Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Simple Pleasures

Some people spend their lives wishing they were rich.  Some people crave power.  Others wish for fame.  As for me, it doesn't take much to make me happy.  Sure, a little more money would always be nice, but I find that joy usually comes from simple things.  A few hours spent with good friends, talking and laughing.  A grandchild suddenly saying, "I love you, Grandma."  These are the moments that make me feel happier than any millionaire. 

And when I'm feeling a bit blue or bored, I can just walk out the door.  Here are some simple pleasures that bring a lift to my spirits:

Seeing the first coneflowers beginning to bloom.


Finding a new daylily blooming each day.  This one is 'Lavender Dew.'

Finally having success in scattering poppy seeds  in my garden.

Another success--my first ever delphinium.  And finding it to be just as blue as the catalog pictured it to be.

Even better with a friendly visitor.

This visitor, however, doesn't make me so happy.   But otherwise, the cheery faces of Susans always bring a smile to my face.

When I see 'Canterbury Tales' next to 'Moonlit Masquerade,' I'm glad I let the daylily grower talk me into buying 'Moonlit,' too.  I think these two were meant for each other.

I'm happy, too, I didn't pull what I (and Beckie, too) thought was a weed.  When your memory plays tricks on you, like forgetting all about planting this phlox last year, it's nice to have a pleasant surprise.

My memory recall can be strange at times--for example, while playing a trivia game I can recall the capital of Bulgaria learned long ago in fourth grade geography (it's Sofia, by the way), but not where I laid my reading glasses two minutes ago.  A sudden flash of recognition last week reminded me that this mystery plant was the balloon flower I planted last year.  I'm happy that it's going to bloom soon even in the shadow of the ever-growing Amsonia towering over it.

And if all else fails, I can always count on a wagging tail and big brown eyes to lift my spirits. 
Sophie makes everybody, even Marmalade, happy:)

"The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance;
the wise grows it under his feet."  ~James Openheim

Friday, June 24, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: Late Again...

Everyone loves trees, but not all trees are created equal.  Wild mulberry trees are a good example of a nuisance tree.  They often pop up here around the foundations of the farm outbuildings or other undesirable places, and they grow so quickly that if not removed immediately, they usually have to be cut down with a chainsaw.  Another tree that I assumed was a "weedy" tree grows at the back of what is now my butterfly garden.  But several springs ago, when I first planted this area with some natives and other butterfly-friendly plants, I noticed this tree was blooming.  It's taken me awhile, but I am 99% sure that this is a Rough-leaved Dogwood Cornus drummondii.

Rough-leaved dogwood is a native woody shrub or tree common in most areas of Illinois except for the northeastern part of the state.  During late spring or early summer cymes of white flowers develop and remain in bloom for 2-3 weeks. The photo above was taken two weeks ago, but a few blooms still remain.

  The nectar and pollen of the dogwood attract a host of different species of bees and other insects.  Later in the summer white drupes develop, which are a high-caloric food source for many birds and some mammals.  This has been one of the difficulties in identifying this dogwood for me, because I've never seen the drupes.  However, according to Illinois Wildflowers they disappear rapidly in the fall because of their attractiveness to wildlife, so perhaps that is the reason I've never seen them.   Young twigs and branchlets are a reddish brown; the red twigs in winter were the first clue for me that this was some type of dogwood.

Rough-leaved Dogwood develops from a branching taproot.  "However, if this woody plant is subjected to disturbance, it may develop suckers or underground runners that send up vegetative shoots. These vegetative shoots can develop into a colony of multistemmed shrubs" (Illinois Wildflowers).  Obviously, I have disturbed this plant because it has responded to my attempts in cutting back suckers to tame it by producing even more.  Despite its importance to pollinators and wildlife, Rough-leaved dogwood is not a plant I would recommend adding to your garden, especially in a suburban landscape.  But in a woodland setting or in the wild, such as at the nearby forest preserve where I've seen it growing along the trails, it is rather pretty, especially in bloom.

While I didn't plant the Rough-leaved Dogwood, I did purposely plant some Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa which seems to grow larger and larger each year.  The blooms start out orange and then turn to an orangey-yellow as they open fully.

The foliage of this plant is consumed by the Monarch caterpillars, which is why I planted it in the first place.  But if you look carefully at this enlarged photo, you'll see it attracts all kinds of insects.  If anyone can identify these striped insects, I would love to know what they are because I have them everywhere.  The smaller insects are also a mystery--after zooming in much more closely, I'm pretty sure they are some kind of alien ants:)

My favorite natives, the purple coneflowers and the black-eyed Susans are just beginning to bloom here.  But as a taste of what is to come, here are two photos taken of a Rudbeckia fulgida taken yesterday morning at the Idea Garden.

Celebrating National Pollinators Week, this is another reminder why native plants are so BEE-autiful!

This post is part of the Wildflower Wednesday hosted by pollinator champion Gail at Clay and Limestone, the fourth Wednesday of every month, not the last Wednesday.  (Note to self: check the calendar!)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lessons From the Masters

Picture this scenario:  You have just retired or your youngest child has just left for college.  Suddenly you have time on your hands, and you decide you would like to create a garden just like the ones you've admired in magazines for so many years.  Where to begin?

 Reading books on gardening, attending workshops at your local nursery, and even reading gardening blogs are all good ways to learn about plants and how to create a beautiful garden.  But nothing tops personal experience for learning what works and what doesn't. I certainly made many mistakes in the first few years of gardening, from not preparing the soil well enough to planting perennials much too close together. Having gotten a later start in life in gardening than many, I decided I didn't want to wait until I was 80 to have a garden I was proud of, so last year I enrolled in the Master Gardener program at my local County Extension Office to learn the basics and make up for lost time.  While I learned so much during these classes, what I didn't realize is that I would learn as much or more working alongside some of the most experienced gardeners in the community.

After taking over a month-long hiatus from MG activities for Daughter's wedding and later reception, I've finally gotten back into putting in some volunteer hours at the two gardens I worked in last year.  As interns, we were required to put in at least 20 hours in the Idea Garden, the showcase of the local Master Gardeners program, and I randomly chose the Sensory Garden section as the place to spend most of my time.  Active MG's, however, aren't required to volunteer in specific areas, but I've come to feel a sense of ownership in this garden and wanted to continue to work there.

Besides working with a great group of people, I've learned to know the plants here and how best to care for many of them.  The nearly thornless 'Zephirine Drouhin' rose is such a beauty and has grown so quickly in just three short years that I decided to choose the same cultivar to climb my new arbor.  In addition, when plants are divided, extra divisions are often put up for sale for a very nominal fee to whoever grabs them first.  I've brought home quite a few bargains this way, and all of them have done extremely well.  Perhaps it's the good start in compost-rich soil that makes them so hardy; the small start of Amsonia Tabernae I picked up last spring, for example, has grown so huge this year that I may have to divide it already.

Last weekend, after we finished working in the garden, I stayed around for an interesting "Garden Chat" given by Ann, a Master Gardener extraordinaire, and Phyllis, one of the original designers of the Idea Garden.  They spoke about the origin of the Idea Garden--begun in 1996--its history, and how it has evolved over time.

Ann explained plant selection and cited some of her personal favorites as well as pointing out some design tips in placement of plants.  One of the more interesting tidbits of history had to do with this hydrangea.  The plant originally came from the garden of a U of I professor whose wife later donated it to the Idea Garden.  Although it looked like a lacecap, no one was quite sure what type of hydrangea it was.  Phyllis decided to contact famed plant expert Michael Dirr, a friend of Professor McDaniel, who eventually classified it as a unique cultivar of Hydrangea arborescens.  It is now named 'Mary Nell' after the professor's wife and is included in Dirr's Hydrangeas for American Gardens.  I had no idea until last Saturday that we had such a special plant in our collection.

Another garden where I spend some volunteer time is at the County Nursing Home.  When a new nursing home was built a few years ago, Master Gardeners had to start from scratch with a new garden planned at the back of the facility.  Many of the plants from the old garden were moved here, but new ones were added as well.  The soil left after the building was completed was mostly clay and not very suitable for gardening, but loads of compost added over time have created a lush and beautiful place.

This garden is smaller than the original one and is designed somewhat differently.  The wide sidewalk that provides the inner border of the garden is handicapped accessible, but I recently learned its design has another important purpose.  According to co-chair Phyllis, the original garden had several paths meandering through it, which she learned was not a good idea.  The new garden is behind the Alzheimer's unit, and the circular path is designed specifically so that residents can stroll through the garden without getting lost. 

Other accommodations were made as well.  Several grasses and other tall plants were eventually moved when it was discovered they were blocking residents' views from inside.

Many "old-fashioned" plants are included in the garden, such as this Blanket Flower, or Gaillardia, in hopes of stirring residents' memories of their mothers' or grandmothers' gardens.

The nursing home garden is enclosed by a tall fence with a locked gate and is accessible only to residents and their visitors.  But this year the garden is one of several featured in the annual Garden Walk to be held this coming Saturday, so the public will have a chance to see this very special garden as well.

I was a latecomer to joining the crew here last summer when I realized I needed additional community service hours.  I wasn't sure I would continue working here this year, because there was already a large group of regulars who volunteered each week, and I often felt as if I was just looking for something to do.  But then the garden co-chairs assured me my help was definitely needed, and two other reasons kept me going.  One was that this is a fun group to work with, and the interesting conversations always make the time go quickly. If you are wondering why everyone is standing around here, it's because after a little over an hour of work yesterday, there wasn't a weed in sight nor a faded blossom to deadhead.  My garden should be so lucky!

The other main reason I continue to volunteer here is because of the leadership of Phyllis and Carol.  Phyllis (pictured earlier at the Idea Garden) is one of the original Master Gardeners in the group and is simply a walking encyclopedia of gardening knowledge. This spring, a few volunteers were carefully pruning the Purple Smokebush that had grown to 8-10 feet tall last year.  Phyllis came over and told them to hack it down, leaving stumps only one or two feet above the ground.  Here it is less than two months later, obviously none the worse for its extreme "haircut."  I've learned to listen when Phyllis recommends a particular method or technique, because it usually works!

When I have a chance, I'll pick her brain or ask for advice on particular plants, and she is always so gracious in taking time to explain things.  I wasn't sure about what grasses I wanted to add to my garden, but Phyllis reassured me that the switchgrass 'Shenandoah' that I had purchased was a good choice, and also recommended 'Karl Foerster' (above).  She also assured me that the beautiful 'Morning Light' Miscanthus I admired in the garden was not a re-seeder like some Miscanthus.  Taking her advice, I've added two of these to my own garden this spring.

Working in both of these gardens gives me a chance to learn about new plants I'd like to add to my own and ways to plant them for pleasing combinations.

Oakleaf Hydrangea and Betony

I learn from the creativity of others--this "trellis" for a mandevilla is actually two of the neon-colored tomato cages, available in many garden centers, tied together, one on top of the other.  I would never have thought of this!

Every week there is something new to see. This beautiful iris--a flag iris perhaps??--wasn't in bloom last week at the Nursing Home garden.

Making it even more appealing is its placement in front of a chartreuse sumac.

Working with people who have gardened for many years is a great way for any beginning or still-learning gardener to gain invaluable knowledge.  You don't have to commit to the Master Gardeners' program to do this; joining a garden club or volunteering to work in a community garden can be just as helpful.  Whatever you choose, you'll find that gardeners are a generous group, always willing to share their expertise (and often starts of plants).  They are living proof of the old adage: "Experience is the best teacher."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

GBBD: Early Summer Blooms

My, but the summer days are flying by . . . well, technically, it is still spring until June 21, but last week's heat wave certainly makes it feel like summer.  At any rate, here it is the middle of June already, which means it's time for another Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day hosted by our fairy godmother Carol of May Dreams Gardens.

As I said on my last post, bloom times seem to be out of sync this year. 
The daylilies 'Stella d'Oro' are finally in full bloom.

Another latecomer, though, is the star of the garden right now. I had hoped my lone Asiatic lily 'Brindisi'
would bloom last week so that my daughter could see it, but it waited until this week to open up.

Look at all those buds!  I have been so smitten in recent years with daylilies that I have passed by the Asiatics.  I must find a place for more of these next year.  That's Hemerocallis 'Moonlight Masquerade' in the right background; a close-up of it is featured on my last post.

Nearby is another prize--my first red poppy.  I've never had much luck with poppies before, but this year I scattered some seed in late February over the melting snow, and they apparently liked that cold start.  I still had some seeds leftover from Spring Fling of '09 when Cindy generously shared her bounty with us, and I also had seeds from Tatyana, whose red poppies I so admired last summer.  Both packs were spread with abandon in late winter, so the lineage of each plant is unknown.

In the butterfly garden, chaos reigns as usual.  Bachelor's buttons have reseeded again,
and yarrow invades any empty space.

Penstemon from  friend Beckie--'Husker's Red,' I think--is nearly swallowed up by taller plants, either asters or goldenrod.  Not knowing what they are until they bloom means I am surprised every fall:)  The asters/goldenrod were cut back after this photo was taken.

Another re-seeder, Nigella, bloomed before I had time to take a photo, though a few florets remain.

Butterfly weed, however, is just beginning to bloom. 
I'm hoping the Monarchs can find it in the midst of this jungle.

The first hollyhocks have opened up.  There will be fewer than usual of these old friends this year, I'm afraid--in the feverish trimming that went on here a few weeks ago many of these fell victim to the weedeater.  But I know they will be back again next year.

The new Itea 'Henry's Garnet' was chosen for its fall color, but the little white brush-like blooms are a welcome sight this spring.

And for something different, you can't get much funkier than the vertical blooms of the Lamb's Ears.

There are other blooms, too, as the garden begins its summer session, most notably the first of the coneflowers as well as 'May Night' salvia and the geranium 'Roxanne,' but it is pouring down rain at the moment with thunder booming overhead, so those flowers will have to wait for another day.  There are many annuals, too, that will have to wait for their own spotlight, but I will leave you today with one of the most eye-catching at the moment, the yellow Hibiscus.

To see what else is blooming across the country and across the world, be sure to check out the list of participants at Carol's. 

And my best bloom of all?--My garden buddy who turns eight today. 
 Happy Birthday, Granddaughter!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Back to Normal

Life has finally slowed down to a less stressful state for me.  After a week of catching up on some rest and completing some postponed chores, I am back into a semi-normal routine at last.  Time for chauffering Younger Granddaughter back and forth to sports camps, time for a long-overdue sleepover for Middle Grandson, and time, of course, for gardening.

Thanks to all who offered words of encouragement on my last two posts when I was feeling under pressure, to say the least.  Daughter's wedding reception/party went very well, despite the threat of storms late in the evening and the heat--who knew when she set the date for this party back in January that June 4 would be the hottest day of the year?!!  By the time the first guests arrived, my make-up was streaming down my face and my carefully fluffed hair was plastered to my head.  But no matter; a good time was had by all, and that was all that was important.  Unfortunately, I was too busy the first few hours attending to some last-minute details and greeting guests to take any photos of the setting.  Thanks to my Dad for this photo early in the evening of  the tent with Daughter's tropical theme.

All my worry about the garden was probably for naught, as the heat and a chance to visit with the bride and groom kept most people from venturing too far from the tent.  But I'm sure if I hadn't bothered to weed and edge the flowerbeds, that would have been when everyone wanted to see the garden!  Even Daughter, who was super-busy the whole short weekend she was here, noticed one plant--the clematis, which was still in full bloom last weekend.  She noticed this immediately as we drove up the lane at 1 AM, its blooms shining in the moonlight.

I'm glad she got to see it while it was still in its full glory, because after a few rainshowers and some wind, all the blooms now look like this. 

After a week of neglecting the garden while I attended to other details, the weeds had grown by leaps and bounds and I also had missed a few things. I barely noticed this Allium roseum while it was in bloom, and now it has already turned to seed.

My garden seems to be on a different time schedule this year.  I had hoped this Asiatic lily would be in bloom last weekend, since Daughter loves lilies.  Last year it was blooming the first week in June, but so far all I see are fat buds (and the camera-shy Marmalade who has taken to following me throughout the garden this year).

The Stellas are late, too.  Normally, I have masses of blooms by this time, but they are just now beginning to open up.

On the other hand, the daylily 'Moonlight Masquerade' is way ahead of schedule and surprised me when I found it in bloom this week. Maybe the weather has had something to do with the different timing of blooms this year.  Like much of the country, we have had oppressive heat for the past week and a half.  Temperatures in the 90's with the typical Illinois humidity have made working in the garden unbearable for most of the day.  I'm not a morning person, but I've forced myself to get out of bed as early as possible this week to head out to the garden before the sun drives me back inside to the cool air-conditioning.  I've hoed weeds and spread mulch, often still in my PJ's and minus contacts, still clutching the first cup of coffee.

June is my favorite month of the year, but it isn't supposed to be this hot! Today (Sunday) is the first pleasant day in a long time; I'm hoping the cooler temperatures will stay with us for awhile. The heat, though, may have jumpstarted this first coneflower, which normally doesn't bloom until weeks later.  Late lilies and early coneflowers . . . I'm beginning to wonder what July will bring.

Good old faithful yarrow, though, is right on schedule; I guess the garden timetable isn't completely topsy-turvy this year.  After the last few busy months, it's good to get back to normal . . . whatever normal is:)