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!