Friday, October 10, 2008

When Life Hands You Lemons . . .

Since the beginning of summer, my good friend Beckie and I have talked about taking a short trip to Chicago to see some of the many garden sights in the Windy City and, if possible, to meet up with a few Chicagoland Bloggers. One thing or another kept preventing us from going until we finally decided the first week in October was it--we would try to spend a couple days in Chicago or at the very least make one long day of it. We put it on our calendars, but as so often happens these days, "life" intervened, and we weren't able to go. We were both disappointed, but decided we could at least take part of a day to explore something interesting closer to home.

Beckie recommended we visit the Master Gardeners' Idea Garden on campus to see its fall colors, and I suggested we stop first at Meadowbrook Park to see the wildflower garden there. Beckie had never been to Meadowbrook, and my other visit was in August to see the Prairie Restoration site, but I missed the wildflower garden. The wildflower garden is located on the south side of the park on a street I seldom drive, so I had never noticed that the farmstead located there is actually part of the park.

We began our walk down the path to see any wildflowers that might still be blooming, but obviously fall is not the best time to view wildflowers. You could see the dried seedheads of Queen Anne's Lace and we did spot a lone coneflower still blooming, but even the goldenrod had turned to brown. It really is a lovely, shaded place--perfect for a walk--so we put it on our mental "to-do" list for next spring and summer when it should be in all its glory.

Our stop, though, was far from disappointing. On the way to the wildflower path, we passed by the farmstead which was surrounded by an herb garden and flower beds still in glorious bloom. I was especially happy to realize that rather than demolish the existing farmhouse and outbuildings, which so often happens as a result of urban sprawl, the park preserved these buildings and incorporated them into the park. I'm not sure what any of the buildings are used for or if they are open to the public, but they certainly look well-maintained. They even preserved the old windmill, once a common fixture on every farmstead, but now a rarity.

I still remember the old windmill on my grandfather's farm, creaking in the wind. Maybe I'm getting too sentimental, but they look more attractive than the new wind turbines popping up across the country, don't you think? Of course, the old ones were used to pump water from the well; I don't think they had the capacity to provide much more power than that. As electrification spread across the countryside, the old windmills became obsolete, and most were eventually torn down.

Before we headed to the flowerbeds and herb garden around the house, we noticed a sign that said "Organic gardening plots" and decided to give them a quick look. I believe these are plots given to anyone who requests one, similar to Veg Plotting's allotments in the UK. Each plot was surrounded by a small fence of chicken wire, and various gardening styles were apparent. There were still some vegetables, including tomatoes, chili peppers, and broccoli, and also some fall plantings of onions, swiss chard, and gourds, as well as some unusual vegetables we weren't sure of. A tall plant held what appeared to be large okra, and a vertically climbing vine had cucumber-like fruit. But what really attracted both of us were the mass plantings of flowers still in bloom. These plots aren't much larger than my own small vegetable garden, but they all seemed to find plenty of room for flowers amongst the veggies.

Zinnias were still showing off everywhere, but these cosmos were especially beautiful. These were over 6 feet tall.

I've seen cosmos pictured on so many blogs this year, but I've never grown them. Now I wonder why--I really like these flowers. Thanks to Tina and the seeds she sent me, though, there will be cosmos in my garden next year!

Here's another flower I never grow--nasturtiums. Again, I think why not? Another omission I need to remedy next year. This close-up of the blossoms doesn't show the size of the large mounds we saw.

In the flowerbeds on the farmstead site we were treated to lots of fall blooms. I liked this combination of lantana and salvia in front of the cannas. Notice the verbena boneriensis popping into the far sides of the photo. Thanks to Cheryl, I will have this plant in my garden next year, too!

Beckie and I could have each done a lengthy post on berries in the garden if we had only waited until yesterday! This plant was just one of many with berries, but we were completely puzzled as to what it was. It wasn't until we later went to the Idea Garden that we saw the same plants labelled as a "blackberry lily." Does anyone grow these? I would love to know what they look like in bloom.

After Meadowbrook Park--which has now been added to our list of places to visit more often-- we headed to the Idea Garden. I've posted about this garden several times; in fact, this was our fourth visit this year to see it. Hoping to get some ideas about how to add some color to our own fading fall gardens, we weren't diappointed.

Even from a distance you can immediately see that this garden isn't languishing as the days turn cooler. Of course, with a crew of volunteer Master Gardeners at work, it is easier to keep up with all the gardening chores.

Annuals that were past their prime were pulled up and replaced with fall plants like these mums and flowering kale.

I really liked this small kale--"sweet" sounds a bit treacly, but it's the only word I can think of to describe it. A small variety, the soft pink flower at the center resembled a rose.

Not everything was new, though--this sumac tree has finally come into its own, showing off its bright oranges, yellows, and rusts. Unfortunately, it was mid-day, so the sun washed out some of its beautiful color in this photo.

Other plants were sporting berries for the fall, like this beautyberry bush.

This was a plant we couldn't identify. We don't remember seeing it before; could it be it has changed to this lovely magenta for the fall? Unfortunately, some of the labels were missing or completely obscured by other plants. Does anyone know what this might be? It had to be well over six feet tall.

The garden still holds its appeal for wildlife also. On this beautiful October day we saw so many bees and butterflies flying about the garden. This bee on the salvia was just one of several enormous bumblebees we saw.

And of course, the painted ladies, which seem to be the most common butterfly in Illinois this year.

But here is the piece d' resistance--I finally managed to get a picture of a Monarch! Monarchs seem to be in short supply around here this year, and I have been futilely trying to get a photo of the one or two that have shown up at home. This photo can't even compare to some of the beautiful shots I've seen on other blogs, but I'm afraid it's probably the best one I'm going to get this year.

As we were preparing to leave, who should fly in for a visit but my friend, the mantis! I think these guys follow me around:) I'm not sure what he was after in these zinnias, but I wish he would have eaten a little faster. During the 2-3 hours Beckie and I spent in the different gardens, we were bitten numerous times by pirate flies. These tiny gnat-like bugs have become quite a nuisance lately. They have an annoying bite, much like a mosquito, but they are supposed to be harmless and the itch goes away much quicker. The other pest we seem to have an abundance of lately are the Asian lady beetles, those small brown beetles that look like a ladybug but fly into your home and stink to high heaven if you kill them. I made a hasty exit from the garden so that I could inconspicuously extricate one that had flown down my shirt.

Well, it wasn't the Morton Arboretum or the Chicago Botanic Garden, but Beckie and I did enjoy ourselves nevertheless. We even had time for a leisurely lunch and a stop at a unique shop we'd never visited before going home. Chicago is still on our destination list, although the gardens may have to wait until Spring Fling 2009. That date is on our calendars, and as Beckie said, there will have to be a major crisis or a complete meltdown to keep us away!


  1. Rose, I love both of these places! I haven't been out to Meadowbrook for a while. Now, I'll haave to put it on my list for the next few days.

  2. Rose it looks like you and Beckie had a beautiful outing. So many lovely plants.

    I think the tall magenta plant without a tag is some kind of amaranth. There are so many different ones.

    I do grow the blacberry lily. It has a beautiful bloom. If I had your email I would send you a picture. I am sure I saw it posted on someones blog this summer. Maybe they will tell you which post to look at to see the bloom.

    So glad you shared your outing pictures. You two make great lemonade together.

  3. Rose, It looks like you and Beckie had a wonderful time on your day together.

    I agree with Lisa at greenbow, I think that magenta plant is an amaranthus. I have grown blackberry lily before. It has tiny little orange blooms. As you can see it is a prolific seeder and multiplies greatly. Nice and easy to grow.

  4. Beautiful gardens! Looks like you & Beckie made the best of the situation & had a good time.

  5. Sounds like two wonderful places and a great friend to share them with made up for the lemons. I did love seeing the lushness in that second garden kept by master gardeners... I need a couple of them around here to help out with the constant growth. :-)
    I'm pretty sure Gail over at Clay and Limestone had a post on the blackberry lilies. I went over there to link it for you but I couldn't spot it... maybe it was someone else?

    I do love the old windmills. There is one that stands in the center of a very large cow pasture near my house. I find myself staring at it every time I pass by. Something about it... sort of speaks of days of old when everything seemed more ... can I say conservative? Thanks for sharing your outing with us, Rose. I enjoyed coming along with you.

  6. Those flowers are really lovely. You do good photos.
    If everyone had a little wind mill in their garden, wouldn't it help with the electricity crisis?

  7. Dear Rose.....well it sounds as if you and Brckie had a wonderful time and as you say you will get to Chicago at some point....something to look forward to....

    A really interesting post....I love to look around gardens across the world.....I love to see the style and approache other people take......very pretty and natural looking with a touch of character.....

    Cosmos are an easy plant to grow and flower for a long period....I did not grow them this year, they do a bit too well in my fertile garden and I end up with giants......even if I stake them the tops always flop over....I will perhaps grow them again next year......

    And you know I love nasturtiums....they are still in flower in my garden at the moment....they just go on and on till the first frost......

    Have a good weekend.......and hope the sun is shining.......

  8. Nope, that garden is not languishing at all, it looks super!

  9. Dear Rose,
    I really enjoyed this day with you and Becky.
    I grow Bright Eye cosmos every year. The bees and the butterflies love it. It does self sow some too.
    Nice to have a friend that loves the gardens as much as you do.
    Like said you and Becky make "great lemonade!"

  10. Joyce, Funny, but I had never been to either place until this year. Sometimes we overlook what's in our own "backyard."

    Lisa, Thanks for the i.d. on the amaranth. I have an e-mail link on my profile page if you have time to send me a photo of the lily. We did have a good day, and thanks for tying up my lemonade analogy--I forgot by the time I got to the end of this post. Points off for me for essay composition:)

    Susie, Beckie and I enjoy checking out gardening spots; it's so much more fun together! Thanks for the info on the plants.

    PG, They are lovely gardens. We had a good time, and it was a gorgeous day to be outside.

    Meems, These are both lovely places that you can visit again and again. If Gail posted the blackberry lily, she may give me the link when she drops by. And I agree about the old windmills; I think they symbolize a simpler time, but maybe I'm just being nostalgic.

    Maggie May, I know there are people who are into restoring old windmills, but I don't know how much power they actually produce. The way things are right now, we should be looking into any possibilites for other sources of energy. Thanks for the compliment on the flower photos--they don't move like butterflies:)

    Cheryl, You know Beckie and I always enjoy time together, even if it's no place out of the ordinary. The cosmos were flopping over, in some cases, but I might plant them in my new "wild" garden next year. I remember seeing your nasturtiums on posts--I do want to plant some next spring. We're having beautiful weather right now; hope you have a good weekend, too.

    Tina, The Idea Garden always looks good; of course, mine might, too, if I had a crew of helpers:)

    Sherry, Visiting gardens is so much more fun with Beckie than going alone or with someone who doesn't enjoy gardening so much. Did you notice the Monarch? Nothing like your photo; they seem to sense when I am coming near and fly away:)

  11. That looks such a beautiful place and reminded me of a garden here called Rosemoor. I don't get to go often but it is delightful.
    So sorry you didn't get to go on your trip though. Fingeres crossed for next time.
    I was just looking at our nasturtiums earlier and thought I should take a photo of them. They are such colourful flowers, the bumble bees love them and they seem to keep flowering over again until the frost catches them.
    Hope all is well
    Sub x

  12. Well you certainly made a good jug of sweet lemonade! Your pics are gorgeous. The colours beautiful. I loved everything, particularly the windmill. Haven't seen one of those in years.
    Enjoy the weekend... You and Becky will get to Chicago another time - and it will be fun.

  13. Rose, I just love stopping by and learning so much about the plants I would love to have! A very nice trip through Meadowbrook. I was in Champagne yesterday and saw so many trees in beautiful fall colors.....lovely....when you come this way, make sure you let me know as I would love to meet up for a tour of the Botanical Garden...or anything else!

  14. That sounds like a really wonderful day. I love Cosmos. I plant it every year. How can such an impressive annual be so easy to grow? It's great.

    I also like nasturtiums, (I have a weakness for red) but I stopped planting them, as they were so attractive to black fly.

  15. What a lovely day for the two of you to enjoy. I know it had to be therapeutic for dear Beckie. I am glad that you are planning on Chicago for the Spring Fling. What fun you will much to look forward to. Thanks for sharing your day with the rest of us.

  16. Suburbia, Beckie and I will get to Chicago one of these days; we always have a good time together wherever we go anyway. I've never visited as many gardens as I have this summer; I'd love to see a real English garden though!

    Wendy, Yes, we did have a good time. I love these old windmills, too. I wish more of them had been preserved.

    Neva, Thanks for stopping by again! Were you in Champaign for the football game? It was a gorgeous day, though rather warm to be sitting in the sun all day.

    Mean Mom, I don't think I've ever grown cosmos before. But I am always looking for any plant that thrives without much help from me:)

    Morning Glories, Yes we did have a good time, and probably a day trip to Chicago (3 hours one way) would have been too much for Beckie right now. Actually, I would have been pretty tired afterwards, too:) As I said somewhere else, though, it's amazing what new places you can find close to home when you look.

  17. Cosmos & Nasturtiums are my kind of annuals as they are so easy to start from seed outside that even I can grow them. (Now that's a resounding recommendation.) I love all the Sumacs (even the poisonous 1!), but I don't have any. I'm afraid of them taking over. I always keep an eye out for them in autumn, but most of the time I don't have to, as their color shines like a roadside beacon.
    I second the vote for Amaranth as the mystery plant. I had to laugh at the image of you being stalked by Praying Mantises - be afraid! Be very afraid!

  18. Your outing touring these gardens I'm sure was good for the soul! Here, I am also noticing so many summer flowers
    still in bloom and with all the trees putting on their flaming colors I find Autumn walks a feast for the eyes!

  19. It sounds like a wonderful day! I love that kale. It's unusual and beautiful.

    The trouble, I find, with nasturtiums is that once you've got them, you can't get rid of them and they spread and spread and spread ...

  20. Looks like a great place to visit. I know I would enjoy the farmstead and the idea garden.

    Thank you for the tour. Maybe I'll have an opportunity to visit one day.

  21. Beckie,

    I have Blackberry lily seeds that I will be glad to share with you? They are absolutely adorable little flowers that are orange or yellow! MIne are orange. I think that Phillip at Dirt Therapy had a post so it might be easy to find good photos! You might have to protect them...let me know if I can send you some!


  22. Hopefully you'l see some when you visit then! :)

  23. It was fun even though it wasn't Chicago. I always enjoy a day with you na matter what. And now that we are sharing an interest in gardens just makes it that much more enjoyable. Your pictures turned out great even with the sun being so bright. Thanks for making lemonade with me.

  24. Thank you, Rose! Now I have an acceptable name for those bugs that are plaguing us lately. I thought they were the Midwest version of the No-See-Ums we have in Florida, only a bit larger (like the deer). I enjoyed your garden tour with Beckie.

  25. Thanks to everyone for your comments. I've been rather busy the last few days and am way behind on reading blogs. I'll try to catch up with everyone over the next couple days!


Thanks for stopping by. I love to hear from you, so please leave a comment. I'll try to reply here, but I'll definitely return the visit.