South Blackstone Avenue.

The American garden aesthetic has evolved since then. We see it in our neighborhoods and reflected in the pages of Chicagoland Gardening. We will also see it this summer as we move into garden walk season. More driving around and looking at gardens – something that hasn’t changed since those early days in Kansas.

Business - Anton’s Greenhouse

Business - Saunoris Garden Center

Issues - 2018 - MayJun

A Gift from the Gods

Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo

When Jennifer Brennan went downstate for a family wedding last summer, her plans included a visit to her grandparents’ old farmstead where she would dig up the tall bearded irises that were hopefully still there.

“I got up early before the wedding and went to the farm to dig up the irises,” she recalls. “It was amazing. The tubers (rhizomes) had been buried under 8 inches of soil, but I was able to dig them all up, divide them among my dad, two cousins and me. They had been planted 75 years ago.”

Brennan, the horticulture information specialist at Chalet in Wilmette, would never tell a customer to plant bearded irises 8 inches deep. The instructions in catalogs and books all say to plant just under the soil surface with some of the rhizome showing. But plants don’t read the books and can live to astonish us. Brennan fully expects the rhizomes she retrieved to bloom this season.

The irises that Brennan brought back from downstate were the tall bearded types that grow 3 feet tall and bloom in late May into June. Iris flowers consist of three vertical petals, called “standards,” and three drooping petals, called “falls.” The bristly hairs on the falls are the so-called beards. There are dozens of iris types, some with beards, some without.

Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation at the Chicago Botanic Garden, grows many kinds of iris at his Grayslake home and also at the Garden in Glencoe. “Everybody should grow irises,” he asserts. “They are one of my favorite plants and easy. They keep coming back.”

He is especially fond of the tiny early spring irises that pop up early with the crocuses. Two regularly available species are Iris reticulata and I. histrioides, which grow from bulbs that you plant in the fall. They look delicate but are “winter-tough and reliable” because they hail from the Republic of Georgia and the Caucasus, he explains. “You start with a couple dozen and they bulk up over time.” The photo (below) of Iris histrioides ‘Harmony’ at the Garden proves the point.

While growing iris is pretty carefree, classifying all the different types can drive one to distraction. Plant size, for example, may be 6 inches or 5 feet. Some demand wet soil, but others are fine with dry. Most prefer full sun, but some tolerate a bit of shade. Iris are among the earliest blooming plants in spring, but the tall Japanese water iris may not bloom until July. A few are American-born natives, but most are imports, with Central and East Asia figuring prominently as their homeland. Hard to get a handle on such a motley crew.

Spring Bulbs
Iris reticulata, I. histrioides and their cultivars bloom very early. The elegant flowers stand about 6 inches above the ground and bloom in shades of purple, yellow and white. Long narrow leaves appear after the flowers but go dormant and wither around the time that hostas emerge, which makes them good for interplanting, says Tankersley. Native to Central Asia.

Another spring bloomer is crested iris (Iris cristata), which is native to woodlands in the eastern half of the United States. It grows from rhizomes and blooms in May with an elegant lavender-blue flower. Also around 8 inches high, it can be used as a perennial groundcover in shade or sun since it will spread. It won’t bloom reliably if it is in too much shade or gets covered with leaves.

The spring-blooming Juno types are perhaps not so familiar to amateur growers, but the group comprises up to 60 species. Boyce Tankersley, who grows several, says the plants resemble young corn and, at 12 inches tall, are good for rock gardens. They also grow from bulbs. One species often seen in the catalogs is Iris bucharica, named for Bukhara, a major ancient city in Central Asia. Another is I. aucherei, also native to the Caucasus.

You may also see Dutch iris listed in the catalogs. These are bulb-growing plants, about 15 inches high that go dormant in summer. They are hardy here but are not likely to return for more than five years.

Bearded Iris
When most of us hear the word iris, it is the tall bearded types that spring to mind. But they can be subdivided into six different groups, starting with the dwarf standard bearded iris that stand about a foot tall and bloom from April into May. They are often fragrant, especially the older varieties, and hybridizing them is not beyond the skills of amateur growers such as Virginia Winkler, member of the Northshore Iris & Daylily Society. Winkler has hybridized several iris, and one of her dwarf standard beardeds was formally introduced as ‘Golden Beryl’. It usually takes three years from cross pollination to first flower.

Kelly Norris, director of horticulture and education at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, is a professional whose family breeds and sells iris at their rainbowfarms.net where they grow primarily bearded iris, Siberians, and some spurias (which bloom in mid-summer and can soar to 5 feet high.). Norris admits to a “childlike curiosity when it comes to iris. I love the colors, the vastness of the palette, the diversity and depths of the colors. Every plant geek has his home base.”

Siberian Iris
After the bearded types, it’s probably the sleek Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) that are most frequently grown here. They bloom in June and make excellent companions for peonies and early roses. They are moisture-loving perennials that form ever-expanding clumps as they mature and are readily divided.

Water Garden Iris
Siberians grow in regular garden soil but are particularly happy when planted on the shore of a pond garden. Several other iris species are even more insistent about preferring wet feet: Japanese water iris (I. ensata), Japanese iris (I. laevigata), yellow flag iris (I. pseudoacorus), blue flag iris (I. versicolor), southern blue flag iris (I. virginica), I. virginica var. shrevei and Louisiana iris (a group of five different species from the American South).

The question then becomes whether these water-loving iris can be grown in ordinary garden soil because some of them have extraordinarily beautiful flowers that many of us covet. Dan Kosta, horticulturist at Vern Goers Nursery in Hinsdale, has a Japanese iris that he grows in an 8-inch deep plastic-lined pit filled with acidic soils. He pierced some drainage holes in the plastic, and the plant is happy. He also grows a huge Iris laevigata ‘Colchester’ that lives in his pond. “It has dreams of world domination with the way it grows,” he says. Colchester’s flower is a remarkable mix of purple and white and well worth seeking out.

Boyce Tankersley has found that he can grow Japanese iris in alkaline soil if he keeps it moist, but his Louisiana iris petered out when he moved up here from downstate. Virginia Winkler, on the other hand, says she had “zero success” with Japanese iris, but grows two lovely Louisiana iris, the red ‘Ann Chowning’ and the deep deep purple “Black Gamecock’. She also reports that you can grow the infamously invasive yellow flag iris (I. pseudoacorus) out of water (which probably helps to keep it under control). Kelly Norris has friends who grow Louisiana iris in upstate New York.

So iris can grow where the books say they won’t and even 8 inches underground in downstate Illinois. The moral of the story? Try growing everything you fancy. You never know when you might be successful.

Editor Carolyn Ulrich has written for Chicagoland Gardening since its inception. She is a former weekly garden columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and has received several awards for magazine writing from the Garden Writers Association. culrich@sbsmags.com

Bales of Fun

Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo

For vegetable gardeners, straw bale gardening may be the best innovation since sliced bread.

Straw bale gardening essentially turns a bale of straw into a raised bed. It requires no digging or soil preparation. Because you’re not planting in the ground, you don’t have to worry about soil-borne diseases, and weeding is minimal. It doesn’t even matter if your soil is crummy or if the sunniest place in your yard is covered in concrete. You can achieve optimal growing conditions for a vegetable garden in a humble bale of straw.

Straw Bale Basics
Straw bale gardening is one of those old notions that fell by the wayside for a while. Minnesotan Joel Karsten resurrected the concept with his self-published pamphlet “Straw Bale Gardening” and later his book Straw Bale Gardens published by Cool Springs Press.

Tom Wilson of Berlin, Wisc. heard Karsten talk about straw bale gardening on public radio. After trying to grow vegetables for six years with mixed results, Wilson was intrigued by what he heard. “It just sounded easy,” he recalls. “Plus, I figured if I put the bales on my raised beds, I wouldn’t have to bend and stoop to work in the garden. It would be almost at table top height. Plus no weeding.”

Maybe you’d like to give straw bale gardening a try this year? Be forewarned: this could lead to bigger things. The six long-time veggie gardeners I talked to about this approach were wildly enthusiastic. All planned to greatly expand their straw bale gardens the following year. Wilson, for instance, was so impressed that he plans to expand from his original six bales to 30.

With that disclaimer in mind, start with a bale of straw – or if you’re like Jud Swenson of Arena, Wisc., make that 20 bales. Find a site that gets at least six hours of full sun a day. If you’re putting your bales on the ground, it’s recommended that you put down cardboard or a thick layer of newspapers first to keep grass and weeds from growing up through the bale. A word of caution: make sure you’re happy with the placement of your bale(s) before you proceed. The next steps will make it heavy and more difficult to move.

Before you can plant, you must devote two or three weeks to “conditioning” the straw bales – which basically means you start turning them into compost. The conditioning process involves a schedule of watering and fertilizing. (See box on page 24.) The bales heat up as the inside of the bale begins decomposing. Planting can begin when the bale is once again cool to the touch. You should be able to plant on the 13th or 14th day.

You can transplant veggies into the bale by making a hole in the straw and inserting the plant. Fill in around the plant with potting soil. Wilson transplanted tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, cabbage and annual flowers. For seeds, you can create furrows of potting soil or cover the bale’s surface with potting soil. Plant your seeds directly into the potting soil following the seed packet directions for depth.

Straw bale gardening has its strong advocates. “It was a huge success,” Wilson says of his first experience with straw bale gardening. “I had more tomatoes than I knew what to do with. The bales are like sponges. They hold water, so I’d say it takes less than half the watering [that I did before]. I had no bugs or disease, and no weeds. You gotta like that.”

Swenson had a similar experience. “The plants were healthier and bigger. Stuff grew like crazy,” he reports. By mid-season, he was wishing he’d made two more rows of straw bales for growing cucumbers and potatoes. In late August, he still hadn’t needed to do any weeding.

Of course, fertilizer is an important factor during the conditioning process. Thereafter, Straw Bale Gardens author Karsten recommends regularly fertilizing the plants. Wilson followed that advice, using a liquid fertilizer he sprayed on with his hose. Swenson, on the other hand, said he only fertilized sporadically because the plants were already growing so vigorously. “They never looked like they needed it,” he says.

A Word about Those Bales
If there’s a drawback to straw bale gardening, it’s that as the bales decompose, they begin to slump. That may mean a bit more bending, and, aesthetically, it’s not as pleasing as those tidy rows of bales you have in the beginning.

Jean Porter of Spring Green, Wisc., enlisted her husband, Clay, to help. Before the conditioning process, Clay used 1,000-pound-test pole line wrapped over the baling twine to compress the bales and keep them from falling apart. To increase the aesthetic appeal, Porter added sweet potato vines and lantana to the three tomatoes she planted. The sweet potato vines not only attractively concealed the bales, they drooped to notify Jean when the bales needed more water.

At the end of the season, cleanup is easy. Simply toss the bales into your compost heap. Or not. Wilson heard he could grow potatoes in last year’s bales if they were still held together by twine. “I spent a whopping $1.50 on seed potatoes, divided them up and plugged them into the mostly decomposed, year-old bales. We got two milk crates full of beautiful, Yukon Gold potatoes,” he reports exultantly.

Just as impressive as the yield was the ease of growing. Wilson reports that he watered the potatoes once when he planted them and once in August. He didn’t fertilize, and – his favorite part – he didn’t have any weeds.

If less cultivating, bending, watering, weeding and more produce sound good to you, give straw bale gardening a try. Bet you can’t plant just one.

Patrice Peltier is a freelance writer in southern Wisconsin who loves getting to visit other people’s gardens.

Issues - 2018 - MarApr

From the Editor - MarApr 2018

I often worry that my neighbors think I’m lazy. Yes, they may see me on my hands and knees, covered with dirt, and they may see me mowing the lawn and dumping out bags of grass clippings, but more often they’re likely to see me just standing in front of my plants. Looking. Staring.

This begins around the middle of March when I venture forth daily to check if anything has broken dormancy. Rummage around the clump of lady’s mantle and there, by golly gee whiz, is a half-inch folded pale green leaf. Yes! The plant’s alive and already on its way to blooming in a couple months. And here’s a crocus. That shoot wasn’t here yesterday, but now it’s up at least an inch. Tomorrow, will there be a flower?

In summer you may catch me staring at the Home Run Red rose. This is a super hardy plant with flowers whose color changes ever so slightly after 24 hours. To see it in its full glory, you have to catch the blossoms on the first day they’re open. And then you hang around for a second (and third) look, mesmerized.

This November the best autumn color came from my blueberry bush with its red leaves that virtually glowed in the setting sun. Such a color. Unique really. So how could I do something mundane like go inside for dinner when there was such beauty still to be appreciated in the great outdoors? Stand and stare. Food could wait.

As the blueberry finally faded away, the ‘Gold Pillar’ barberries came into their own. They had been yellow throughout the growing season but the last week of November, their leaves turned a majestic flame red. I had no idea barberries could be so beautiful. Every plant has its 15 minutes of fame.

Your mother may have told you not to stare, but there are exceptions. A while back there was an article in the Sunday New York Times that included a passage about the Impressionist painters. “They were people who spent time staring, though the world tapped them on the shoulder with all the distractions of life,” wrote Taffy Brodesser-Akner (“Travel”, Nov. 26, 2017). “They stared and stared at a singular scene or object until they knew it well enough to interpret it. They stared until they understood it.”

In other words, the Impressionist painters were people who knew how to look. Can the same be said of us?

A new gardening year is beginning, and we will soon be surrounded by beauty, some of it even of our own making.

Of course we need to make a point of slowing down to smell the roses, but let’s also remember to give our eyes a workout. Look at what’s around you, then stop, and look again.

Who’s A Good Little Garden?

I am a snow thief. There, I said it. I have been known to pilfer snow from my neighbors’ sidewalks. I know that many of you fight the dark urge, upon finishing your own walks, to move on to your neighbors’ slabs of concrete and shovel those, too. Let’s face it, we all covet our neighbor’s snow.

Why? Don’t make me state the painfully obvious! Too late. Because it makes excellent mulch for our winter garden beds, that’s why! (Ouch, that was painful.) I can admit it now because … well, because the evidence has melted and the local gendarmes will not be taking snow samples and storing them in a freezer until they can be examined as the basis of an upcoming episode of CSI: Oslo.

It’s the same reason we covet our neighbors’ leaves in the fall. And, yes, I am also a leaf looter. Who’s going to notice? Do you think everybody on your block counts the leaves on their parkways and front lawns and categorizes them according to species to make sure that nobody poaches them? It’s more difficult to hack into a backyard, though you can often sneak in there during working hours if your neighbors have day jobs. Or at night if you practice stealth raking. (“Be vewy, vewy, quiet … I’m steawing weaves!”)

I have even been known to drag reluctant and sometimes wailing Christmas trees down the alley and into my yard, where they are dismembered to create – all together now – garden mulch. I do draw the line at breaking into people’s homes to appropriate their trees … but only because it’s too much work to remove the ornaments, wrap them in tissue paper to put in boxes, and neatly coil the light strings.

Let’s face it: a lot of folks will do anything to make their spouses, their kids, their parents, their dogs, their kitties or their clownfish happy.

For other people, and I guess that includes me, it’s all about the gardens. (“Who’s a good little garden? You are! Yes, you are! Yes, you are!”) Which means that some of us abdicate our ability to be rational when it comes to our tiny plots of vegetation. We want only the best for our babies, which is why we try to shield them from the harsh world beyond the fence – whether made of chain link, planks or half-dead arborvitaes.

For instance, I never let my garden play with asphalt parking lots. Some people think I’m prejudiced against asphalt, but I don’t let my gardens associate with concrete parking lots, either. Or dirt parking lots. Or grass parking lots. I guess the operative phrase here is “parking lots.” As I tell my garden, “You’ll never get anywhere in life if you let people run all over you.”

I will also brook no criticism of my garden within earshot of my plants. If you want to comment about why the hydrangea looks a little droopy (and the answer is because it wants to), kindly take that remark across the street and tell me there. Better yet, send me a text, which I will open while I’m on another block and away from prying peony eyes, if you catch my drift. And don’t you evah ask me if my Virginia bluebells are “a little slow to open” this year. None of my plants are “slow.” They are “deliberate.”

And, no, my garden did not infest your lawn with Creeping Charlie. My garden would never do that! And how dare you accuse my garden of sending “nasty seeds” into your yard, regardless of how many cup plant seedlings are springing up along your fence … and next to your garage … and in your containers … and in your gutters. Why don’t you slap a lawsuit on that scruffy native plant garden down the block, huh?

Anyway, it’s about time for the garden therapist

to get here. Don’t worry, nothing serious. Just a couple of minor insecurity issues, like early spring compaction and a little embarrassment about doggie and birdie poop. My garden will get over it. Won’t you, mon chou, mon bijou, mon joujou? Yes, you will! Yes, you will!

Do you mind? I’m talking to my garden.

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist, environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

Calendar - 2018 - Wisconsin

Calendar - 2018 - Michigan

Calendar - 2018 - Indiana

Calendar - 2018 - South

Calendar - 2018 - West

Calendar - 2018 - Northwest

Calendar - 2018 - North

Calendar - 2018 - Chicago

Wake Up and Smell the Science!

I’m not always the sharpest trowel in the garden bucket, but even I have noticed a recent trend in horticulture. Suddenly, gardening experts are getting all “sciencey” and stuff about growing things, and they’re debunking conventional wisdom left and right. If you do a search on the Intertubes for “garden myths,” you will see that there are more debunked myths about gardening than there are actual facts. And, as we all know, the Intertubes are the place you go for Science! and The Truth. And cat videos.

So, while I was sitting here waiting for spring to arrive – which should happen any decade now – I went on the Intertubes and did some research on the Science! of some of the most conventional wisdom in the gardening playbook to determine its veracity … and you’re going to be ASTOUNDED at what I discovered! (I borrowed that line directly from a headline below a very interesting story about how to make cat videos.)

The grass is always greener on the other side.

TRUE. We all knew this in our hearts but it wasn’t until satellite imagery revealed lawn hues from space that researchers were able to quantify this effect. They note that from our vantage point on the ground, the phenomenon is more difficult to assess, hence, the erroneous belief that the grass can’t possibly always be greener on the other side.
But, as Science! now shows us, it is. Incidentally, scientists fear that should this technology fall into the wrong
hands – particularly realtors – we will all pay dearly. Literally.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

TRUE. A noted and somewhat reputable university strapped microscopic-sized cameras to an army of biting midges (no-see-ums) that were trained to cling to smooth stones. These stones were then rolled across a bed of moss in an enclosed area. When researchers stopped scratching, they were able to check the videos. Sure enough, while the surviving and extremely annoyed midges were covered in moss, none of that stuff attached itself to the stones. Researchers are still seeking a practical application for this knowledge.

Everything’s coming up roses.

FALSE. Scientists planted seeds, bulbs and fibrous root systems of hundreds of different genuses and species in test plots all over the United States, Canada and Luxembourg (really, I have no idea). Unremarkably, the only planted material that came up roses was from the Rosa genus. It should be noted that researchers were able to cultivate some rosemary, rose campion, rose of Sharon and several other anomalies, but even with the inclusion of these plants, roses were far from everything that came up. The estate of Ethel Merman issued a statement in which it expressed its disappointment in the findings and noted that “it makes no sense to sing ‘Roses are coming up roses.’’’ I concur, but Science! is Science!, folks.

A weed is no more than a flower in disguise.

FALSE. Was American poet James Russell Lowell onto something when he penned the phrase, “A weed is no more than a flower in disguise, Which is seen through at once, if love give a man eyes”? Or, as scientists now suspect, was he simply under the spell of a powerful drug, produced by the “weed” of which he seemed so enamored? Describing his time at Harvard College, he wrote, “During Freshman year, I did nothing, during Sophomore year I did nothing, during Junior year I did nothing, and during Senior year I have thus far done nothing in the way of college studies.” Today, he would be called “a stoner.” I rest my scientific case.

Cool as a cucumber.

FALSE. Who died and made cucumbers cool, huh? Now, an artichoke, that’s a cool vegetable. Or kohlrabi. Or fiddleheads. Or dinosaur kale. Or a pumpkin. Heck, you can make a jack-o’-lantern out of that! Do you want to get really cool? How about the Okinawan Purple Sweet Potato? Or Romanescu broccoli? Huh??
Wait … wait a minute … I just got a text from the Science! Police. Seems I’ve strayed out of the scientific realm and into Intertubes Opinionland. Sorry. Just one more cat video and I’ll get back to my research. Really. I promise. Okay, maybe two more.

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist, environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

From the Editor - JanFeb 2018

Gardening may be good for the soul, but this summer it was good for larceny.

That’s right. Plants were stolen from my garden this year. Three times. I am still reeling from the shock.

Two of the plants were new — an Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ that was supposed to mature into a bushy 3-foot tall yellow-leaved perennial in a shady part of the backyard, and a small cluster of ‘Cherry Berry’ hens and chicks (Sempervivum) that looked in a catalog photo as though they might be as red as those I had once seen at England’s Sissinghurst Garden. I’ve been seeking something equally red for 20 years.

Hey, it’s just money. However, the cluster of sempervivums that I discovered missing last week really broke my heart. This was a clump that had started many years ago as a single plant growing in the dry sandy soil between my front fence and the sidewalk, and it had then multiplied (slowly) over the years to perhaps 15 little silver-green “chicks.” Getting smothered by leaves and snow didn’t bother them. They never died back. In spring they popped their heads out unscathed. I had an emotional attachment to those little guys.

To the thief (thieves) I say, the cure to your problem is right at hand. Literally. If you read this issue of Chicagoland Gardening, for example, you will find two helpful stories on how you can get plants free! Nina Koziol has a story on easy ways to propagate houseplants. Then there’s a story on collecting seeds – and this is legit. Nobody except a professional nursery is going to need all the seeds that are produced each year by the hundreds (thousands) of easy-to-harvest annuals and perennials that are out there. Reach over my fence and pick what you want.

This issue has many other stories that will help you lead a virtuous gardening life. It’s January, so we have our regular review of the year’s new plants, seen in the trial gardens at Ball Horticultural in West Chicago. We visit the bountiful cottage garden of Janice Miller in Hinsdale and then the fabulous conifer garden of Rich and Susan Eyre in Woodstock, the latest entry in our Gardens of the Pros series. Diana Stoll offers recommendations in our New Gardener column for plants that rank beginners will be able to grow successfully, and we chat with horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg at the Chicago Botanic Garden about the performance of recent All-America Selections vegetable winners.

For those who are wondering which trees will stand up to a warming climate, Susan Crawford passes along the recommendations of Guy Sternberg of Starhill Forest Arboretum in downstate Illinois and Paul Meyer from the Morris Arboretum in Pennsylvania. Hint: natives are on the list, but so are some imports.

So here’s a word of advice to all you real and potential thieves out there: The delights of gardening are many and varied. Some are even free. And next summer, stay out of my yard.

Issues - 2018 - JanFeb

Criminy, It’s Crinums

Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo

Story & Photography By Jeff Rugg

My favorite plants have to meet a few important criteria. They must survive on their own because I can be a lazy gardener. Insects and diseases must be rare, so there will be no need to spray. I want plants that can grow in the water along the shoreline of my water garden; the hot, dry side yard; as well as indoors. They must have big, showy flowers to please the eyes, fragrance to please the nose, tasty would be nice, and if I could get them to make a noise, I would like that too.

Most plants in the lily family fit some of these criteria and I have many in my house and yard: amaryllis, daffodils, daylily, Easter lily, garlic, onion, tulip, trillium, yucca and many others. Of all the lilies, I prefer the crinums (pronounce “cry num”), probably because like many gardeners, I lust after tropical plants I can’t have. These warm-climate bulbs can grow as large as a football and weigh over 10 pounds, easily dwarfing a merely grapefruit-sized amaryllis bulb.

Crinums are naturally tough. Native to warm areas of Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas, they can survive elephants, kangaroos and hurricanes. I have seen crinums growing in islands between traffic lanes in Dallas and Orlando. They get no irrigation; yet they thrive. Some tropical crinums are used as privacy hedges, but most are only waist high.

The Crinum americanum is native to swamps all around the Gulf of Mexico and the Everglades where I have seen them blooming as far as the eye can see. I have grown one in a pot in my pond for more than 15 years. I bring it indoors every winter as a houseplant that I can’t overwater. It has a starburst of 6-inch-long petals that are less than 1/2 inch wide. Linnaeus himself is supposed to have been looking at specimens of the American crinum when he gave the genus the Crinum name after the Greek word “Krinos,” meaning comet tail.

Most crinum flowers look like an Easter lily or amaryllis, and there may be 20 or more on a single stalk. A single bulb may send out half a dozen flower stalks at once. Like an Easter lily, many crinums are very fragrant. Most have white or pink flowers, and a few have wine-colored leaves. The foliage of most crinums is sword-shaped and long. Many of these are striped and are frequently called milk and wine lilies. I was surprised to find a milk and wine crinum bulb at a Menards a couple of summers ago, and it has bloomed twice so far.

I have plants of the only crinum variety that may be hardy outdoors in the Chicagoland region. Crinum ‘Sangria’ is a tough hybrid between Crinum procerum ‘Splendens’ and Crinum bulbispermum. This 3- to 5-foot-tall plant hasn’t bloomed yet, but it will have large pink flowers held at the end of a long bloom spike. If I get around to planting it outdoors, it will go on the south side of the house near the foundation where it can be mulched heavily for the winter.

You can order your own crinums from marcellescinums.com or jenksfarmer.com. For a great indoor crinum, try C. ‘Menehune’, which has red leaves, pink flowers similar to C. americanum, but only grows 18 inches tall. It grows in water, tolerating drought, shade and full sun.

Some crinums are supposedly edible, but I haven’t found any recipes. The plants don’t make sounds on their own, but since they attract hummingbirds that do make sweet twittering noises, I can live with that.

Jeff Rugg is an Internationally Certified Arborist, an Illinois Certified Nurseryman and a Registered Landscape Architect with a background in zoology, horticulture and landscape architecture.

ATGP - Jan/Feb 2018 - Best Sellers for 2018

’Twas the Night Before Solstice

(with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, Major Henry Livingston, Jr., Dr. Seuss and anybody else who thinks they wrote this first)

‘Twas the night before solstice, and all through the yard
Not a species was stirring, not hosta, nor chard
The zapper was hung by the back door with wire
In hopes that some bugs might fly in and expire

The seedlings were planted in rows in their beds
While organic composting acted like meds
And I with my ballgame, adorned with my cap
Had just settled in with my ‘lectronic app

When right in the middle of watching the batter
I heard a loud noise and I dropped my shrimp platter
Away to the screen door I ran like The Flash
But tripped in the dark and fell over the trash

I cursed as I stood up and wiped off my jeans
My only clean pair, smeared with yesterday’s beans
When, what to my middle-aged eyes should appear
But a gang in the yard – they sure looked like deer

With minimal hubbub, they got in there quick
I knew in a moment their leader was slick
But my jaw hit the ground when I heard her declaim
She called out the critters and called them by name

Now, rabbits! Now, raccoons! Now, chipmunks and moles!
On, woodchucks! On, possums! On squirrels and voles!
To the heart of the garden! To the sound of my call!
Now munch away! Munch away! Munch away all!

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each scary hoof
And before I could move or could utter a sound
Down the chimney the critters then came with a bound

They were dressed all in fur, from their heads to their tails
(Except for the possums – those might have been scales)
And to my surprise, I could see on their backs
Some fabric that looked mighty like tiny sacks

They raided my freezer! They ate every cherry!
They scattered my Skittles! They drank all my sherry!
They filled up each sack and each round furry belly
That shook with delight as they finished my jelly

They spoke not a word (though I did see them smirk)
They filled all their backpacks; I felt like a jerk
They picked up my cell phone and stopped for a pose
Then waving goodbye, up the chimney they rose

I looked out the door and I gave a low whistle
They’d eaten it all, every plant, every thistle
But I heard them exclaim, as they popped ope a beer
“Hey, dude, thanks for the grub!
And we’ll see you next year!”

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist, environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

From the Editor - NovDec 2017

In the world of fashion, styles change rapidly. All of a sudden this summer, women started walking down the street with their shoulders peeking out from their sleeves. Where did that come from anyway?

In the gardening world, styles change more slowly. But change they do. During the summer as I was driving down 55th Street, I passed the new high-rise dormitory complex Jeanne Gang designed at the University of Chicago. The architecture is striking, but what caught my eye as I whizzed past that day was the mixed plantings in front with tall goldenrods dancing in the breeze, along with grasses and hydrangeas. You wouldn’t have seen anything like this 20, or even 10 years ago. There would have been lines of red geraniums and yellow marigolds for summer and more lines of mounded chrysanthemums for fall. Public garden design and landscaping have now become so much more interesting. The aesthetic has changed.

This is an American development, not something we learned from pilgrimages to England, and we should feel justly proud of ourselves.

Part of this new aesthetic can surely be traced back to the “discovery” of native plants, particularly those of the Midwestern prairie. More than just rah-rah enthusiasm and cheerleading for the beauty of, say, goldenrod and golden alexander, this has developed side by side with new scientific understandings of how ecosystems in different parts of the country function and their value to the wider environment. We have learned that grasses can be part of a garden, that seed pods can be pretty and our gardens will be better if we include some of both along with traditional beauties such as roses and petunias.

Examples of the new style abound. Chicago’s Michigan Avenue planters, which evolved from the sidewalk plantings in front of Crate & Barrel, were an important inspiration. Then Lurie Garden arrived in Millennium Park and made a skyscraper-dominant downtown a haven for pollinators. This garden mixing native plants and imports has spawned spinoffs everywhere, including the front of that dormitory on 55th Street.

So as this year edges to its close, it’s an opportune moment to pause for a look back at where we are. In Chicagoland Gardening we have addressed multiple ways that local gardeners have moved forward into a new aesthetic along with the designers and tastemakers who have led the way. That is our job and we love doing it.

In 2018 we will continue to showcase many examples of the splendid gardens that abound in the region. We will continue spotlighting our excellent professionals in Gardens of the Pros, point out examples of their fine work in Design Tips, visit terrific gardens created by homeowners and continue with our regular columns on native plants, indoor and edible gardens and make a few tweaks here and there. One column will get a name change — New Gardener. Have some friends who think they’d like to join the fun? The holidays are coming. Think gift subscription.

Issues - 2017 - NovDec

What do the bees do in October?

What do the bees do in October?

If you have New England aster in your garden, they keep foraging like mad.

In my garden the bees were all over my ‘Hella Lacy’ aster this morning, and I was very glad to see them. My shorter asters have now stopped blooming and are going to seed, but ‘Hella Lacy’ is a late bloomer and I’ve seen it feeding monarchs in October fueling up for their trip to Mexico.

‘Hella Lacy’ is a vibrant dark purple, about 4 feet tall, that was named for the wife of Allen Lacy, a philosophy professor, garden columnist and author of many garden books. The purple aster appeared out of the blue in his garden and was thought to be a new plant, so Lacy introduced it officially. Later some experts from England told him it wasn’t new after all, so you may also see it on the market as ‘Treasurer’. Whatever the name, it’s a good plant.

The English call asters Michaelmas daisies because they bloom around the time of Michaelmas Day, September 29, which honors St. Michael the Archangel. They are, however, American natives. New England asters (Aster novae-angliae) grow up to 4 feet tall and can flop, so it helps to cut them back by half two or three times early in the summer. That also helps a bit with the tendency of aster foliage to brown out at the bottom. It’s always a good idea to put tall asters at the back of the border and place other plants in front of them. A second, shorter aster species is New York aster (A. novae-belgii). The nomenclature wizards have lately decreed that asters are henceforth to be known as Symphyotrichon, but if that’s too much bother, just keep calling them asters.

Bon Voyage

Article Photo

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.

Birds of a Feather

Many migrating birds fly at night. At dawn, they will stop in any green space they can find to feed and rest. Warblers search trees and shrubs for tiny insects, spiders and caterpillars, while other birds scratch the ground looking for food.

A source of water is critical, especially during dry autumn weather. Water can attract a crowd of winged wonders. In her garden in Downers Grove, landscape designer Vicki Nowicki places several shallow basins on the ground and others on pedestals. While visiting her garden one September, I was delighted to see large numbers of different types of birds drinking, bathing, splashing about and preening their feathers. (If you don’t have a birdbath, choose one that’s not more than two inches deep – birds prefer shallow water.)

Now is a good time to get out your bird feeders, too. Dark-eyed juncos are small gray-and-white birds that are returning from the boreal forests of the northern United States and Canada. Some will overwinter in the area while others travel farther south. They are easily attracted to feeders filled with sunflower seeds, millet or unsalted peanuts. Cardinals, nuthatches, blue jays and red-winged blackbirds also enjoy sunflower seeds while goldfinches prefer thistle and shelled sunflower pieces. But goldfinches will also eat the seeds of cosmos, coneflower, sunflowers and rudbeckia, so don’t be in a big hurry to clean up your flower beds.

Suet cakes, compressed blocks of melted suet with peanuts or other bird seed, can be placed in hanging cages to attract woodpeckers, nuthatches and black-capped chickadees. If you have mountain ash (Sorbus Americana), chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) or sumac in your garden, cedar waxwings and robins will enjoy the fruits.

Another migrant – the ruby-throated hummingbird – comes through the Chicago area in great numbers during September and early October. It’s the only common hummingbird east of the Mississippi. Although they are regular summer visitors, many more are coming from Canada, stopping in our gardens in search of nectar. Hummingbirds are typically attracted to red flowers, but one of their favorite plants is the blue-flowered Salvia guarantica, especially the cultivar ‘Indigo Spires’. They’ll also grab spiders and other small insects. (For information on sugar-water feeders that hummers are known to like, see sidebar on the oppposite page.)

Annuals and late-flowering perennials provide nectar for many of the smaller common butterflies that are still active in early fall. Asters, zinnias, salvia, marigolds, sunflowers, chrysanthemums, cosmos, lantana, ageratum and helenium and are just a few of the flowers that attract the last of the swallowtails, skippers, checkerspots and other butterflies.

If you have a birdhouse or two in your garden, now is the time to wash them and remove the nests. Once they’re cleaned, I like to put them back in place. When the weather turns cold, many birds use the houses for protection at night.

In spring, gardeners typically are faced with a frenzy of activity: soil preparation, planting, weeding, watering and so on. We rarely take time to sit and enjoy our handiwork. Now is that time. Pull up a chair, pour some lemonade and watch the activity unfold. The quality of the air and the light is changing, and it’s something to enjoy. One of my favorite writings sums it up. It was penned by the American naturalist John Burroughs in his book, A Year in the Fields (1876).

“Spring is the inspiration, fall the expiration. Both seasons have their equinoxes, both their filmy, hazy air, their ruddy forest tints, their cold rains, their drenching fogs, their mystic moons; both have the same solar light and warmth, the same rays of the sun; yet, after all, how different the feelings they inspire! One is the morning, the other the evening; one is youth, the other is age.”

Hummingbird Feeders

Make hummingbird “food” with a mixture of sugar and water. The ratio is 4 parts of water to 1 part of sugar. For every cup of water, you need ¼ cup of sugar. Boil the sugar-water mixture for a few minutes and let it cool. Fill the feeders with just a few inches of the mixture. Refrigerate the rest for up to two weeks. Clean and refill the feeders every 4 days or so, more often if it’s 80 degrees or higher. Hummingbirds typically are gone from the Chicago area by about the second week in October.

Expand your Garden Experience

Good Reads: Get a field guide to learn more about birds or butterflies. There’s Kaufman’s Field Guide to Butterflies of North America (Houghton Mifflin), and The Life Cycles of Butterflies by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards (Storey Books). Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds by Roger Tory Peterson (Houghton Mifflin) can help you identify winged visitors.

Get Certified: The Illinois Audubon Society website at illinoisaudubon.org has information on field trips and events and explains how to have your garden certified as an Illinois Audubon Society Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary.

Take a Class: Check the websites of the Chicago Botanic Garden (chicagobotanic.org) and The Morton Arboretum (mortonarb.org) for classes on fall gardening and birding.

A Note About the Photography

Ellen Hodges was an extraordinary photographer. For the past seven years, she spent many mornings in my garden from spring through fall, taking photos of birds, butterflies, flowers, fawns, foxes and insects. She was not a gardener, but captured the garden experience through her lens. Whether it was the first daffodil in bloom or frost on a marigold, Ellen marveled at what nature has to offer. She died unexpectedly this past April and is sorely missed by her family and friends and especially by me.

Nina A. Koziol teaches horticulture and garden design classes at The Chicago Botanic Garden and The Morton Arboretum. She is a horticulturist with a degree in education and environmental science.

Bringing in the Bees

Article Photo

I pay close attention to the plants in my garden that attract a lot of bees. I don’t know the names of all the bees in my yard, but I do know that bees hatch with the first crocus and no longer has the first species crocus opened than I see a bee hovering over it. That happens as early as late March and April.

It’s not until May that I start to see quantities of bees, and this time they’re buzzing around the catmint. I have three Nepeta ‘Blue Wonder’ and one N. ‘Six Hills Giant’. I would say that Blue Wonder is the bigger draw and it pulls in the bees all summer long. Cutting it back mid-summer encourages more bloom.

Then comes June and the blooming of my white lacecap smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). This plant is 30 years old and breaks all the rules by being fragrant and covered with pollen. Suddenly masses of bees descend and feast away until all the pollen is gone. This shrub is probably 10 feet in diameter although I haven’t actually gone out with a yardstick to measure.

In July I noted that the stiff goldenrod (Soidago rigida) I bought last year was budding. It was slow about opening up, but when it did, in August, the bees were immediately right on top of it as well as some insects I couldn’t identify. This plant is a treasure. I bought it in 2016 and had no expectation that it would bloom that year, but in 2017 it burst through the ground and got seriously to work. I now have seven 5-foot flower stalks, each topped with upside-down pyramids of bright yellow blooms.

When the asters get around to blooming later this month, I’m sure the bees will descend on them as well. And all along, bees have been feeding on other plants in the garden – coneflower, prairie verbenas (Verbena hastata and V. stricta), culver’s root, Joe Pye weed, swamp milkweed. But the catmint, smooth hydrangea, goldenrod are the big draws.

Be sure to add them to your garden, and go downtown to see the Lurie Garden this month. The bees are swarming all over the calamintha and the hoary mountain mint (Pycnanthemum incanum). We all need to grow these plants as well.

White for Fall

Article Photo

They used to say you’re not supposed to wear white shoes after the first of September but in the garden, white is the great new fall color, and at my house it’s absolutely au courant.

Almost overnight, the sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) that my neighbor planted on her side of the fence (but which has decided it likes my side better) burst into bloom. A few flowers arrived on the first of September, and a thrilling foamy white cascade of blossoms just one day later.

I first noted a few clematis flowers last year and wondered where they’d come from. Had seed blown in? Had birds “planted” them? So I emailed my neighbor to find out. Yes, they were her plants but why they decided they like my side of the fence better is a mystery. Clematis terniflora likes shade and there’s shade on both sides of the fence. In any case, these are fast movers, and by this fall they had totally filled in the space between them. All fine by me.

Sweet autumn clematis, from east Asia, is easily confused with the native virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana). Look at the leaves to distinguish which is which. The sweet autumn clematis leaves are smooth edged while those of virgin’s bower are dentate (notched, suggestive of teeth). Some people will warn you off both plants because they can be invasive. Pruning down to the ground in spring will help with control.

Also confusing are the various scientific names for sweet autumn clematis that you may find when you go shopping. Thecorrect name is C. terniflora, according to the Missouri Botanic Garden, not C. maximowicziana, C. paniculata and C. dioscoreifolia. In fact, C. paniculata is a separate species native to New Zealand.

The other autumn white now blooming in my garden is seven son flower (Heptacodium miconioides) — actually a 15- to 25-foot tree. It started opening a couple days after I first noted the blossoms on the clematis. Its flowers are tiny multi-petaled clusters while the clematis flowers are 4-petaled singles. Seven son flower starts blooming in September but then returns for what some gardeners call a second bloom as its calyces turn salmon-pink. (A calyx is the ring of little leaves that encase a flower bud.) This tree is very cold hardy. The Chicago Botanic Garden reports it has survived at minus 30 F. Bees seem to like it, which is another good reason to put it in your garden if you can.

Gardening Session

Thank you, doctor, for agreeing to see me on such short notice.”

“Not at all. My pleasure. I had a cancellation and it worked out well.”

“Good. So. Where do I start? Do you want to ask me questions?”

“No, I’d rather have you say whatever is on your mind and we’ll go from there. It’s possible we’ll need more sessions and it’s possible we won’t.”

“Okay … I’m concerned because things are disappearing. Or they never happen. Or they die.”


“Well, plants.”


“In my yard, yes.”

“Do you like to garden?”

“I thought I did. Now I’m not so sure.”


“What did you mean by that?”

“I meant ‘ah.’”

“Not ‘aha?’ Just ‘ah?’”



“Continue, please.”

“People probably tell you this exact story twenty times a day, but here goes. If I try to grow a plant from seed, the seed will disappear. If I buy it a plant from a garden center, something will dig it up or eat it to the nub or lop it off or mow it down or electrocute it.”


“Or it will starve or drown or just up and die. Does that seem strange to you?”

“Well, many people claim they’re not good at – ”

“If somebody gives me a plant and I put it in my yard, it gets up and moves back into the yard it came from – and sometimes it talks other plants into going along with it.”

“You’re speaking metaphorically?”

“How do you face your kids after something like that happens?”

“I’m not sure I quite – ”

“The birds are definitely in on this. They sit on the phone wires, look down into the yard, shake their little bird heads and say, ‘Unh-uh.’ Then they poop into my iced tea.

“When you say ‘in on this’...”

“They’re amazingly accurate.”

“Have you been able to … ”

“I think the raccoons are in on it, too.”

“You’re using that phrase again.”

“And the squirrels and chipmunks and moles and voles and beetles and spiders and centipedes and millipedes and feral cats and slugs and rats and fungus and slime molds. A couple of stray skunks and maybe a honey badger. And bricks and ball bearings. Definitely the chickens down the block. And kids on bikes. And, I don’t exactly know how, but I think my neighbors are in on it, too. And the president.”

“The president? Of. The. United – ”

“Oh, boy, yes. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“All right. I won’t pretend that.”

“At the risk of sounding paranoid – ”

“no risk at all.”

“I think there’s some kind of conspiracy going on.”

“You don’t say.”

“Nobody could possibly be this unsuccessful as a gardener unless – now pay attention here – unless somebody else or a bunch of somebody elses wanted that to happen. What do you think about that?”

“I think we’re out of time. And I think you should stop and see Sally on the way out and schedule another appointment.”

“I knew you’d get it. By the way, that’s a lovely lucky bamboo you’ve got there.”

“Thank you. Please don’t touch it. At least not until I get honey badger insurance.”

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist, environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

From the Editor - SeptOct 2017

There are people who say that autumn is their favorite time of year. I’m not one of them, although God knows I’ve tried. Yes, I sometimes wax ecstatic over the way colors change from day to day (orange yesterday, red today – “like magic!” I exclaim), but deep down my comments are suffused with whiffs of wistfulness. Yes, there are days when I observe that October is a fabulous month in Chicagoland – clear blue skies, low pollution, temps in the 80s – what’s not to like? But then I remember that all around me these plants are dying, never mind that they are coloring up the world with their last fleeting gasps.

This is the moment when I repair to my bookshelf and seek inspiration from the garden scriptures that never fail to shift my perspective – The Gardener’s Year by Karel Capek – for my money one of the best garden books ever written. (No relation, alas, to our equally wonderful photographer Ron Capek.) Karel Capek was an author who lived and gardened in Czechoslovakia. He wrote his diminutive jewel of a book in 1929 with hilarious line drawings by his brother Josef (who perished in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp). He follows the chronology of the year and offers insights about each month, and his comments about autumn never fail to reassure me.

Plants are not dying in autumn, he asserts. Rather they are growing, growing, growing underground, making fall actually the beginning of spring. Life is happening everywhere, he enthuses. We just don’t see it.

“You ought to know that October is the first spring month,” he writes, “the month of underground germination and sproutings, of hidden growth, of swelling buds … While we only look at Nature it is fairly true to say that autumn is the end of the year but still more true it is that autumn is the beginning of the year … I assert only that in a certain deeper sense autumn is the time when in fact the leaves bud … It is an optical illusion that trees and bushes are naked in autumn; they are, in fact, sprinkled over with everything that will unpack and unroll in spring. It is only an optical illusion that my flowers die in autumn; for in reality they are born. We say that Nature rests, yet she is working like mad. She has only shut up shop and pulled the shutters down; but behind them, she is unpacking new goods, and the shelves are becoming so full that they bend under the load. This is the real spring; what is not done now will not be done in April.”

So let’s toss out the conventional wisdom about autumn.

With these reassuring words, I can again face the oncoming season with equanimity. And for the final word, let’s turn again to Karel Capek:

“I tell you, there is no death; not even sleep. We only pass from one season to another. We must be patient with life, for it is eternal.”

Issues - 2017 - SeptOct

Perk Up with Pots

Article Photo
By Cathy Jean Maloney
Photography By Ron Capek

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?

Gina Lange, a landscape designer with Hinsdale Nurseries, is charged with creating attractive spring container displays. By mixing some of the usual suspects like pansies with unexpected plantings, her containers brighten the winter-weary landscape even in late March and April. Here are some ideas:

Evergreen framework: The winter workhorses, evergreen shrubs and ground covers, can offer the same structure for your container. Lange employs variegated ivy and boxwood in many of her designs. If you can’t dig up ivy from your yard, it is easily grown indoors from cuttings throughout the winter. Shrubs such as boxwood are often available in early spring at nurseries. You can leave it in the container and swap out the filler plants, or transplant the evergreens into your garden in early summer.

Cool season veggies: Get more bang for your buck with edibles that start sprouting in early April. Plant veggies such as green or red leaf lettuce or kale in your pots. Arugula, parsley and spinach are other possibilities. They may need some protection on especially cool nights. Harvest and replace with summer annuals (but leave the parsley since it’s a biennial).

Decorative branches: We all know the ornamental uses of redtwig dogwood in winter containers. Don’t overlook the possibilities of interesting branches while pruning. Lange uses different types of willow branches, but consider any interesting branch from your prunings. Why not clip some forsythia or redbud stems? Even if they don’t bud out, you can use their color and shape for upright structure. Some enterprising gardeners weave together thin stems of forsythia and insert them into the container to make a basket handle.

Sunbeam switcheroo: “You don’t have to worry about sun and shade in the spring,” Lange explains. Yes, we need to consider right plant, right place, but as she notes, plants are more forgiving with sun conditions in spring. That’s because summer sun is much hotter than spring, so shade seekers can often withstand brighter conditions. Similarly, plants that need sun can thrive in spring containers because they’re not yet shaded by overhanging trees.

Beyond pansies: Some newer varieties of pansies promise spring flowers and a repeat bloom in the chillier days of fall. In my experience, they get pretty leggy over the summer and the fall bloom is somewhat underwhelming. I suppose, however, if I weren’t so lackadaisical about cutting them back in the summer, I might get better results. Nonetheless, even if only for their reliable cold-tolerant bloom in spring, pansies are readily available and reliable bloomers.

Consider some other plants as well. Lange often employs ranunculus in designs for their rose-like petals and shape. Ostrich fern gives dramatic height in containers and can be planted later in the garden. Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) is a good trailer plant with yellow flowers. These plants and annuals such as alyssum, snapdragon, forget-me-nots and stock can often be found in independent garden centers.

Bulb Boosters

Bulbs can work wonders in containers, and you have the advantage of planting them in winter for spring bloom. It’s too late now to plant bulbs for spring, but here are some ideas for next year.

Scott Kunst of Old House Gardens reminds us, “Pots are a highly artificial environment.” Whereas the ground acts as an insulator, bulbs in a container can react as if they’re several zones colder. Nonetheless, with a little trial and error, it’s possible to plant bulbs in containers for an early spring display.

The key to bulb planting is providing a cool – not cold – shelter like an attached garage. Water weekly during the winter to keep the soil moist but not soggy to help the roots grow. Kunst sinks plastic nursery pots of bulbs in his vegetable garden during the winter.

Choose early blooming bulbs. The Old House Gardens website, oldhousegardens.com, features sortable charts showing bloom times and planting depths by species. Among the very early spring bloomers are varieties of crocus, daffodils, snowdrops, winter aconite and even a few tulips.

Kunst is a fan of planting a single type of bulbs (for example crocus only or daffodils only) in a plastic pot, and then placing the containers in more decorative pots. This helps match the best growing condition for each bulb, yet offers flexibility in display.

What if you completely forgot to plant bulbs last fall and are now stuck with forlorn empty pots? Kunst has had some success relocating excess bulbs from his landscape by digging up blooming snowdrops and transplanting them into a tabletop garden. Sometimes there’s too much of a good thing in a naturalized bulb garden and you can cull the herd by moving some to containers.

Whether you’re scouting for bulbs or spring beauties, careful plant selection and a willingness to hunt the garden centers may bring you lively containers for this early spring.

Senior editor Cathy Jean Maloney has authored several books including the recent award-winning Chicago Gardens - the Early History and World’s Fair Gardens - Shaping American Landscapes.

Best Bulbs for Early Blooms

The Chicago Botanic Garden’s online plant finder lists many bulbs that bloom in early spring. Most are varieties of crocus, daffodils, winter aconite, and tulips. Now is a good time to explore the Garden’s Graham Bulb Garden to see the succession of bloom.

Old House Gardens (oldhousegardens.com) has detailed instructions on bulb planting in containers – look under “Bulb Planting and Care – Planting Bulbs in Pots.” Their “very early” varieties include:

Crocus: Cloth of Gold, Jeanne d’Arc, King of the Striped, Mammoth Yellow, Roseus Snowbunting, tommies, Vanguard

Daffodils: Golden Spur, Minor Monarque, Princeps, Rip Van Winkle, The Tenby Daffodil, Van Scion

Snowdrops: Elwes or giant snowdrop

Tulips: Duc van Tol Red and Yellow Duc van Tol Violet

A Driveway Garden

Article Photo Article Photo

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.

Inspiration for a change took hold while the couple was on vacation a few years ago. “We stayed at a hotel in Petoskey, Mich. and saw that they had dug out an area and made a great triangle of flowers,” Theresa said.

When they got back home, George removed the grass in their triangle and made a raised bed with cedar boards. “You want a good bed; otherwise the plant roots have nowhere to go. You want to add as much organic material as you can and get your hands down 5 inches or so into the soil.” He mixed in mushroom compost, peat moss and topsoil to build up the raised bed.

The new triangle is a focal point as visitors approach the backyard. “The cannas and cockscombs in the center are very eye-catching,” Theresa says. “I think George does a good job with the colors. We fill in the outside borders with marigolds – they’re like neon – and other brightly colored flowers.”

“The number of plants in the space is minimal,” George says. Five rose-colored canna lilies tower over 16 ‘Safari Yellow’ marigolds, 16 ‘Victoria Blue’ salvias, a sprinkling of cockscomb (Celosia cristata), 12 blue ageratum and three SunPatiens (Impatiens hawkeri), a New Guinea impatiens that thrives in sun or shade. All of the planting beds, including this one, receive drip irrigation. “Having the irrigation saves us about 100 hours of hand-watering during the summer,” Theresa says.

Some of the plants are purchased and transplanted, while others, like the cockscomb are grown from seed. “I just scatter the seeds after the last spring frost (usually in mid-May) when the soil is at least 55 F.”

Before planting, George adds a granular systemic product that promotes blooms and protects the plants against several types of insects and diseases. “Japanese beetles will chew holes in the rolled up canna leaves before they open up. Right off the bat I put the product down and it takes care of them.”

A few cannas reached 10 feet tall last summer but his canna care is simple. “I dig a hole, put (the tuber) in the ground, water it and walk away. Cannas love water. Add water and fertilizer and they just go nuts,” he says. He also uses a water-soluble fertilizer (marked 15-30-15 on the label), which helps promote flowering. “Pretty much any brand of water-soluble fertilizer works just fine,” he says. “I usually use it at least once a month.”

A canna seed sprouted in a space between the driveway and patio, so he dug it up and wintered it over as a plant along with elephant ears (Colocasia), which he grows indoors all winter and brings outside come May. Some of the elephant ears are 6 to 7 feet tall.

“It’s been a work in progress,” George said. “I thought it was spectacular last year and I’ll probably plant the same things. The new space gives us a place to grow up instead of out.” He credits his father, George Sr., a dahlia specialist, for his good fortune with flowers. “I obtained my knowledge from my dad who gardened for 75 years.”

He keeps detailed notes each year of all of the plants and how they performed. After a fall frost, he digs up the canna lilies and dahlias and stores the tubers. “That one clump of canna tubers filled up a bushel basket and weighed 40 pounds. I’m going to grow them as long as I can pick them up.”
The couple spends as much time enjoying the garden as possible. “It’s relaxing and you don’t get frustrated. It all lasts until about mid-October,” George says. “It’s not work if you love what you’re doing. It’s better than golf.”

Nina A. Koziol teaches horticulture and garden design classes at The Chicago Botanic Garden and The Morton Arboretum. She is a horticulturist with a degree in education and environmental science. nkoziol@sbsmags.com

Issues - 2017 - JulyAug

Naming Rights

Brace yourself. I’m going to smack you across the kisser with a cold, wet herring of truth: Gardening ain’t easy.

There. I said it. You may now wipe that fish oil from your cheek.

One of the reasons that gardening is harder than it looks is that the people who make the rules keep changing them. I’m talking about the keepers of the binomial nomenclature. (Note: If you enjoy reading this column because it’s fact-free, just close your eyes for the next couple of sentences, while I get the serious stuff out of the way.)

Binomial nomenclature is the rule that every living thing – like a plant – has an unpronounceable scientific name that was created to confuse the bejesus out of people who are not scientists. For instance, you think you’re growing a pansy but it might really be a Viola × wittrockiana Gams ex Nauenb. & Buttler. I’m not making this up! As Randy Shakespeare always said, before he was unceremoniously expunged from the history books, “Google it!”

But, periodically, the Binomial Nomenclature Naming Committee (BNNC, sometimes pronounced “bunk”) gets all itchy and decides that it’s not enough just to confuse ordinary people – they need to confuse scientists, too! So they’ll take a perfectly good genus name like Aster and they change it to Symphyotrichum. I swear I’m not making this up!

The genus Chrysanthemum, which, despite its resistance to correct spelling, was at least well known, has been split into things like Arctanthemum, Argyranthemum and Leucanthemopsis.

I say it’s time to fight back. From time immemorial (going back at least to the days of black and white TV), people have given common names to plants – foxglove, bee balm, lamb’s ears, coneflower, little bluestem, etc. And if the BNNC is going to mess with us, we’re going to mess with them.

I’m in favor of starting the People’s Nomenclature Naming Committee (PNNC, pronounced “punk”), that will focus on randomly changing common plant names. Here are some examples to get us started.

The plant that you had never seen before your neighbor introduced it into his garden. It didn’t survive there, but now it’s strangling everything in sight in your yard.

Blackout Rose
One whiff and you wake up on the ground a couple of hours later.

Lovely, delicate specimen that contracts pneumonia in the rain.

Brown-Nose Susan
Sucks up to gardeners by being relentlessly colorful and cheery.

Never Blooms
The only flower it produces is the one on the garden center tag.

It will grow through cracks on concrete or in the middle of an oil slick, but put it in good soil within sight of a human being and it shrivels to nothing.

Blooms so late in the day that you’ll never stay awake to see it.

Dog’s Breath
Plant this in a container near where your in-laws will be sitting and they’ll leave the gathering early.

You regret having bought it the moment you bring it home.

Weeping sucker
Person who purchases a Bitterbuy.

Tree featuring wood with density and strength of your crew socks.

Some plants have been believed to have curative properties concerning the named parts. Hence, lungwort was thought to cure pulmonary problems
and liverwort … well, you get it. So here are members of my own “wort family.”

Rub it on your head and see if you grow hair. Go on, I dare you.

This plant is useless.

Toe Jam Wort
You don’t want to know.

I have tons more but I need rip out some neighborweed and get to the PNNC meeting. Unfortunately, in the spirit of our organization, it’s at a random location. That could be a problem.

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist, environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

From the Editor - JulyAug 2017

If all has gone according to plan, our gardens are looking fabulous right about now. Yes, I still hanker after the bold and the beautiful, envisioning arbors draped with 15-foot sprays of fragrant roses and clematis like those I’ve seen in England. But I have no place for an arbor and many of those Anglo behemoths aren’t hardy here, so I’ve chosen a non-fragrant behemoth that is: ‘William Baffin’. If you want an ubermensch rose, this is it.

And while I’ve nearly stopped dreaming about Clematis montana ‘Rubens’, which regularly clambers to the rooftops and transforms even the most nondescript English house into a thing of beauty, I have high hopes this year for Clematis ‘Pendragon’, the 10-foot tall rosy-purple marvel that our Associate Publisher Ann Sanders says blooms non-stop in her Bolingbrook garden. Having a covetous nature, I ordered one for myself as soon as I heard her singing its praises. I’m giving it marching orders to climb to the top of my ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae.

Thus it’s only fitting that our July/August issue showcases gardens in the region that are high on the fabulosity scale.

In our cover story Heather Blackmore visits a garden in south suburban Thornton where daylilies reign supreme and we get an update on what’s new in this floral world – a realm where even the most amateur gardener can have brilliant success.

At the other end of town, Lee Randhava pays a call on Marco Zerega and Eric Janssen whose amazing shade garden and thoughtfully sited woody plants frame a thrilling view of Lake Michigan and the universe turns magical at twilight.

While the colors are muted at this Evanston extravaganza, the opposite holds true at chef Rick Bayless’s two-lot vegetable garden in the city. You may have glimpsed snippets of this tour de force on Bayless’s Mexican-inspired PBS cooking show, but now you will get to linger and learn how he and head gardener Bill Shores have laid out the growing beds, keeping them attractive through multiple harvests. It’s a masterpiece of management.

Once you’ve stopped being dazzled, time to move on to some practicalities. Hydrangeas are coming into bloom now and Diana Stoll surveys the four basic types and how to grow them. Are you a little unsure about how to deal with herbs? Nina Koziol tells you when and how to harvest. She also discovered a driveway with an inconvenient open space and explains how George and Theresa Rebersky turn it into a towering blast of flamboyant annuals every year. And for those who don’t mind taking the long view, there’s Tom Sisulak who loves to grow oak trees from acorns. Cathy Jean Maloney explains the hows and whys of this obsession.

Lest we forget … the key words in this little essay are “If all has gone according to plan.” When we’re talking about gardening in Chicagoland, that is always a big “if.” We know that what’s inside these pages is fabulous. As for our gardens? That remains to be seen.

How to be a Mother to a Butterfly, Yes, You!

Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo

By Kay MacNeil, Garden Clubs of Illinois Milkweed For Monarchs Chairman

If you are reading this article, you are probably already aware that monarch butterfly numbers in Illinois are way down. Worse yet, it is our State Insect! But guess what! We can all help increase monarch numbers by finding butterfly eggs and raising caterpillars and releasing newly hatched butterflies. What??? Yes, YOU!!

To Attract and Find Monarch Eggs and Caterpillars: You’ll need milkweed plants, the only plants monarchs lay their 200 plus eggs on. Go to a garden center. You know you have milkweed when you rip off a plant leaf and it has white sap. Buy any kind of milkweed. Monarch caterpillars love them all equally. Remember common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the invasive one that travels by runners.

How to Look for Eggs: The female takes her rear end and attaches a whitish egg the size of a period on this page under the leaf. You can see the egg and see her doing this. Several days later it hatches and the caterpillar will be the size of a comma on a page. Usually there are just one or two eggs per plant.

Egg: 4-6 days. Caterpillar stage: 2-3 weeks. Chrysalis: 5-15 days The monarch chrysalis is a beautiful green surrounded by a gold dotted horizontal line. It will eventually turn dark and you can see the orange and black wings the days before it will hatch.

So let’s say you’ve found a nice yellow and black striped monarch caterpillar on milkweed. Bring it in and put it in a big container, an old terrarium or a big snack container. You need a flat bottom and plenty of space. Cover the top with screening held
in place securely. We don’t want escapees.

Next you need food. Cut milkweed leaves, bring them in and wipe them down or rinse with water and dry. Put the milkweed in a flower tube used for roses and stand it in a short glass or in a glass of water with tin foil over the top. The caterpillar will eat down to open water and drown, so keep the water covered.

Each time you add new leaves, clean the frass (caterpillar poop) out of the bottom of your container. Caterpillars love to eat at night, so keep adding new leaves. The caterpillar will be as fat as your little finger when it is ready to change to a chrysalis.
The “cat” will hang for a day in a “J” from the top of your container. The next day it will be a chrysalis.

Butterflies usually emerge early in the morning. It will pump liquid into its wings and probably look like a normal butterfly by noon and start to flutter. By midday when it is warmest outside, it is ready for release. Take the jar out, put your bare arm into the jar. (Be sure there’s no bug spray on your arm.) The butterfly will climb up, perhaps pause, and away it goes. Look for black dots on the hind wings that denote a male. Aren’t You PROUD!?!?!

Wash out your container with soap and water and Go Find More Eggs.

Other Caterpillars You Can Raise: black swallowtails-To attract black swallowtails, plant fennel, curly parsley, dill, or Queen Anne’s lace. Just watch for a yellow dot (egg) the size of a period on this page anywhere on the plants. Use the same techniques described for monarchs for bringing in and raising swallowtails. Always remember, your caterpillar needs the correct food or it will not eat and will die.

Dutchman’s Pipe Vine Swallowtails -These caterpillars (solid black) will be found on Dutchman’s pipe vine. (It’s a little invasive.)

Spicebush Swallowtails should be found on a spice bush.

Tiger (yellow) Swallowtails are found on tulip trees.

Zebra Swallowtails should be on pawpaw trees. I have yet to see a zebra swallowtail in Illinois but that doesn’t stop me from checking my pawpaw trees.

To ask questions, Kay MacNeil, your favorite Monarch Butterfly Fanatic, can be reached at kaymac60423@yahoo.com. A website with lots of info is gardenclubsofillinois.org. Also check our K’s youtube.com video.

Cooking Up a Great Garden

Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo Article Photo

By Carolyn Ulrich

Photography By Russell Jenkins

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 house and its garden were “designed for how we live,” he continues, which means lots of entertaining as well as regular family dinners with their four children. “We always have family dinner,” he adds. To that end, there is a large gracious kitchen, “since whenever there are guests, people always gather in the kitchen,” but there’s no separate dining room. “The great room is where the table is,” he says, and it’s large enough to accommodate those special meals with extended family and friends that can end up lasting as long as three hours.

The house presents a handsome façade to the street, but its life is focused inward with views of the garden carefully calibrated for maximum impact from each of the downstairs rooms. Sit at the desk in Van Zelst’s office, for example, and the eye is led straight out to a circular limestone fire pit at the far end of the lot. The view from the popular screened porch takes in the patio brimming with containers of colorful annuals, the swimming pool with its adjacent hot tub and a greenhouse, left by a previous owner and soon to be redesigned. A winter visit found the greenhouse harboring flowering orchids. By spring, it would be given over to newly sprouted seeds for the garden. As a matter of policy, Van Zelst, Inc. grows most of the plants that are used in its installations, and Dave is emphatic about using organic practices. He’s particularly enthusiastic about the benefits of vermicompost – a “wonder drug,” he calls it.

The comforting privacy of the house is enhanced by a perimeter of mature trees surrounding the lot – multiple types of maple and oak, white pines, ornamental pears, hackberries, ginkgoes – and Van Zelst refuses to pick favorites; he loves them all. A microburst felled 20 of the property’s trees eight years ago, but one would never know.

The approach to the front entry is also wooded, relatively simple, with oaks and hackberries thoughtfully placed to frame a “gate-like” opening to the central door, which is flanked by a stately pair of columnar English oaks and carefully clipped boxwood hedges. Nearby, hemlocks have been underplanted with ferns for a natural look, and western cedars, thus far untouched by deer, line the street side. A three-tiered fountain presides over a clearing, one of several on the property that echo the home’s Italian style and help to muffle the sounds of passing traffic. Masses of daffodils enliven this area in spring, but not tulips. “We tried them in front but they just became a high-priced salad for rabbits,” says Van Zelst.

The sunny center of the property is the rear yard where all the outdoor living takes place. An expansive bluestone patio with circular tables and comfortable upholstered furniture draws all and sundry to enjoy al fresco dining or loll away the hours. The patio then transitions into a less defined space underlaid with bluestone chips where additional conversational groupings can accommodate large crowds when necessary. A curving bed of colorful flowering shrubs and annuals, many in containers, outlines the area, accented by multiple giant puffs of miscanthus grass. Recently planted trees will one day turn this area shady.

Walk up close to the house’s gold stucco walls and you will see how the surface has been gently roughened in places to suggest age, a look surely inspired by a family trip to Tuscany where a day spent tooling around the countryside on rented Vespas was one of the highlights. “One of our goals was to give the house an aged character so it might looks old, as if it had been built in the 1920s,” Van Zelst comments. “So we gave it a mottled surface to catch the dust.” Climbing hydrangea vines still in the early stages of clambering up the wall will add to the ambience as they mature.

Another Italian influence can be seen in the nearby formal vegetable garden that is an exemplary demonstration of how beauty and utility can co-exist. As you enter the garden from the back gate, you find yourself flanked by two long narrow rectangular beds with a stone fountain at the far end. Within the beds are a mix of vegetables and flowers, notably kale, lettuce, many different herbs and tall towers of caged tomatoes. Within the bluestone paving are two long narrow beds, one planted exclusively with bright orange marigolds and the other filled with a red-tipped sedum ground cover. The colors relate to the overall color scheme of the property – a gold-colored house with coral-orange upholstery on all the outdoor furniture.

Designing and building a house that will meet the needs and wishes of a large family takes meticulous planning, and Van Zelst is pleased that it all seems to have worked out. While it’s the views from all over that he’s proudest of, he also acknowledges great pleasure in little plant details – the contrast of ostrich fern underplanted with pachysandra, for example, or the way ajuga and creeping thyme grow between stones in the patio. But above all, it’s a family-oriented home and after the day’s work is over, it always comes down to basics. “Cindy bakes, and I cook.”

Editor Carolyn Ulrich has written for Chicagoland Gardening since its inception. She is a former weekly garden columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and has received several awards for magazine writing from the Garden Writers Association. culrich@sbsmags.com


1. Share one of your big gardening mistakes.
I think the greatest mistake, and something that I would change, would be the timing of when we installed our first garden. The scenario of the cobbler’s children having no shoes certainly applied to our first home. My wife and I purchased and finished a home that had absolutely no landscaping. We initially put in only sod in the front and back yards to allow us to move in. Things got busy, and it was a good 2½ to 3 seasons before we installed the landscape. This was a great mistake since our family loves the outdoors, gardens, color and flowers and we simply did not make the time for the design and/or installation. We lost a lot of enjoyment during the time we were creating gardens for others and not our own.

2. What is your most beloved gardening book?
The best gardening book is an easy one for me: Crockett’s Victory Garden. It was published back in the early 80s and I still have my original copy. My interest in gardening began with my grandfather when I was a kid. He was always outside in the garden doing something: watering, raking or just enjoying the elements. I started growing vegetables and houseplants in my room. Then I had a small vegetable garden in our yard and I was given Crockett’s Victory Garden. My parents alerted me to James Crockett’s show on PBS, and I watched religiously every week. I continue to reference the book.

3. Is there a public garden that everyone should see if they can?
This is easy. With my Dutch heritage and interest in flowers and color, my first choice is Keukenhof, the bulb garden in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, I haven’t been there yet. It is on my list, but spring is our busiest season.

4. What do you dislike about gardening?
I don’t think there is much that I don’t like about gardening. I love being outside in heat, cold, rain or snow, whether in my garden or those of my clients. I don’t like not having enough time to stop and enjoy all the details within my home garden.

5. How has your gardening/design style evolved through the years?
My gardening and design skills have improved over the years by watching what works and what doesn’t. The more you see and the more time you spend in the garden, the more details and new ideas come about. When I first started working with perennials in my career, very few growers had quality selections. Now everybody is utilizing perennials. We have also become innovative in our approach to design, using more organic materials, looking to get away from pesticides and synthetic materials.

6. If you could invite one famous gardener (living or dead) to dinner, whom would you choose?
If I were to invite one famous gardener, it would be Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture. I would like to discuss how he designed, how he worked with clients and how he expressed his love and passion for landscape design. It is clear that his vision and influence continue to be enjoyed in many public and private spaces to this day.

7. If you were to write a gardening book, what would be your topic?
My book topic would be the natural landscape. It would include ideas that allow a home landscape to recreate what Mother Nature has provided – beauty, a place for family, privacy, habitat for wildlife and even food. It would also address the organic practices we use at our own home and those of as our clients.

10 Simple Ideas to Improve Your Garden Photography

Story and Photography By Ron Capek

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.

If we turn our heads to follow the action at a sporting event or watch the wind blow through the grass, everything seems sharp, but the camera may produce blurred images because the camera or the subject were moving too fast for the shutter to stop the action.
We look at a cluttered garden scene and automatically isolate the beauty in our mind, but the camera records everything the lens sees, both beauty and blemishes.

The garden looks beautiful on a bright sunny day. The highlights and shadows make the scene dazzling to our eye. But the camera functions within a limited range of contrast. It cannot record details in the dark shadows and extreme highlights in the same picture.

The camera has many limitations. The problem is that we have to learn how the camera “sees” and use it to our advantage.

Here are 10 basic tips for improving your garden photography with any kind of camera and skill level. In today’s busy life style, very few people read their manual unless the camera stops working. While there is no substitute for the knowledge of the inner workings of the camera and how the settings will affect your images, you can greatly improve your photography without opening your camera manual. Remember: there are photo geeks who know how every part in the camera works, but still have problems taking pictures with impact.

1. Lighting is Everything

Bright sun is a very difficult light source in photography. It may look wonderful to you but it will not flatter your garden or people in your photos. On sunny days, take pictures early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Avoid high noon. If you must shoot in bright sun, look for shady spots or create your own localized shade by holding up a sheet of cardboard or fabric over flowers to be photographed. Cloudy days solve your photographic problems. Garden photographers pursue a bright cloudy day like the Holy Grail.

2. Vary the Zoom Ratio on the Same Scene

You zoom in to get closer to the subject and zoom back to take in a larger area, but that’s only the beginning. Telephoto settings will seem to compress things while wide-angle settings give you a feeling of separation.

3. Try Different Camera Angles for Impact

Stand on a ladder, shoot from a window or lie on the ground. Don’t take all your pictures standing in a normal upright fashion.

4. Fill the Frame With the Important Parts of the Picture and Crop out the Distractions

Painters have the luxury of deciding what they want in their paintings. Photographers have to decide what to include and also what to leave out. Fill the frame with what you think is important. Look around the frame of the viewfinder. If you find empty space or a distracting background, get closer to the subject or zoom in with your telephoto. If something does not improve your picture, crop it out.

5. Composition Tells the Story

Don’t always place the center of interest in the center of the picture. Change the composition by physically moving elements in or out of the picture frame. Your feet are valuable tools. Move around and hold the camera at different angles. Experiment with different zoom ratios. See how the composition changes.

6. Focus on the Point of Interest, Not Necessarily the Center of the Picture

Look through the viewfinder or at the screen and frame your picture for maximum impact. In the center of the screen there is usually a focusing area. After choosing the desired position, move the camera so the focus area is over your main subject. Press the shutter release halfway down to lock the focus. Then move the camera back to the desired position while continuing to hold the shutter release halfway down so that the picture is framed correctly. Hold the camera very steady and squeeze the shutter release button. This approach you will allow you to have a well framed image with the point of interest in focus.

7. Hold the Camera Steady

If you want razor sharp pictures, you must hold the camera steady when you press the shutter release. Experiment by watching yourself in the mirror while you take a picture or test yourself by taking one picture hand-held and another resting the camera on a firm flat surface. Compare the results. Most professional photographers use a tripod to reduce camera movement.

8. Take More than One Picture

Try varying the position of the camera, the zoom ratio, the composition and the lighting angle of the same scene. By changing each variable, you create a series of nuanced photos, one of which will capture that perfect moment. Professionals take hundreds of pictures to increase their odds of success.

9. Don’t Be Afraid to Take Close-ups

They can make a poor garden look good. Most digital cameras allow the camera to focus very closely to the subject. Take advantage of it. Flowers can become powerful abstractions and even the blurs can be beautiful. If you have a macro setting on your camera, it makes it even easier to get close.

10. The Garbage Can is Your Best Friend

The best way to improve your photos is to edit. In the darkroom it was the garbage can. Today, it’s the delete button. Do not show your weak photos. The beauty of digital is that you can experiment at no extra cost if you don’t print the photos.

Smell This

Article Photo

Story & Photography By Jean Starr

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.

Roses & Coneflowers

The widespread loss of fragrance in roses isn’t as recent as we might think. American garden designer Louise Beebe Wilder wrote about it in her 1932 book, The Fragrant Path. She laments, “It is hard to believe that a scentless rose could have great vogue, but there is that chill and soulless beauty, ‘Frau Karl Druschki’, to the contrary notwithstanding.” She referred to the hybrid perpetual rose, introduced in 1901, which for many years was the most popular white rose in existence despite its lack of scent.

There are still fragrant roses, although most would be a disappointment to Wilder’s sensibilities. Modern hybridizers have managed to keep a bit of fragrance in plants that are disease-resistant and hardy, including ‘Gourmet Popcorn’, and Oso Easy ‘Paprika’ and ‘Peachy Cream’. A vase of any of these might not perfume a room, but they’re worth growing. Some rugosa roses are very fragrant.

When so many new coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) started hitting the runway like a herd of hungry models, some were fragrant. One with a scent reminiscent of roses is ‘Solar Flare’, bred by Richard Saul of Itsaul Plants. It has also been one of the strongest growers in my garden.


The divas of mid-summer make a big impact, reaching heights of up to 4 feet and more, with waxy blooms emitting exotic perfume. Lily hybrids have intrigued even the most casual gardeners with colors that range from vivid to pastel and fragrances from delicate to downright off-putting. Some of the best-behaved scents come from the OTs, or Orienpets, a name that refers to their Oriental/trumpet lily parentage. One of the best is ‘Conca d’Or’, a sturdy 4-footer with a sweet fragrance that perfumes its surroundings outside but isn’t too strong to bring indoors in a vase. ‘Silk Road’ is another very fragrant Orienpet.


Alicia Green, coordinator at the Buehler Enabling Garden at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, uses plants with fragrant leaves or flowers for their therapeutic properties. “If a plant has an aromatic property, it encourages people to interact with it,” she explains. “People are curious about it.”

Plants with a dual purpose are especially valuable in horticultural therapy. “Scented geraniums (Pelargonium) are great for therapy projects, especially those with fuzzy leaves,” she says. “Buddleia and salvia are not only fragrant; they attract butterflies and hummingbirds as well.” Green will whip up a floral dessert this summer with chocolate cosmos, coconut-scented nemesia and cherry pie plant (Heliotrope). And both the leaves and blossoms of lavender have a distinctive scent.


For long-term color, annuals are key. But adding scent to the equation often changes their constitution from durable to delicate. Three of the most fragrant flowers for late spring struggle mightily when summer starts to sizzle.

Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) should be started from seed as soon as the soil dries out enough to be worked, or in a pot indoors a month before the last frost.

Stock (Matthiola incana) is usually offered as a mixed seed strain in flats, so they’re inexpensive enough to plant plenty, although the white-flowered doubles seem to have the best scent.

Nemesia fruticans ‘Opal Innocence’ has a fragrance described as sweetly fruity with vanilla grace notes. According to Proven Winners, flowering can slow when evening temps reach into the 70s or above. They recommend pruning nemesia back when it loses its blooms so that it branches and comes into flower again when the weather cools later in the season.

Other Fragrant Annuals

Heat-loving annuals such as flowering tobacco (Nicotiana) are best started from seed and don’t do much until the soil warms up. But as a hot afternoon turns to a warm evening, the petals take on more substance and emit a jasmine-like fragrance that can stop you in your tracks. There are several species of nicotiana, but the most commonly found is Nicotiana x sanderae, a hybrid of N. alata and N. forgetiana. N. alata and the towering N. sylvestris are very fragrant as well. The short hybrid nicotianas sold as bedding plants usually have no scent.

Chocolate-scented cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus) sends out its scent on warm, still days. I was struck by the unmistakable fragrance of chocolate as I roamed around Olbrich Botanical Garden in Madison, Wisc. one September afternoon. When I began to look around for the source, I noticed another woman doing the same thing. “There is a cosmos that smells like chocolate … ,” I mumbled as much to myself as to the woman. And then I saw it – just one unassuming deep red flower of a size that belied the strength of its fragrance.

Tropical or nearly-tropical flowering plants can take most of the summer to bloom. I had a ginger (Hedychium) that grew to the point where it burst its pot, but it didn’t fully open its flowers until mid-October. I kept it in the garage for the winter, and it sprouted when I brought it inside in March. But even starting it early didn’t help. Most tropical plants need long-term heat, and in some summers, we just don’t have it.
One of the easiest tropical plants to grow, and even to overwinter in a sunny window, is Brunfelsia jamaicensis, or “lady of the night.” I’ve had the same plant in the same pot for at least three years, bringing it outside to thrive in the heat and humidity of a Midwestern summer. Brunfelsia australis, also known as “yesterday, today and tomorrow,” has fragrant purple flowers that fade to light blue and then white – hence the name.

Whether you prefer to buy plants at garden center, start them from seed, or order them online from specialty growers, it’s really not that hard to create a fragrant garden of your own. Here are a few to start with.

Fragrant Peonies: These herbaceous peonies are cultivars of Paeonia lactiflora.

‘Big Ben’
‘Chestine Gowdy’
‘Edulis Superba’
‘Laura Dessert’
‘Madame Ducel’
‘Myrtle Gentry’
‘Pink Derby’
‘Port Royal’
‘White Cap’
‘Festiva Maxima’

Fragrant Annuals and Tropical Plants:

Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana spp.)
Chocolate cosmos (Cosmos atrosanguineus)
Sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus)
Stock (Matthiola incana)
Cherry pie plant (Heliotropium)
Orange jessamine (Murraya paniculata)
Ginger lily (Hedychium)
Sweet alyssum (Lobularia)
Lady of the night (Brunfelsia)

Fragrant Perennials, Shrubs and Trees:

Astilbe (some varieties)
Bugbane (Actaea racemosa)
Coneflowers (some Echinacea hybrids and species)
Fragrant snowball or Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum x carlcephalum or V. carlesii).
Hardy carnation (Dianthus)
Hummingbird mint (Agastache aurantiaca)
Lilium (usually Orientals, Trumpets and their hybrids)
Oyama magnolia (Magnolia sieboldii)
Phlox paniculata
Roses (some varieties)

Jean Starr is an award-winning writer whose articles have appeared in several national and regional publications. She’s the editor and secretary of the Midwest Peony Society, a former columnist in the Times of Northwest Indiana for nine years and currently writes a blog, Petal Talk. jstarr@sbsmags.com

Issues - 2017 - MayJune

From the Editor - MayJune 2017

The day began with signs of gloom and doom. A new report from the National Wildlife Foundation said that monarch butterfly populations continue to decrease. Then a friend emailed a link to a New York Times story about the travails of a bee-keeping family I remember from my childhood.(1)

The Adee family lived in north central Kansas at the time, not far from my parents’ farm, but their business operated in many states. Today Adee Honey Farms is the largest in the country and the mysterious colony collapse disorder that has been killing bees here and abroad is also affecting them. Last year 44 percent of the bees in the U.S. died, and the Adees lost half of their 90,000 hives.

This is serious. Ninety percent of the food in the world comes from 100 crops, and 71 of those crops depend on bees for pollination, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. No pollination – no crop. No almonds, avocados, apples or cherries. If you like to eat, this affects you.

Honeybees get most of the attention, but the world has many different bees. Illinois has 500 bee species, according to the Chicago Botanic Garden. That includes the bumblebee. The rusty patched bumblebee, whose numbers have declined 87 percent in recent years, was just recently added to the federal list of endangered species, so it is now a crime to harm or kill it.

What can we do? We can write to the EPA. We can write to our state and national legislators. We can write to the President. We can grow plants that nourish bees. Liz Holmberg discussed plants for early pollinators in our March/April issue, and a story in the January/February issue reported on research whether non-native plants are also beneficial to pollinators.

We can also follow the example of Candide in the eponymous 18th century classic by Voltaire. “Je sais aussi qu’il faut cultivar notre jardin,” Candide says in the last line of the book. “We must cultivate our gardens.”

By the time Candide utters these words, the characters have endured unspeakable horrors and seen countless examples of misery throughout the world. One character, Pangloss, persists in believing that everything always works out for the best and keeps repeating that “this is the best of all possible worlds.” Candide is having none of that. He is world weary but not about to give up. We carry on, he seems to be saying; we do what we can with our little plot of earth to make it productive and beautiful. We don’t ignore the gloom and doom – it’s still there – but we persevere and do our best to make this a better world for bees and butterflies, ourselves, and the rest of the planet.

A worthy message as we begin another gardening year.

(1) Feb.16, 2017, “A Bee Mogul Confronts the Crisis in His Field” by Stephanie Strom”

Dear Ms. and/or Mr. MacArthur Genius Grant Person

My name is Mike Nowak and, as you can see, I write a column for this very, very, very esteemed magazine. It’s full color and it’s glossy! As you can also see, my column is in a place of honor, on the very, very, very back page, just in front of a big fertilizer ad or something else of great importance to the horticultural community (they change it up every issue, just to keep me guessing).

I have personally spoken to your people in the past, before the restraining order was issued, so you might have a file on me somewhere in your office. No need to wade through all of those pages. Really. Just toss them in the recycling bin (I’m big on recycling). Even better, just burn them, which isn’t as environmentally sound as recycling but is ever so much more effective.

Allow me to get to the point.

You made me love you. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to do it.

Perhaps it was the thought of being called a genius. Perhaps it was the $625,000.00 prize. Perhaps I just like the idea of being one of the “fellows” – camaraderie and all. “Rah! Rah! Go MacArthur! Yay!!” You choose.

But as I approached a long-delayed mid-life crisis, which I believe was caused by pursuing a career in horticultural and environmental radio, I began to understand that I have a unique and under-appreciated gift: I. Can. Kill. Any. Plant.

You might scoff at a statement like that. You might note that, anecdotally, many people think the same thing. Is it possible that if a scientific study were done, the anecdotal might become scientific reality? I see your ears perking up, much like on Mr. Spock after an egregiously ignorant pronouncement by Captain Kirk. You might also call my personal skill a kind of mad genius, because nobody can kill every plant!

Aha! I believe I have your full ears…er, attention. I shall continue.

Picture if you will, a tree that has miraculously survived for several hundred million years on a notoriously unstable planet. Its name: Ginkgo biloba, the only living species in the phylum Ginkgophyta. In the 21st Century, this tree is widely used in the urban environment. Why? Because it can handle pollution and survive being put in a hole in the middle of a sidewalk outside of a box store, that’s why! Insects seem to leave it alone, as do pathogens, perhaps because they’re terrified of being on the wrong end of karma, where they might return in a second life as human beings.

Now imagine this tree in the backyard of somebody who has the super power to be able to kill anything green. Have you seen any of the Avenger movies? The Hulk would be a goner against me.

When I receive my ginkgo as a gift, it is no more than a foot tall, perhaps less, in a one gallon pot. I have no idea where to site it in my yard, so I slam it into the soil. A few months later, I move it to another position. A few months after that, I move it again. Regardless of my attempts to kill it or just set it back, it simply adapts to the new site and continues to grow.

I become aware that radical tactics are in order. Step 1) I decide that the best place for it is under the high power lines that come into my home (you can’t make this stuff up), where it thrives and reaches into untold megawatts of potential danger. Step 2) I place a benign, lovely plant called sweet woodruff around its base as a ground cover.

Watch, now, my genius in action. You’re thinking that Step 1) was the issue, but you would be mistaken. The sweet woodruff forms a matt that could strangle a raccoon. Long story short, the tree begins to decline, and when I pull the ground cover away from the trunk, I see that the moist, impermeable environment of the sweet woodruff has caused rot to spread around the entire trunk, killing what is otherwise an indestructible plant.


Sorry. Don’t know where that maniacal laugh came from. It doesn’t happen very often. Anyway, please consider my request.


Mike “Ultimate Green Killer” Nowak
(the super hero name I will be sending to Marvel Comics)

Butterfly Heaven

Article Photo

Driving through the neighborhood with its tidy monoculture of neatly trimmed turf grass, you would never imagine that a butterfly haven lies farther down the block. But then you park your car and catch a glimpse of a giant white butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) and a Kentucky wisteria (W. macrostachya) towering over the small city lot that’s jam-packed with a motley array of tall Phlox, Monarda, Salvia, dill (Anthum graveolens), Cleome, Helianthus and Echinacea.

And not a blade of turfgrass anywhere.

For those who might not get the point, a sign by the fence announces to passersby that this garden of Dennis and June Finnegan on the far South Side of Chicago is an official Monarch Waystation, a space where plants have been selected to feed, nourish, shelter and help preserve the beloved but increasingly threatened native monarch butterfly.

Along the way, the Finnegans are also providing a haven for tiger swallowtails, black swallowtails, red-spotted purples, admirals, commas, question marks, sulfurs, painted ladies, mourning cloaks and silver-spotted skippers. June Finnegan has photographed them all.

This is what biodiversity in the garden gets you.

But there’s more. Adjacent to the front fence, you will notice the asphalt driveway that long ago crowded out the family car and relegated it to second-class status on the street. Some of the plants here feed the butterflies; some feed the people. Giant circular containers and rectangular Earth Boxes bursting with vegetables now line up chockablock on either side of the 6-by-8-foot greenhouse that’s currently Mission Central for Dennis Finnegan’s hydroponically grown vegetables. He bought the greenhouse as a kit and has been as happy as a kid in a toy store installing it and devising paraphernalia as he embarks on his hydroponics adventure.

The Finnegans have lived on this 29-foot-wide lot for 20 years, with June the primary gardener in the early days. She hails from a distinguished garden background with a father who tended vegetables on four city lots and was once a finalist in the annual Victory Garden contest on PBS. When Dennis started gardening, he too was drawn to vegetables and now regularly starts seeds indoors under grow-lights during the winter.

June is the one who first got interested in butterflies. “I read an article about butterfly gardening, so I began purchasing flowering plants,” she recalls. “Then I read about dill as a plant to attract swallowtails. By adding dill, I got lots of swallowtails but also lots of dill [since it seeds itself all over]. So I started growing the dill in pots to keep it from taking over the yard. I also grow parsley and fennel for the swallowtails.”

An interest in monarchs soon followed, which led her to start adding different kinds of milkweed. A standard monarch favorite is butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), usually available at local garden centers, but the Finnegans also grow less common species such as horsetail (a.k.a. whorled) milkweed (A. verticillata), the rosy-flowering swamp milkweed (A. incarnata) and a white-flowering cultivar of swamp milkweed called ‘Ice Ballet’. All four are perennials and winter hardy – the A. verticillata to Zone 4 and the others to Zone 3. They also grow the tropical milkweed (A. curassavica) that’s an annual for us but easy to start from seed. It’s also possible to find it as a transplant in local garden centers.

Holding pride of place in the front yard is butterfly bush, a shrub that’s a must-have for anyone who wants to attract all kinds of butterflies. The plant is massive, around 8 feet tall, with white flowers, but there are varieties with dark purple, lavender and pink flowers as well. “In July it’s covered with pollinators,” marvels June. Recent breeding has led to the introduction of dwarf varieties that can be grown in containers. Buddleias often die back to the ground in winter but usually grow back from their roots come spring.

“There’s lots of nectar for butterflies in this garden,” notes June. “It’s a condensed area, a little island, and things start flowering early.” Still, she was puzzled this past April when she saw a mourning cloak flitting about. What could it feed on at that point in the year, she wondered? Unlike the monarchs, which migrate to Mexico to spend the winter, mourning cloaks and swallowtails overwinter here. Swallowtails overwinter as chrysalises and emerge as adult butterflies in spring; mourning cloaks overwinter as adult butterflies.

With so many nourishing plants, adult butterflies regularly lay their eggs in the Finnegan garden, and June has even caught a female monarch in the act. Since there are preying mantids (a mixed blessing since they will eat beneficial as well as pernicious critters), June often moves eggs and caterpillars into screened indoor cages for protection.

Once the eggs hatch, monarch caterpillars are fed with a regular diet of milkweed leaves. Swallowtail caterpillars eat dill, parsley and fennel. After a couple of weeks the monarch caterpillars move to the top of their cage and begin hanging upside down. In 10 to 14 days, they metamorphose into chrysalises that look like pale green capsules sporting a delicate gold “necklace.” Ten days after that, they emerge as butterflies.

The chrysalises of swallowtails look more like a ragged piece of bark – a very useful camouflage since the ones that overwinter outdoors sometimes attach themselves to trees. This past winter, the Finnegans overwintered 20 swallowtails in screened cages and by the end of May, six had eclosed (opened and been sent on their way into the world).

When it comes to butterflies, it truly is a case of “build it and they will come.”

How Do You Get to Be a Monarch Waystation?

Go to the Monarch Watch website (monarchwatch.org), which has a comprehensive listing of information about monarch butterflies. Click on the link to the Monarch Waystation Program (monarchwatch.org/waystations), and fill out the registration form that asks you to provide information about the numbers and kinds of plants you grow that are beneficial to monarchs.

Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch, says, “Monarch butterfly populations are declining due to loss of habitat. To assure a future for monarchs, conservation and restoration of milkweeds need to be a priority.”

Editor Carolyn Ulrich has written for Chicagoland Gardening since its inception. She is a former weekly garden columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and has received several awards for magazine writing from the Garden Writers Association.

Conference Call


Contact: The Guy in Charge

MiNoSoRALaS Announces Best Gardening Conference Ever Anywhere

CHICAGO - Today, The Mike Nowak School of Really Awesome Learning and Stuff (MiNoSoRALaS) announced that in anticipation of the 2017 gardening season, it would be presenting its inaugural “Best Gardening Conference Ever Anywhere 2017.” Some people insist on calling it the “first annual” but Mike thinks that’s putting the compost before the wheel barrow. And he should know.

What makes this the Best Gardening Conference Ever Anywhere? We’re glad you asked. MiNoSoRALaS features seminars never contemplated, let alone seen, on this planet or any other. Titles like “Gardening for the Truly Clueless, Like My Neighbor,” “How To Know if You’re Asking a Stupid Gardening Question,” “How To Stop Asking Stupid Gardening Questions,” “Sharp Tools: Fact or Fiction?” (which is presented back to back with “21 Easy Ways to Lose a Finger”), “You Just Inhaled a Wasp: Now What?” and a perennial favorite, “Perennial Favorites and Other Execrable Puns for Which Garden Writers Should Be Arrested, if not Drawn and Quartered.”

In presentations forged from twenty-five almost unbearable years of trial and error in his own garden, Mike steps out of the light and into the darkness to examine why it is that so often plants, pathogens, creepy crawly things and even seemingly inanimate tools win and gardeners lose. Along the way, he regales his audience with tales of the misery of the human condition, most often displayed in the horticultural aisles of giant box stores on Saturday afternoons. Who should attend the “Best Gardening Conference Ever Anywhere 2017?” We’re glad you asked that question, too!

This conference is open to any cash-carrying member of the public who wants to garden but is turned off by stale, dusty, dumb old books and is frankly befuddled by that crazy, goofy stuff on the Intertubes. C’mon! If you read those books, you’re going to get ink all over your fingers! And if you start some silly video on your computer, are you sure you will know how to turn it off when it’s finished? Are you sure? What if a Jonas Brothers video pops up right afterwards? Will you be able to turn it off in time before your brain turns to mush?

You’re just the kind of person we’re looking for! The smart, trendy, upwardly-mobile, cash-carrying people who are interested in transforming their yards from a couple of sad yews and a scraggly lawn to a couple of happy yews and a recuperating lawn.

Look at yourself in the mirror. Really, go on. It’s okay. What do you see? No, not that. The tweezers can take care of that. Do you see that future gardener? YOU’RE the kind of person we want to show up to Mike’s garage on a Saturday morning and walk away with that very, very official certificate that says that you attended the “Best Gardening Conference Ever Anywhere 2017.”

You know what? When you show that certificate to your neighbors, they are going to be gobsmacked. They won’t know what to think of you!

And isn’t that what you want? To keep them guessing? To have them wondering exactly what you’re capable of doing? So get to the bank RIGHT NOW, grab that cash and get ready for the gardening experience of your life!

The reviews say it all. “Unbelievable,” writes Horticultural Harangue. “Seriously. I didn’t believe a word of it.” Dicot Digest applauds Mike’s “unprecedented gall,” while Monocot Monthly praises Mikes “brazenly fraudulent artifice.” The attorney general’s office simply says, “We can’t wait to see him in person.”

From the Editor - MarApr 2017

I once knew a woman who vacuumed her rock garden. Seems a revered expert from the East Coast was coming on an inspection tour and she wanted everything perfect with nary a weed or fallen leaf in sight.

I was thinking about her as I pulled out my spent tomatoes and put away the cages this past fall. I had a reasonably successful garden in 2016, but I’m sure she would have looked askance at no end of horticultural errors and mishaps had she descended for a visit chez moi. Fortunately, she wasn’t invited.

I like an orderly flower bed and a well-edged lawn as much as the next person, but nowadays, when it comes to sallying forth with that half-moon edger and knees that are developing suspicious symptoms of arthritis, I often end up thinking, “Well, maybe tomorrow.”

It’s important to remember as we start gardening in 2017 that we do it for pleasure, not pain, and we need to maximize the former and minimize the latter. Thus, if you have to yank the lawn mower cord 15 times before it starts and you end up tearing your rotator cuff, then maybe it’s time to hire out this task so that you can save your shoulder for the fun stuff, however you define fun. Like designing and planting containers, perhaps, the topic for this issue’s cover story (page 42). Or growing a gazillion food crops like city gardener Gloria Ciaccio, our focus in Gardens of the Pros (page 53). Another feature story highlights the garden of Irwin Goldman, a funeral director who counterbalances his daily occupation by nurturing living plants to create beauty and solace at his suburban home (page 48).

Other stories in this issue have a more practical bent. We recently heard about a major onion-growing operation in northern Indiana and nursery co-owner Julie Oudman-Perkins tells us home gardeners how to grow them. Then Jeff Rugg reviews the pros and cons of clover in the lawn – or what about a lawn planted exclusively with clover? As we become increasingly aware of clover’s benefits to soil and the environment (those flowers are good for bees), it’s something to seriously consider. Aesthetic ideals change over time and reflect the contemporary culture. Men no longer wear powdered wigs. Maybe Kentucky bluegrass is equally old-fashioned.

The soil around Lake Michigan is sand-based rather than clay, and those of you with homes in Indiana and Michigan have soils that are seriously sandy. What grows there? Garden designer John Eskandari offers suggestions based on his experience.

We also have a story about early pollinators by greenhouse owner Liz Holmberg and design tips drawn from a project by Mariani Landscape.

If you don’t want to do even a modicum of work in a garden, then it would probably be better not to have one. Lay out pavers, buy a pot of red geraniums and be done with it. But if you aspire to something between an overgrown weed patch and a super perfect garden swept bare by a vacuum cleaner, turn the page. We have lots of suggestions for you.

Issues - 2017 - MarApr

Moss: Rescuing Its Reputation

Article Photo

Story By Susan Crawford, Photography By Dale Sievert

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.

Sievert grows more than 50 species of moss in his garden in Waukesha, Wisc. and has visited gardens featuring the plant in countries all over the globe. His slide show left his listeners with mouths agape and acquisitive juices flowing. More than 300 mosses in containers. More than 600 mosses blanketing rocks. Moss growing among shade-loving perennials. Moss thriving in sunlight. The artistry involved in showcasing these tiny plants is extraordinary.

The Japanese have valued mosses for centuries for the many ways in which they can be grown and for their velvety textures that contrast so elegantly with leafy, spiky, shiny and oh, so many other characteristics of the plant world. Having started growing mosses around 2000, Sievert was inspired to visit Kyoto, Japan in 2014. His stunning photos of Kyoto and Waukesha have inspired me to go beyond letting my moss do its own thing amongst the ferns and bleeding hearts. I’d like to try covering a rock or two for a starter. If only I had a flowing stream like his, I’d let my mossy rocks sit in it as he does.

Sievert provided generous advice on how to begin a moss project.

A Bit of Basic Knowledge
All mosses are in Bryosida, a phylum originating between 400 and 500 million years ago. True mosses belong to the class Bryopsida with 660 genera and 12,000 to 15,000 species. They reproduce both sexually (from spores) and asexually (for example, from pieces that have broken off). They have no vascular system and get all of their moisture and nutrients through their leaves, none through their roots or rhizoids that only anchor them to the soil.

Finding Plants
I am the proud possessor of some Plagiomnium cuspidatum and one or more of the many species of the genus Brachythecium (Sievert kindly identified these for me from a photo), so I have a start. Sievert gets many of his mosses from woodlots to which he has access. Those without such a resource will need to purchase plants. He recommends Mountain Moss Enterprises of Pisgah Forest, North Carolina and Moss Acres of Honesdale, Penn. as reliable suppliers.

How to Choose
Identify your conditions (moisture, dappled sun, shade, climate zone, etc.) and find out what different mosses need. There is some disagreement about whether pH levels should be considered. Sievert thinks they may have some influence even though mosses get nutrients through their leaves. Suppliers should provide information about conditions that their plants require. We lucky ones with volunteer mosses know they have chosen a spot by themselves.

Trays of Moss Can Be Pricey
A way to stretch the budget requires some faith, but Sievert has heard reports of success with putting moss and an equal amount of buttermilk in a blender and liquefying them until the mixture resembles a thick milkshake. This can then be painted on any rough surface – rocks, wood, concrete or the outside of a container. Keep the object in the shade and mist it with water several times a week. Moss should begin to appear in a few weeks. Annie Martin of Mountain Moss pooh-poohs this idea so caveat emptor.

Sievert Suggests
To grow on rocks: Hedwigia ciliata, Anomodon attenuates. For containers: Anomodon rostratus (hard to find, maybe impossible in Illinois), Plagiomnium cuspidatum (easily found in the Midwest). For damp, shady areas: Thuidium delicatulum, Climacium americanum (both can be found if you look enough). For sunny areas: Bryum caespiticium, B. argenteum, Ceratodon purpureus (all found in Illinois in many places, the first two on sidewalks and concrete areas, the last on gravel drives, etc.)

How to Plant
This really got my attention. Sievert glues sheets of moss to his limestone rocks with silicone caulk. Planting in the ground or in containers is more straightforward. He cautions, “I am quite sure that it is important to mimic the original soil substrate as closely as possible. My first effort at moss gardening was a complete failure as I took moss off a cedar shake roof and tried to grow it on the ground.” He uses the same technique for growing on the ground or in containers. After transplanting, he waters the moss one time, then presses it down in order to make good contact so new rhizoids (attachments sent into the substrate) grow. He advises patience. “It probably varies with the species, but my favorite, Anomodon rostratus, takes from one to three months to attach itself fairly tightly.” Annie Martin claims that mosses must be kept moist with daily watering for at least two months after planting. Sievert says, “I don’t and it works just fine. I’m afraid of fungus and mildew with frequent watering.” In essence, don’t let new moss go completely dry.

Care After Planting
Sievert is a hands-off gardener. He never fertilizes his mosses. He has so many containers and so much moss growing on rocks and in the ground that he doesn’t water. He’s fine with letting his mosses go dormant when they get dry. These clever plants can go dormant for long periods and bounce back into lush life at the first shower. To prevent dormancy and its attendant brown appearance, water often in dry periods. Sievert doesn’t protect his mosses in the winter. Not even the ones in containers. “These guys are tough as nails,” he says. “They can survive the worst winters.” Asked about the problem of cracking containers in winter, he conceded that the plants were not a worry but their housing might be. Look for winter-tolerant pots.

Mosses have no insect problems, and there is only one disease problem, caused by a Phthium fungus. Occasionally birds or animals may disturb them. The only time-consuming requirement in growing mosses is the removal of weeds and debris. Not so very demanding for casual moss growers. A considerable headache for Sievert.

Listening to Sievert wax lyrical about the moss gardens he has tended and visited, I made sure that he keeps his own garden maintenance simple in order to have the time to enjoy the tiny glories of the plants themselves. He gets down on his knees to appreciate their structure. “Looking down on them from full height is like seeing something from an airplane window,” he says. He talks about his objective in creating a moss garden: “Inspiration from nature but not copying nature.”

The best time to view a moss garden, he suggests, is early on a sunny morning after a rain when everything is fully hydrated. I’m hoping to find one of those mornings this year. Me in my pajamas with a cup of coffee and maybe my magnifying glass. On my knees in the front yard. Hope the neighbors aren’t watching.

Susan Crawford writes freelance travel and garden stories as well as fiction. She has published in The New York Times and a number of other journals. She is finishing up her first novel.

A Bit about Bees

Article Photo

Story & Photography By Jean Starr

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)

“When I joined, we had about 20 people at the first session and ended up with five who completed the entire class,” Johnston says. “Now we have 70 people sign up, and it usually dwindles down to around 20.”

The NWIBA now boasts 190 members, and Johnston credits the increased interest to an awareness of colony collapse disorder, disappearing bee disease and the importance of pollinators. Her first recommendation for bee newbies: get involved with a local club.

Beekeeping associations are treasure troves of knowledge and great networking resources. It’s an ancient art after all, and many members have been keeping honeybees for decades. Beekeepers love to share, and NWIBA classes are free. The association also orders bees for its membership.

Providing bees for cold climate beekeepers is big business. Before capture, the bees have already been pollinating California almonds, Georgia pecans or Florida cucumbers. Bee suppliers package them up with a queen and a can of food. “A 3-pound package of bees with a queen cost around $110 last year,” Johnston says. “They used to cost $8.”

Other changes to beekeeping can be found in the mechanics of the process, but the product hasn’t changed a bit.

The Mechanics

You’ve never smelled honey until you’ve been to a clover hive that has just been harvested. On a clear sunny day in early October, Jim Crawford had just finished harvesting nearly 100 pounds of honey.

For someone new to beekeeping, Crawford moves with deliberate confidence. It’s a good manner to adopt when surrounded by hundreds of flying insects with stingers. After pulling out the honey-laden frames, he quickly stashes them in his truck. “You don’t want to leave honey out this time of year,” he explains. “It will attract all kinds of bees and even yellow jackets.”

The bees are possessive of their honey in the fall. They need to have enough to live on through the winter months. It’s Crawford’s second year, and he’s been successful due in large part to his mentor George Manning who has kept bees for 65 years.

“I hit the jackpot by making the acquaintance of a local beekeeper in my hometown, Chesterton, Ind. George has been a huge influence and a wealth of knowledge for me,” Crawford says. “Like anything, you can learn so much with hands-on experience.”

After harvesting what will turn out to be nearly 100 pounds of honey, Crawford inspects the hives. The brood frame, where baby bees mature, is a mix of eggs, larvae, pupae, capped brood and baby bees emerging from their cells. The frame contains cells with honey for feeding the baby bees and the worker bees. It is only when the brood frames become full of brood and stored honey that the worker bees begin storing excess honey in the upper “honey super” boxes.

Crawford makes use of a screen called a queen excluder to prevent the queen from laying eggs in the portion of the hive where the honey is stored. “The screen has openings large enough for the worker bees to pass through and store honey but too small for the queen,” he says. “You don’t want the queen laying eggs where you will be harvesting honey.”

Materials Cost

Hives themselves range in materials and prices. Crawford has two hives – one he purchased, assembled and painted for around $400 and another that he had to assemble and paint himself for $350. He’s glad he had to put it together as it gave him insight into how a hive is built.


Timing the honey harvest helps assure the bees aren’t overly aggravated. “It should be at least 50 F but ideally 70 F and sunny,” Crawford says. “You want the bees to be out foraging, and when it’s cloudy, cool, and wet, they’ll stay in the hive and get kind of grumpy if you try to take the honey while they’re inside.”

Hive Location

Crawford recommends a spot with maximum sun exposure and minimum north and west wind exposure due to our harsh winters with winds from the north. Honeybees don’t migrate but stay in the hives through the winter, eat lots of honey and generate heat by clustering and beating their wings.

The Bees

For buying bees, Crawford recommends contacting a local certified apiary in order to start off with healthy bees.

King Nuc Bee Hives is where many local hobbyists, clubs and commercial beekeepers buy their bees in the spring. The Berrien Springs, Mich. company was started by Paul DePeal, who still refers to the operation as a hobby. His day job is in the insurance industry.

King Nuc hosts a bee weekend when beekeepers drive in from surrounding states to pick up their bees. The date is driven by the weather but is usually sometime after May 15. Bees can overheat and shouldn’t be transported long distances, and they shouldn’t be left in a car trunk for long periods.

Although DePeal gets his bees from Honey Bee Genetics, a California company that specializes in raising disease-resistant stock, he maintains there is no such thing as disease-proof bees. “Everyone’s looking for a line of bees that is indestructible,” he says, but aspiring beekeepers need to take the time to learn about bees and their most serious foe – mites. “All bees have mites. Novices don’t realize the bees have to be treated for mites. If they don’t do that, they’ll be starting over in a year or two.”

Jean Starr is an award-winning writer whose articles have appeared in several national and regional publications. She’s the editor and secretary of the Midwest Peony Society, a former columnist in the Times of Northwest Indiana for nine years and currently writes a blog, Petal Talk. jstarr@sbsmags.com

A Little Background

According to Purdue University Extension Service, all honeybees belong to the genus Apis and bees in this genus are the only species to store large amounts of honey and exhibit a perennial life cycle. Honeybees represent only a small fraction of the roughly 20,000 known species of bees. Some other types of related bees produce and store honey, but only members of the genus Apis, are true honeybees.

The western honeybee (Apis mellifera) is native to Europe and has since been raised all over the globe. It is the primary honeybee of western civilization, while the eastern honeybee (Apis cerana) is the counterpoint in eastern civilization.

Among the commonly recognized species of Apis, only A. cerana and A. mellifera are kept commercially by man.

What’s in a Starter Kit?

DePeal, Crawford and Johnston all recommend joining a local bee organization or finding a mentor to offer support and guidance. Attend a meeting or two before investing in a starter kit that includes the basics, including the following:

  • Brood chamber or hive body, which is a large box containing eight to 10 removable frames that the bees cover with a wax honeycomb. Each individual cell in the honeycomb is occupied by new bees or filled with honey for the bees’ consumption.
  • Honey supers are additional boxes, usually shorter in depth than the hive body, that are used to store surplus honey that the beekeeper will harvest. The supers also have moveable frames for honeycomb.
  • Frames, usually made of pine, hold a beeswax-coated foundation on a molded plastic raised cell sheet to help the bees start drawing the cells.
  • Hive tool for opening hives that might be sealed by the bees with a product called propolis, which they manufacture from tree gums, saps and resins.
  • Smoker – a metal container with bellows, plus smoker fuel.
  • Bee veil is worn to protect the face and neck from stings.
  • Gloves are worn to improve grip and protect from stings.

Where to Learn

Illinois State Beekeepers Association: ilsba.com

Fox Valley Beekeepers Association: 630-584-6149, Contact: Kim Luppino, foxvalleybeekeepers@gmail.com

Northern Illinois Beekeepers Association: nibainfo.org, Contact: Kevin Keyfauver, keyfauver@gmail.com

Lake County Beekeepers: lakecountybeekeepers.org, Contact: Perry Plescia: 847-778-1121, p.plescia@sbcglobal.net

Indiana State Beekeepers Association: indianastatebeekeepers.org

Indiana Beekeepers Association: indianabeekeepers.com

Indiana Beekeeping School: indianabeekeepingschool.com

Northern Indiana Local Associations

North Eastern Indiana Beekeepers Association: Fort Wayne/ Allen Co. and surrounding counties, Contact: Harry Jones, 260-637-1453. neiba.info

Michiana Beekeepers Association: North Central Indiana/ South Central Michigan, Contact: Bob Baughman, 574-276-3959. michianabees.org

Northwest Indiana Beekeepers Association: Crown Point / Lake Co. and surrounding counties, Contact: Ed Rice, 219-781-8526. nwibeekeeeprs.com

Lake Shore Beekeepers Association: Northwest Indiana/ Southwest Michigan, Contact: Dave Laney, 574-656-8701, davelaney@kconline.com

Mississinewa Valley Beekeepers Association: Fairmount/ Grant Co. and surrounding counties, Contact: Steve Deal, 765-661-1025, sdeal57@netzero.net

Up in the Air

Article Photo

Story & Photography By Jeff Rugg

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.

First, what is an air plant? Air plants are in the bromeliad family. The air plant genus Tillandsia (tih-LAND-zee-ah) is the largest in the bromeliad family. The names tillandsia and air plant are often used synonymously and many affectionately call them Tillys. There are a couple of major differences between tillandsias and the other bromeliads. Most bromeliads have tightly fitting leaves that hold water in a reservoir at the center of the plant. Many tillandsias also have this “rosette” shape, but care must be taken because if water is retained too long in the center of the plant, it can cause the plant to rot and die.

Most bromeliads grow as “normal” plants with water-absorbing roots in the ground or on a host. Tillys use their holdfast roots to anchor themselves in place, water is absorbed: through their leaves, not their roots, with few exceptions.

Air plants are epiphytes like many bromeliads, tropical ferns, orchids and Christmas cacti. An epiphyte is a plant that is anchored to another plant or object that is called the host. The host only supplies a perch, but no nutrients. Spanish moss is a tillandsia that is common in the Southern states and is often seen hanging from host trees, telephone wires, fences and the occasional light pole.

You can successfully grow air plants in your house without roots. They can be attached to bark, rocks or other household decorations with wire, glue or Velcro. Or you can set one down in a sunny place where you think it looks best.

Tillandsias are native to the warm and temperate areas from the southeastern United States through Mexico and down through all of South America. There are different species that are native from coastal areas all the way up to mountainous elevations more than 9,000 feet high. Some are native to forests, and many grow among cacti and on rocks or on sand in deserts.

The air plant leaf is covered in scales or hairs called trichomes that act as sponges to quickly absorb water when it becomes available. For the species exposed to more sunlight, the trichomes also reflect up to 70 percent of the sunlight that strikes the leaves. Tillandsias that are native to drier xeric climates have larger, denser and often feathery trichomes covering the leaves. Tilly leaves in wetter mesic climates are often smooth and look transparent, but they are still covered with trichomes.

Most tillandsias follow the same basic form, having leaves that emanate from a central axis and then gradually tapering to a point. However, some leaves can be short and spikey while others can be long and curly. Some are bright green while others are covered with the white, fuzzy trichomes. Many look a lot like the leafy top of a pineapple plant, which is no surprise when you know that both air plants and pineapples are types of bromeliads. They range in mature size from just 1 inch to more than 3 feet across.

When many tillandsias bloom, the leaves turn red or pink to attract hummingbirds, their natural pollinators. They send out a flower stalk that can be two to three times the length of the leaves. The stalk is usually brightly colored. The tube-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds. Some tillandsia flowers are very fragrant and attract moths or butterflies. The colored leaves and inflorescences can last for weeks. Each flower generally lasts for a day but a number of tillandsia inflorescences produce many flowers over a month or two.

Tillandsias are easy to hybridize. Rainforest Flora, Inc. from Southern California has created several hundred over the years. But the main way they reproduce for most of us is by producing offsets, or pups, after blooming. As the pups reach about half the size of the mother plant, they can be separated. However, by leaving them together, they will eventually grow into a gorgeous clump that will have multiple inflorescences at the same time.

How to Grow Tillandsias

Paul Isley III, president of Rainforest Flora, says, “Indoors, place them close to a sunny window, but make sure that they only get direct light for an hour or two at a time. Southern exposure is great, but watch the amount of direct sunlight they get. Xeric (drier growing) tillandsias that usually have stiffer, harder leaves and a more pronounced covering of white trichomes will do better with more sun than the softer, greener leaved tillandsias.”

Outdoors in the summer, bright shade is best. A little direct sunlight is usually fine. When the weather begins to turn, bring your air plants indoors. The best times are those few weeks when you don’t have to use either the air conditioner or the furnace.

Indoor watering is normally easy, according to Isley. “Using a container that has a lid, collect rain water. Submerge the air plant every week for several seconds, take it out and turn it upside down for a few seconds so water can’t collect in the base, which can cause the plant to rot, and put it back. If the tilly is getting good light, that should be enough unless the air is unusually dry, as it often is when central heating or air conditioning is used. In this case, try to have some other plants or other water source around to add a bit to the humidity. If the leaf edges ever begin to curl up toward each other more than normal, this is a sign of dehydration – the plants wasn’t receiving enough water frequently enough. The solution is to submerge the plant in the “good” water overnight. This will cause it to completely rehydrate if it hasn’t dried out too much.”

Keep water for your tillys in a tub with a lid to prevent it from getting dusty and evaporating. You can use this same water until it runs out. I like using a gallon plastic ice cream container for my smaller tillandsias and a 15-gallon storage containerfor the bigger plants that are mounted on large pieces of wood or bark. I collect snow in the winter but, of course, I don’t use it until the water has warmed to room temperature. If the plant is blooming, don’t dunk the flowers under water.

Outdoors, tillandsias just need a quick spray from the hose. Once the leaf is wet, more water isn’t needed. Just be careful not to water the xeric tillandsias too often since they don’t need it.


Isley says, “Fertilizing tillandsias is also easy. In fact, if you put a quarter teaspoon/gallon ratio of Epiphytes Delight or Miracle Gro in your dipping/soaking tub, your fertilizing task is done! You can use other fertilizers but the key is to make sure that the nitrogen component has ammoniacal and nitrate nitrogen. The urea-based nitrogen in most commercial fertilizers needs bacteria in soil to break it down so that plants can use it. Tillandsias don’t have soil, so the urea nitrogen isn’t broken down and is wasted.”


Tillandsias make beautiful architectural accents anywhere in the house. No matter where they are normally placed for best growth, they can be easily moved to a new location for decorating purposes. “In normal conditions, you can put a tillandsia pretty much wherever you want for a month or so with no permanent harm to the plant, but eventually they want to receive bright light and sufficient water,” Isley says. “Many people rotate their plants on a monthly basis so that they can have them where they will look the best but not necessarily grow the best.”

Additional Resources

The most definitive book on tillandsias is Tillandsia II by Paul T. Isley III. This coffee table-sized book is filled with hundreds of color photos and covers the biographical history of how tillandsias were discovered and propagated.

Also from Paul T. Isley III, “The Genus Tillandsia” is a fact-filled 28-page booklet with many gorgeous color photos for those who would like an introduction to these remarkable plants.

Air Plants by Zenaida Sengo is not just a book about growing tillandsias. It covers many beautiful ways to incorporate them into the design of your indoor landscape, including several craft ideas, such as Christmas wreaths.

Many Chicagoland garden centers carry tillandsias propagated by Rainforest Flora, Inc., which is owned and operated by Paul Isley III and Jerrold Robinson.

Jeff Rugg is an Internationally Certified Arborist, an Illinois Certified Nurseryman and a Registered Landscape Architect with a background in zoology, horticulture and landscape architecture. jrugg@sbsmags.com

Tough Questions for the Pros

Here we are again, folks, recovering from yet another catastrophic (pick one or more):


New Year’s Eve celebration.

Christmas, when you hinted and hinted that all you needed to make you truly happy was a cherry red Tesla Model S under your Christmas Tree. But did Santa come through for you? Ha! Only in those annoying car commercials does that ever happen.

So you’re probably still tearfully sweeping up bits of New Year’s confetti, using the back page of this very magazine to collect it because you were unable to locate a dust pan. That’s okay, sweep it right onto my face. I’m here for you.

I’m also here to remind you that this is January, probably the most depressing month of the year. Naturally, that’s when my birthday occurs. Nevertheless, I don’t actually believe it, but I have been told that, for gardeners, January is a time to look forward to starting over (which is necessary because everything from last year is dead), to new challenges (because the old ones beat you like a drum and left you gasping on the side of the road), and to renewing your spirit (if you think that growing radishes is as satisfying as owning a cherry red Tesla Model S.)

You might have noticed that there’s a new feature in Chicagoland Gardening for 2017, something called Gardens of the Pros (page 56). I have a couple of observations. First, I’m still waiting for the invitation to talk about my garden. You know, as a pro. Hey! Stop laughing! Second observation: I didn’t get asked to submit any questions to the Advice from the Pros sidebar.

Ya know, I’ve been doing this for awhile, and I don’t mean just killing plants. Some of them survive, too (emotionally damaged and resentful, of course, but alive!) The point is that I expect the editorial staff to come crawling to me eventually, when they run out of questions like “Do you like butterflies?” and “What’s your favorite kind of gardening hat?”

At that point, they will turn to me for some real gardening questions for the pros. Questions like these:

Q. What’s the last garden tool you threw in a fit of rage?

Q. Did it break anything or hurt a neighbor? If not, will you throw it again?

Q. What recent cultivar made you reach for the liquor cabinet?

Q. Have you ever sniffed a plastic flower, just because you weren’t 100 percent sure?

Q. If you were a tree, would you fall on an ugly house just for spite? (I have a couple in my neighborhood that I’d like you to consider.)

Q. How many stupid tools do you own? I mean the really stupid ones – you bought them and they don’t work but you refuse to admit that?

Q. A follow up question, please: why didn’t you return them?

Q. Have you ever deliberately withheld water from a plant to show who’s boss?

Q. How many times have you pruned a rose bush without gloves and said, “Ow! I should have used my gloves!”

Q. How many times have you said that out loud and then looked around to see who was listening?

Q. Do you talk to your plants? What do they say? Do you realize that you need therapy?

Q. Which author of a recent gardening book you’ve read seriously needs a time-out? (Go sit in the corner of the garage!)

Q. What recent advice from a fellow garden “pro” made you reach for the liquor cabinet?

Q. Do you harbor a secret desire to ride a lawn mower through your neighbor’s impatiens?

Q. When is the last time you dug a big hole and not only did you lose all feeling in your hands, but every light on the block went out?

Believe me, I have thousands and thousands of questions that I’m willing to share with the editorial department. If you need me, I’ll be sitting by the phone, waiting for an apology from Santa. It’s coming any minute now. I can feel it. Really I can. Here it comes. Santa? Santa? No, no, don’t go away, this will just take a second … Santa? …

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist, environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

From the Editor - JanFeb 2017

At Chicagoland Gardening we duly make our resolutions, chief among them our determination that 2017 will be the magazine’s best year ever. And then we get down to business.

As in years past, we begin with a cover story on the year’s new plants. Since the number of new varieties is legion, we limit ourselves to varieties that have passed the trial by fire in the well-named trial gardens at Ball Horticultural in West Chicago. Each summer we take a day to reconnoiter the grounds with Jim Nau and his aide-de-camp Katie Rotella, note the high performers, and then commission our trusty photographer Ron Capek to turn them into art.

Just as we love plants (some of us have been accused of being “plant geeks”), we also love design, and this issue offers three design-based stories. The first inaugurates a new series of features that will look at the home gardens of area professionals. For January/February we visit the garden of Jeff Epping, director of horticulture at Olbrich Botanical Garden in Madison, Wis. (Gardens of the Pros, page 54).
The second new series is Design Tips in which we take a photograph of an expertly designed garden and pull out 5 to 10 ideas that you can apply to your own spaces. In this issue we showcase a vegetable garden created by Craig Bergmann (page 18).

For the third, we reprise the clever display garden presented by Aquascape at last year’s Chicago Flower & Garden Show. Here construction manager Brian Helfrich and his staff played a game of “variations on a theme” by designing a large circle, dividing it into six equal pie-shaped segments and then showing a different design solution for each of them. One segment was left blank with just a lawn. The other five were turned into diminutive gardens, each with a water feature.

In our January/February issue we always provide charts and what-to-do outlines that will serve you through the year. Liz Holmberg, owner of Lizzie’s Garden in Naperville, for example, has compiled a blooming houseplant chart for all of you indoor gardeners. Another chart will take you through the growing season according to the needs of different layers of the garden (lawn, ground covers, edibles, shrubs, perennials and bulbs).

Think you can’t grow food in the city? Just look at the Hyde Park garden of Ron Grzywinski who grows so many vegetables that he invites the neighbors to come in and forage at will. He has grown 107 different tomatoes over the years. What’s more, he has kept notes.

What else? Bob Coultrip cultivates 250 conifers in Naperville. Landscape architect Scott Mehaffey selects 10 noteworthy garden trends, and Michelle Byrne Walsh enjoys a visit to a craft club in the western suburbs that does something nifty every month, this time demonstrating how to turn old silverware into durable plant tags. What a great winter project!

How’s that for keeping our resolutions? We believe 2017 is off to a great start.

Issues - 2017 - JanFeb

Winter Reds

Article Photo

Story By Deb Terrill Photography By Ron Capek

In a Chicagoland winter, we may or may not have snow. With snow, any garden can look good. Without it, we must pull out a few garden decorating tricks to provide relief from a palette of sepia and stone. Adding a splash of red here and there is a fine way of generating excitement, and when the garden gods do bless us with snow, those winter reds glow and create real garden art.

Evergreen Hollies
Holly berries, a symbol of the holidays as old as time, can find a comfy home in most gardens. It is true that they like a slightly acidic soil and ample moisture, but siting them carefully, perhaps near a downspout in well-amended soil, will allow most gardeners to possess them.

For big clusters of bright red berries in winter, a little understanding of the holly is helpful. There are male and female holly plants, and to produce berries, you will need at least one male. When purchasing hollies, ask for assistance to make sure you get one male for every three to seven females. This selection process has been made easier for us by the naming of varieties. ‘Blue Prince’ is clearly a boy while ‘Blue Princess’ is its girly counterpart.

Most of the evergreen hollies sold in our region are meservae hybrids of the blue holly group. These are mostly crosses of two extra hardy hollies, Ilex rugosa and Ilex aquafolium. ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’ and ‘China Boy’ and ‘China Girl’ are popular selections, but newer hybrids within this group are introduced frequently. Among these are the German introductions, ‘Castle Wall’, ‘Castle Spire’ and ‘The Honeymooners’, which is said to be self-pollinating. ‘Casanova’, a stunning male selection that also hails from Germany, has painterly variegated leaves.

Some gardeners consider evergreen hollies only marginally hardy, but cold hardiness is seldom the problem with Meserve holly culture. In his “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants,” Michael Dirr cites numerous instances of Meserve hollies surviving sub-zero winters with varying degrees of leaf damage, from none to moderate, but no deadly woody tissue damage. If the plants have an Achilles heel, it is the same sensitivity to heat and drying winds that challenges all broadleaf evergreens in northern Illinois.

Protection is the key word for evergreen hollies — siting them away from wind, in full sun to part shade and with adequate soil moisture in summer and fall. Hot season soil moisture is of paramount importance. (‘China Boy’ and ‘China Girl’ are said to be more heat-tolerant.) Our tendency to situate them next to foundations, where roof overhangs prevent rain from penetrating the soil and lime leaches from the foundation, is often our most grievous error in handling these lovely shrubs.
You will know if your hollies are suffering from too much alkalinity in the soil because they will develop pale green leaves or yellow leaves that are only green along the veins. It is difficult to change the pH of your soil, but you can sometimes make a noticeable difference by adding oak leaf and pine needle mulch and using a fertilizer formulated for broadleaf evergreens, such as Espoma’s Holly-tone®.

Deciduous Hollies
In addition to the shiny evergreen hollies, we are blessed with a native holly, Ilex verticillata, which loses its leaves but bears clusters of bright red fruit that persist in the winter. One of the most popular cultivars is ‘Winter Red’, which develops arching branches of heavy fruit clusters. It is best pollinated by ‘Southern Gentleman’, a good male pollinator for most Ilex verticillatas.

‘Red Sprite’ enjoys huge popularity as a compact form, growing to 4 by 4 feet instead of the usual 6 by 6 feet. Another popular selection is a hybrid of I. verticillata and I. serrata called ‘Sparkleberry’. This a big girl, capable of reaching 15 feet tall, and best used in massed naturalistic plantings. ‘Apollo’, an equally big boy, was specially bred as a pollinator for ‘Sparkleberry’.

Deciduous hollies prefer wet soils, doing very well in ditches, streamside and near ponds. But that doesn’t mean the average gardener can’t grow them. Once they are established, which means a couple of years of extra watering and some topdressing with organic soil amendments, they do very well in ordinary garden settings. They respond well to heavy pruning in which a third of the older stems are cut to the ground each year.

Red-Stemmed Dogwoods
The most obvious choice for red winter stem color is the red-stemmed dogwood group. Cornus sericea (sometimes called C. stolonifera) is a valued native whose contribution to the landscape reaches beyond its coveted red stems. This suckering plant is adaptable but really thrives in wet soils where it provides food for songbirds, ground-dwelling birds, ducks and geese. It is the preferred nesting site of the American goldfinch.

There are also blood-red-stemmed varieties in the Asian species Cornus alba. It and C. sericea are often confused in the trade, along with their cultivars. Although both prefer moist or wet, slightly acidic soil, the red-stemmed dogwoods can be very tolerant of most soils once established.

A Minnesota variety of C. sericea called ‘Cardinal’ is said to be reliably red in winter, as are ‘Baileyii’, ‘Brilliantissima’ and the newish ‘Arctic Fire’, which is bright red and compact in height. The native Cornus sericea is considered to be the true red-stemmed dogwood. Even the common species has red stems, whereas C. alba’s stems are barely reddish. However, two C. alba cultivars, ‘Siberia’ and ‘Bloodgood’, are said to rival C. sericea, as well as being a bit less apt to sucker freely.

Don’t be alarmed when your red-stemmed dogwoods display greenish stems in the warm months. They may also look less than red in the nursery when you select them. It takes cold weather and leaf drop to bring out the color.

Some gardeners may be put off by the notion of selectively pruning these suckering plants. It couldn’t be easier, though, since the stems provide us with a convenient color-coded pruning guide. When the older stems turn gray, simply cut them off, all the way back to the ground. The new, young stems will all be brightly colored and the shrub will stay within bounds size wise as well.

Washington Hawthorn
I have always been a big fan of the Washington hawthorn tree, especially when it is grown in a clump form. The bright red berries stay hard, which may account for the fact that the birds seem to leave plenty of them on the trees over the winter. I have seen many cardinals and cedar waxwings eating the fruit in the fall, but the bright berries that persist over the winter are highly decorative. Whenever you see a wonderful photo of a winter cardinal nibbling a bright berry or an ice-encased cluster of ruby fruit, it is likely that you are looking at a cluster of Washington hawthorn berries.

Five Hundred Years and Counting

By Jean Starr

Ever wonder where the plants at garden centers come from? Even the typical nursery features a depth of products resembling a virtual League of Nations. In addition to the plants native to North America, many originated in Asia, Europe and even Africa. How they got here is a very long story that dates back to the days of pharaohs, kings and queens who directed explorers to bring plants back from distant continents. They sought new varieties that ranged from purely ornamental to edible to medicinal.

In his book, The Plant Hunter’s Garden: The New Explorers and their Discoveries, Bobby J. Ward tells about Marco Polo’s 13th and 14th century encounters with plants of commercial significance such as paper mulberry and hemp. Ward explains mid-twentieth century tensions that shut the door on botanical explorations throughout Asia, including World War II, the Korean conflict, the Cold War and the Vietnam conflict. Doors to China creaked open slowly following improvements in U.S. diplomatic relations in the early 1970s.

Successful explorations into South Korea in the decades following the Korean War led to collaborative expeditions with American and Korean botanical institutions. Discoveries made included increased diversity in Kousa dogwood and improved hardiness in camellias.

Kris Bachtell, The Morton Arboretum’s vice president of collections, was in South Korea in 1997 when his group found itself near a river border between the North and South. The first thing they noticed was the contrast between the two sides, with the southern forest intact and the North Korean side heavily deforested for firewood and lumber production. As they sat in the van, a logging truck began to pass them when one of its logs shifted and rolled right into their vehicle. “It almost killed us,” Bachtell recalls. “But we managed to collect seed from it.”

The collecting success in Korea set the stage for Chinese explorations. In 1991 the North American China Plant Exploration Consortium or NACPEC was formed, comprising botanical and forestry institutions in China plus seven North American gardens.
Stricter permission requirements and geographical exclusions brought about by an international treaty signed during the Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992 has had an effect on plant collecting trips.

Bachtell ran head-on into a dicey situation in China’s Shanxi province. He, along with three other Westerners and their interpreter had a hard time finding a hotel in a town that, unbeknownst to them, did not allow foreigners. They eventually found lodgings and, as is common practice in China, handed over their passports to the hotel clerk.

Bachtell decided to take a stroll through town, which is what he was doing when a vehicle screeched to a halt next to him. It held several incredibly displeased individuals whom he could not understand. Somehow Bachtell was able to lead the menacing group to the hotel and, through their interpreter, learned they were being evicted, not only from the hotel, but from the town.

“We were kicked out and escorted to the border at 9 p.m.,” says Bachtell. “We drove through the night until we reached the next town around midnight and finally were able to check into a hotel.”

Even domestic plant collecting trips can be challenging. Andrew Bunting, assistant director and director of plant collections for the Chicago Botanic Garden, recently returned from a collecting trip through the American south in search of the rare Magnolia fraseri var. pyramidata. With him was the Arboretum’s head of collections and curator Matt Lobdell. “We were faced with daily downpours, excessive heat and humidity, a copperhead [snake], and serious encounters with chiggers,” said Bunting. It was worth it, though, as the group discovered some new and undocumented sites for Magnolia fraseri var. pyramidata while in the Taladega National Forest.

“It’s useful to visit some of these species in their natural habitat and learn about the conditions they are dealing with,” Lobdell says. “From understanding that it becomes easier to determine how they’ll perform in cultivation.”

According to the Global Trees Campaign, 48 percent of magnolias are threatened with extinction. Some of the goals for magnolia collection trips include finding plants with increased climate tolerance, disease and pest resistance, and larger, better blooms. Bunting’s book, The Plant Lover’s Guide to Magnolias (Timber Press: 2016) features 146 of his top choices of magnolias and their hybrids.

Throughout the plant discovery process, consideration must be given to invasiveness. The Chicago Botanic Garden has a Weed Assessment protocol that involves research followed by a detailed assessment to help determine a plant’s invasive potential. The Garden is looking at a new program that will do an even more critical assessment. “New species to the garden are evaluated in our Plant Evaluation Garden for four years where we can study their seeding patterns,” explains Bunting. “Additionally, once a plant is planted in the Garden we continue to evaluate all plants for invasiveness. If any plant exhibits the characteristic to ‘seed around,’ then without hesitation it is removed from our collections.”

On occasion, explorers from temperate climates find themselves in the tropics. Bunting recalled a collecting trip to northwestern Vietnam that put them in the Five Fingers Mountain Range, chopping through tall bamboo and cardamom. “The weather was stormy and the climb was very difficult,” Bunting says. “We had a local guide, but we soon got lost and ended up spending two extra days in the jungle with no water and very little food.”

A step or two beyond the wild is where Tim Wood can be found. The product development manager for Proven Winners Shrubs does some wild plant collecting trips, but typically, he hunts for plant people. “I figure they know the plants in their country a lot better than I ever could in a two-week trip,” he says. “They may know a particular genera of plants much better than I do.”

Wood boils it down to seeking out plant people who collect, study and breed plants that could be interesting to North American gardeners and landscapers. This goal has taken him to the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Japan, Poland, South Korea, Russia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, France, Canada and the USA.

Proven Winners has developed a checklist for potential introductions:
• Flowering shrubs because that is their focus
• Plants that can root from cuttings
• Plants that are easy to cultivate for growers and gardeners
• Plants with multiple seasons of interest
• Dwarf and compact plants that require less room, pruning and care
• Plants with colorful or attractive foliage that look good in a garden beyond the flowering period
• Plants that have a new use
• Plants with increased disease resistance.

No matter the purpose or the funding, plant explorers are a breed of their own. According to Wood, the biggest lesson is that plant people all across the world are special. They have a profound appreciation for plants, people and nature. They see the world differently than most, noticing and appreciating the beauty and wonder of plants of all types and species.

Jean Starr is an award-winning writer whose articles have appeared in several national and regional publications. She’s the editor and secretary of the Midwest Peony Society, a former columnist in the Times of Northwest Indiana for nine years and currently writes a blog, Petal Talk. jstarr@sbsmags.com

ATGP - Nov/Dec 2016 - Favorite Forgotten Perennials

Mike’s Very, Very, Last, Absolutely Final and Never EVER to Be Repeated Holiday Hort Singalong!

Well, folks, you knew you were living on borrowed time. I didn’t realize it, but so was I. But when the FBI and Walt Disney (hisself!) showed up on my doorstep to ask about certain musical themes “borrowed” for a certain slightly over-the-hill garden writer at a particular Midwest horticulture magazine, I told them to go next door.

However, they came back. And after we all had a chuckle over my subterfuge and ol’ Walt told me the back story of the creation of Mickey Mouse (and I’ll bet you never thought that guy could work blue!) over a heaping glass of Ovaltine, the FBI guys agreed to remove my handcuffs with the promise that this would be the very, very, very last time that I subjected people to this cruel and unusual punishment.

So get out your pitch pipes, your hankies and your best liquor, ‘cause here we go:

I Wonder As I Squander

(Sung to “I Wonder As I Wander”)

I wonder as I squander my last twenty bucks
Why all of my purchases turn into yucks.
I’m poor as a church mouse, my bank account sucks.
I wonder as I squander my last twenty bucks

I stood in the nursery and looked at my haul
And handed my credit card over to Paul.
He smiled as he swiped it. I started to bawl.
The promise of beauty I then did recall.

If my garden wanted for any wee thing.
A truckload of mulch or a fountain I’d bring.
The splendors of nature from compost would spring,
My friends and my fam’ly would say “You’re the king!”

I wonder as I squander the last of my pay
How all that I dreamed ever turned out this way.
And wasn’t I here only just yesterday?
I wonder as I squander the last of my pay.

I Don’t Mow

(Sung to “Let It Go” from the film “Frozen”. If you don’t know it, ask any six-year-old girl.)

The lawn looks sad in the garden tonight
Only crabgrass to be seen
A kingdom of desolation and it looks like I’m James Dean
The turf is browning like some chicken over-fried
Couldn’t keep it green Heaven knows I tried

Don’t let them in
don’t let them see
Be the neighbor you always tried to be
Conceal the deal,
don’t let them know
You let it go

I don’t mow! I don’t mow!
Took the Toro back to the store
I don’t mow! I don’t mow!
Couldn’t take it any more
I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let my mom rage on.
The weeds never bothered me anyway

All I Want for Christmas is New

(sung to “All I Want for Christmas is You,” with sincerest apologies to Mariah Carey. Remember last year when I said I didn’t know this song? Hah! Gotcha!)

I don’t want a lot for Christmas
I don’t need that love and mush
I don’t care about the feelings
All that sappy goo and gush
I just want to fill my home Pruners, plants and one big gnome
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas is NEW

I don’t want a lot for Christmas
Just some random garden things,
and I Don’t care about the wrapping
Throw ‘em in a pile of bling
You can give me planters, loppers,
Fertilizers, it’s all good
Shiny trowels, goofy towels
Sure to brighten up my mood

I just want stuff for my own
Tchotchkes, trinkets to display
Who cares how it grew?
All I want for Christmas is NEWWWWWW!

I Wish I Had a Manual

(Sung to “O Come, O Come, Emanuel”)

I wish I had a manual
My pruning skills are really not so swell
I mourn the hack job I started here
Until the tree guys and their saws appear
Re-cut, re-cut with massive decibel
I should have found a manual.

Mike Nowak is an author, speaker, humorist,environmentalist, show host and entertainer. You can follow his exploits at mikenowak.net

From the Editor - NovDec 2016

The most memorable Christmas of my Chicago life was the year the temperature plummeted to 25 below zero and the pipes froze all over the house. Still, the car miraculously started and the family managed to get to the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel for the annual pageant, surrounded by neighbors bundled up for the duration in scarves, parkas and boots. Every year one lucky middle school girl would be selected to be Mary and ride down the aisle on Mabel, a real live Sicilian donkey brought in from the suburbs. A sight not to be missed.

Compare that to an account in a book by the late English garden designer and author Rosemary Verey where she writes about going out into her Cotswold garden on Christmas Day and picking a few flowers to adorn the altar at church.

I read that and sobbed into my tea (English Breakfast, of course).

Yes, the winters are different here, but it is interesting to pause and think a bit about the plants in Chicagoland that seem to survive – if not actually revel – in our cold temperatures. If the snow melts in January, I may well see some inch-tall larkspur seedlings in my front yard, and they will remain through subsequent snowstorms to bloom in June. The ground cover snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) as well as the old standards (ajuga, vinca, etc.) are actually evergreen. So this gave us the idea of doing a story on plants that love cold weather. They may not bloom on Christmas Day but their flowers sometimes persist into December and start blooming during the chilly days of March. Ben Futa, who directs the Allen Centennial Garden at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, seemed the perfect denizen of the north to write this.

For those of you who actually enjoy working outdoors in the cold, we offer stories about several options – eradicating buckthorn, leaf composting, planting a pot of layered bulbs. If you prefer to while away the winter hours indoors, we have stories on growing salads, fig trees and carnivorous plants.

In this issue you will learn that the Christmas Tree Ship still sails into Chicago every December and that the era of plant hunting is not over. Local professionals still voyage to lands far, far away to discover species that could be hardy here or offer resistance to the pests and diseases that ail our plants. And like the explorers in days of yore, they even risk life and limb.

Finally, for the gardeners who want to snuggle up and dream about various ways to re-do their spaces in 2017, we offer features on two very different gardens: one a water garden in Elmhurst and the other a fun-filled color extravaganza in Valparaiso. Whether you’re a worker bee or a dreamer, there’s something here for you all.

Issues - 2016 - NovDec

Saving Dahlias

Article Photo

Big beefy dahlias with their dinner-plate-sized flowers are darlings of the garden from summer through the first autumn frosts. Although many gardeners treat dahlias as disposable annuals, it’s easy to store them over winter – and save money – for another display the following year. It’s simply a matter of digging up the tubers and roots after the first fall frost.

George Rebersky, Jr., of Worth, Ill., grows dozens of dahlias, which he replants each year. “You want to keep your dahlia flowers on the plants as long as possible,” he says. But after the first fall frost hits, you cut the stalk of the plant just a few inches above the soil. “You must retain part of the main stalk when you are cutting and dividing the tubers,” he says. Dahlia tubers are like potatoes; They should have “eyes” that will sprout new shoots come spring. He carefully digs up the tuber clumps and washes off the soil. Alternatively, place them in a cardboard box to allow the soil to dry so that it can be brushed off.

After his tuber clumps are thoroughly dry, Rebersky dusts them with powdered sulfur, which is available at garden centers. “The sulfur wards off bacteria and mold and gives you a higher success rate for a good tuber in spring,” he says. He places the tubers in small plastic storage bags with a handful of wood shavings, which you can buy in small bags in a pet department or pet store. “The bags can be layered in a large storage container with wood shavings between the layers to keep moisture away from the bags.”

Some gardeners also have luck simply placing the dried tubers in vermiculite. They check the roots periodically and sprinkle or mist water on them to keep the vermiculite barely moist if the tubers show any signs of shriveling. To identify the hundreds of dahlias that he grows each year, Corny Morgan of Palos Heights uses a permanent ink marker to write the name on each dried tuber.

Chicagoland Gardening editor Carolyn Ulrich has had luck overwintering container-grown dahlias that she stores in her basement. “The ones that have come back for me when kept in soil are ‘Bishop of Llandalf’, ‘Andries’ Orange’ and ‘Prince Noir’,” Ulrich says. This past winter, however, she stored dahlia tubers in bags in the basement but only ‘Prince Noir’ survived. “I sprinkled the tubers several times, and they appear to have rotted.”

From October through late April, store the tubers in an area such as a crawl space, attic or the inside corner of an attached garage that stays between 38 to 50 F from October through late April. A cool temperature is critical to maintaining dormancy. “When I’ve grown and overwintered container-grown plants in the basement, the ‘Andries’ Orange’ sometimes broke dormancy in February, and that was a problem,” Ulrich explains. “That meant I ended up with a 2-foot plant in my living room by mid-April and didn’t know what to do with it while it was waiting to go outside. I just kept it close to the window and hoped for the best. It survived, and with such a head start it was blooming outdoors in June.”

Liz Omura of Cantigny Gardens in Wheaton overwinters dahlia tubers in open-sided plastic crates that offer air circulation. “We store them loose – no soil – and the crates are typically stacked 10 to 12 high.” The crates are kept in a hoop house that stays about 40 F all winter. “We pull them out as the tubers begin to sprout and then plant them directly in the garden.” Although some tubers don’t make it, Omura says that she has had great success overwintering ‘Mystic Illusion Yellow’ using this method for several years.

When spring rolls around, you’ll be ready for another dahlia display. “May 15 is the golden day when the frost is typically gone and it’s time to plant the tubers in the ground,” Rebersky says.

Bottom Line:
• Use a fork to carefully dig the tubers out of the ground after the first fall frost has withered the leaves.
• Discard any tubers that do not have “eyes.”
• Leave the roots and tubers in a dry cool place for several days.
• Brush off the dried soil.
• Store tubers in bags with or without vermiculite or wood shavings.
• Check periodically that tubers haven’t dried out. Mist shriveled tubers lightly with water and return them to storage.
• Plant tubers in pots or in the ground in mid-May.

Nina A. Koziol teaches horticulture and garden design classes at The Chicago Botanic Garden and The Morton Arboretum. She is a horticulturist with a degree in education and environmental science. nkoziol@sbsmags.com

Container Plants for Fall

A Clear and Present Danger

I was recently interviewing a well-known garden writer about the benefits of an outdoor space in which to contemplate and enjoy your plants, your sense of aesthetics and nature in general. (Ah. Just writing that sentence lowered my blood pressure by ten points.) Among the things I learned:

• Plastic flowers have little in common with nature
• Bamboo sticks are not an optimum construction material for a pergola
• An arborvitae fence works only if the plants don’t die

That kind of advice stays with you for awhile, much like a chocolate corn dog washed down with 32 ounces of pink lemonade.

But it caused me to look in the mirror – never a pretty sight – and think about my own connection with the world outside my back door. Unfortunately, I came to the conclusion that if I’m not Public Enemy #1, I probably rate at least honorable mention.

Let’s start with cup plant, or Silphium perfoliatum, which is native to about half of the United States and much of eastern Canada. I’m told on one website that it prefers moist, loamy soil. Tell that to the cup plants growing out of the cracks in my asphalt alley, or the ones that have sprung up on my parkway, which receives about two inches of rain per decade. (Don’t ask me how that is possible. I’m just reporting the facts. If you want science, there are a bunch of other pages in this magazine that will make you happy. Now keep reading!)

And as you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m the guy who planted this stuff a number of years ago. Well, it spread … a little bit. To the alley, as I mentioned, into a few yards, some swimming pools, a couple of abandoned cooking grills, the top of a few cell phone microwave towers. The cup plants on the corner of the block look pretty with their daisy-like blooms and opposite leaves that can hold water where they join the stem. Hence the name “cup plant.” But this particular group is tough. They keep cheap booze in their leaf-stem cups, they smoke cigarettes and they take the lunch money from the feral cats in the neighborhood. Like I said, those are tough plants.

Did you see the photos that the NASA space probe New Horizons sent back from the dwarf planet Pluto? (And don’t even get me started on why Pluto got demoted. Thanks, Neil deGrasse Tyson and the rest of you Pluto haters for invalidating my entire childhood!) The resolution of the cameras was outstanding – so good, in fact, that I’m pretty sure you can see cup plants on the surface. And, more than likely, those plants escaped from my yard!

And it’s not just Silphium that makes me a menace to Western, and Eastern and Plutonian civilization. Ever heard of Parthenocissus quinquefolia? It’s also known as Virginia creeper. I know, I know, I KNOW – the name should have tipped me off! It was one of the first things I planted in my yard because – like cup plant – it’s native to even more U.S. states and an even larger part of Canada. Can you see how easily I’m duped by maps?

I was thrilled at how lovely my wooden fence looked when the Virginia creeper quickly covered it. Then it covered my neighbor’s shed and my neighbor’s dog and a couple of other neighbors’ cars. When, finally, it coveted my neighbor’s wife, I threatened it with a bible and my pruners and it backed off. However, when it covered the coffee table in my living room, I began to suspect that I had a problem.

The problem was me and my choice of plants.

Have I mentioned the cutleaf staghorn sumac in my yard – Rhus typhinia ‘Laciniata’? Did you know that they spread by runners and that those runners can pop up in your lawn and in your garden beds and in your shag carpeting? Yes, it’s a North American native. Yes, it shows up in a bunch of U.S. states and in Canada. Boy, do I hate maps. But, hey, it’s a native plant! What could possibly go wrong? (See Silphium perfoliatum and Parthenocissus quinquefolia.)

Hmm, my blood pressure seems to be spiking. I think it’s time to go outside, threaten a few plants and dig up the dead part of my arborvitae fence. Send me a text if the new planetary probe to Jupiter spots what looks like Virginia creeper threatening to cover the Giant Red Spot.

Issues - 2016 - SeptOct

From the Editor - SeptOct 2016

September has arrived. Sigh.

Or perhaps you say whoopee!

Whatever your response, there’s no denying the change of seasons is upon us so we might as well revel in the joys to come and limit weeping over the loss of past wonders to a minimum.

For me, one of the great marvels of living in Chicago is how the fireflies almost always hatch and start flitting around on the first day of summer. If the spring has been cold, that might be delayed, but generally they appear right on time. So, too, the robins, which I usually notice in my yard hunting worms on the first day of spring. And the late Bill Brincka marveled how the turkey vultures would return to his woods near Michigan City, Ind. on the same day every year. Yes, they’re not especially beautiful, but they’re part of the workings of nature and it’s a comfort to know that it’s ticking like clockwork.

A major worry about climate change is that the clockwork will get out of sync. Birds migrate in response to day length, but plants grow and flower in response to temperature. So as the world grows warmer and plants flower earlier, they may have no pollen or seeds available for birds to eat when they arrive from the south. Just one reason why citizen science research efforts such as Project Budburst (budburst.org) and the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Trees for 2050 research are important (chicagobotanic.org/plantinfo/tree_alternatives).

A person who keeps her eyes on the workings of Nature is Nina Koziol, who has written this issue’s cover story on the fall migration of birds and butterflies. Hummingbirds stop en masse in her habitat-rich garden to refuel as they leave for Central America, often flying across the Gulf of Mexico in one fell swoop – another wonder of nature. Other migrating birds, butterflies and insects fly through as well, and her article highlights what we should do to help them on their way (page 44).

Nina lives in a far south suburb. So does Mark Cramer, whose bird-friendly garden is located on a suburban golf course. Lots of trees and rolling slopes surrounding a 2-acre space whose soil he improved using organic methods (page 56).

And for something completely different in this issue, we have moss, glorious carpets of it in Wisconsin where Dale Sievert grows 50 different varieties. This summer he gave a lecture at the Chicago Botanic Garden that left our writer Susan Crawford astounded with the beauty of moss and the possibilities for using it in her own city garden (page 50). I’ve started pulling the grass out of my lawn and letting the moss stay!

The rest of the issue is a grand potpourri of topics – potatoes, how to turn pumpkins into really original decorations, invasive and non-invasive plants for your water garden, edibles to grow in your front yard, a great new houseplant and a major Frederick Law Olmsted-inspired upgrade of Jackson Park.

Fall is here. Let’s all say whoopee.

ADS-HBB-House (Enews)

Plant Identification Flow Chart

A comical plant identification flow chart from our columnist, Mike Nowak.

From the Editor - JulyAug 2016

Seen any good movies lately? One to put at the top of your list is “Greenfingers,” whose title is the English term for having a green thumb.

The film is based on a true story of prisoners from an English jail, some of them murderers, who get a second chance in life (and save their souls) by becoming gardeners.

The main character is a burnt-out shell of a man who is given a packet of viola seeds by his roommate, a cancer-ridden octogenarian. When the violas not only germinate but bloom, it’s a transformative moment.

The prisoners go on to plant a garden at their prison, and a nationally respected style maven, played by Helen Mirren wearing fabulous hats, comes to inspect. They enter a garden show, fail to win a prize, but the Queen disagrees, so the final scene has them trotting off for a meet ’n greet in which her majesty is about to give them the royal version of “you wuz robbed.” Info at the end of the movie tells us that in the future, the prisoners went on to win several prizes for their gardens at this show. So a feel-good movie. In spades, as it were.

We feel good about the stories in this issue. Our cover story takes us to Bourbonnais where Father Richard Pignihi has fashioned an enchanting two-part enclosure adjacent to the rectory of the church he serves. Then we visit a trailer park in Bridgeview where DeAnna Bialczak welcomes butterflies to a jam-packed garden that has been certified as a butterfly haven by Monarch Watch and the North American Butterfly Association. These are gardens that truly restore the soul of the individuals who created them and anyone who visits.

Both gardens are small and demonstrate yet again that it’s truly amazing what you can grow in a limited space. And if you want to save your flowers after their blooming period has passed, Jean Starr shows how to dry them so your summer joy can continue.

Looking for something completely different? Have you considered putting up a wall garden? Landscape architect Scott Mehaffey knows how to do it. Imagine a living wall on your patio providing the perfect cozy nook for summer dining and trying out Deb Terrill’s recipes for summer soups. Green grape gazpacho anyone?

We have more: herbs and summer annuals for shade containers; blue-flowering native plants; a school gardening project that gets kids excited about eating good food. Finally, we look ahead to hotter days and how heat hardiness will one day be as much a part of our vocabulary as winter hardiness. The professionals at the Chicago Botanic Garden have already done a study that indicates which trees aren’t likely to do well 35 years down the road. Prepare for a few surprises.

Issues - 2016 - JulyAug



Article Thumbnail
Waiting for Gardot

“Hey, Gerry.” “ Morning, Al.” “ Where’s Carey?” “ They moved him to the front this morning.” “ No kidding. Think we’re next?

Article Thumbnail
Gardening 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 ...

Article Thumbnail
Gardening 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 ...

Article Thumbnail
10 Years After

I’m not sure whether I should be celebrating or apologizing. Let me explain. The 700 or so words on this page mark my tenth ...

Article Thumbnail
The Dog Dayz

Gardeners perplex me. Actually, I’m perplexed by many things, including gravity and spumoni ice cream and why most Americans ...


What causes black spots on my orchid leaves?

I applied commercial compost and hardwood mulch to an area where I am establishing a small garden. I did a few soil tests on the area and the results indicated the nitrogen was depleted. I intend to spread a bag of dried blood to rectify this problem When is the best time to apply the dried blood?

What are your three favorite “all-but-forgotten” perennials that every garden should include? Why do you like them?

ChicagolandGardening Advertisement