Monday, September 20, 2010

Garden Guests: The Summer's Highlight

What do you do if someone contacts you and asks to visit your garden?  Do you respond with a resounding "yes" and prepare some lemonade and perhaps a special dessert or snack to share with them and then sit back and wait eagerly for their arrival?  Or do you begin to frantically weed and trim, hoping they won't notice the dead plants and other failings of your garden?  I am definitely in the latter group, although when I found out some time ago that a long-time blogging friend was coming--from across the "pond" no less!--I was more excited than if the Queen herself had decided to come visit.

My "royal" visitor was Cheryl of  Take Time to Smell the Flowers, who decided to come to the States, along with her delightful husband Mr. P, to see some of the Midwest and visit Beckie and myself as well as Sherry of Q's Corner.  Cheryl commented on my very first post over two years ago, and we have been visiting faithfully ever since, developing a true friendship along the way.  When she heard Cheryl was coming, Lisa of Greenbow and her husband DB made plans to make the three-hour trip up to Illinois to meet Cheryl as well.

So there we were, five of us--Beckie's husband joined us for a few hours Tuesday morning--eagerly waiting to meet a couple who bravely made a trans-Atlantic journey to meet total strangers.  That sounds a bit strange and even dangerous in this day and age, and yet as we bloggers know, we weren't really strangers at all.  I've been amazed every time I've met a blogging friend in person how much a person's voice comes through in a blog.  Oh, I may have pictured someone's physical appearance differently, but the personality I knew from blogging has always rung true.  Cheryl was exactly the caring, lovely person I had expected to meet.  And lest you think I'm leaving out Lisa, I did meet Lisa at Spring Fling last year where we spent time together enjoying the weekend's activities. 

Beckie and I spent many hours over coffee at our favorite hangout before Cheryl came, thinking of activities during her stay.  What attractions in the middle of Corn Country could possibly interest an English gardener?  Knowing Cheryl's interest in nature, we decided a walk through one of my favorite places, Meadowbrook Park, would be a good place to start.  The sun was shining brightly on a very, very warm day as we made our way around part of the Prairie Restoration.

Not much was still in bloom other than the goldenrod and a few Helianthus, but the tall grasses swayed in the slight breeze, and Cheryl found plenty of butterflies and bees for photo ops.  Lisa came prepared for the blazing sun with her umbrella, but I wilted as usual and soon found a shady spot to escape from the heat.

Mr. P and DB also opted for a shady bench while the women discussed flora and fauna.  I'm not sure what they were talking about, but it probably wasn't gardening:)  These two were such troopers!  Though both are helpful garden assistants, neither is a gardening enthusiast, yet nary a complaint was heard as we led them from one garden venue to another during their two-day stay.

Following the trail at Meadowbrook, one comes to a restored farmstead complete with windmill and--what else--a garden.  Beckie and Cheryl stroll down the path discussing plant varieties, while DB (in the background) finds a photogenic butterfly.

Viewing gardens is an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon, but we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to just sit and chat as well.  From Meadowbrook we headed to my house, where my own Mr. P had a chance to meet our special guests.After a quick tour around my small garden areas, we sat on my front porch drinking tea and coffee and watching the tree swallows swoop down and hordes of dragonflies fly about, all in search of insects.  My friendly hummingbird obliged us with a visit so that Cheryl and Mr. P could see these North American natives in their habitat.  I'm looking forward to seeing her photos, which I'm sure will be far better than anything I've ever taken here.

As we chatted and waited for the lasagna to finish baking, I noticed a special envelope in the mail, one that I knew the others would be interested in--a package from Frances with some seeds I have been coveting.

Hopefully, in another year or two I'll have my very own blackberry lilies like these that we saw at Meadowbrook Park.  Thanks, Frances!

We had more activities planned for the next day, starting with the Master Gardeners' Idea Garden.  I always seem to take visitors here, but it's a great place to see a variety of plants and planting styles within a relatively small space.  The Annual Color Garden still looks good in spite of the drought. Of course, it helps to have 40+ interns eager to water and weed regularly in order to complete their volunteer hours:)

It was Cheryl who first made me aware of the importance of bees in our ecosystem as well as their plight today.  The Idea Garden, though, is an Eden for bees and is filled with all kinds, like these honeybees on the sedum.

It's a mecca, too, for butterflies.  Fortunately, the Monarchs haven't yet begun to migrate, so Cheryl had ample opportunity to observe and photograph these magnificent creatures.

One area of the garden that has been really striking the past few weeks is this planting of Globe Amaranth along one part of the picket fence.  I love this look and have been thinking about where I could copy this idea in my own garden.  It really picks up the color of  Lisa'a blouse, don't you think?

I'm not sure what Lisa and Cheryl were so intently examining here in the Children's Garden . . .

. . . because Beckie and I were nearby, our eyes caught by this deep purple sweet pea.  Add this one to our plant wish list!

All four of us, though, were delighted by the purple hyacinth bean vine which has not only covered its trellis, but grown up into a nearby tree!

Leaving the Idea Garden, we strolled through a shady lane of poplars to see some of the nearby plantings maintained by the University's landscaping staff. 

At the end of the path, we discovered an area that neither Beckie and I had ever seen before.  A sunken garden, much larger than the Idea Garden, was filled with masses of annuals and perennials.  It turns out these are test plots for the University, probably the horticulture department.  We just took a quick glance here, as a class was in session.

Our next stop was a surprise for Cheryl.  I don't think many people in this area are even aware of what this small building hidden behind trees and fields is.  Can you guess from its painted outside wall?  It's the University Pollinatarium, a research and educational facility devoted to pollinators. 

Everyone is looking for the queen bee.

Inside are different exhibits on butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, but we told the curator we were primarily interested in bees.  An enclosed hive is displayed for visitors to get a close look at the bees at work.  A tube from the hive runs directly outdoors so that the bees can travel freely--these bees always fly north, which I found interesting.  Probably many of the honeybees we saw at the Idea Garden came from this hive, since it is less than two miles away.

The curator was very informative and enthusiastic, even after spending all morning teaching visiting second graders about bees.  I certainly learned a lot--I had no idea there were such things as nurse bees and undertaker bees, for example.  Even Cheryl and Lisa, who are much more knowledgeable on the subject, said they had gained some new insights into bee behavior.  I think all six of us really enjoyed our brief stop here; sometimes you don't even know what wonderful places are in your own hometown!

After a leisurely lunch filled with more talk and laughter, our final stop of the day was at one of our favorite garden centers where Mr. P and Cheryl insisted on buying Beckie, Lisa, and me a plant for our own gardens.  Lisa and I both chose a new hydrangea, 'Strawberry Vanilla.'  Thanks again, Cheryl and Mr. P for your generosity--I'll think of both of you every time I look at this beautiful plant.

Then we were off to spend the evening at Beckie's, touring her garden and meeting some of her grandchildren.  Thanks to our earlier stop at the Pollinatarium, we could now identify the bee on her Obedient plant above--a carpenter bee, which is bigger than an ordinary bumble and has a smooth body.

Wanting to take advantage of every possible minute of their visit, we gathered the next morning for coffee and a final chat before Mr. P and Cheryl had to leave for Missouri.  We all agreed what a wonderful time we had had, getting to know each other.  Cheryl promised to try to visit again, and I--well, I hope to one day make my dream of visiting the English countryside a reality.  Meeting Cheryl and Mr. P, as well as getting to spend time again with Lisa and meeting her aptly named Dearly Beloved, was definitely the highlight of my summer.  It was a special time that I will never forget.


  1. What fun to have a blogging friend visit! You look to be a great host with all those fun activities!

  2. Hi Rose....that brought back such wonderful memories.....for a brief moment I was with you once again.

    Mr P and I had a great time. The trips you planned, meals together, your gardens and best of all your company.

    Seeing the prairie for me has been a dream. I have fallen in love with the colours, and open spaces........they have been breathtaking.
    Seeing your wildlife especially the monarchs and hummingbirds, well what can I say, they will stay with me forever.

    Thank you for your hospitality, it was the best.......

  3. It looks like you had some good times and made some happy memories along the way. A great way to connect, after meeting on the internet.

    Lovely photos.

  4. Thanks, Rose, for sharing your visit with us. I've been a big fan of Cheryl and Sherry for a long time, plus you of course! This is what makes the blogging universe special - new friends and lovely visits both in cyberspace and, in your case, thankfully in person.

    I'd surely welcome any blogging friends to my humble garden, but it would be after a long, long weeding session! From the Plains to the arid northern end of the Sacramento River, diversity is the name of the game here in the States!

  5. Oh Rose, this post is so sweet and wonderful it nearly made me cry with joy! I love that Cheryl and the mister made the long journey, and I know how long that flight is! I know too that they were shown the best hospitality that the US has to offer! I am glad Lisa came over to join in with her DB too. That sunken garden is a treasure, we hope to see more pix of it, Rose. Beckie looks like she is enjoying the touring too. Perfect! :-)
    ps, you are most welcome for the seeds.

  6. Rose, what an enjoyable blog post this was to read! It sounds like a wonderful visit. Your photos and wordsmshare a pleasant story about how the internet has brought so many people, with common interests, together. Your visit to the Pollinatarium must have been so enlightening. It makes me want to check around and see what I could be experiencing right here in my own 'backyard'. Love the photo of the carpenter bee on the Obedient plant. It seems carpenter bees are ALL OVER my flowers. I learned about them a year or two ago after they drilled holes in my screened-in porch, for nesting! At first I wasn't too thrilled with them, but have learned to really appreciate them because they are such important pollinaters...and they don't sting, generally speaking!

  7. How exciting that you got to meet these two wonderful bloggers in person! The University Pollinatarium sounds fascinating. There is always so much to learn about the natural world around us.

  8. What lovely visit you had. I wish I were there too. So glad you got to meet everyone in person, and I know you didn't feel like strangers because gardeners are never such. :)

  9. I am so glad you posted Rose. It made me relive such a wonderful weekend. I can't thank you and Beckie enough for such an enjoyable time. You can be sure if you all were comeing to visit my garden I would be out there pulling weeds and watering. My DB would be right there with me getting that last 10% in shape. ;)

  10. Dear Rose, I am so glad you all had a good time~ To have you, Beckie, Lisa and Cheryl in the same garden would be a delight! Your post helped me be a part of the visit. Thank you! I think you showed her the best of a Midwest garden and the pollinators were a great idea. Hugs to you~gail

  11. Rose what a wonderful time it looks like you all had. Blogging friends really are great people.

    I'm so glad you had such beautiful gardens to show them.

    I would be so embarrassed to let anyone see my flower beds right now. They are pretty much toast.

    Hope you have a great week.

  12. It looks like a wonderful time was had by all, amazing how friendships can be formed across such great distances.

  13. How fun! Getting to meet other gardeners, from near and far, is always a special treat! Thanks for sharing this with us.

  14. What a great visit! I'm glad you had such a nice chance to get to know new friends!

  15. Tina, We did have a wonderful time. Nothing too special about the activities we planned, but it was fun to give Cheryl and Lisa a taste of what our area is like.

    Cheryl, I am so glad you enjoyed your stay. The two days passed all too quickly--next time you'll have to plan a longer visit! I won't soon forget what a wonderful time we had. Hope you are enjoying your time with Sherry.

    Rosey, It's such fun to meet a blogging friend in person; Cheryl is such a dear.

    Amy, So good to hear from you again! Oh, you would love meeting Cheryl--she's just the way you would imagine her to be, such a lovely person. And she was much too nice to comment about my straggly garden:)

    Frances, The two days were sheer delight, I assure you! Beckie, Lisa, and I are talking once again about that Tennessee road trip we've dreamed about--maybe one of these days we'll make it a reality.

    Jan, My son was aghast that I had invited someone I had "met over the internet" to my home, but then he doesn't understand this whole garden blogging community. Everyone I've ever met through blogging has been so nice. I didn't even know the Pollinatarium existed until late last year:)

    Sweetbay, I think I have blogging to thank for making me so much more aware of the natural world. It seems a bit ironic, but now I look at bees differently and know so much more about the natural world than I once did.

    Dee, So true--I don't think gardeners can be strangers:)

    Lisa, DB is such a sweetie; I'm sure he would be helping you! I had such a great time, but now that you've left, I've been very lazy about watering and weeding:)

    Gail, The only thing that would have made the visit better would have been if you could have been here with us!

    Susie, Believe me, my garden didn't look so hot, either:) That's why we spent time looking at the public gardens.

    Liz, If someone had told me two years ago that I would have guests from the UK that I had met on the internet, I would have said they were crazy:) But what a delightful time we had!

    Carol, It's always a special treat to meet with other gardeners. I have my fingers crossed that the timing of next year's Spring Fling will work out for me.

    Rose, their visit was really a memorable time. I only wish my garden had looked better:)

  16. Dear Rose,
    What a wonderful post! Our company are just the "bees knees!" We are having lots of fun, kindred spirits and all. Thank you for thinking of me and sending along the Prairie calendar. Very kind of you. I too am a Prairie girl. Tomorrow we plan to walk a restored prairie with Cheryl and Mr. P. I hope the bison are about.
    I would love to come your way and meet a pollinatarium! The enclosed hive is so very cool. Wow!
    Cheryl had a delightful time with you, Becky and Lisa. Nice that the guys hit it off so very well too.
    A wonderful post.

  17. It is always fun to meet a blogger in person after chatting with them for so long. How adventurous for someone to fly over the "Pond" for a visit! Thanks for sharing your visit…

    Do get to England when you can girl. It is a beautiful place to visit. You will be in a little piece of heaven while there! We have been to London and York and found York a more pleasant visit then the big city. Although, the big city was fascinating, York was more our pace of life…

  18. Man, I stop reading blogs for a few eeks and look at everything I miss. It's so nice to see Cheryl and it looks like you all had so much fun!

  19. That is amazing having other bloggers come and see your garden. So pleased that it all went well and that every one enjoyed themselves.
    Lovely that you have a wonderful garden to look at. I would have been embarrassed showing anyone round mine!
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  20. I can't think of any better way to spend the day then with fellow gardeners. I would probably put off the meeting for a few days so I would have enough time to 'fix' my garden. I am so glad you were able to have a wonderful time :-)

  21. Sherry, Glad you enjoyed the calendar. I know you and your company must be having a wonderful time, too. I do hope you all get to see the bison--that would be so exciting!

    Skeeter, I spent two days in London a few years ago, but there's so much of England I want to see. I'm saving my pennies:)

    Monica, Wish you could have joined us! You would have enjoyed meeting Cheryl so much. Looking forward to Saturday.

    Maggie, Notice we spent most of the time looking at public gardens:) I was rather embarrassed showing off my small garden here, but we spent a great deal of time just sitting and chatting--such a great time.

    Noelle, I had weeks to prepare, thankfully. But my garden still didn't look so great, but no one seemed to mind. Gardeners are never at a loss for conversation:)

  22. How nice to have garden visitors! It is nice to put a face to a blog. You definitely had fun, I can see.

  23. Rose, what an awesome telling of our visit with Cheryl and Mr. P. They were so delightful-I enjoyed every minute! I will post about their visit one day but I know I won't be able to tell of it as well as you have. :) And Thank You for all the planning and prep work you did.

  24. Visits from blogger friends are priceless. You were really blessed, Rose, to have such a gathering. I loved reading your account of the day. We may be having a visit soon from one of my favorite bloggers, and I know what you mean about fretting over the state of the garden. It's been so hot and dry lately that I haven't been tending to it like I should. I usually freshen it up at this time of year with cleanup and adding some new stuff, but that's been delayed. (Sigh!) Thank goodness our visitor is a sweetheart and won't mind witnessing a little garden neglect--I hope.

  25. That is so neat! I'll bet Cheryl's the only one on her block to visit Champaign/Urbana, IL. Now you and Beckie have to go to England and visit her.

  26. What a fun time! I've never met a blogger in person, but I was just thinking some thoughts like what you said about our voice coming through. Each blogger has their own style and way of writing that is a reflection of their personality. The things that are important to us come through in our posts.

    Even though I've not yet met anyone, I feel we're all a big group of friends, getting to know some more than others. I enjoy reading about the times others do have together, too.

  27. What a wonderful time you must have had, Rose. I am so glad that Lisa was able to come too--with Hubby in tow. I just think it is so special to be able to meet and get to know a fellow blogger from across the pond, and to forge those friendships even deeper.

    I would have such a time obsessing over every little detail--in my house and in the garden. I am glad you were able to see that and stop yourself somewhat. It is just too special of an occasion--too joyful of a time to spend it worrying about "stuff".

    I hope that you have a chance to return the favor, and visit Cheryl's garden someday. I see it as a magical place where bunnies dance in the moonlight. If Thelma and Louise ever need a 3rd traveling companion, you can count on me! ;-)

  28. What a lovely post! It sounds like you all had a marvellous time. it's so great when bloggers can meet as friends.

  29. I've enjoyed the few garden blogging friends that I met in the past couple of years. Glad you had a great visit. :)

  30. What a delightful post, Rose! I haven't been here in a while and I'm glad you mentioned this in your comment on my blog.

    Sounds like you all had a wonderful time. The gardens look beautiful and your pics are lovely. I also did not know much about bees, so I'm glad you shared your info with us.

    Happy Autumn

  31. Quite curious and simply delightful, Rose. The best Thelma and Louise adventure yet!

  32. Rose, what a wonderful treat for everyone, even the DHs! Isn't it wonderful how blogging has brought us so many new friends?

  33. Thank you so much for identifying phytolacca americana or pokeweed. i recently took a trip to the rainforest in Trinidad, in the Caribbean and i found this plant except the berries were a brilliant green. it was so unusual.

    Am glad someone got the name ....


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