Thursday, May 31, 2007

Passalong Plants
Steve Bender & Felder Rushing

It was fun to read the stories about how common southern plants are passed along between family members, friends and any visiting gardener that shows an interest . For it seems that is all it takes. An admiring comment about any easily propagated plant and you are sure to get an offer of a piece or a bit of seed to take with you when you go.

Even though this is a book written by a couple of southern gardeners there were plenty of plants of which a northerner would have knowledge. Such as Tawny daylily/Hermerocallis fulva
or ditchlily as I have heard it called. This clump was growing in our garden when we moved in, left behind by previous owners. I love its vibrant display each June and I never have to water or weed or feed these hardy plants. The picture is from last year because it will be another week or two before this years scapes begin to flower.

Click on picture to enlarge .

In the chapter called 'Plant Cardinal Climber -Please', Steve Bender asks why isn't anyone growing this easy to grow hummingbird magnet.
Well plenty of people I know are growing this vine. Many because I hand out seeds and seedlings every year since first discovering how many hummers were drawn to our backyard in late summer by the numerous small red trumpet shaped flowers amid the ferny foliage. I received seed as a passalong from a friendly texan. It is an annual that does not self seed here in the Chicago area but the seeds are easy to collect and save until the following spring.

In 'Passalong Plants'
Bender and Rushing tell how gardeners (and I do not believe it is only southern gardeners) create a unique community where plants and tales are freely shared. Where visiting and chatting are part of the appeal, as is poking a bit of fun. At the plants beloved as much for the interest they create as any other attribute, and the garden art so creatively displayed .

Thankfully botanical names are included along with the many common names and information for growing if you are lucky enough to acquire said plant from another gardener. Also included are sources for buying if you insist.

Check out Felder Rushing website Photos of his front yard.

Passalong Plants is the April-May selection of the Garden Bloggers Book Club.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More of May Blooms In A Chicago Garden

Dianthus and thyme in the hobbit garden

A hardy geranium looks great at the woodland edge.

An iris a day brings pleasure.

White cammas up close.

A double purple columbine.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Dragonfly mistakes Mr. for a tree trunk.

I think this is a female Common Whitetail. When I noticed it had landed on Peter's back I asked him not to move while I took a picture. Not a necessary precaution. It would not let go. I finally lifted the dragonfly from his shirt and it flew away. The mate had landed on a nearby log , waiting for her or thinking he was hiding as well.
No picture of the hummingbird that fed from the Aquilegia in our back garden. I was sitting without a camera handy when I noticed the male Ruby-throat moving from blossom to blossom. I forget from year to year how small and charming the quick moving birds appear. I sat and watched until he left the garden several minutes later.
The American Goldfinch announced its presence from the tree above just before landing at the birdbath. A few sips and away it flew.
Some bird watch I garden watch...

Friday, May 18, 2007

May Blooms for May Dreams.

Salvia May Nights. I think we could use a few more of these.

Red-osier Dogwood, another berry for the birds. These do not last long birds eat them as fast as they ripen.

Holly (female). We have two females and one male. Looks like berries will be plentiful this year.

Spirea,was here from a previous gardener. We cut it back to the ground to rejuvenate the old shrubs. Grew back quickly blooming fully by the second season after cut.
Iris, these small pale ones bloom first each year.

Phlox subulata blooms heavily for a short period then is a nice green groundcover.

This pretty red flower draws humming birds but the foliage is plain green. Nice shape to the leaves and very reliable, winters well. Doesn't need fussing.

The hobbit garden has bloomed nicely this spring. Thyme and ajuga,columbine,heuchera,Lady'sMantle,creeping phlox. The dianthus is just beginning to form buds. It appears the corydalis lutea has disappeared. I wonder if it I should try again?

This was labeled
aquilegia canadensis
but was not. Very pretty and blooms lightly all summer. The only aquilegia I have ever had do so.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mulch, natural duff, living cover.

Much is said about mulching a garden. It seems to be a good way to achieve many objectives.

Clemson factsheets
Mulches prevent loss of water from the soil by evaporation.
Organic mulches will absorb some of the water applied or rainfall thereby slowing runoff.
It can reduce the growth of weeds, when the mulch material itself is weed-free and applied deeply enough to prevent weed germination or to smother existing weeds.
It will slow down heating and cooling of the soil. Protecting young plants from heaving in winter and keeping hot sunny days from overheating plant roots.
A mulch will prevent soil splashing, which not only stops erosion but keeps soil-borne diseases from splashing up onto the plants and keeps foliage clean and attractive.
Organic mulches can improve the soil structure. As the mulch decays, the material becomes part of the topsoil. Decaying mulch also adds some nutrients to the soil.
A mulch spread around the base but pulled back from the trunk in a donut like shape can prevent the trunks of trees and shrubs from damage by lawn equipment.
Mulch will help prevent soil compaction.
Plants especially trees and shrubs produce more roots right into the decomposing mulch layer.
In new plantings mulch provides a cover of uniform color and interesting texture to the surface until plants grow enough to provide soil cover.

Spending time watching the progress of a large perennial garden will show a gardener just how much mulch plants produce on their own. Lower leaves dry out and fall to the ground, flowers bloom and shed petals, seed pods form and dry out becoming brittle then break off, falling to the soil. In fall the entire mass begins to decompose. The very act of removal of this crisp material sheds organic duff. Leaving this natural mulch was once thought to be harboring disease and pests. But today unless a specific problem arises many think leaving the duff aids the soil.

Trees and shrubs have a similar constant shedding of decaying organic material. The Honey locust standing in our garden starts in spring forming flowers which shed.Then seeds which fall. Leaves and tiny stems cover the ground below in fall. Branches break off in storms, squirrels drop leaf clusters taken for nests. It is constant this debris a tree can produce. Some trees even produce a mass of pollen that is wind blown to cover everything in its path.

So what happens to all that plant produced duff?
In non garden areas it covers the soil decomposing like compost, providing humus for soil organisms and some nutrients to plants. Like the applied mulches it performs all the same services IF allowed to remain in place. Being neat and tidy as many gardeners are much of this duff is removed .
Then often a uniform mulch replaces the original cover.
Some will plant a living mulch or ground cover and some prefer to cultivate the soil though
bare soil is seldom tolerated by nature or the gardener.

More to think about...



A two-year study by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Iowa State University scientists—described in this month's issue of Environmental Entomology—lent weight to a long-suspected hypothesis. The research showed that predators killed many more pupae of the costly European corn borer in fields hosting the living mulches than in mulch-free plots.
The predators, mostly carabid ground beetles and arachnids, consumed pupae used as "sentinel prey"—that is, prey placed in the field to measure predator activity.
Within the living mulches, predatory insects killed 66 percent of the borer pupae planted in corn—a 51 percent increase over nonmulched control plots—and 65 percent of the pupae in soybeans, 13 percent more than in the control plots.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

native plant survival

Leave as much natural duff as possible around the base of individual trees.
Removal of native duff and litter not only disturbs the natural nutrient cycling
which is important for tree growth and survival,but the activity itself may severely
damage roots that are near the ground surface. Additionally, litter removal
contributes to a rise in the temperature of exposed soil,which may have lethal effects on the tree.
On some sandy sites in Florida,soils that were partially shaded by native vegetation have reached temperatures exceeding 165°F.It is highly probable that soils exposed,
due to duff and litter removal,
may reach temperatures that are lethal to many species.


This upper canopy intercepts raindrops.
By breaking the fall of these tiny water bombs soil erosion is reduced. Trees provide shoreline habitat for wildlife, shade for your house and keep the water cool. Their deep roots take hold of the soil protecting it from erosion and slumping. Lower tree branches can be trimmed for people who prefer to have an unobstructed view , but the more tree branches the better.

The second obstacle raindrops hit on the way to the ground is shrubs. Shrubs provide wind protection and birds love to take refuge in them. Their roots also hold the soil in place. Shrubs are a great noise barrier and are low growing so they will not obstruct a view.

Vines, grasses and flowers slow down surface water runoff and absorb nutrients and other non-point source pollution. Their roots hold onto surface sediments. Groundcovers that flower can create accents of color with a variety of green backdrops. They also provide habitat for such insects as butterflies , bees and fireflies.

Duff Layer
Allow vegetation and woody material to stay where it falls. Accumulation of plant matter on the ground acts like a sponge, absorbs water, traps sediment and prevents erosion. Duff hosts microorganisms that improve soil by breaking down and recycling plant material into nutrients to be used in the growth of new plants.

Improved habitat. Buffers provide food and habitat for wildlife. Leaf litter is the base food source for many stream ecosystems, and forests provide woody debris that creates cover and habitat structure for aquatic insects and fish. Riparian corridors preserve important terrestrial habitat, including forest cover. They are important transition zones, rich in species. A mile of stream buffer can provide 25 to 40 acres of habitat. Unbroken stream buffers provide “highways” for migrations of plant and animal populations. Buffers also provide essential habitat for amphibians, which require both aquatic and terrestrial habitats to complete their life cycle. Buffers maintain the base flow of streams

Enhance forests and other natural vegetated areas
Natural vegetation can become an important part of a storm-water management system. Trees and other types of vegetation evapo-transpire at least 40 percent of rainfall. The forest duff layer absorbs large amounts of runoff, releasing it slowly to the streams through shallow groundwater flow. (6) Mature vegetation is also an efficient water quality buffer. Identify and preserve the highest-quality forest stands prior to development. Where possible leave mature trees. (7)

Education and outreach


Why is it that there are no clear cut rules for gardening?

Often it seems more of a mind set than fact when dealing with garden information. Gardeners get all kinds of ideology mixed up with growing. If this is good or not is irrelevant, it just is.

Professional growers tell us to do what they say and forget all that other crap. We have already grown the biggest and the best so all you have to do is maintain what we sell you. There are even people that can be hired to dig the dirt and then water and feed for you. Sounds simple, everyone can be a gardener.

Who can garden that way?

To some of us the garden is as surely an expression of who we are, as is a sculpture or painting or musical score is of an artist. The drive to make what we do have a greater importance beyond ourselves is strong. Some few achieve greatness. The rest of us strive for something we can live with that honors our goal.

So what am I trying to say here?

Only that the garden has room for diversity. This strange mix of conformity and independence that is mankind is necessary to our ability to adapt. What we believe collectively creates our reality. What we do independently creates ourselves.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Lurie Spring Bulbs 2007

At the end of September in 2006,
60,000 spring blooming bulbs were planted in the Lurie garden.

Piet Oudolf the man responsible for the incredible perennial planting at the Lurie, Dutch landscape designer Jacqueline van der Kloet, Frans Roozen, technical director of the International Flower Bulb Center and
Lurie Garden Head Horticulturist Colleen Schuetz directed many volunteers (of which I was one) in the planting of the bulbs.

It took a three day digging party to get the bulk of the bulbs into the ground.

The suggestion to mix up the bulbs and toss, planting where the bulbs lie forgets to mention who is mixing and tossing.The designers have a way with that toss we average gardeners may need to practice. The idea to spread throughout the perennial planting was a good advise.

There is much more to come as the mix included early and late bulbs of which the 10,000 purple sensation alliums will show at the peak of spring in the Lurie.

It is amazing how much growth has taken place in the last couple of weeks.
Remember how bare the garden seemed in the pictures I took at the beginning of April?

Be sure to click on the pictures to enlarge and get a good look at this sea of tulips.

The meadows next week?