Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April's Last Hurrah

There's an old cliche in Illinois (and probably elsewhere) that says, "If you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes and it will change." That has certainly been true here the last few days. Last week started out with beautiful spring weather, and my hyacinths were in all their glory.

By the end of the week it was summer, or so it seemed--so hot and humid that the hyacinth blooms dried up and blew away, as did my daffodils. Then it became colder and colder; by Monday the weather gods were so confused they didn't know what to do. The sun shone, then it rained, then it snowed, then sleeted, then hailed, all in less than a few hours. I put blankets over my hydrangeas and a few other tender perennials Monday night in preparation for the freeze warnings. Thankfully, we didn't get the freeze forecast for that night and the next, and everything has survived.

The forecast for the rest of this week is warmer once again, and I'm hoping that lasts. My flowering crabapple trees were just about to bloom last week.

This week, in spite of the crazy weather, most of them have opened up.

They put on quite a show for a week or two for anyone who drives up our lane. These trees were all planted by my in-laws some years ago, and as you can see, there are at least two varieties of flowering crabapples. Perhaps some people think the pink and red clash, but I like the effect. The green tree to the left of the photo is another variety of crabapple, I think; it has white blooms that are not quite open yet.

If the weather isn't being cooperative for gardening, what's a girl to do? Why, go shopping, of course! And that's just what my good friend Beckie and I decided to do. By the way, in my last post I wrote about good friends of mine that I had taught with for many years. Beckie and I have been best friends even longer than that, which is pretty amazing since we're both only 35!

Ok, wipe the smile off your face, and back to the subject...

Since we both find shopping for plants infinitely preferable to clothes shopping, we decided to visit a couple of garden centers, including Prairie Gardens, where we attended a few workshops earlier this month. I have been wanting to try a newer species of gallardia called "Oranges and Lemons," and luckily I found just enough for the area I've planned. We bought a few other perennials we've been looking for, but resisted the temptation, for the most part, to buy annuals--it's still too early here for them. We checked them out, though, and took some notes and some pictures to remind us in a week or two what we'd like to buy.
There was certainly no shortage of petunias! Growers must be coming up with a new variety every year. There were the now-common wave petunias, the supertunias (my favorite), million bells, and something called surfinia (I'm not sure now if that is the correct name). I love this lavendar double petunia pictured below and plan to buy some later for containers. It was in a hanging planter, so I didn't get the name of it, but I'm sure I'll recognize it when I see it again.
By the time we hit the second garden center, our wallets were getting a little thin, so we mostly window-shopped, although neither of us could resist buying a yellow fusion impatiens. It was a little pricey, so I'm hoping we'll be able to find more of these a little cheaper in a couple of weeks. I didn't check the price on this basket of pink double impatiens below, but I'm sure it was more than I wanted to spend. I love this look, though, and am going to try to duplicate it myself. Last year was the first time I had ever seen double impatiens--they look just like miniature roses and far outshine regular impatiens.

One last stop before going home--we wanted to see the Master Gardeners' Idea Garden on the U. of I. campus. We had stopped there at the end of March when the only thing "blooming" was the rabbit planters. What a difference three weeks can make! Although there weren't that many spring blooms, there was green everywhere.

The nice thing about this garden is that every plant is clearly marked with a sign indicating its species and common name besides its native habitat.

The Master Gardeners experiment with many different varieties and species so that it's a great place to see how well a particular plant might do in this area. This beautiful flowering quince, for example, is not very common here, I believe, but it's obviously thriving in this plot.

I can't believe I have lived in this area all my life, and yet this is the first year I've ever visited this gardening site. Beckie and I made a vow to visit here often during the summer to enjoy the garden and to pick up new ideas for next year.

Finally, it was time to go home--I had to get to my granddaughter's soccer game. But we hadn't gone more than a few hundred feet down the street when we spotted a whole field of lilacs. Well, of course, we had to stop to see--and smell--them. There were several varieties of lilacs planted, including this beautiful, but not very fragrant, white lilac.

The field is on part of the University campus, but there were no signs, and I couldn't find any note of it on the official campus map. My guess is that it is part of an experimental plot for the horticulture department, since this whole area includes other gardens and groves of trees.

We finally tore ourselves away and made it home in time for the soccer game. As you can see, there was still plenty of room in the back of my van; I think we showed remarkable restraint on our shopping spree, don't you? Of course, next time I'll take out the back seat so we have more room!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Arbor Day Friends

"Friendship is a sheltering tree..."
Another Arbor Day has come and gone, providing a few more memories for a group of old friends. As I explained in my last post, many years ago a group of my fellow teachers were meeting for a Friday afternoon social hour when someone toasted Arbor Day. From those murky beginnings a tradition began. For several years we got together every Arbor Day, using it more as an excuse to hold a party and release the tension that inevitably built up as we neared the end of another school year.

The first few years we would try to top last year's celebration. One friend who truly loved Arbor Day even dressed up as her favorite tree--the redbud--for school that day. (I can only imagine the strange looks she got from her students.) She has since moved away, and unfortunately no one has heard from her in awhile, but I can still hear her laugh and I think of her whenever I see a redbud tree. Another year the art teacher designed special T-shirts commemorating Arbor Day for all of us, which we wore to school. I recently found this picture of us that year, toasting Arbor Day with mint juleps. (I'm the taller blonde with the bad hair near the middle.)

One year we met at the house of another friend who had just moved to a rather upscale new subdivision in town. We pranced around her yard, toasting every newly planted tree and taking silly pictures, only to realize we were providing entertainment for a couple construction workers working on the roof of a nearby house.

Over the years, many of those pictured above moved away or changed careers. Our Arbor Day celebrations became fewer and less elaborate. There are eight or nine of us, though, who have stayed in the area and remained good friends. Several of us are retired, a few are semi-retired, and a few are still teaching full-time. We try to get together several times a year, but this past year we have made more of an effort to meet more regularly. When we decided to revive our Arbor Day tradition this year, I decided we needed a little of the old silliness and made name tags for everyone of their favorite tree. At the end of the evening, the name of a tree was drawn, and the winner went home with a new Weigela shrub. Kind of silly, yes, but they were all good sports and wore those name tags all evening.

Yes, we've become a much "tamer" group than the days of our youth. No more mint juleps; less alcohol is consumed, many of us opting for coffee or Diet Coke instead. But we can still burst into uncontrollable fits of laughter as we remember funny stories from the past. Someone inevitably brings up the infamous pantyhose story, when I discovered, to my horror, I had the foot of an extra pair of panty hose sticking out of my pant leg while standing in front of my classroom. (I'm not going to explain that one, other than to say I was a young mother with two boys and a new baby to get ready every morning. To avoid baby spit-up spills, the last thing I did before leaving for work each morning was to get dressed. Obviously, I didn't always have time to check myself in the mirror.) This story has been repeated so many times that anyone of us can tell it in detail, and we still laugh hysterically whenever anyone tells it.

Then there's the story of the time I asked one of my freshman students out. (No, it was not something perverted--it was just an unfortunate choice of words spoken out of frustration at a misbehaving student!) Or someone brings up another friend's experience, the time she was on her first trip to Europe visiting a famous cathedral. Not knowing what was going on and not speaking the language, she suddenly found herself seated with the family of a young priest who was being ordained at the time. She had to feign being sick in order to excuse herself and leave the cathedral before missing her bus back to her hotel.

All our reminiscing usually brings us to tears of laughter, but we don't need to discuss the "good old days" to evoke a giggle. These days we can laugh at our tendencies towards mid-life memory lapses. Trying to talk about someone, perhaps a student, from the past becomes a guessing game that goes something like this:
"Guess who I ran into the other day? It was....uhmm..I can't remember his name. He had a sister a few years younger with red hair."
"Billy Smithers?"
"No, he had Mohawk haircut and ran track, I think."
"Oh, I know who you mean. Um...his name starts with an R."
"Randy Rogers?"
"Robbie Jones?"
"That doesn't sound right..."
This goes on for several minutes until someone finally remembers it was Roger Something-or-other, and we all laugh again about how our stories all seem to turn into fill-in-the-blank exercises.

One friend, who is the master at making a simple story sound hilarious, tells us about her recent experiences taking a "memory class." It's actually a study being conducted at the university for people over a certain age. She's told us before about the activities they've done and little tricks she's learned to improve her memory. The only problem is that on the day of the "final exam" she forgot to go!
Of course, we don't spend all our time giggling like silly schoolgirls. We share news of our children, pass around the latest pictures of our grandchildren, and discuss the latest political issues. And we try to provide emotional support when needed. Several years ago, one of us, who had been divorced for a number of years, finally found "Mr. Right," only to lose him to a sudden heart attack. We all went to his visitation, and I remember her smiles and tears of gratitude as we each took turns hugging her. Today, we ask about another one's husband who has been battling cancer for several years. I think she finds our get-togethers a respite from the worries and concerns she faces each day.

We were fortunate that the weather cooperated with us somewhat this year. The storms that had been forecast all day passed us by, and although it was very windy, we eventually moved out to my front porch to enjoy the views of budding trees. Obviously, even though we are all nature-lovers, Arbor Day is not so much about nature for us, but about friendship. Before everyone left, we took time for a new picture, windswept hairdos and all.
And so I raise my cup of coffee to trees and good friends: May they last for many more years!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Happy Arbor Day

The trees are slowly leafing out here in central Illinois, perfect timing for the national observance of Arbor Day.

One of my favorite spring flowering trees is the redbud. We had been living in this house for about eight months when one spring morning, while I was sitting on the front porch drinking coffee and trying to erase the cobwebs of sleep from my brain, I looked up and saw these pinkish-purple blossoms on the tree near the porch. I was ecstatic! I had no idea we had a redbud tree until the blossoms emerged. Not only that, as I walked around the house, I discovered we had not one, but two redbuds!

Certainly there are prettier blossoming trees, but I like the airy jolt of bright color it provides among the pastel hues of showier flowering trees. It is also usually one of the first to bloom, making it one of the first true signs of spring to me. I'm always a little sad when the purple blossoms change to green leaves; it's not that magnificent of a tree then. But since my redbud also holds my hummingbird feeder, this tree gets a lot of attention from me all summer long.

Coconut enjoys bird watching from his vantage point under the redbud.

I have been busy all week; I'd like to say it's because I've been outside planting and digging. But I'm afraid that hasn't been the case. In between several days of subsitute teaching, I have been cleaning, cleaning, and de-cluttering, trying to make my house spotless (well, presentable is a better word) for a get-together at my house tonight. My guests will be a group of old friends, teaching colleagues for more than 30 years. We meet for lunch on a semi-regular basis, but our favorite time is our annual celebration of Arbor Day.

Arbor Day is actually a much older holiday than Earth Day. A Nebraskan, who thought his treeless state needed some trees planted, first came up with the idea in the 1800's. The idea spread to other states, and in 1872 the fourth Friday in April was proclaimed as National Arbor Day. Other countries also observe Arbor Day, although in many countries, as well as some states in the US, the date may be different to coincide with the best tree-planting time.

Before you begin to admire my friends and me as true nature lovers, our motives for celebrating this day are far from noble. I'm not sure when our annual tradition began, at least 25 years ago, but its beginnings were pretty mundane. I think we were having one of our occasional TGIF gatherings when people started toasting. Running out of ideas for a toast, someone looked at their calendar, looking for a holiday, and made a toast to Arbor Day. From these humble beginnings our annual tradition began.

Over the years our celebrations have ranged from impromtu get-togethers to more elaborate affairs, complete with T-shirts and yes, even planting a tree. This year I've made a tag for each person to wear with their favorite tree on it. Beyond that, I'm not sure what we will do to honor Arbor Day. But I do know we'll toast some trees, tell a lot of old stories, and laugh hysterically as we remember all the good times we've had.

I'll tell you all about it in a couple of days...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Celebrate Earth Day

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors,
we borrow it from our children.

(Native American proverb)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring, Glorious Spring

Yesterday was as close to a perfect spring day as you can get. Bright sunshine, temperatures in the upper 70's, and a strong breeze, not the gusty winds of the previous day.

I took advantage of the weather to get more work done outside--housework can always wait till a rainy day! My mother had dug up some hollyhock plants she didn't want, so, of course, I said I'd love to have them. I take any extra free plants anyone wants to offer me. I expected a few, maybe half a dozen, but she brought over sixteen plants, so what I thought would be a quick job turned into a much longer one. One thing I do have is lots of space, so finding a place to put all of them was no problem. I planted them all in the "back" back yard where the old farmhouse once stood, placing them around an old well pit and an old cistern.

When I was a girl, I loved hollyhocks, but I thought of them as something more like a weed--they just popped up in strange places all over our farm. I had no idea people actually bought seed to grow them. These hollyhocks could probably be labelled heirlooms, because, according to my Dad, they have been growing on their farm as long as he can remember, which means they are from 80-year-old stock. Perhaps my grandmother planted them, which makes them very special to me. As I planted them, I thought of my grandmother, one of the kindest people anyone could have ever met. And I realized another tie: my mother had dug up lots of soil with the hollyhocks, so I was actually transplanting some of the soil from the farm that my great-grandparents settled and has been in my family for over 130 years. I garden because I enjoy it, and I plant what pleases me, but I felt a special connection that afternoon, thinking of the bond with my ancestors who had tilled and planted the fields for generations long before me.

Once I had finished planting, I took care of a few other little chores. I set out my seedlings on the porch to get acclimated to the outside. My first experiment with seedlings didn't go so well--I now understand the meaning of the word "damp rot." But the seed packets weren't that expensive, and it was a learning experience. We'll see if this batch does better.

I also put up my hummingbird feeder. It's probably far too early here yet for hummingbirds, but I want them to know they're welcome when they do make it to this part of Illinois.

While we may not have hummingbirds yet, we do have lots of robins, cardinals, and red-winged blackbirds. They serenaded me while I worked yesterday, but they were very busy, too, gathering materials for their nests. I tried so hard to get a picture of one of the fat robins, but they were too wary of me and flew away each time I got close. Finally, one of them flew into the tree just above my head.

Do you see him here? No? Well, trust me, he was there one second before I snapped the shutter.

While I was trying to coax a robin into a photo, I suddenly noticed this tree in the back yard. I have never noticed this blooming before, and I have no idea what it is. It's hard to see the puffy white blosssoms on it, because the wind had picked up. Walking around it, trying to get the right angle for a picture,

I noticed this shoot coming straight out of its trunk. Now this looks like a pussywillow, doesn't it? Is there such a thing as a pussywillow tree? This is in the very back of the yard where the original farmhouse stood, so is it possible the shrub grew into a tree? Or perhaps it's some strange mutation. Any ideas?

By the end of the day, I was exhausted and my muscles ached. But I slept more soundly than I have for a long time, even sleeping straight through an earthquake! (See my early morning post below.)

Interesting note: I was listening to a local talk radio show this morning to hear news about the earthquake. Several callers mentioned that they were awakened by the birds who were unusually active before the earthquake. I thought all of you bird lovers would appreciate that. Sometimes it seems the animals are more intelligent than humans.

Tremors in the Night

I was awakened at 6:30 this morning by the ringing of the phone. My husband had kissed me goodbye and left for work a few minutes earlier, and I had rolled over thinking I'd get a few extra minutes of sleep before having to get up. I thought it was he calling, but instead it was his cousin who lives in Tennessee.

"Hello, Rose, it's Diane."
Oh dear, I thought, his great-aunt is not well. But thankfully, that was not the case, as she continued, "Are you ok?"
"OK? Sure, we're ok." By now I was puzzled.
"Well, I heard about the earthquake you had and wanted to make sure you were ok."
""Earthquake? What earthquake??"

Well, you get the idea. By then I was completely awake and turned on the radio. Apparently, we DID have an earthquake last night, but I slept through it! My daughter told me it awakened her because her bed was shaking. According to news reports, we had a 5.2 earthquake, centered about 140 miles south of us, with shock waves felt as far as Chicago, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. No reports of serious damage have been made yet, thank God. I hope that everyone else who may have been even closer to the epicenter is also all right.

I decided to take my cup of tea and go outside and survey the area. I certainly didn't see any signs of an earthquake. To my surprise, though, I did notice that my clematis is budding. I have been checking it fairly often, because I know it needs to be cut back, but it must have greened up overnight!

I could use some help here. I planted the clematis two years ago, so I didn't cut it back at all last year. A single vine curled all around this trellis last summer, and it did have a few blooms. I know that you are supposed to cut it back in the spring to help it become fuller, but I am afraid to. I believe it is a Group III; at any rate, recommendations I've found say to cut it back in March or early spring to about a foot high. Do you think it is too late to prune it? Or too soon?

If there are any clematis growers out there who can give me some advice, I'd appreciate it. If I don't get any suggestions by early next week, I may get brave and cut it back anyway.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

So much to do, so little time

The pressure is on! It's spring (finally, I think) and the yard and garden beckon me to get outside and clean up winter debris and plant some color. I have a couple upcoming get-togethers planned at my house, and it needs attention, too. And I want to keep blogging, as well. How to get everything done??
Late Monday night I was working on my last post to ensure it got done in time for the April Garden Bloggers Day and decided to check a few of my favorite blogs before finally going to bed. To my surprise, my friend Beckie of Dragonflycorner gave me this award. Thank you, Beckie! However, I am sure I don't deserve it and that Beckie gave it to me just because we have been best friends for years. I just celebrated my one-month anniversary of blogging last week and still have so much to learn (like how to move photos around or eliminating all those darned spaces that Blogger seems to put in where I don't want them).

Last week when I published my "Rainy Day Blues" post, I think I was feeling a little inadequate after viewing so many wonderful blogs with beautiful photos. So it's time for some true confessions:

1. I have flowerbeds, not a huge garden like many other bloggers.

2. I don't take very good pictures, especially close-ups. I was thrilled to get a new Sony Cybershot camera for Christmas, and it takes great photos of my grandkids. However, it doesn't zoom very far, so photos of moving objects, like birds, are almost impossible to take (see my pathetic attempt to take a photo of a cardinal below). I have discovered recently, though, that it does pay to read the manual first.

3. I am, as my header says, a novice gardener. I do not know the genus names of plants. Up until a few years ago, I couldn't have told you the difference between an echinacea and a rubedeckia, just that one was a pink flower and the other one yellow. So this is not the place to come for gardening advice. (But if you want to give me advice, I will certainly welcome it.)

But enough with the self-deprecating talk (I may not know much about gardening, but I do have a pretty good vocabulary!). The object of the award is to pass it along to ten other blogs that you consider excellent. This presents another problem. Since Beckie is the one who started me reading blogs, I read many of the same blogs as she, and she has already nominated many of the blogs I would have recommended. For example, Cheryl of My Wildlife Sanctuary is one I regularly read, and I think of Cheryl as a good friend now. She always comes to visit me and leaves such kind words of encouragement. Beckie suggested one day I visit Mary of Mary's View, and now I read her regularly as well. Besides her beautiful close-up photos of birds, she is witty and makes me laugh. Then there are the "master" bloggers who post almost every day and share an amazing wealth of gardening knowledge, like Jodi of Bloomingwriter or Carol of May Dreams. I won't mention other names for fear I'll leave someone out, but the problem is all of these have certainly won the Excellence in Blogging Award some time ago.

So, if you will forgive me, I am going to nominate only two blogs for this award. (I intended to make it three, but I just discovered Joey of The Village Voice has already won this award. If you haven't visited her, she takes stunning photographs.) So....drum roll nominations for Excellent Blogs are:

1. Moments from Suburbia--She captures moments in everyday life and writes about them in such a witty way. I am often laughing out loud after reading her posts.

2. Vegplotting--another UK blog I enjoy. She shares the obstacles of trying to garden in the city and writes about a variety of topics, usually in a humorous way. Besides, her cats are adorable.

Congratulations to the two of you! Now you get to choose who you would like to nominate. The rules are that when you receive the award, you should pass it on to 10 other nominees (or you can break the rules, like me, and pass it on to however many you choose). Then leave a comment on their site to pick up their award.

Thanks, Beckie, for nominating me. I do appreciate it despite all my reservations. Now I guess I'll have to work harder to earn this award. (The first step will be learning how to take better photos than this one.)

In addition to that award, last week Suburbia gave me the "good chat" award. Thank you! I must say I am flattered by this one, too; I like the idea of a blog being like a good chat with a friend. I'm not sure about whether I am supposed to pass this one on, so for now I'll wait to nominate anyone until I hear from her.
And there's more...earlier this week, Suburbia "tagged" me for a meme.

However, it's a beautiful day outside and I want to take advantage of it, so I think I'll postpone the meme for another day.
Happy Spring, everyone!

Wise advice from Toby: "Chill out. Enjoy the day."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

April Bloom Day: Dancing Daffodils

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils:
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee:
A poet could not be but gay,

In such a jocund company!
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
----William Wordsworth

I've always loved this poem, and although I don't have a "host" of daffodils, they do fill my heart with pleasure, as Wordsworth says. I always liked Wordsworth's poems, but I've grown to love them even more the last few years. Wordsworth saw the divine in nature and felt that man was a better person by enjoying and contemplating nature. As a gardener, what more perfect inspiration could you ask for?

My spring bulbs are all late-flowering ones--still no tulips--but besides the daffodils, I do have some hyacinths blooming. As you can see (and will see later in the season), I am partial to purple.

Happy Garden Bloom Day to everyone!
By the next Bloom day, we will all probably be showing a riot of color.

( Footnote: Thank you to someone, I think it is Mary, who had a note in her profile about her camera always being in macromode. Out of curiosity, I actually read my camera manual before taking these pictures.)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Rainy Day Blues


I opened my eyes
And looked up at the rain,
And it dripped in my head
And flowed into my brain,
And all that I hear as I lie in my bed
Is the slishity-slosh of the rain in my head.

I step very softly,
I walk very slow,
I can't do a handstand--
I might overflow,
So pardon the wild crazy thing I just said,
I'm just not the same since there's rain in my head.

---Shel Silverstein

The muse has left me.
I have been blogging for a month now, and I have nothing new to say.

Earlier this week I posted a blog about all the green beginning to emerge in my garden. Excited by the promise of spring blooms and encouraged by the warm, sunny weather, I spent two days raking, cleaning up my large porch planter, and transporting several loads of leaves and dirt to the compost pile. But then my body said, "Enough!" I retreated to my couch the rest of the day, feeling sorry for myself that my youthful spirit and mind are housed in this tired, middle-aged body.

Then the rains came. The wind blew. And blew.

I became preoccupied with other necessary chores--running errands, long-overdue cleaning projects, and even working at a "real" job for a day. Somewhere in the midst of all this my muse retreated into unknown regions. I began surfing blogsites, vicariously enjoying the blossoms and wildlife others were seeing outside their windows. I enjoyed virtual travel to far-off places, from Guatemala to Italy to the United Kingdom (my personal favorite for a visit outside the U.S.).

I looked outside my window for an inspiration, something I could share with my new blogging friends. The daffodils were already blooming, but several were bowed over from the struggle to survive the strong winds. The hyacinths were emerging from their nesting places, but the rain kept me from photographing them. The lilac bush and the crabapple trees were beginning to bud, but freezing temperatures are predicted this weekend. And so I began to worry--will they survive the freeze or will they fail to bloom like last year? And another worry--my front yard is littered with shingles, the result of the storms and winds the last few days. Sigh. Looks like I'll be getting a new roof soon instead of the new carpeting I have been waiting for so long.

And still there is nothing new to say.

Please forgive my sounds of self-pity: it must be the rain inside my head. I think I'll just wait it out and go take a nap instead.

Sasha pleads, "Won't you let me in out of the rain?" (I did.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Spring Promises

Spring comes slowly this year
The earth awakens from its long slumber,
Yawns, and shudders.
Heaving up startled hostas
Their brown buds still sleeping,
Awakening green shoots of
Hyacinths nestled in their spiky cocoons
And small leaves of mystery
Waiting to unfold.
All promises of wonders
Soon to come.

I don't usually write poetry, and I'm obviously not very good at it, but there is something about spring that makes one wax poetic, isn't there? We have had three glorious days of sunshine and warm temperatures in the 60's, allowing me time to work outside and get some flowerbeds ready for the "real" gardening to come in a few weeks. I've been eagerly checking the spring bulbs, like the daffodil about to burst into bloom above, and discovered that under all those mounds of leaves there were some other surprises. I have been jealous of all of you posting your lovely spring blooms and greening perennials, so I hope you don't mind me showing off my promises of spring.

The hyacinths are slowly emerging and have changed from green to blue in the past week.

The tulips are growing every day, but they are all mid to late spring tulips, so it may be a few weeks yet before they bloom.

Then there are the mysteries--what did I plant here?? The stems look like tulips, but I don't think they are supposed to be in a clump.

Some of the perennials are beginning to emerge as well, such as the sedum pictured here and my salvia. No signs yet of the coneflowers, though.

The nepeta is also coming up nicely, this one a "Walker's Low." All the gardening magazines and catalogues tout it as a catmint that cats will leave alone. Apparently, Tarzan didn't read that page; maybe I'll have to show it to him and the other cats.

Now I understand what is meant by winter heaving. I expanded my tiny shade garden last fall--spading it up inch by inch over several days' time--and planted a few new blue hostas that I can't wait to see. I discovered, though, that most of them had been unwillingly thrust above ground. I patted them all back into the soil yesterday; I do hope they make it.

A friend of mine gave me a clump of what she called "Siberian Iris" a few years ago; perhaps

someone can tell me what their actual name is. They have never bloomed for me, though they are "greening up" nicely this year. Maybe this will be the year for blooms!

Another possible mystery--I do hope this is my aster coming up, because that is what is supposed to be here! When I first began gardening a few years ago, I read an article by a gardening expert who said she never pulled up anything that might be a weed until she was sure what it was. Sounded like a good idea to me, so I have followed that philosophy although sometimes I have foot-tall weeds before I know what they are.

This photo is the perfect reason for keeping a gardening journal and taking photos of your garden. Obviously, I did neither last year, so instead of the tulips I thought I had planted I have an empty space.

Although it is much too early here to plant most flowers, I couldn't resist planting the primroses I bought last weekend. Aren't they cheerful?

And, of course, a pot of pansies near the door.

April can be a tease in the Midwest. We may still get a snow shower, and we'll certainly still have nights of frost. But at least now I can see the promise of springtime flowers soon to come.
(My apologies for all the blank space--Blogger seems to have a mind of its own, no matter how hard I try to eliminate extra spacing.)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Spring Fever Cure II

For the second straight weekend, my friend Beckie and I headed to a local garden center, Prairie Gardens, for a series of seminars on gardening. It was a glorious day here in central Illinois: bright sunshine, and the temperature actually hit 60 degrees! While we might have felt just a twinge of guilt about not working outside today, the ground is still too muddy; besides, we were on our way to get lots of new ideas to improve our gardens this year. It's hard to pass all the trays of annuals and hundreds of new perennials without wanting to buy a cartload of new plants and get them out into the garden right now. But we knew better and took advantage of a little free time to check out all the plants available and make notes for a later shopping trip when planting season is really here. (The last frost date here is May 15--more than a month away!)

These hanging baskets of petunias (below) are already full and lush; I can only imagine what they will look like by May. I was pleased to discover that the center carried a few perennials that I have been wanting to plant this summer. Not only are they cheaper than those from the mail order catalogue I've been looking at, but I also prefer to see the real plant before I buy it.

Our first session was "Hot Perennial Picks for 2008." I took over two pages of notes on this session alone--too many choices! The 2008 perennial of the year is the geranium "Roxanne," but I think I'll pass on planting this one until I've actually seen it in someone's garden. Instead I was really taken with two plants for my shade garden: Brunnera "Jack Frost" and a trollius, or globe flower. I'm sure many of you have the brunnera, but I had only seen them in gardening catalogues which didn't do them justice. And the trollius was completely new to me--a bright yellow flower that should add some punch among the hostas and ferns.

Our second session was "Trendy Outdoor Containers." Our speaker started by naming eight simple rules for container gardening, the first of which was"It's your garden." I took that to mean "plant what you like," so I am, and I am not going to use any of her ideas for plant combinations. No, seriously, she gave us some good basic information about planting and maintaining containers. I just didn't care for the sample mixtures she showed us.

Combining tropicals like this banana plant (too tall for my camera) with perennials and a few annuals seems to be popular this year. Her other container mixed houseplants with a perennial and a few annuals.

I don't know; I just prefer colorful annuals in containers, and my containers must have at least one trailing plant, or "spiller." Besides some helpful ideas on watering and fertilizing, I did see something I liked and want to try--the "living wreath" below. The speaker gave only a brief overview of how to create them, but it looked fairly easy to make--I hope.

Our last session was entitled "For the Birds," and just between you and me, I stayed for it only because Beckie wanted to stay. But was I glad I did! I can tell the difference between a cardinal and a blue jay, but that's about the extent of my knowledge of bird species. I do have a hummingbird feeder close to my porch, and I've been enjoying watching them the last few summers, but was always secretly disappointed that my hummingbirds were rather drab in color. Now, after this seminar, I know why: those "drab" hummingbirds are the only species of hummers that migrate to our area. I still don't know how to identify many other birds, but now I'm ready to go out and buy a bird identification book and more bird feeders.

Before we left for the day, we checked out some other garden accessories and found these cute topiaries that can be covered with various plants. Some of you might actually like one of these rabbits in your garden...

...or maybe even two of them.

They are available in several different shapes--I thought Beckie might like a squirrel--but at $50--$80 apiece, they are a bit pricey.

I did pass on the topiaries, but couldn't resist buying a few of the primroses I mentioned last week (though last week they were listed as primulas; not sure why) as well as some pansies. And after a week of thinking about it, I just had to buy this planter.

I have no idea where I'll put it yet, but it just reminded me of Italian Renaissance art, which doesn't exactly fit my country setting.
But, hey, it's my garden, right?