Monday, May 31, 2010

Life In The Slow Lane

I don't mean to imply that it is a negative to live life in the slow lane, but it is certainly a change of pace for a Chicago girl to go to Wisconsin for Memorial Day weekend.  We usually go to our Lake Geneva home with my daughter and her family, mostly because my husband and son-in-law like to play golf while we sit around and wait for them to come home!  The children love it up there because my granddaughter rides horses and begs to go riding each and every visit.

I do have a garden in Wisconsin, but it is very waterwise with dianthus firewitch, coneflowers, daylilies, sedum, salvia, coreopsis, lavender and my lovely Knockout roses (which get eaten each year by the Japanese Beetles).  I will put in some Gaillardia Arizona Sun which seem to hold up throughout the summer without a lot of watering.  I know mulching will be part of our weekend as it was pretty sparse the last time we visited.  Also, they had tied up that fallen arborvitae, but it is not a permanent solution.

I have a beautiful Chanticleer Pear by the deck which seems to be the perfect spot for a smaller tree between two townhouses. 

We will probably go to Wall Mart, Home Depot and Target as these are the go to places in Lake Geneva.  The town is bustling and difficult even to get to on route 50 - we take a back road and avoid all of that confusion.  If you remember what I have mentioned before, it is music, motorcycles and cars all weekend.

The best thing about it is that no matter how old you are, you are always young when you visit Lake Geneva, Wisconsin!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Around The Garden

I have been watering like crazy this week (90 degree temperatures) because everything seems to be in distress.  It is supposed to be a little cooler for the weekend.

I have all my tomato plants put in including some sunflower seeds nasturtiums, cucumber and basil seeds.  There is that new circular tomato cage that I am trying and a lean-to cucumber structure.

I bought two new perennials for the south border (Shasta Broadway Lights) which I have had before without success.  I don't know why I am trying them again, but they do say zone 5, one more chance.  I also bought Lobelia Cardinalis for the shade area under the Pagoda Dogwood. 

The Knockout Roses look so much better in the back than in the front. I am beginning to believe that friend of mine that said it is bad feng shui to have thorns in the front of your home.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Alley Connection

I began living on an alley as a child growing up in Chicago.  I probably walked the alley as much as I used the sidewalk outside my front door - it was a shortcut to the next block, it contained treasures you would never see out in front like soda bottles that I could  trade in for cash.  When you have an alley, the garage and driveway is usually in the back leaving the front to be total garden.

When I became an adult, I graduated to a home with a side driveway and no alley.  This was okay, I didn't miss the alley, but soon we moved into the old old house and guess what, I was back on the alley.  My young children loved the alley, it ended with my neighbor's house who didn't have a garage in the back.  So, they played out there endlessly, digging for artifacts under the 100 year old oak tree that was there before the house.  I disliked this alley a lot, not paved, could not navigate during the icy winters, good thing I had a driveway in the front.

My last house did not have a alley, but a long treacherous driveway when it snowed.  I think I would prefer the alley!  The house I am in now has an alley, finally paved and a community in itself.  We not only know the neighbors on each side of our block out in front, but we have that social connection with the neighbors on the block behind us.  We call the comings and goings up and down the alley our "alley people."  The children come to see our dog through the fence, I say hi to my older neighbor walking her dog down the alley, and I finally planted a xeric garden in the alley which this year has really popped.

This is not a city alley but a suburban alley in a very old suburb that used to be a go to destination for Chicagoans to spend their summers.  I always think of one of my favorite movies "Rear Window" when I look up and down my alley and wonder what's going on in that garden?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Life Is Good Award

Lona, at A Hocking Hills Garden has nominated me for the above award, but she is insisting that I answer her questions!!

1.  What makes life good for me?

     Life is good for me when I am with my family, my five
     grandchildren and my lifelong work friends.  You
     have to put yourself out there to make these
     connections, invite people over, make dates, etc.

2.  My favorite pastime other than gardening.

     I love to cook, sew, decorate and am passionate about
     educational opportunities for young children.
     Writing is also something I love, fits well into blogging.

3.  Worst Gardening Experience

     Rudebeckia Goldstrum - I know many people love it,
     but it reseeded everywhere it could find a speck of
     dirt in my previous home, not a favorite plant!

4.  Favorite flower

     I would have to say it is the rose, I have so many around
     my garden.  They add a mystique for me that is not
     possessed by any other flower.

5.  Where would I love to visit.

     I would love to visit the English gardens.

6.  Favorite flower or nature picture.

     I love the flower and fauna of Rousseau

Lona, thank you for your interest in Gatsbys Gardens.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Gardening With Friends

Gardening is fun, it is rewarding, obsessive and lonely unless you have special gardening friends.  There is nothing better than doing the nursery field trips looking for those special plants each year.  It is even more rewarding if you have someone that shares that wanderlust each spring when it's time to hit the garden centers.

I have such a friend who is willing to drop everything and look for plants, even going out of state to visit a unique garden center!  We have travelled miles together looking for those new introductions, attending plant walks, workshops, etc.  I talked her into joining my garden group, and I think she feels it was a good choice, lots of obsessive gardeners all in one place with lunch thrown in and usually a speaker.

Garden blogging is a wonderful connection for gardeners but it does not replace climbing into the 4-wheel drive with a buddy to go "plant chasing."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


At a recent garden club meeting (the serious group) I was not anticipating learning much about plants at another cooking demonstration.  The featured speaker was the son of our hostess.  He is a chef and owns an eclectic restaurant in Chicago.  He began by grilling salmon and chicken outside on the deck - we had already had lunch so I wasn't planning on sampling any more food.  To my surprise the grilled meat and fish were not the stars of the show!

I should have known that the herbs were the feature attraction, all lined up in glasses like flower displays.  He talked about hard herbs and soft herbs with the hard herbs used to enhance the flavor of what you are cooking and the soft herbs used as garnishes after cooking.  The hard herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, etc., he uses the herbs like little brushes dipped in olive oil sweeping onto the items to be grilled or baked or fried.  Chives, dill, parsley, basil, mint, etc., are considered soft herbs and chopped finely to use as garnishes.

One tip that I will certainly use this summer is to blanch the parsley and basil before I blend them for pesto.  Our chef says that this will keep the pesto from turning dark.  Since I am growing most the aforementioned herbs I guess it was time that I learned some new tricks and which were considered hard and soft.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Color In The Garden

I went on a garden dig awhile ago to glean plants for a sale to benefit our local historical house.  This is part of our community involvement activities that we do with the garden club throughout the year.  The property is expansive and I felt I was at an arboretum rather than a private home.  I experienced a level of anxiety knowing I would never be able to take care of this property.

Nevertheless, I had met the owner of this property previously at the Midwest Garden Symposium at the Morton Arboretum.  She is what the English call a Plantswoman, very knowledgeable about her plantings but still normal enough to say, "Oh, I don't remember the name of that one." 

Her opinions about color were important and somewhat surprising to me.  She uses no pale colors, like pale pink, violet, light yellow, peach, etc.  Our master gardener feels that only bright colors pop in the garden, like reds, purples, bright yellows, vivid oranges and always white.  I am afraid I have to depart from this opinion especially for my back garden where I love the softness of the pinks in the heat of the summer.  I am even doing pink as a theme in my front garden along with reds, pale yellows, white, magenta and blue. 

The back patio heats it up a little with bright orange geraniums and orange hibiscus, softer fountain plants variegated Algerian Ivy and Cordyline for a centerpiece on the coffee table.  All of the surrounding areas are laced with pinks, whites, blues, white and bright rosy orange.  I think my master gardener friend was correct when she mentioned that you can put orange and red together if you mix in purple, stunning by my vegetable garden!

I feel I am creating a mood, not necessarily a color palette.  It is also important to note that when you have very little frontage to your property you do not necessarily need vibrant colors that pop.  You are close and personal to each person who walks by or comes to your home.

I guess what I really learned from this digging experience is to know when to quit, not quit gardening but to quit going on and on and on when you know you can't do it anymore.  One never has to quit gardening, just quit gardening so much!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Around The Garden

What a week, torrential rains, wind, cold, frost warnings, yuck!  However, all is calm again and I struggled to put in some of my plants that have been sitting around in and out of my garage. 

I have just about completed the plantings in all of my large containers and just have some small table planters and my shed hayracks to plant.  I do want to fill in my side border with some more spring blooming perennials, because it seems sort of bare after the tulips and daffodils die back, waiting for the summer perennials.

I did buy some metal artwork for the north side of my house to hang on the fence.  Thank you (I think it was Jeanne) who had the idea of a gallery.  If I am wrong please let me know.  These are all works in progress, as far as gardens this is what is blooming today!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Container For All Seasons

I have been on a mission to find every plant I need to fill my daughter-in-law's containers.  My dear friend and I visited three nurseries the other day and I went to a final one yesterday in order to complete the plant list for these large pedestal type cast iron containers.  They are very impressive and lead up to the front door of a Nantucket style home.

I know I said I was going to do a Cezanne arrangement for these pots, lots of color!  I think we have achieved our goal with pinks, whites, blues, yellows, purples, magenta and of course lots of green. 

Our tall background plant is Dracena Bauer, which in the tropics will grow to ten feet, not in our container.  In front of that we will plant Dahlia Mystic Beauty, encircled by Lobelia, petunias, zinnias,  coleus, sweet potato vine, dusty miller and creeping jenny.

What most of us do not realize is that it takes a lot of plants to fill out a container.  They need to be packed tight to make an impact.  You can shake away some of that dirt to squeeze them in. These full pots also need to be fed at least every two weeks and watered daily if necessary.  I am also going to add some water absorbing crystals to the soil and fertilize.

I took a tour one day of the village where I live to really notice how well containers enhanced the homes where they resided.  To my surprise, many of them were too small for the size of the home and so many did not compliment the style of the specific residence.  When you place containers at the entrance of your home or garden, stand back and look at them from the perspective of approaching your entry or passing by from the street.  Containers should be large enough to make an impact but not overpowering.

When choosing plants for containers, take into consideration the style of the home and also the color of the brick/siding, roof and fencing.  I am not a fan of Dusty Miller, but I am going to use it to peek out from this container to pick up the color of the siding and draw your eye from the plantings to the home.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Heucheras - Not Like They Used To Be!

I really do like Heucheras, mostly from the Villosa strain.  I did grow them many years ago and was never impressed by their leaves or flower display.  However, with the cross breeding they have done in the past few years, they are spectacular!

I began with Heuchera Villosa Purpurea, a large dark Heuchera with white bridal type flowers.  It was wonderful, but I kept losing them after the winter.  After several replacements, I began putting in some of the more recent hybrids like, Brownie and Mocha.  They blend well with Purpurea but are not as large and certainly do not have the same presence.

I have also added Raspberry Ice, Georgia Peach (gorgeous already) and Southern Comfort.  I have had Plum Pudding for several years but it hasn't done much.  They look especially beautiful with ferns, Japanese Painted Fern, and ground covers, mine is Lirope Spicata.

Heucheras do well in containers withstanding the cool temperatures of the spring and fall and even the heat of summer.  Their leaf color is as beautiful rivaling most flowers.  The newer varieties will grow beautifully in the shade or sun.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Just Wrap It Up

I haven't had to do this in many years, maybe decades, where I ran around my garden with plastic bags, sheets and landscape stakes bundling up my plants against the expected frost.  Usually it is safe by Mothers Day to plant annuals in the Chicago area, but every once in awhile we get caught.

I remember my last experience in a hooded raincoat with sleet beating down on my head laying sheets everywhere in my old old house garden, with my husband behind me placing bricks to hold them down.  I am not too worried about the geraniums, petunias, ageratum and pansies as they all can take a patchy frost.  But impatiens, tender vegetables like peppers, tomatoes and basil will succumb to anything near a frost.

I wanted everything to look so nice for today as I am hosting my daughter's birthday and Mothers Day for several relatives.  Well, it will look like a Halloween Party with all of the black plastic bags I have everywhere!  I am not going to remove them as there is a real frost warning for tonight.  Notwithstanding the work of replanting everything but the expense of the single pot annuals is a downer.  My garage is filled with plants that I had not put in yet (thank goodness), my car trunk is filled with the plants I dug for the plant sale tomorrow with the Garden Club, and I even bought flowers today for the table.

I took my daughter on a Kitchen Walk yesterday and we had a really great time seeing several beautiful homes and kitchens in the area.  She took the day off work for her birthday, we did lunch, and really enjoyed doing something we previously were never able to do because we were always working.

So when you think about it, in the scheme of things, how much does a little frost matter?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Pruning Time For Beautiful Flowers

Pruning trees, shrubs and clematis is a garden art form.  We worry so much about taking so much off that the plant will look unsightly. Unfortunately, the opposite is true - not enough pruning promotes an unhappy plant.

I see so many beautiful specimens around me that have been pruned at the wrong time sans blooms the following year, or not pruned at all with a few paltry blooms at the top of the shrub.

As soon as your lilac, magnolia, viburnum, forsythia, bridal wreath have bloomed in the spring, prune, shaping the top of the shrub and removing one third of the old growth each year to the bottom of the shrub.  This has to be done pretty quickly as the shrubs begin to set flowers for the following year.  One year, I waited too long to prune the Magnolia which hung over the walkway and I had very few flowers the following spring.  I have already trimmed back my Viburnum Carlesi.  Hydrangeas have pruning requirements also, some growing on old and new wood, some growing only on old wood.  I happen to have the types that I can cut down quite a bit each year and get beautiful new blooms the following summer and late summer. 

My Hydrangeas are Endless Summer, Unique and Limelight.  I shape my Limelight in a semi-circle when I prune and it is a gorgeous specimen come August.  Unique., I cut down to about two feet and it is spectacular in the late summer.  With Endless Summer I wait to see how much growth is coming and then trim whatever is not viable.

Don't be afraid to heavily prune damaged or overgrown flowering trees.  My daughter's Crabapple is over fifty years old and we pruned it heavily last year because it had more suckers than anything else.  I pruned my Pagoda Dogwood because it had been so heavily damaged by the Cicadas and grew in all different directions.  Both trees have had the best blooms ever!

I think I have finally figured out my Little Henry's Garnet (Sweetspire)- tons of little beginning flowers this year.  In one of my previous posts I noted that I had to bring out the big guns for this shrub and feed it a systemic.  I noticed an improvement almost instantly.  I also cut it down to about 12" high.  I will do the same this year after it blooms and see if this is the answer to a very finicky shrub for the six plus years that I have tried to grow it.

Clematis, we all learn the hard way with this lovely plant, meaning if you cut it down in the spring and it is not a type 3, you will get very few blooms or they will be very small.  I went through this many years paying no attention to the different types.  Guess what, type 3 is easy, but some beautiful blooms are passed up if we don't also try the type 1 and type 2.  It is a challenge remembering which is which.  One final note, you have to fertilize if you want maximum bloom, acid based for Hydrangeas and other acid loving shrubs, general fertilizer for others, equal numbers if possible 5-5-5 or 10-10-10, not too high in nitrogen or it will again cut down on the blooms

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Pergola Of All Pergolas

I fought this pergola for a long time, just feeling it was an unnecessary expense and I didn't really mind the sun later in the day because I didn't go out there!

I lost, my husband was obsessive regarding the building of this pergola.  He had at least six landscape/pergola people stop by the house to give estimates on this wooden creation.  Finally, he settled on a person who was a carpenter and a landscape designer.  Our patio was irregular so it was not the easiest pergola to design. 

After many consultations, it was decided that the pergola would have grooves in the headers to accommodate a product called Shade Tree which are constructed of sunbrella fabric that draw along grooves with tracks inserted to cover the pergola.  This is not a popular product in the Midwest so here we go again doing something that nobody knows what we are talking about!

I have Green Velvet Boxwood in the raised bed along one side of the patio and I use containers that can be moved if required

Well, it's up and we did buy covers this year so we don't have to take it down, and I must admit it does a great job keeping that intense sun from the patio.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Veggie Tales

I know not everyone is into growing vegetables, but believe it or not, this is how most children become interested in gardening.  There are so many cold crop vegetables that grow in short periods of time, the results are watchable almost daily and most can be put on the table to taste or eat.

Not only is the growing a first class science experiment, but the preparation and cooking integrates language, math and science.  Think of some new words to learn such as germinate, soil, fertilizer, even photosynthesis and phototropism (even young children can be introduced to these terms and an explanation of the meaning - remember this is an introduction, not mastery).  Growing veggies is such a great way to get children to try new things, especially if they grew it and nurtured it into adulthood and finally to the table.

I began growing veggies at age eight on a thirty foot city lot in Chicago.  I probably would have begun earlier but I lived in an apartment in the big city.  Neither of my parents were gardeners, but my aunt was, my mentor who I followed around the garden on my hands and knees learning about each plant as we hobbled along.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, my first crop was carrots.  I have carrots growing this year layered in between the lettuces.  They seem to be doing just great, but my radishes have lots of little nibbles showing, don't think I planted them at the time recommended by the Farmers Almanac!

I love the Red Rosie lettuce, so dark and mysterious, Oakleaf Panisse is a brighter green than any other Oakleaf that I have grown.  I have already planted two Celebrity tomatoes because they are determinate and do not take over my small garden.  I had to have a Beefmaster but still have not received my Brandy Boys and peppers from Burpee.  I did add some hot banana peppers,  jalapenos, mild banana peppers and basil.