Saturday, March 31, 2007

'The Gardeners year' by Karel Capek

It is the end of March and I am going to be on time for the meeting of the Garden Blogger's Book Club, hosted this slowly passing winter by our fellow gardener and blogger
Carol at May Dreams Garden

Although Capek talks of gardening with tongue in cheek he touches on the depth of feeling we gardeners bring to growing, our preoccupation with all things of the garden and our bond with all others who seek to grow a garden.A different land and time stands not between the understanding of those who love plants and a garden.The illustrations alone told much of his story.

I particularly like the special ingredients listed as in his garden soil...
pieces of glass,mugs,broken dishes, nails,wire,bones,arrows,silver paper from slabs of chocolate,old coins,old pipes, plate glass,tiny mirrors,labels,tins, bits of string,buttons,horse shoes,etc...etc...
I wonder what will be found by future gardeners (or children) in our garden? Lost and never found...a pruning saw,several pairs of reading glass's,numerous pens, pencils, markers and crayons,and an army of small toy soldiers.

Today,as I tried not to step on emerging bulbs going about the gardens work I found myself thinking of Capeks ideas on the evolution of gardeners and wishing for (only half in jest) smaller feet,longer legs and better balance.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Lurie Bulbs Are Beginning To Grow.

Took a few pictures today before cutting down the last of the grass .

The garden looks a little bare right now but believe me in just a few weeks it will be exploding with growth.

These pictures are of the Light plate where it is open and sunny.

The dark plate should begin next week if the weather does not retreat into winter again.

Scilla and crocus are blooming with an anemone or two here and there.

These very light scilla were first to bloom. The darker colors are slower.

The winter color of the Little blue stem [Schizachyrium scoparium] is so beautiful I hate to cut it down.

Click on pictures to enlarge...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Do I have enough early nectar sources for pollinators?

Early blooming trees and shrubs provide most of the truly early nectar available. All those Maple trees, Salix, redbud, apple, crabapple, serviceberry, and fruit trees all provide abundant bloom very early. Many berry producing shrubs and canes also provide plentiful early blooms for pollinators emerging from hibernation and looking for an energy source. What blooms and how early in the year will depend on the climate in your area.

What about bulbs? Do any provide a real pollinator food source? Many do and like most plants the species rather than the hybrids will more likely serve this purpose. Galanthus nivalis, Crocus tommasinianus, Narcissus pseudonarcissus, chose those you have seen blooming where the stamens are readily visible and loaded with pollen.

This iris reticulata is blooming in our garden in Chicago now in March.

A native north eastern Dwarf iris that blooms early is iris cristata. Both are visited by bees stimulated to search for food on warm sunny days.

And we always grow a few dandelions...

Flowers for pollinators

Native bees

Native shrubs

Native trees

Prairie plants A-H

Prairie plants I-Z

Thursday, March 22, 2007

What makes you care about nature and our environment?

A bookclub ,
started online to commemorate the 100 aniversary of Rachel Carson's birth, has posed a couple of questions that are of interest.

First question...Rachel who?
It seemed strange to me that a person that writes and speaks of Rachel Carson would meet so many people that did not really know about Rachel Carson's work. Her question was why so many seemed to know so little.
So what do people know about Rachel Carson? I guess that is a question I will be asking in the days ahead. How about you? Do you remember Silent Spring?

Second question...How does one’s first consciousness of nature abide, and what difference did it make in Carson’s ability to observe and to see the "contamination of nature," and to try to "do something about it?"

Rachel Carson grew up near the Allegheny River which went from fishing country to industrial country with all its pollutions . A brilliant woman that became a scientist and an ardent ecologist, we wonder,did watching these changes and the acceptance of the industries [ by local people whose income and lifestyle depended on said industry] that were the major cause of the contamination, develope an awareness that demanded action?

I do not know the answers. Certainly one would hope that getting to know the wonders of nature at a young age would develope an affection for the places where fond memories are formed. With maturity and knowledge these places of nature would become important to preserve so that these qualities in the land are not lost. At least this is the theory.
But what about urban children with little experience of wildlife or green and growing places?
Can an adult suddenly awed by a new experience develope the same caring activism?

What does this mean to our children and their care?

The following statements are made at the Child care exchange ...

In an excellent summary of the three day Working Forum on Nature Education for Young Children, which took place at the Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska late in October, Dana Friedman shares these reasons why early childhood educators should be promoting nature education...

By exposing children to nature, we're giving them a gift of a faithful, life-long friend.
It provides life-changing, shaping memories.
It offers a sense of peace and reconnecting to nature.
Nature has a therapeutic quality — it is calming.
The natural world supports the development of caring, pro-social behavior.
How we relate to nature gives us lessons about how we relate to each other.
It can serve as a force for change, for peace.
It fosters self-regulation and learning.
Nature develops understanding of oneself.
It brings out the best in children.
Nature helps children with disabilities, particularly those with sensory integration deficit.
Children's pretend play outdoors in natural settings tends to be more complex/therapeutic than indoors.
Play and interaction with the natural environment and materials helps develop cognitive, social, and emotional skills.
Nature is crucial for total development of the whole child, regardless of stage, ability, or problem.

I'm not sure if all of this is true. I am sure that being outdoors, in a place where plants and natures other living beings are in abundance can be a very good thing. The Mr and I make sure the children in our lives help to grow food for ourselves and the wildlife in our very urban setting. We take them camping, hiking and to local conservatories, parks and nature preserves.
Even if all the above proves unreliable it its effect on the futures of our young, all our lives have been enriched by these outdoor adventures.

More ...


Without nature
EJ Magazine is one of the only student-produced magazine about
environmental issues in the country and is published by the Knight Center
for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A garden is more than pretty flowers.

The food chain starts with plants.Plants convert the energy of the sun and atmospheric carbon into a biomass that is the beginnings of all food for all living creatures.

Energy and nutrients enter the food web in plants.Even in death plants recycle nutrients through decomposition.Insects, fungi, and microbes break down all this dead material into humus. Decaying organic matter and humus in soil retain moisture and nutrients within the root structure of growing plants.

Water and nutrients are absorbed by the roots then the water moves the nutrients in solution through the plants vascular system,where some is transpired through the leaves back into the atmosphere.The plant uses this as a cooling mechanism losing more water the warmer the air temperature. Trees and large areas of plant material influence a gardens comfort level and on a large scale, global weather patterns.

As evaporation of water from plants, moisture laden soil and bodies of water,collects in the atmosphere it is then released as rain. Where plant life is abundant and the soil has much organic matter rain moves through the soil into the groundwater where it moves back into the watershed.Not coming into contact with pavement, roads or sewer systems the water is less polluted and is filtered further by the earth.

So that pretty garden helps to feed life on earth, protect the waterways and influences weather.
Not bad for a hobby...


Plant/Animal Relationships
Garden Ecology

Friday, March 16, 2007

Spring cutback at the Lurie Garden
Today was cold and sunny and clear here in Chicago.A perfect day to spend in a garden.
We have been working at the Lurie for the last few weeks cutting back a huge amount of
grass and brown stems from last years plant growth. It is amazing how much bulk grass can produce.Cart after cart filled and taken away. The birds are loving all seed left behind.

We do most of the cutting by hand although Colleen does use a small power hedge trimmer for some of the tough clumps.I always use a pruning knife or hand clippers.My favorite tool is really a saw that is normally used for drywall, it cuts through dry brittle grass clumps fast and easy.

This year we are not clearing the low growing natives ( like Geum triflorum commonly Prairie Smoke orPurple Avens]
The new growth will come up right through the decaying leaves of last years growth.This will help keep weeds at bay and add organic matter to the soil.One more task the gardener can leave to nature to perform.

Judging by the green tips of growth showing all through the garden, from the bulbs planted last fall, I would say just a week of warm sunshine and the highly anticipated spring show will begin.
Next week I will start taking pictures!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Native plant placement in the average garden can be difficult to visualize.

So I goggled up a few plans that use drawings to show ideas for placement and plant listings to get you started. You may substitute other natives if those shown do not suit the site.
To start here are a few sites with information on how to get started with native plant gardening.
There are also a few native plant pages pulled out of the designs to see how they are evaluated.
Have a look...

Plant Native How To

Native plant fact sheet.


Plant info page...
Carex plantaginea
Common name
Seersucker Sedge

Garden Design Native Plants

Shade Evergreen Design

Plant list evergreen shade

Plant info page...
Carex pennsylvanica
Common name: Pennsylvania sedge, Penn sedge, Early sedge,Yellow sedge

Region of origin: Native

Weed Suppressive Rating: Poor

Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Height x Spread: 4 to 18 in. x creeping

Season of bloom: Mid April to mid May

Flower color: Reddish -brown

Exposure: Full sun to shade

Soil requirements: Sandy loams and clay to silty clay loams

Moisture requirements: Dry soil

Native shade garden landscape design

Selected species for native shade gardens

Plant info page...
Fragaria virginiana

Suburban garden Design

Selected species for suburban gardens

Plant info page...
Lilium michiganense page

Prairie garden Design

Selected species for prairie gardens

Viburnum trilobum
American Cranberrybush Viburnum
plant page

Wet meadow garden

Selected species for wet meadow gardens

Plant info page...
Iris versicolor

Rain Garden Design [pdf]

wildlife garden plan

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Garden Design

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Creating a rock pile in the habitat garden.

I have been reading about creating rockpiles in the habitat garden. Most suggest that collecting rocks and making a pile is easy and does not need to be of any particular shape or size.
As a gardener I have been piling rocks around the garden for years. Lining beds, stabilizing slopes, making a dry creek bed, that sort of thing. Rocks just seem to fit.

Green grows on rocks if they are in shade and if you lift a rock that has been sitting for awhile you are likely to see some insect scurry away. If the sun is shining on the rocks a lizard might be seen sunning and when it rains water will pool in tiny depressions and small birds may sip there.

The Mr and I have uncovered numerous rocks while digging in the garden but never enough. We are always scavaging rocks where builders are digging or farmers are plowing.It seems wrong somehow to just take rocks from the wild since that would disturb wildlife doing perfectly well already. Other gardeners never want to give up the rocks they find but non-gardening friends and family will think of us and save rocks on occasion. Buying rocks is a whole other problem.

The first two pictures are of our hobbit garden but this third picture is taken in a botanic garden. We did not get to see the vine in green leaf but it must be very pretty growing over that wall.Do small birds nest in there in spring?

This last picture of a
mossy rock wall
is something we would love to build if we did not live in an urban setting. Seems pollutions in the air stop this kind of lichen cover from forming. Moss does grow on the ground between the buildings through wet springs and in the fall. It looks like soft green carpet and I like it enough to let it grow in the path but the heat of summer sun keeps it from spreading very far. Irish moss [Sagina Subulata] can be planted to mimic the real thing but in this garden it remains in small patches.

providing cover Reptiles & Amphibians

Song thrush use large stones as anvils to crack open snail shells.
Dig a shallow depression and place some bigger stones over it – this will attract large creatures seeking shelter, such as toads.
Try putting piles in different places around the garden to encourage as many species as possible.
Insects and invertebrates that use a rock pile in a shady, damp spot will be very different from those using one that receives more sun.


lichen & wildlife

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Wildlife gardens come in a great variety of design depending on climate, topography and character of host.

The first two pictures were taken in a botanic garden that grows only natives plants of California.
Rancho Santa Ana
I took the two pictures in winter,
it shows a woodland area with a fallen tree left to decay. It is home to a beehive that has used the tree since early Europeans brought honey bees to the area. The area has a nice shady but open for breezes look, cool in hot summers.

A close up of what remains of the tree that has been decaying for many years.
Decaying wood
can be home to many species.

The next three pictures are from my own garden.

The Mr and I lean towards a more heavily planted wild look.

As you can see not all of the plants are native to the Chicago area but we are adding more natives each season. I am growing many from seed this year including a few more grass species.

We lost a large mature tree to a storm last year so will have to decide what to plant in its stead.

For a look at a garden that uses habitat friendly plants that suit the climate but has a completely different look check this out...

Living in the back yard

Toads gone wild

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Bluestar-Amsonia tabernaemontana- Dogbane family

Blooms in spring early summer.

Full sun to light shade and average moist conditions.Different soil types are tolerated, including those that contain clay-loam, rocky material, or sand.

Habitats include rocky woodlands, shaded rocky ravines, gravelly seeps, borders of streams, limestone glades, and moist sandy meadows.

The nectar of the flowers attracts the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird and various long-tongued insects. These insect visitors include the Large Carpenter bee , Hummingbird moths , and various butterflies.

And after the blooms pass and summer turns to fall, the foliage turns a rich shade of yellow and remains colorful for weeks.

Amsonia hubrichtii - Arkansas
Leaves more narrow threadlike

Missouri native - amsonia ciliata
Well-drained, sandy loam or limestone. Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Limestone-based. Dry, open woods; chalky hills

Click on pictures to enlarge.



more information

Friday, March 02, 2007

'Two Gardeners'
A Friendship In Letters
by Katharine S. White and
Elizabeth Lawrence

February Garden Bloggers Book Club Meeting

This book of letters written between 1958 - 1977 gives so much insight into the lives of Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence. What started out as a feeler to expand Elizabeth's networking with admired professional gardeners and garden writers blossoms into an enduring friendship. It is very interesting indeed. They shared information and encouraged one another in their efforts to continue writing. In a time before computers with internet connections and E-mail this must have been part of the accepted way to gather information and stay in the loop in the field of horticulture. Of course the telephone was available but it does not look like either woman took advantage of the quicker means of communicating. I found myself wondering why.
Maybe for the same reason that they only met once. Maybe they preferred a friendship that was separate from the rest of their lives, that only included who they were when they were writing. The letters could be read or written in ones own time, even in the middle of the night while sitting in bed recovering from yet another illness or taking care of an ailing parent, to be put aside if need arises then returned to at a more appropriate time.

I found myself jotting down names of people, plants and places to look up later. Like Cecil Houdyshels Little brochures and the market bulletins about which Elizabeth talks of writing a book. I can see where these letters and the books and other documents these women collect over the years would be of use to historians and students at university. I can also understand keeping letters to read again and again. My childrens father spent time in Vietnam and our only communication was through letters for over a year. It is a surprisingly intimate way to speak to one another.

Emily Herring Wilson did well to allow the letters to speak for themselves injecting only enough comment to set the order of the letters.