Monday, January 30, 2012


Each year at this time we are overwhelmed with all of the new plant introductions and some older introductions that we haven't tried yet.

Emailing back and forth with a friend I realized we were planning our gardens for the upcoming seasons.  We both wanted year round color so many of the plants we bandied back and forth will put on a show in the garden all year.

Hydrangea White Dome
This is a variety that was recommended by the Proven Winners Choice representative at the Mid-Am Show.  It grows on very strong stems, will not flatten out in storms and dries beautifully for winter interest.  It is related to Annabelle but has none of its floppiness.

Hydrangea Pinky Winky
Grows in full sun to part shade, flowers over a long time period

Hydrangea Let's Dance (Starlight)
Small hydrangea, two to three feet, blooms on old and new wood.  I was informed that if your do not prune it down in the fall or spring it will go through two bloom cycles.  However, in a very cold winter this may not be a choice because of dieback.

Hydrangea Let's Dance (Moonlight)
The look of the mophead is sometimes preferred as the plant will look fuller.

Hydrangea Little Lime
A smaller version of Limelight with all of the same characteristics, holds its flowerheads all winter

Not all hydrangeas hold their flowerheads well through the fall and winter and some of the oak leaved varieties do not look good in the fall (leaves become mottled).

Hydrangea Bobo
This is a new smaller paniculata whose panicles do not droop.  It will take full to part sun and likes moisture.

Azalea Karen
Beautiful flowers in the spring

Azalea Karen
Great fall color as it is an evergreen variety

Azalea Bollywood
A newer variety, evergreen with variegated leaves

Molinia Moorhexe 
One of the many grasses that can be left standing over the winter months and add great interest

Miscanthus Little Kitten
One of the few miscanthus grasses that will stay standing throughout the winter season

The Panicums are also great for winter interest and there are many to choose from.

Panicum Northwind

There is no better time to plan where you want winter interest than in the winter.  Looking out into my back garden I can see some areas that are a combination of sticks (roses) and bare ground, not much interest there.  

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Gilded Age (Part II)

In 1883 when the Nickerson home was new it looked like this:

Five years later in 1888, the sandstone facade has absorbed pollutants so it looks like this.

By the time Richard Driehaus bought the house in 2003 it looked like this, caked with layers of pollutants that had caused damage to the stone and the embellishments.

The whole house was cleaned by a laser technique and where there was water damage it was repaired until it looks like this today:

Not about gardens but it is about beauty.  There was a beautiful conservatory and garden at this home but the College of Surgeons eradicated this area of the home and built an office right next door to the mansion.  If you open a door in the Driehaus Mansion you see the wall of the College of Surgeons.  Don't you wonder how these things can happen?

Let's go back inside, there are a few more things to see!

This is the drawing room adjacent to the living room, note the satinwood piano on the left.

Detail on the side of the satinwood piano

There is a large ballroom on the third floor flanked with guest bedrooms on each side.

Mr. Nickerson purchased these large bronze statues at the Comumbian Exposition in 1893 and they remained with the home through the various owners.  They have never moved from the end of the second floor.

Some of the floors are quarter sawn oak and also in wonderful condition.

The Lincrusta wallpaper is also original to the smoking room with glass half circles above it.

Brass trim is worked into many of the wood doors.

A most unusual Tiffany with splashes of color

The Nickerson home was built for $450,000 over a three year period.  Many craftsmen had come from Europe after the Chicago fire so several were readily available to work on this 25,000 square foot home.  It is estimated that in today's market the cost would be $100 million.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Gilded Age (Part I)

I have always been interested in vintage, furniture, glassware, design, etc.  However, my trip with the Art Institute Study Group was overwhelming! 

The Nickerson Mansion (Driehaus Museum) at 40 E. Erie in Chicago, Illinois

A contrast of time with the columns of the nineteenth century with the skyscrapers surrounding this step back in time.

In 1883 Samuel Nickerson (who founded the First National Bank of Chicago) moved into a magnificent fireproof house build out of brick, iron and concrete.  It contains no plaster but seventeen different types of marble, alabaster, onyx, limestone, magnificent woods and brass.

Entrance to the "Marble Palace"

The living room furniture is original to the home.  The beveled mirrors that are inset in the moldings around the room were placed so that when sitting one could see the whole room.

It has had only two family owners, a business owner and some rental years.  The home is in wonderful condition but mostly due to the renovation that began in 2003 under the direction of Richard Driehaus a Chicago Entrepreneur and Philanthropist.  Completed in 2008 it opened as a museum to the gilded age with Mr. Driehaus' collections of Tiffany glass, artwork and furniture.

This is Mr. Driehaus' office right across the street from the museum, built in 1886 as the Ramsom Cable House.  It was his first renovation project and is a beautiful preserved building.

The wood floors are magnificent, each room in a different wood and a unique design.

The floors, the wainscoting, wallpapers and fabrics (Scalamandre) transport the visitor back to the gilded age.  The floors are all original but the wall coverings had to be replaced in the appropriate patterns of the time.

These lights are original to the home, one grouping had to be replaced and you could not tell the difference.  The home was electrified and was a combination of electric and gas lights.

The jeweled and leaded glass is everywhere!

Jeweled windows in the dining room
This is the only room where the wallpaper is original.  It is Lincrusta by Frederick Walton the inventor of Linoleum.

There are multiple fireplaces in the home all trimmed in beautiful tiles, mosaics and marquetry.

Many of the fireplaces have Tiffany fireplace screens in front of them.

It was common at this time to have tables in front of the fireplace flanked on either side with chairs and a settee.

This is the fireplace in the library and is thought to be the only one in the home that was ever used.  The fireplaces were in such great condition because the home was centrally heated, state of the art for 1883.

The dome was original to the home, but the second owner added the above fireplace and changed out plain glass for stained glass.  The whole dome had to be dismantled during the recent renovation to repair it and put it back together piece by piece.

The collection of Tiffany lamps and glass is extensive.

Tiffany floor lamp in the living room reflecting in the mirrors surrounding the room.

This floor lamp is a more subtle Tiffany in green glass.

This is a Tulip Tiffany hanging from a gold leaf ceiling.  Many times several hanging lights were made in the same design to put in long hallways or more than one room in a home.

Tiffany's Peacock Light

Tiffany Tulip
One of the first to be electrified and face downward, gas lights had to face up.

Tiffany "One of a Kind"
Executed in glass, brass and mother of pearl

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Behind The Scenes

I was invited again this year to the Proven Winners Choice Luncheon at the Mid-America Horticultural Show in Chicago.  It was a bitter cold day and I thought to myself this better be worth it!

Lake Michigan looks foreboding but it is still a beautiful sight even on a cold winter day.

I loved this Golden Spruce, grows only fifteen feet tall and has yellow needles on the surface.

The smaller conifers were very interesting to me especially with the small garden that I have.

Heuchera Green Spice

Hakonechloa All Gold and Fubuki

Solomon's Seal Prince Charming
A low growing variety 12"

Meadowbrite Fireworks Coneflower
Developed at the Chicago Botanic Gardens 18" tall

Darcey Bussell Rose
Considered one of David Austin's best red roses, named after Darcey Bussell an English ballerina.

Endless Summer is still a big display item even though many of us have issues with this hydrangea.

After touring the show we met for a working lunch with the renowned breeder Dr. Roderick Woods of Cambridge, England.  He began his career as a renowned physiologist, scholar and researcher at Cambridge University. 

Dr. Woods had a fascinating career before he became a well known plant breeder, a charming man and totally obsessed with the hibiscus plant.  If you would like to know more about Dr. Woods check him out on the internet.  There was a great article written by Tim Wood of Spring Meadow Nursery on his blog Plant Quest, in 2008, but the link would not transfer over.

Dr. Roderick Woods

The Chiffon series is the hibiscus that has been bred in a few colors with many more to come in the future.  His most loved Pink Chiffon is now being grown by Spring Meadow Nursery in small pots for release to the public in 2013.

Lavender Chiffon

White Chiffon

Hibiscus Blue Chiffon

I think you can see by the form that they are not like other Hibiscus plants from the past.  They are full, can be cut to the ground, can be controlled to be under the maximum twelve foot height, like to be fertilized, enjoy full sun and are one of the last shrubs to bloom in late summer and fall.

 Hibiscus Pink Chiffon

I have to say the day was worth it, the train ride, the walking and the bus rides to and from the train station, the walking through the icy sidewalks to and fro (I did use my trex attachments to my boots - they are great).