Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday and Other Spring Blooms

Welcome to another edition of Wildflower Wednesday, a monthly celebration of wildflowers hosted by the gracious hostess to all pollinators, Gail at Clay and Limestone.  In fact, Gail has designated this whole week as Wildflower Week, so why not join in the celebration?

Unfortunately, my garden is not home to many spring wildflowers.  Judging by all the seedlings of native Rudbeckias, Obedient Plant, Monarda, and other unidentified plants popping up all over my butterfly garden this spring, I will have a bounty of wildflowers/natives to share on upcoming WW's.  But for now, the only true wildflowers I have are pretty common ones--and not necessarily plants you are excited to see blooming in your garden.

Viola papilionacea, the common violet, is sprouting up everywhere.  My granddaughter loves these and calls the little flowers "bluebirds."  It's hard not to like these delicate bluish purple blooms and the heart-shaped leaves, but I do wish they were better behaved! I have chosen to pull them up out of the flowerbeds and among the rocks bordering the house's foundation rather than take more drastic measures.  You would think they would show their appreciation for my kinder approach and move to areas where they are welcome--like under the big spruce tree.

Editor's Note:  I forgot to add while writing this post, that the common violet also happens to be the state flower of Illinois; thanks, Barbara, for reminding me of this!

Another plant threatening to take over several of the less-cultivated areas of the garden is Glechoma hederacea, also known by several names including ground ivy or "Creeping Charlie."  This is a plant I have zero tolerance for, but it seems to laugh at my efforts to eradicate it. It is a member of the mint family, which explains its aggressive tendencies, and forms rootlets wherever the foliage touches the ground.  While I find it hard to call this a wild "flower,"  it is listed in Illinois Wildflowers, albeit as a "weedy wildflower."   It does have one redeeming feature according to this website: it is an important source of nectar in the spring for the bees.

Last fall I had so many crocus bulbs that I was searching for a place to plant them and had the bright idea to plant them randomly near the pine trees across the lane, envisioning a field of crocuses come spring.  That vision turned into a pretty wimpy "field,"  but this past week I have had a much more impressive field of yellow visible to all passersby.  Unfortunately, the field of yellow was mown down by my husband before I thought to take a photo, so this less impressive view of the front lawn will have to do.

Yes, the bright color in the lawn is provided by Taraxacum officinale, the common dandelion.  We do not spray our lawn with any kind of chemicals, so the dandelions have free rein here.  I really don't mind them that much--after all, the grandkids need to be able to make "daisy chains" and little bouquets for their mothers.

But I'm not so appreciative of their moving into other spaces.  I guess this dandelion was trying to camoufluage itself as a tulip:)

Speaking of tulips . . . while I don't have many spring wildflowers, this past week has been the height of the season for all other spring bloomers.

Late daffodils are still blooming, but it's the tulips taking center stage.  I have so many different kinds, some from previous years as well as new ones, that I can't remember the names of many of them.  This is a new variety planted this year; I thought it was 'Pink Impression,' but older 'Pink Impressions' were a solid pink, not this two-toned variety.  I really need to dig through all my records some time.

A few yellow-striped cream tulips are scattered here and there, possibly 'Vanilla Cream,' but possibly not.  Notice the raindrops on the petals--we have had rain for days on end, it seems.  Planting is at a standstill while I wait for the garden to dry out, but the tulips are loving this cooler and wetter spring and are lasting much longer than last year's unusually warm spring.

How is this for an eye-catcher?  This is a new addition to the lily bed this year, so I do remember its name--'Professor Rontgen.'  It certainly is more flamboyant than any professors I had in college.

The last tulips to open are always the 'Angeliques,' my favorite of all.  I'm not sure if I consciously planned this little vignette with the pale pink 'Angeliques' and the sweet little muscari, but I'll take credit for it if anyone asks me.

Tulips aren't the only blooms commanding attention right now.  The redbuds have filled out nicely in the last two weeks, adding that bright lavender to home landscapes and roadsides.

Like the spring ephemerals, their time is short--already a few leaves are beginning to develop, signaling the end of blooming time.

Even more fleeting are the crabapple blooms.  They were just beautiful on Easter Sunday, but after some strong winds today, I noticed the lane is covered with pale pink petals.  The darker crabapples seem to hold their flowers longer.  I am just happy to see them bloom at all this year after last year's disappointing and brief showing.

The white crabapple never fails to disappoint, though.  It is usually later than the pink or reds and hangs on to its blossoms longer.

These are busy days here at the Prairie, with not enough time for blogging it seems.  Before the spring show is over, I do want to write a post on just the tulips, which have been spectacular--maybe early next week.  There is no need to be sad, though, about their departing blooms--there is always something waiting in the wings to take their place.  Very, very soon it will be the lilacs!
Be sure to check out other Wildflower Wednesday posts, where I'm sure you'll see some real wildflowers.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day 2011

Today is Earth Day, a time for reflecting upon our footprints on this planet and what steps each of us can take to preserve the beauty of the natural world around us.  I've been invited by Laurrie of My Weeds Are Very Sorry to participate in a meme begun by The Sage Butterfly discussing three books that have made me more environmentally aware.

As readers of my occasional book reviews know, I am a fiction buff, specifically mysteries, and rarely read non-fiction, so it was very difficult for me to come up with any books that have influenced my awareness of the environment.  After wracking my brain, I could come up with only two . . . and one of those I didn't even read:

The Limits of Growth by Meadows, Meadows, Randers, and Behrens---Published in 1972, this controversial study proclaimed that by the 21st century society would have depleted most of its natural resources, and world population would be too large for the earth to sustain it.  This was a required reading in one of my college classes and certainly provoked a lively discussion.  Although many critics thought the study was faulty, it did make an impression on this naive college student many years ago, particularly in opening my eyes to the greater impact that industrialized nations like the U.S. have had on the environment.

The Silent Spring by Rachel Carson---In all honesty, I have never read this book.  But growing up in the 60's, it was hard not to be aware of this book and its message about the dire consequences of pesticide use.  This book made such an impact that many credit it with starting the whole environmental movement.

I really wish I could come up with a third and more recent book to add to this list, but honestly I have learned more about the environment from others than I have from reading books.  Since I began reading blogs, I have become more aware of the world around me than I ever was before.  From the importance of pollinators to building rain gardens to ingenious ways to recycle, blogging friends have influenced my actions more than any environmental activist.

But probably the biggest influence on me throughout my life has been my mother.  As I wrote in my Earth Day post last year, "my mother was 'green' before it was cool." Nothing was ever wasted in my house when I was growing up: my mother recycled everything she could from plastic containers to water to clothing.  Coincidentally, Earth Day also happens to be her birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mom! And thank you for all the values that you instilled in me.

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. ~Chief Seattle, 1855

Wishing you all, too, a Happy Easter!

Friday, April 15, 2011

GBBD: Blooms at Last!

I am so happy today is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day!  This April 15 has been a rather painful tax day, so I can use some pretty blooms to cheer me up.  Secondly, after months of stretching the meaning of "blooms," I am happy to report that spring has definitely arrived in central Illinois, and I can finally share some real flowers with everyone.

Since everyone has many places to visit today, I'll keep the words to a minimum and let the photos do most of the talking.  In order of appearance:

The first blooms to appear were the hellebores in late March.  After waiting for two years, I was excited to have more than one hellebore blooming. This is 'Red Lady,' I believe, who made her first appearance this year.

 Next came the daffodils at the very end of March. One soon turned into many.

A row of daffodils bordering the front garden are still in bloom.

Hyacinths followed shortly after, filling the air with their sweet fragrance. 

Some small shrubs were added in front of the house last fall including my very first forsythia.  This is a dwarf variety, 'Courtasol,' which is supposed to reach only two feet tall.

Later daffodils began blooming last week, including these 'Replete' daffs,
which seem to have multiplied in the front garden this year.

I'm still not sure how much I like these ruffled varieties, but in a close-up photo they look just as appealing as they did in the catalog when I ordered them.

'Pink Charm' in the sunny roadside garden.

And a different shy variety--any suggestions on how to get daffodils to face forward??

Fortunately, a few of them are facing the right way, revealing themselves as 'Poet' daffs.

In the shade garden, slender narcissus have just begun to bloom.  I wish I knew the name of these, because I would love to add more of them.

Not everything blooming in my garden right now is a spring bulb.  The flowering quince is putting on quite a show already, the earliest I can ever remember it blooming.

And in the shade garden, one of my favorites, Brunnera 'Jack Frost' is still growing, but already is covered with its dainty baby blue blooms.

With a nod to Pam's Foliage Follow-up,  I have to include one of the prettiest of the Heucheras 'Tiramisu,' which changes colors through the seasons.

It's too soon to plant most annuals here, but a pot of pansies and sweet little violas welcome you to my back door.

Back to the bulbs . . . although I try to record new plantings each fall, sometimes I am surprised in the spring.  I had completely forgotten about planting a few grape hyacinth last fall, these a mixed bag of varieties.  Clearly, I need to add more this fall.

The early tulips have just begun to open, earlier than usual but later than last spring which was unusually warm.  This is from a collection called 'Color Magic.' 

Even the best-kept records are not always helpful with tulips, since some only last a year or two and succession plantings often get mixed up with previous tulip plantings.  I'm pretty sure this is 'Pink Impressions,' one of my favorites.  It's a Darwin hybrid and much longer-lived than many tulips.  Bright sunlight is usually not the best setting for taking good photos, but in this case I thought the tulips seem to glow in the light.

The tulip show is just beginning, with more to come in the next few weeks.  I'm anxious to see this new addition this year, 'Fur Elise', come into full bloom.


The late 'Sunrise' are just beginning to bud.  I included this blurry photo not so much for the tulip as for the plant next to it--an astilbe. The shade garden is slowly putting out growth, and I'm especially happy to see the astilbe return since they are often temperamental in this area of dry shade.

Another almost-ready-to-bloom plant is the Bleeding Heart, one of my springtime favorites.

Soon not only will the garden be filled with color, but the skies as well. 
 Nothing says "spring" like the first color of the redbud.

Ah, glorious spring!

For more spring beauties from all around the world, be sure to visit our ever-gracious hostess Carol of May Dreams Gardens. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sustainable Living Project: My Dirty Little Secret

Sustainability seems to be the new buzzword.  From sustainable architecture to sustainable business practices, the word seems to be applied to every field imaginable.  In fact, while looking for some information on a local project, I found that my alma mater, the University of Illinois, even has an Office of Sustainability, encompassing all disciplines with course offerings and seminars open to the public.  Other universities even offer degrees in the field, ranging from Sustainable Clothing to Sustainable Tourism.

When I first heard this word being applied to areas other than agriculture, I wasn't quite sure what it meant.  I had visions of citizens not only planting vegetable gardens and raising chickens in their back yards, but building windmills and adding solar panels to provide their own electricity, and spinning wool to make their own clothing.  Obviously, in our urban society all these measures aren't very feasible.  I had misinterpreted the term to mean "self-sufficiency."  Sustainability doesn't mean individuals isolating themselves, but rather a collaborative effort to achieve a worthy goal.  The mission of sustainability, as the U of I's website states, is "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."   "Going green," "reducing our carbon footprint," "being environmentally responsible"--whatever you want to call it, it all boils down to making sure that we leave this earth as good a place (or better) than we found it.

While the premise of the Sustainability movement sounds very noble, I don't usually get involved with causes like this, especially if there are political overtones.  However, I do think individuals can take actions in their own lives that can effect positive change in the future of our planet.    Last year for Jan's Earth Day project I wrote about small steps that I had taken or planned to take.  But this year I would like to focus on just one aspect, one that involves getting down and dirty--composting.

Our Master Gardeners' Idea Garden has an endless supply of compost available to add to the garden.
 Every gardener knows that good soil is the first step in creating a beautiful garden, and adding compost is one of the best ways of loosening heavy soil as well as adding much-needed nutrients.  But have you also thought about the benefits of composting in terms of the environment?  According to the LRC's website, yard debris accounts for 25% of all waste in the state of Illinois.  That doesn't mean, however, that this has to be added to the landfills.  Many communities offer curbside pick-up of yard waste, making it easy to recycle these materials.  In our small village, for example, residents don't even have to bag leaves--if they sweep them in piles near the curb, village workers vacuum up the leaves into a large truck and transport them to the landscape recycling center.  The once-familiar autumn smell of burning leaves no longer exists, and everyone, especially those with respiratory problems, can breathe easier.

Since I live outside the city limits, this service is not available to me, but I do my own recycling of yard waste.  After raking leaves last fall, I added a layer of leaves as a base for my new garden area, spread some over existing flower beds as protection for the winter, and added the rest to the compost bin or piled next to it.  This spring I raked those big leaves back off the flowerbeds, and as I trimmed perennials and emptied old potting soil from containers, the compost pile grew even higher. 

I don't pay much attention to the science of composting; in fact, I would call myself a "lazy composter."   I don't add worms to the compost pile to speed up the decomposition process, and I rarely think to stir the pile to aerate it.  I don't worry about the percentage of  "brown" and "green"--I just add yard debris and kitchen scraps as I accumulate them.  Unlike the fictional Maggie in my last post, I don't feel any guilt about all the coffee grounds I throw out, because they all get added to the compost.  So does the produce that somehow gets lost in the back of my refrigerator until it turns into unrecognizable mush.  Last fall I did construct a flimsy cage out of chicken wire and stakes to contain the pile a little better, but my dream is to one day have a wooden three-compartment bin, making it easier to get at the finished "black gold" whenever I want.  

Taking this lazy approach does help to cut down waste, but it means the process of converting it to usable compost takes much longer.  Last year I wanted more compost than I had available.  That is when I discovered a gold mine--the local Landscape Recycling Center.  The LRC has been taking in yard waste and selling the recycled products for several years, but I had never visited it until a Master Gardener classmate mentioned that she had gotten a pick-up load of compost for her garden at a very reasonable cost.

My first trip to the LRC was an interesting one.  I envisioned placing my order and then someone handing me several bags of compost all neatly tied up.  But no,  . . . while they will load up a truck bed, if you want a smaller amount you need to bag it yourself.  I found myself driving into a field filled with hills of mounded dirt and mulch and then scrabbling the compost with my bare hands into my containers.  As the dirt began sliding down, I couldn't help but picture myself being suddenly covered with an avalanche of compost, never to be seen again.  Fortunately, I survived and learned from the experience--from then on, I always wore old clothes and my garden shoes and brought along a scoop or shovel.

You can't beat the LRC's price for compost either.  On that first trip I learned of a special deal they offered--for $10 I purchased a 7-gallon pail from them, which I could then refill for free for the rest of the year.  And they don't care if you bring along other containers and fill them as well.  All this means unlimited compost for only $10 a year!  The LRC also offers different grades of mulch, also made from local materials, at a  reasonable cost as well.

Last summer I made many trips to the Landscape Center, and I plan to go back again this year.  I might add, as another environmental note, that the center is about 8 miles from my house, so I never made a special trip into town just for compost or mulch--using up extra gas--but always planned my stop there after I had already been in town for some other activity. 

Anyone can compost, especially with the products available today that can contain a pile of debris so it won't offend your neighbors or violate local codes.  But if you can't compost or need more than your pile produces, be sure to check to see if you also have a local landscape recycling center.  It may be the best dirty little secret in town!

Be sure to check out posts from other garden bloggers participating in the Sustainability Project at Jan's Thanks For Today.  And why not join in this worthwhile project?  Jan is giving away lots of cool prizes to participants, but you need to have your post up by April 15.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April Book Review and a Kindle Cover

At the age of 60, Maggie Fortenberry feels that the best of her life is now behind her, and even that had been disappointing, so she decides to "leave life a little earlier than expected."  Most people who know her will be shocked, she realizes, and some may think she is taking the cowardly way out.   Yet, Maggie has given this much thought and carefully weighed the pros and cons, going so far as making a list of both sides before making what she believes is the only right decision.

 "Oh sure, it would have been easier if she could have somehow unzipped her scalp, taken her brain out, and held it over the kitchen sink, and just rinsed away all the old regrets, hurts, and humiliations right down the drain, and started over, but that was impossible."

Once the decision has been made, Maggie is determined not to burden those left behind and to cause them as little pain as possible. She makes up a "Things to Do Before I Go" list.  She carefully prepares a vague and impersonal handwritten note on monogrammed stationery with tomorrow's date.  Tomorrow morning, before her exit from the world, she plans to close her bank account, box up all her clothes for charity, and of course, launder the sheets and make the bed.   But before she can finish the letter, her best friend Brenda calls and announces excitedly that she has front-row tickets for the two of them to see the Whirling Dervishes at the Alabama Theatre on Sunday.  Maggie debates about this for awhile and then decides she simply can't disappoint her good friend. What would it hurt to postpone her leaving this world for another six days?   She pulls out a bottle of white-out and carefully changes the date on her letter to November 3.

Suicide is hardly a humorous topic, so why do we immediately take Maggie's intentions so lightly?  First of all, I Still Dream About You: A Novel is written by Fannie Flagg, which gives us the first clue not to expect anything tragic in this novel.  Secondly, Maggie deals with her own impending demise with such logic that we find ourselves almost agreeing with her:

"...On the positive side, by leaving now, she would be saving the government an awful lot of Social Security money down the line; making much less of a carbon footprint; using less oxygen, gas, water, food, plastics, and papers goods; and there would be fewer used coffee grounds in the garbage. Al Gore should certainly appreciate it."

(Spoiler Alert!) Finally, despite her best intentions, Maggie never goes through with her plan. 

Maggie, a former Miss Alabama, is a very likable character who never utters an unkind word about anyone, including her nemesis, Babs "The Beast" Bingington, a ruthless real estate broker who has nearly ruined Maggie's own real estate firm.  To others like her friend Brenda, Maggie seems to have "the world by the tail."  Brenda is quite a character herself, getting into all kinds of hilarious predicaments, often involving ice cream. One time she made the local newspaper when she foiled a would-be purse-snatcher with the only weapon at hand, a hot fudge sundae.

The novel weaves stories from the past in with the present, so that we understand Maggie's background and the reason for her feelings of disappointment.  We also learn about her late employer and mentor, the energetic and optimistic Hazel Whisenknott.  There is also a mystery involved, when Maggie and Brenda make an unusual discovery at a house they are preparing to put on the market.

My only exposure to Fannie Flagg before reading this novel was seeing (several times) the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes," based on Flagg's second novel.  So while I really can't compare this book to her other works, I can say I was entertained enough to want to read more of her novels.  It was a refreshing departure from the often dark mysteries and crime thrillers I usually read.  If you are looking for a book to cheer you up or simply make you smile, you can't go wrong with I Still Dream of You. 

April daffodils can also make you smile!

As a side note, I Still Dream About You was the first book I read on my new Kindle, which I received for Christmas.  I have to admit I never wanted a Kindle; I still like the feel and smell of a real book, being able to flip through the pages and feel its weight in my hands.  But I could see the advantages of a Kindle, particularly for traveling or having it handy while waiting in the doctor's office.  I realized, though, that before I stuffed it in my purse for my flight to Portland at the end of January, that I would need some kind of cover for it to protect the screen.

Checking out covers while shopping at Barnes and Noble one day, I was surprised to find out how expensive they were.  Of course, B and N's Nook is not compatible with the Kindle--kind of like the old days with Mac and PC software--but it gave me an idea of what the Kindle cover might cost.  Being of a cheap frugal nature, I thought why couldn't I just make one?  It didn't take much searching on Google to find several patterns for covers for either e-reader, including a neat one that can stand up in case you want to read while doing something else, like working out on a treadmill.  In the end, though, I decided to make my own pattern.

I purchased a small piece of fabric, spending under $2.00 for this cover, but you could make one for nothing if you have a suitable remnant on hand.  I added some quilt batting that I had left over from another project to one side for some added padding, lined the inside to keep the batting from possibly scratching the screen, and added a little free-form machine quilting to finish it off. Iron-on velcro on the flap keeps the pouch closed and free from dust.

Before anyone asks me for the pattern, let me say that I don't sew as much as I used to, and while I'm good at following patterns, I'm not so good at creating them.  I wasted some material  in trying to figure out how to turn this rightside out:)  If you would like to make your own, I'd recommend checking out this website or do a Google search for other patterns.

Disclaimer:  I received no remuneration for this review, purchasing the Kindle version of I Still Dream of You myself.  Also, just a note that I will be taking a break from the Book Review Club for at least the next two months due to some busy days ahead for me.  I hope to be back later this summer with another reading recommendation for you. 

Be sure to check out our hostess, Barrie Summy, for other book reviews this month.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Garden Muse Day: Sweet Promises

April Morning

I walk the garden as the last pink streaks fade from the sky,
my faded blue robe drifting below my winter coat.
If the neighbors laugh or disapprove, I do not hear them:
this is my time, my private space.
The world does not enter here.

I look for signs—a bud, a spot of green that was not here yesterday.
Sophie gambols beside me, looking for her own treasures—
a chewy stick, a forgotten toy.
The morning chatter of birds catches her attention, and she rushes off,
trying to join them in flight.

I kneel to brush away leaves from the hellebores,
 their blooms too shy to face me.

Nearby, yellow trumpets blare--

Yesterday's lone daffodil bloom is now a dozen waving in the breeze.

Green buds on the lilac,

the first emerging leaves on the hydrangeas,
Hyacinths nestled in their cocoons,

Crocuses—purple, yellow, white . . .
all so small they would go unnoticed in the riot of July.
But in early April they are a source of wonder and delight.

Sophie returns to me, and we make our way back into the house,
content with the promises of spring.

Garden Muse Day is brought to you the first of each month by Carolyn Gail
at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.