Sunday, March 29, 2009

What Will I Be Missing?

Husband and I are taking off this week for a little trip to Arizona to visit Daughter, Son-not-quite-in-law, and of course, the two Granddogs. With the beautiful spring weather we had last week, I've been worried, though, what I will miss in the garden.

I won't miss the last roars of March, however. I woke up this morning to blowing snow flurries and sleet depositing ice on the growing tulips. I hope this doesn't leave any lasting effects on all that has emerged in the garden in the last week. (I thought I had uploaded a short video of the wind whipping the snow through our yard, but apparently it is floating around in the vast wasteland of cyberspace instead.)

Quite a contrast from Friday when dawn revealed that spring
was really on its way here in central Illinois.

The crabapple trees are already sprouting new buds.

And the white flowering crab already has lots of green leaves. It's much too early for either of them to bloom; I hope they haven't been lulled into a false sense of security by the warm weather we had earlier.

The hyacinths are growing at an amazing rate.
Will I miss seeing them fully emerge from their cocoons? Oh, I hope not!

The unnamed clematis surprised me with this early growth. No need to worry about it blooming before I return, but it should be pruned soon and there's no time now.

Another surprise in the shade garden--the "Endless Summer" hydrangea is sprouting some green leaves already. Every year I wait impatiently for signs of new growth, fearing I'll lose another one. This has to be the earliest it's ever shown new life.

The stalwart Nepeta "Walker's Low" has appeared seemingly overnight. At the rate it's growing already, it may be even bigger than last year and overtake this corner of the garden.

The sedum is also growing at a steady rate. No need to worry that I'll miss its blooms, but I wonder if this one should be divided before it gets much bigger?

Every week brings new surprises. I missed the opportunity to photograph these tulips as they emerged from the ground--they began as bright red stalks tinged in yellow; you can still see the red tinges on their leaves. These are new ones I planted last fall, and I don't remember which ones they are until they finally bloom.

While I wonder if I will miss some special moments of spring here, there will be other special experiences in the next week. Besides being able to spend time with Daughter and her "family," I will no doubt see new sights in Arizona, including another stop at the Desert Botanical Gardens where the Butterfly House will be open!

Luckily, I have been able to enjoy the first signs of spring here. The yellow daffodils have fully opened this week, greeting me each morning with their bright, cheery faces. And the newer ones planted last fall will wait to bloom until I return home.

And I was also lucky to see the first primroses come into bloom. Aren't these just too pretty to look real? I was worried when I planted them last spring that they wouldn't be hardy here, but apparently they can survive even the coldest of winters.

However, I may miss the opening of these primrose buds. Don't they look like little rosebuds?

But most of all, I will miss these two who will probably think I have deserted them. Youngest Daughter will be in charge here, but I can't help but worry what kind of damage to my house Miss Sophie may wreak in my absence.

I hope you all have a wonderful week and don't miss any opportunities to enjoy what each day brings. I hope to get a post up for this Wednesday, and if Daughter's internet access is being cooperative, I will try to visit everyone when I can. Otherwise, I will be back next week, catching up on everyone's posts and seeing what I've missed in the garden.

Well, here's the missing video! What in the world is it doing here?
Argh, I am a techno illiterate:)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

ABC Wednesday: J

Today is Wednesday, which means we have reached the letter J, perfect for a spring bouquet of . . .


Jonquils, Daffodils, Narcissus . . . no matter what you call them, to me they represent the beginning of spring. No other spring blossom makes me as joyous and jubilant as the daffodil. It is a sign that spring has finally arrived. And yes, these first two photos were taken in my garden just this morning.

My mother always called these flowers jonquils, while I refer to all of them as daffodils. Both of these belong to the genus Narcissus, but while narcissus and daffodils are somewhat interchangeable names, the jonquil is actually a specific type, Narcissus jonquilla. Jonquils have very narrow, almost cylindrical stems with 1-5 flowers per stem, while other daffodils have flat leaves. They are also more fragrant than other daffodils.

Although daffodils propagate by seed, the seeds take 5-7 years to bloom, so most gardeners plant bulbs instead. "Commercial growers in Holland propagate daffodils by tissue culture, slicing bulbs into as many as 64 thin slices, each of which then grows into a bulblet in about 10 weeks. Daffodil fanciers create hybrids and new cultivars by dusting pollen from one plant onto the pistil of another, and then harvesting the seeds." ( According to this article, daffodils may be divided every two years, but I prefer to let them grow as much as possible, dividing them less often.

". . .I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils:
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. "

--William Wordsworth

Poets have sung the praises of daffodils, and they have been a part of history since ancient times. The name Narcissus comes from the Greek myth about a young man who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and drowned. The sympathetic gods turned him into a flower for eternity. In Roman times, Roman soldiers supposedly carried daffodils with them to eat "if they should be mortally wounded in battle, in order to hasten their journey to the underworld." ( And medieval Arabs used the juice of the wild daffodil as a cure for baldness.

Whether the daffodil has any supernatural or medicinal properties or not, I simply enjoy them for their cheery faces when spring begins. Until this year, I have had only the typical yellow varieties of daffodils, but last fall I planted a few more of different varieties including double-ruffled and white ones with pink centers like those pictured below. I can't wait for them all to bloom to see some new faces in the garden.

photo from Dutch

According to Wikipedia, the name jonquil is often used in the southeastern United States to refer to all daffodils/narcissus, and in the South they may also be referred to as buttercups. Whatever you choose to call them, to paraphrase old Will, " . . . what's in a name? That which we call the jonquil would still smell as sweet."

"He that has two cakes of bread, let him sell one of them for some flowers of the Narcissus, for bread is food for the body, but Narcissus is food of the soul."


For more ABC posts, click here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Welcome, Spring!

Happy Spring to everyone! Yes, I know yesterday was officially the first day of spring, but the weather was so sunny yesterday, the best first day of spring that I can remember in a long time, that I spent it outside cleaning up flowerbeds instead of on the computer.

Signs of spring are everywhere. I am happy to report that I do have crocuses! After complaining on Sunday that none of the crocuses I planted last fall had appeared, a few miraculously shot up and bloomed on Monday. Each day I seem to notice another one. My apologies to the squirrels, the cats, and whoever else I blamed for digging up these bulbs.

Another harbinger of spring, the robins, have been out in great numbers for several weeks now. Some years the appearance of a robin in spring is not that remarkable, because a few usually over-winter here. But this year I didn't see a robin all winter, probably due to the extreme cold we had, so they were a welcome sight this March. The photo is not very good, but my camera has only the standard 3x zoom, so this was as close as I could get to the robins. Besides, you'll notice another sign of spring--the grass is now green!

Before spring brings out all its blooms, and I return my focus to the flowers in the garden, I wanted to share with you my attempts to photograph some of the many birds that visited here this past winter. Throughout the very long winter, the birds were a constant source of entertainment.

On a very cold, blustery day in early January I put up a new bird feeder. My fingers were so numb that I made a makeshift hanger around a branch and filled it, not realizing that the winds would whip it around. After swaying from side to side on a gusty day, the feeder was quickly emptied, and all the birdseed fell to the ground. These dark-eyed juncos, though, had no problem scratching it up from the snow; in fact, I think they preferred feeding this way.

The juncos were constant visitors here this winter. Apparently, they like the cold, because I've never seen as many as this past year. Of course, the addition of several feeding stations may have encouraged them to stay for awhile, too.

My friends, the cardinals, decided to spend the winter with us, too, instead of heading south to sunnier climes. This photo looks as if I had"Photoshopped" it, but I assure you, other than very close cropping, the cardinal is real.

Although I've always enjoyed watching the antics of the birds and listening to their glorious songs, especially in the spring, I've never been a "birder." But I've learned so much from fellow bloggers who can identify so many different species of birds and who post such stunning photos of them that I've caught some of that enthusiasm.

I decided that what I needed was a proper bird field guide so I could identify some of the birds that visit us, besides the familiar robins, cardinals, and sparrows. I had part of a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble left over, so I ordered this book online, going by only the description of the book provided on their website. I was so happy when I got the book, because it is perfect! Birds of Illinois provides beautiful color photographs of both the male and female of each species, information about its habitat, what seasons it can be seen in different parts of the state, and other characterisitics. In addition, it is color coded, so if I have no idea what kind of bird I've seen, I only have to look through one section of the book according to the bird's dominant color. It's also a small book, easily fit into a purse or bag should I want to take it along on a "gardening adventure." I highly recommend it for any beginning birder; I believe there are more in this series for other states as well.

Thanks to the book, I was able to identify this downy woodpecker, the first I'd ever seen in our yard. (Ignore the pot and many sticks, please; they have since been cleaned up.) He has become a daily visitor to the peanut butter suet feeder; in fact, you can almost predict when he will arrive each afternoon for his lunch. I was also excited one day to see a red-breasted nuthatch. Such a pretty bird--I quickly grabbed the binoculars and then the field guide to be able to identify him. I saw him only once, though, so no photos.

In an effort to get some decent bird photos, I kept moving the feeders closer and eventually purchased this feeder that attaches right to the living room window. My thanks to Kylee for first showing this on her blog early last winter and to Robin for telling me where I could buy one--WildBirds Unlimited. I bought the smallest feeder they had in case it didn't work out, but after using a tip from the salesman--use a little vegetable oil on the suction cups before attaching--the feeder has stayed up all winter. The only problem has been that the birds have not been too attracted to the feeder: perhaps it is too small, or maybe this could be the problem . . .

. . .Toby! Toby has really appreciated this feeder. I can always tell when there is a bird nearby when I see his tail twitching.

Then again, it could be Sasha who scared off the birds. This is Toby's spot, so Sasha normally doesn't venture onto the couch, but the bird feeder must have been too enticing for her as well.

Actually, I think the birds, like this junco, eventually got used to the cats. It was that human with the strange silver third eye suddenly appearing next to the window that usually frightened them off.

Out of all my futile attempts to photograph a bird at the feeder, this was my only success--a chickadee who appeared last week. Pretty pathetic, I know. I was very happy with my little Sony Cybershot camera when I got it last Christmas, but once I started blogging, I've had a serious case of camera envy. However, as far as I've been able to determine, there is nothing in the economic stimulus package to bail out the bankrupt Prairie New Camera Fund, so it looks like a fancy new camera with a powerful zoom and supermacro will have to wait. In the meantime, I won't strain your eyes further with any more blurry or far-off photos; from now on, I'll leave the bird photography up to those of you who do it so well. Instead, I'll just stick to flowers and the creatures who will stand still for the camera . . .

Aw, c'mon, Tarzan, do you have to make faces for my camera, too?? I give up. An Ansel Adams I'll never be.

Have a good weekend, everyone, and enjoy the wonderful sights and sounds of spring!

The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day
he created Spring.
--Bern Williams

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

ABC Wednesday: Rambling "I's"

It's been a couple of weeks since I last participated in ABC Wednesday, so I wanted to catch up today. The letter I is not an easy letter to use, especially when I try to focus primarily on gardening. Today's post is a miscellany of I's, starting with . . .


No, this is not what my yard looks like today; this picture was taken in January. This igloo is actually a dog house which Older Daughter brought home in August. When I asked her about it, she just smiled and said, "Just wait." Knowing her propensity for taking in any four-legged creature who needs a home, I was afraid a new dog would soon be occupying it. However, she flew back home to Arizona shortly afterwards, without bringing us a dog or ever explaining the purpose of the doghouse. I must remember sometime to ask her what she was thinking.

Of course, as most of you know, there is a new dog at our house now. Miss Sophie, however, has sniffed at the igloo doghouse, but doesn't find it to her liking, nor would I dream of leaving her outside to sleep in it. She prefers lying at the foot of my bed at night to sleeping in her crate, but at least that's better than sleeping in my bed.


A favorite "I" word of mine is Irony. I picked up this magazine at the supermarket a few weeks ago--notice the headlines. Why is it that almost any so-called women's magazine always has a quick weight-loss program as one of its lead stories . . . and a picture of a scrumptious 2,000 calorie dessert on the cover?? No wonder I can't lose weight!


There is also some irony in my garden. The only flower I could think of that started with the letter "I" is Iris.

This is an Iris.

This is not an Iris.

In my Bloom Day post on Sunday I showed this foliage which I assumed were "Siberian Iris," or so they were called by the friend who gave them to me. Every spring the foliage appears, but they never bloom----or so I thought. Sharp-eyed Tina pointed out that they look like "Naked Ladies." The more I thought about it, I realized that is in fact what these leaves are, since this is exactly the place where the Naked Ladies surprised me last August.

For anyone not familiar with this name, we're not talking some kind of porn here. The picture above is of Lycoris squamigera, commonly known as "Naked Ladies," "Surprise Lilies," or "Mystery Lilies." The foliage of these lilies appears in early spring, then dies back over the summer, and suddenly bursts into bloom, seemingly out of nowhere in August. The irony is that all this time I've been looking futilely for some small iris blooms, when I had these gorgeous blooms instead. (Incidentally, I suspect the original Siberian Iris fell victim to Mr. Lawnmower Man some time ago, though he's never confessed to it.)

That's it for the I's this week, but now I'm regretting that I missed the last two weeks of letters, especially H. I realized too late that the letter H stands for some of my favorite flowers: hyacinths, hostas, hellebores, heucheras, and hydrangeas . . . just to name a few.

Last spring's hyacinths

Oh well, these beauties will all have their day in the sun very soon.

ABC Wednesday was created by Mrs. Nesbitt; to see more posts you may click here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

March Bloom Day: Anticipation

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day has arrived once again. I'm a little late in posting, but I'm sure you'll understand: the weather here has been beautiful this weekend, and I've been outside working in the garden as much as possible.

There is nothing actually blooming, but in central Illinois in mid-March that's not surprising. I could have had some snowdrops blooming now----if I'd planted any. And I should have some crocuses blooming---but the 60+ crocuses I planted last fall have failed to appear. What has happened to all those crocus bulbs remains a mystery to me, hardly entertaining enough for a novel, but I sure would like to know where they are. Did I plant them too deep? Did a critter come along and dig them up for winter rations? I guess I'll never know.

But even though there are no early blooms here, there are promises of flowers soon to come. The daffodils have been poking through the soil for several weeks now, and there's even a bud on this one if you look closely enough. Nearby, those tiny shoots of green are the Stella D'Oro lilies which border one side of the front garden.

I was surprised to find a few hyacinths already showing, with their flowers encased in a green cocoon. I hope they stay nice and warm inside for awhile; a few more winter blasts of cold air and even snow are still a possibility through April.

Yesterday I cut back all the perennials in the front garden and raked away a heavy layer of leaves that insulated the garden through the winter. I was surprised to see several perennials already showing signs of new life, including the sedum "Autumn Joy."

As I walked around the different garden areas, the first tulip leaves are beginning to show everywhere. I can't wait to see them in bloom this year, since I planted several new varieties last fall. But bulbs are not the only thing beginning to show--these Siberian iris are looking quite healthy. The question is, will this be the year they finally bloom??
Ed. correction: Tina just pointed out that this foliage looks just like that of the Naked Ladies. Now that I think about it, this is where they grew last year. Ok, so once again I may have misidentified a plant--but now I wonder where the iris went to?

And in the shade garden I was pleased to see the primroses coming to life. I wasn't sure they would return for a second year, but apparently they were hardy enough to survive our winter.

As exciting as it is to see the green leaves of plants popping through the soil, I'm just as excited by what is above. Notice the three little red dots on this branch--yes, the redbud has buds!

In the backyard the pussywillow tree is forming its fluffy catkins.

And a sure sign of spring are these small buds beginning to appear on the lilac bush.

It's good to be able show something outside for this Bloom Day. In fact, I'm not going to bore you with my indoor non-blooms once again. The amaryllis I showed in January and February is so tall its leaves are bending over, but it is not blooming. Neither are the daffodils and tulips shown on the previous Bloom Day posts--my first attempt at forcing bulbs. However, I do want to thank everyone for the advice they gave me about forcing indoor bulbs. A few of you mentioned that amaryllis sometimes don't bloom the first year--I think mine spent all its energy on producing leaves:) I'm going to plant this outside when it's warm and then dig it up again to bring in, in the fall. As for the other bulbs, I was told I probably started them too late. A couple of you suggested I put any extra bulbs in the fall in a pot of soil and chill it, then bring it into the warmth by December. More garden lessons learned through trial and error and advice from some wise garden bloggers.

I'll leave you today with a few bright indoor blooms, though--my monthly bouquet from my charity donation.

A Happy Bloom Day to everyone--and best of all, this Friday is the first day of Spring!

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is brought to you on the 15th of each month by our tireless leader, Carol of May Dreams Gardens. Be sure to visit her to see more blooms from all over the world.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Thelma and Louise" Visit the Big City*

On a cold and windy afternoon, this past Sunday, Beckie and I set out on one of our biggest gardening adventures so far. We drove north to visit the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, the first time we've ever attended this annual event. We decided to spend the night just south of the Windy City in order to have more time at the show on Monday. At my prompting, we took a commuter train into the city rather than fight the traffic or wander around looking for a parking place. To tell you the truth, another reason we chose not to drive in the city is because Beckie and I are known to often take the scenic route wherever we go--translate: we get lost a lot.

After a relaxing, conversation-filled 50 minute commute by train and a short hop on a city bus, we found ourselves at Navy Pier, the site of this year's Garden Show. This was our first ever visit to Navy Pier, a popular tourist stop with many activities for all ages and a great view of Lake Michigan. Navy Pier is a huge place, a fact we discovered as we walked and walked and walked to get to the far end of the complex where the Flower Show was held. There were a few shops and many small restaurants along the way, but the most interesting part of the walk was the Museum of Stained Glass which lines the wide hallway before the Festival Hall. Marvelling at the many beautiful works of glass took our minds off the long hike. (Later we discovered there is a trolley that stops at the front, the middle, and the end of the Pier. We took advantage of that when we left!)

Finally, we arrived at the entrance to the Flower Show. We were fortunate that it was a Monday, because although there were quite a few people in attendance, we didn't have to fight the crowds that probably were there over the weekend.

What a feast for the eyes! For a little while we could forget that it was only 40 degrees outside and that spring was still weeks away. Flowering spring bulbs were everywhere, from daffodils and tulips . . .

. . . to waves of hyacinths and muscari.

There were other spring flowers, too, including drifts of cyclamen and these hellebores. While we were enticed by new varieties of flowers, the real appeal of the show was in the many displays of sample gardens set up by various organizations.

Garden Girl, Mr. McGregors Daughter, Beckie, and probably several others have already posted their take on the show, so I'll try not to repeat the same scenes here. One of the display gardens was called "America's Back Yard" where these familiar hollyhocks were tucked away in one corner. Every display garden was manned by at least one volunteer who eagerly answered any questions we might have about the plants or the design.

The Victorian Garden featured this antique wooden trunk filled with old-fashioned annuals. The bed in this scene featured a "bedspread" made completely with flowers; that can be seen on Beckie's post.

One display that apparently caught everyone's eye (also seen on Beckie's and Mr. McGregor's Daughter's posts) was this futuristic archeological dig. The title, "Paradise in a Parking Lot," and the idea for the yellow taxi door come from the familiar Joni Mitchell song:

. . . a big yellow taxi
Took away my old man
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot.

Now while you hum that tune, I'll explain a little more about the purpose of the display. Ironically, although the three of us all pictured this scene, the real garden lay behind this collection of 20th and 21st century artifacts. Designed by Community Gardens in the Parks volunteers, the garden made use of recycled materials and kites made by children in a local parks program. It was a great example of how an abandoned area can be reclaimed and turned into something beautiful. I believe this was the display where we were told that all the materials used in the garden would be placed in community parks throughout the city after the show.

Another display I enjoyed was "Greening Up" which featured a circular garden showing each of the four seasons. Funny, but both Mr. McGregor's Daughter and I photographed the winter scene. I'm not sure why; perhaps it's because this is the most beautiful display of "winter interest" I've ever seen.

My favorite garden at the Show, though, was this one created by the Chicago Botanic Garden. It included three tilting rooftop gardens, which could be best viewed from the mezzanine. We didn't make it up the stairs, but there was enough on the main level to enjoy.

Although the focus was on recycling and eco-friendly design, it was the Japanese elements that appealed to me. There were all types of water features, Shoji screens, and of course the fitting Japanese maple.

Asian-inspired garden sculptures added to the overall effect. I love Japanese gardens; they always seem so serene and soothing.

Throughout all the gardens, fountains were very popular, including this glazed ceramic small one.

Others were more ornate like this stone fountain. I'm not sure, but if you enlarge the photo you might be able to see the water flowing from the long slab.

Although the theme of this year's show was "A World in Bloom," a common theme of all the gardens was sustainability. Rain barrels were popular from the vendors who sold them to this striking blue one included in a landscape. Notice the vertical planting behind it; these were popular in several displays as well.

One of the best parts of a garden show for me is finding ideas that I can take home. I really liked this milk can on a sloping yard in the "America's Backyard" garden with marigolds spilling out of it. I have a couple of old milkcans at home; you might see something similar in my garden this summer.

With over 20 large gardens and many smaller displays, there was a lot to see at the show. There were also seminars throughout the day, but Beckie and I didn't make it to any of those. Had we been there on Saturday, however, we certainly would have made time to visit the Chicagoland gardeners' workshop on garden blogs. At one end of the exhibit hall was the "Garden Market" with over 100 booths for vendors displaying everything from books from the Chicago Botanic Garden's bookstore to every gardening gadget imaginable. I had no intention of buying too much other than some ShamWow! cloths (for Sophie, of course), but I wound up buying several things including some Dutch bulbs and a Cobrahead tool that should come in handy with the weeding this summer.

All in all, the show was well worth the visit, and Beckie and I had a great time. We "country girls" managed to navigate the Big City quite well, getting on the right trains going and coming. Other than gasping audibly when we were charged $3.00 for a single can of Pepsi, we felt pretty sophisticated. We arrived home very late Monday night, tired but very pleased with the day's adventure.

* Just a little explanation of the title: sometime last summer Joey dubbed Beckie and me "Thelma and Louise" because we often posted some of our little adventures in viewing other gardens. We've taken a liking to those nicknames, although I assure you no person was harmed in this adventure, nor were any vehicles driven off a cliff:)