Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chicago Flower and Garden Show

One of the highlights of March for me every year is attending the Chicago Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier.  There's nothing quite like seeing masses of spring blooms and creative displays of plantings to get one rejuvenated and inspired, especially after a long, hard winter like this one.  In case you missed it or don't live close enough to visit this annual show, here's a quick tour of what was on display this year.

It was a gray, rainy day when best friend Beckie and I headed north.  All thoughts of the weather left us, though, as we entered the exhibit and were greeted by masses of blooms and the heady scent of hyacinths and other fragrant plants.

Blue hydrangeas seemed to be a popular choice in several plantings. 

Asian-inspired accents always appeal to me.


The theme of this year's show was "Do Green, Do Good" and featured creative ways of repurposing old materials.

At least two different exhibits used old metal filing cabinets as planters.

Maybe I could clean out my basement and put all the castoffs in the garden:)

One of the most clever creations was in the display created by the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.  One of the students explained to me how these planters were made--holes were cut into fence posts, and then pieces of PVC pipe were inserted and filled with soil for the plants.  The fence posts were then inserted into plastic pails, which served as a water reservoir, I believe.  This school has an exhibit at the show every year, and I'm always so impressed by the creativity of these students.

The most elaborate exhibit was built by a company specializing in water features and hardscaping.

A fire pit at the end of the pond.

I'm always amazed by the work that goes into what is, after all, only a temporary display.  Creating an area like this in your own garden, complete with large rocks, stone walls, and flowing streams would probably take weeks or months, but the sales rep told me it took eight men only eight days to complete this...and then they have to take it all apart a week later!

There is so much to see and do at the Chicago Show--gardening seminars, cooking demonstrations, and a photo exhibit, just to name a few--that it is hard to fit it all in in a short day.  Beckie and I always enjoy the exhibit by the Women's Journeys in Fibers who have used hats and shoes as their medium in past years.  This year's theme was "Paradigm Shifts," and the artists were asked to take a basic shift dress to express themselves.  This particular dress traced the progress of civil rights in our country.

Another illustrated the shift in the roles of women, from the 50's housewife to today.

This one was entitled "In the Garden,"  expressing the artist's growing love of gardening.

Look at the detail on this dress!

Some other sights along the way . . .

. . . an interesting plant marker--a dried mushroom, perhaps?

Before we had to leave to catch our train, we made sure to allow some time to stroll through the vendors' booths at one end of the exhibit hall.  Last year we finally discovered that the gorgeous display of tulips that always entices me is presented by a wholesale bulb distributor who has a booth in the vendor marketplace, where any of  the tulips in the display can be ordered for fall planting.  These caught my eye last year, and I just had to have them.  I'm still waiting to see them in my own garden, but I hope in a few weeks, my "namesakes" will be blooming here.

This year my eye was caught by these 'Flaming Flag,'  but darned if I didn't forget them by the time I placed my order.  Oh well, maybe next year.

I did, however, order two collections of 'Patrick's Mix,' above--my favorite shades of pastels.  I even got to meet Patrick, a friendly bulb grower from the Netherlands who assured me that these were sturdy, long-lived beauties.  I can't wait to see these in my garden a year from now!

Someone commented in either a Facebook or blog post that she thought this was the best Chicago show ever.  Beckie and I disagreed; it was an average show, far from the best we've seen.  Some of the regular exhibitors had smaller displays than past years, and few, other than the pond company's, weren't as elaborate as some we have seen in the past.  Perhaps that was due in part to the theme this year which emphasized recycling and planting edibles.  Past themes, like the theatre theme from a few years ago, seemed to invite more whimsy and creativity.  Still, this year's show was certainly worth the trip, and it was a breath of fresh spring air for this winter-weary gardener.  We'll definitely be making plans to go again next year!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

March GBBD and Some Lessons From Winter

It is time once again for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, and while I expect my gardening friends farther south will be showing lots of colorful spring bloomers, no such luck here.  But there is hope, as you will see later.

I think my little Christmas cactus is feeling sorry for me, because it has put out fresh blooms the past few weeks.  Perhaps it's a Christmas/St. Patrick's Day cactus instead.

As winter winds down and spring approaches--or so the calendar says--it is also time to join in Plant Postings' quarterly meme of lessons learned in the garden each season.  With the garden under a thick blanket of snow most of the past few months, I didn't think I had learned very much this winter,  but the more I thought about it, I realized there were some lessons to be found in spite of the cold weather.

I learned that I really enjoy watching the birds from my window during the winter.  There may not be colorful blooms outside, but is there anything more beautiful than a bright red cardinal on freshly fallen snow?

This winter has certainly taught me patience.  Not only am I anxious to get out and work in the garden again, but I'm anxious to know how a couple of my experiments are going to turn out.  I was worried how my new Encore Azaleas would fare through the winter, since they are marginally hardy here.  I carefully read some tips for overwintering on their website, which included the suggestion for covering them.  I drove stakes into the ground last November and stapled burlap to the stakes as a wind barrier.  I didn't cover the tops, though, which I hope wasn't a mistake.  I added some leaves around them as extra mulch, and then the snow added extra insulation.  I'll have to wait to see if they survived, but I am so glad I took these precautions--this winter would surely have killed them otherwise!

Another experiment whose results won't be known for awhile involved bulb planting.  As usual, I had some extra bulbs leftover from my fall planting, and rather than find one more bare spot to dig up some dirt, I decided to try planting them in a pot.  I had never done this before, and while it sounded simple enough, I thought I'd better check if there were any specific tips for pots.   Dee at Red Dirt Ramblings  had written about just this very topic, so I asked for her advice.  Because of the smaller area of a pot, they should be treated as two zones colder than normal.  In other words, while my garden is in zone 5/6, the bulbs in this pot would feel like they were in zone 3 or 4.  I placed the pot on the back porch, which is usually sheltered from the fierce winds, but Dee suggested adding a layer of bubblewrap for even more protection. I didn't water it, but whenever I shoveled snow off the driveway, I dumped some clean snow on top--one pile sat there for two months before melting! Surely, the worst of winter is over, so this week I'm going to move the pot onto the patio and remove the bubblewrap.  If these tulips are a success, I'm going to try Dee's idea of "lasagna planting" in a pot next year.

This winter has been a reminder of what true winter in the Midwest is like.  We've been spoiled the last two years with mild winters, so this year has been a challenge in many ways.  Plants that have been happy in the garden for a few years may have been so shocked by this year's fierce weather that they won't survive.  I'm especially concerned about a few new plants I planted last fall, including this serviceberry, a tree I have been wanting for a long time.  It's a native, though, and pretty tough, so I am pretty confident in its chances.  I mulched it well after planting, and Frank the pug has made sure it has been well-watered all winter, though that "watering" may have done more damage than winter itself:)

Despite my complaints this year, I really do enjoy winter.  It's just that when it drags on and on, I've had enough.  One of the ways to combat those winter-weary blues is to start some seeds indoors, which I started this week.  With our average last frost date over eight weeks away, I have plenty of time to fill up several more trays in the next couple of weeks.  There's nothing like playing in a little dirt and opening seed packets to chase away the blues and get excited about gardening once again.

Winter has taught me a lot about patience, but the best part of winter for me is that it makes me appreciate spring that much more.  After months of looking at white or brown, finding these green shoots poking through the soil and matted leaves yesterday makes me so excited.  Tulips? Daffodils?  It really doesn't matter, because to me they represent hope and a reassurance that, yes, spring will come after all!

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is brought to you the 15th of each month by May Dreams Gardens' Carol, who is probably out getting ready to plant peas this weekend.

Lessons Learned in the Garden is hosted at the end of each season by Beth at Plant Postings.  Check them both out!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Ready for a Road Trip?

The sun is shining and the temperatures are slowly climbing . . . but there's a possibility of snow later this week, arrgh!  I am so ready to get outside!  Yes, I do mean in the garden, but as wet as the soil is, that probably won't be for awhile.  I'm also ready to get outside and go somewhere after being cooped up much of the winter.  Good friend Beckie and I are headed next week to the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, which is always a highlight of March and a great way to get motivated for the coming gardening season.  I hope this will be just the first of several short road trips we can take this season.

If you're like me and enjoy road trips to see beautiful gardens, a great place to visit in the Central Midwest is Rockford, Illinois.   I wrote about the fabulous Anderson Japanese Garden in January, but that is not the only place in this city just an hour west of Chicago that is worth the drive.  The Klehm Arboretum and the Nicholas Conservatory are just two of the larger attractions in Rockford.

The Klehm Arboretum has 155 acres of natives and plants from around the world.  Originally a nursery, the land was donated to the city by the Klehm family in 1985 with the stipulation it be maintained as a public botanic garden.

A wide variety of trees, many of them planted by the original nursery owner in the early 1900's, line the walkways.  Friendly dogs on a leash are even welcome here; if I lived much closer, I know Sophie would love visiting the Arboretum with me.

One of several unusual creatures in the garden, a painted cow is sure to delight visitors to the Children's Garden.

If you took every trail that wanders off the main pathways, you could walk for hours and still not see everything.  This archway just looked too inviting to pass by.

This delightful secret garden was worth the detour.

The pollinator garden wasn't hidden at all, but along a major walkway 
so visitors would be sure not to miss it.

Filled with native plants, it was a haven for bees and butterflies on this August afternoon.  The more I looked at it, I realized this is my vision of what I wish my garden looked like.

Tall Rudbeckias (?) in another planting.

The Arboretum's main focus is on trees, and there are many examples of native and unusual trees to be found here including this conifer and the black locusts below.

The only drawback to the Arboretum is that there is no snack bar: Beckie and I made the mistake of not stopping for lunch before coming here, and after awhile, my energy was sagging or we might have stayed longer.  Next time I visit, I'll be sure to eat first--I could walk off a lot of calories on these trails!

Another place not to miss is the Nicholas Conservatory located along the Rock River.  Unfortunately, the Conservatory itself, which houses 11,000 square feet of a tropical setting, was closed for renovations on the day we visited.

But seeing the beautiful grounds outside the Conservatory, we decided to stop anyway, and we weren't alone.  It's obvious this is a popular place, not only for garden enthusiasts, but also for walkers and joggers who enjoyed the pathways through the grounds and along the river.

Border plantings include many native plants such as the Lobelia cardinalis above and the Joe Pye Weed in the previous photo.

A planting of Clethra in another area showed me what the puny little specimen in my garden is supposed to look like.

For rose aficionados, the Sinnissippi Rose Garden at the far end of the Conservatory grounds showcases a large number of rose cultivars.

If I were to ever attempt growing something other than easy-care roses, this would be my choice--'Glowing Peace.'  Isn't she beautiful?

I wasn't the only one taking photos on this pleasant morning.  I try to be considerate of others trying to frame the perfect shot, but I realized after standing behind this gentleman for a minute, that it wasn't necessary to be so patient:)  (Seriously, I did stand several feet behind him for awhile, until I realized my mistake.)

Garden sculptures, beautiful plantings, and lovely water features including the lagoon with fountains make this an enjoyable place to spend an afternoon.  Note the bike path in the background.

There are other smaller gardens and attractions in Rockford, but some of them weren't open at the time we visited.  Our time was limited anyway, and the three places we visited--the Anderson Japanese Garden, the Klehm Arboretum, and the Nicholas Conservatory--were well worth the three-hour drive.  Looking forward to more fun road trips this summer!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Book Review: A Long-Awaited Sequel

Good news for Elizabeth George fans--Sgt. Barbara Havers is back!  After playing a passive role in the last Inspector Lynley novel, Barbara Havers is back where she belongs, actively pursuing a case and working with Thomas Lynley again.  Spoiler alert--for those who haven't read the previous George novel and intend to, you might want to skip to the last four paragraphs here.

In the previous novel Believing the Lie, Lynley has finally begun the healing process after the sudden death of his wife.  While he is solving a murder in the Lake District, Havers is left behind in London, doing some investigative work for Lynley, but never at his side, as she usually is.  But as the mystery is solved, a crisis appears at the end as Barbara's neighbor and best friend, nine-year-old Hadiyyah, disappears, prompting Havers' fans to eagerly anticipate the next book in this series.

Just One Evil Act picks up where the previous one left off, as Havers frantically begins her search for Hadiyyah, but she soon learns that the police are not going to help, since Hadiyyah was taken by her mother.  Compounding the problem is that Tamar, Barbara's good friend and Hadiyyah's father, was never married to her mother Angelina and has no legal claim on his daughter.  Barbara has promised Tamar, however, that she will find his daughter and in desperation turns to a private detective.

Every lead comes to a dead end, until several months later when Angelina suddenly re-appears in London, frantic because Hadiyyah has been kidnapped from an open-air Italian marketplace and accuses Tamar of the deed this time.   Barbara is able to convince her superiors that Scotland Yard must finally get involved because the little girl is a British citizen, but rather than send her to Tuscany, the Yard sends Inspector Lynley instead.

Just when a happy resolution seems near, a new complication arises that causes Barbara to book a hasty trip to Tuscany, Yard-approved or not.  Only she, she reasons, has the motivation and persistence to see that justice is done, and as it turns out, she is right.  But in the process, surprising secrets are revealed, and Barbara must decide just how far she will bend the rules to protect her friends. 

Just One Evil Act is full of surprising twists and turns and several sub-plots that all come together in the end, as is typical of an Elizabeth George novel.  The last 100 pages is fast-paced and riveting, but the previous 619 could have used some editing.  Seven-hundred page novels don't intimidate me, and I'm used to George's long novels, but there seemed to be some repetition and unnecessary detail, such as repeated interviews with the same suspects,  that did nothing to advance the plot or character development.

This is the first novel in the series in which Thomas Lynley travels out of the UK to solve an investigation.  Fortunately, Lynley is fluent in Italian, unlike Havers, but that brings up another criticism: the author uses a lot of Italian in the dialogue.  While Ms. George may be learning the language (as she states in the acknowledgements), the readers are not!  A few phrases here and there would be fine and do add some authenticity to the Italian setting. But she uses it frequently, and too often the dialogue is not translated or self-explanatory. I found myself re-reading parts to try to understand through context clues and got frustrated when I couldn’t understand what was being said.

I've said in previous reviews of her novels that character development is a big part of what makes George's books so appealing.  Just One Evil Act is full of rich, interesting characters, but some of the major characters change in ways that are not so appealing.  I’m a big fan of the fashion-challenged Sgt. Havers whose contrast to the well-bred Inspector Lynley often provides some comic relief. I was so looking forward to her playing a bigger role in this novel, but she is not quite the Barbara Havers we have come to know and love. Barbara is often in conflict with her superiors (other than Lynley), and she doesn’t mind bending the rules a bit to see that the guilty are punished. However, in this novel she goes far beyond "bending the rules" to the point that one begins to wonder if this normally moral and big-hearted woman has lost her sense of right and wrong.  In her defense, however, Barbara's actions are blinded by emotion--trying to save two of the people she holds most dear.  And perhaps that is George's intent--to make us think how far we, too, might go to protect the ones we love.

You might wonder why I chose this book to review when I seldom offer too many negative comments in my reviews.   Despite the criticism, if you're a fan of this series, by all means, read it, but if you're new to the Thomas Lynley series, I'd recommend starting with one of the earlier books.  The truth is, even with its flaws, Just One Evil Act is still an entertaining book, and any book by Elizabeth George, in my opinion, is ten times better than most mysteries on the book shelves

Frankie and I are still waiting for the snow to melt.

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@Barrie Summy

Disclaimer: No compensation of any kind was received for this review, and I purchased my own copy of Just One Evil Act. As always, I review only books I enjoy and think others would enjoy reading too.