Sunday, August 7, 2016

July Slipped By



     After the maple disaster the rest of July slid past without so much as a squawk from me. Here is some of what we missed:

     July was the month in which Hydrangea came into their own. Our Annabelle got going early.



     Then came some macrophylla's.



     Our Limelight Hydrangea had become so enormous last year that we cut it back substantially early this spring. Then we waited... and waited. Toward the end of the month  our patience was at last rewarded.



     Another star in July was the Bottlebrush Buckeye, one of my favorite native shrubs.



     Meanwhile our edible department was making some progress as well. After three years of preparation and false starts, we actually picked serious crops of raspberries and blueberries this summer.





     Our "fruiting" vegetables have at last plodded their way into maturity as well. Green beans, eggplant, okra  and hot peppers are  overloading their stems. And at long, long last our cukes and tomatoes are almost pacing our consumption.




     We just planted  our fall  crop of snow peas today -- about a week or 10 days later than normal, like everything else this season. We will just have to hope that October weather will be merciful.



Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Summer Interruption



     Normal summer activities came to an abrupt halt  last week.  I was still grumbling about the fact that I had received no newspaper when I finally noticed that the front walk was impassable. The violent storm the night before  had ripped  yet another major piece from my once-stately maple. A major limb from this same tree poked a hole  in my attic in 2011. I knew it was slowly dying, but I could not part with it -- especially when it would plunge the rest of my shade-loving plants into the roasting sun.





     So I temporized. The part of the tree that could  actually harm the house had already done its worst. Now I was just gambling with my plants. So I left the maple  alone but bought some insurance in the form of two babies: a Burr Oak and a Pecan.





     And,  "Why two?" you might ask. Because  the pessimist who lurks within whispered that if another branch came down, it  would probably land on the new tree.And sure enough, the Burr Oak emerged from the storm unscathed, while the poor pecan was completely flattened.



     Fortunately, the young trunk was pliable, and while the top 90% of the tree was against the ground, the bottom of the trunk had bent. When we rolled the branch off, the youngster popped back up again. It is battered and bruised,  but lives on.

     Our chain saw also survived after a very wearing day.


     



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Not on Blooms Alone

Jackmanii Clematis

     One of the casualties  of this season's frantic pace has been a report  on our vegetable garden. I picked spinach daily through our April-like May until the weather shifted to August and my plants bolted.

     By then we started to get overwhelmed with broccoli. In addition to all our broccoli-based dinners, I began to blanch a pound or two for the refrigerator so I could toss some into a quick salad at lunch.

First Crop

     I still had one head of the first crop in the fridge when a second crop was ready to  cut. We had to prevail on some old friends to take much of #2 home with them. After the first large single heads, broccoli plants  will  continue to produce smaller heads for the rest of the summer.

     Yesterday we picked our first snow peas and had a big chicken and  snow pea stir fry for dinner. Our pea plants are over 6 feet tall.







     We are starting to use our leafy greens like Swiss chard, kale and collards. Herbs like mint, oregano, parsley, and basil are open for business. Our little patch of fingerling potatoes is also thriving.


Fingerling Potatoes

     Bringing up the rear, as usual, are our "fruit" crops like peppers,tomatoes, and cucumbers. We saw our first tomato flower today, but it will be July before we get to eat any of these treasures. We will have a few real fruits as well -- like raspberries and  blueberries. But that will be another story.





Saturday, June 11, 2016

June Rushes By

This Rhododendron began to bloom two weeks after
 the pink one in my last  post.
          Numerous shrubs and perennials have bloomed in my yard in the last few weeks without getting the attention they deserve. Another species for which bloom can be stretched by choosing multiple varieties are the lilacs. Once restricted to the large common lilacs of our ancestors, lilacs now come in many shades, shapes and varieties, including a tree form. I recently designed an all-lilac shrub bed that I hope to see  in real life soon. My own poor yard, however, lacking a lot of sun, has only two Meyer lilacs. But I am not complaining.




     The white peony I showed off in my last post was beaten down by a heavy rain. Fortunately, the buds  on the pink one next to it were still closed. While we removed white bedraggled blooms, the pink peony stepped forward and replaced its cousin.





     Meanwhile May and early June produced a flowering frenzy that was simply impossible to keep up with. These Cranberry Viburnums we will revisit at another time.




     Our roses were slow getting started but came into their own in mid May. Roses are one of my favorite flowers because, unlike many others, they will stay with us  past Thanksgiving. We lost one of our climbers this winter so you see here only half of our display. But a new one is growing and will catch up eventually.



     And   our final entry for early June is one of our few true poppies:




     The bumblebee here is getting a closer look.

Friday, May 27, 2016

May and Peony Dream Gardens

Rhododendron in Bloom
     As happens so frequently, Chicago has jumped from late winter to early summer, with 'spring" lasting about three days. Once more we will be planting our tomatoes and other warm weather annuals on Memorial Day weekend.

     But there has been a riot of bloom this month. More flowers are popping out  than I can mention and  a few dreams have revived as well. Some of these revolve around beds dedicated to a single species. It  is possible to extend the life of some of your favorites by carefully choosing cultivars for their bloom time.

     Peonies are among the most showy flowers in the garden, but the individual plants  are also among the most fleeting. The species itself, however, has early, middle and late bloomers, so you can stretch your  season by looking for early bloomers like Raspberry Ice or late bloomers like Doris Cooper. 

      You can stretch the peony season even more by including tree peonies -- arguably the most spectacular bloom on the North American continent. Here is an illustration of the potential  stretch.

     


     This tree peony sneaked up on me.  Tree peonies start blooming in April, but it was May 12 before I got around to taking a photo.  Meanwhile, as of May 26 my herbaceous peonies were  still barely budding.

     


     The second plant to open was actually a tree peony that reverted to a herbaceous form.
     
     


     Note  the contrast between this guy and his herbaceous cousin to the left.

     



     Yesterday the first of my herbaceous buds finally opened, so I have a few more weeks of glory.






    Finally, the real treat for peony lovers are the Itoh peonies. A cross between the tree and herbaceous peony, these gorgeous plants  have the huge, spectacular blooms of the tree peony, but on short sturdy stems that do not flop, but do die down in winter. These peonies are the last to bloom and keep blooming through June. A  mature plant  can produce up to 50 flowers in one season.

     For decades very expensive and therefore rare, Itoh's have finally made the mass market. I saw a display for them at Home Depot this week. I do not yet have one of my own,  but I am still waiting for a client who wants me to  design a peony garden.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Winter Coat Spring

A nearby Pear in Bloom

     It is now the end of April and it still feels like early November. We have had about three beautiful days and one day that broke  80 degrees.But mostly it has been wet and miserable... for us at least. Except from some magnolias whose buds were nipped by a cold night, most of our plants are liking the slow start to the season.


A neighbor's Crabapple

     The other flowering trees that bloom a week or two later are happy as can be. In the yard my tulips are in their glory, while my Narcissus are still in great shape.










     One of my favorite flowers in spring and early summer is  Stylophorum diphyllum, AKA the wood  poppy. This plant has interesting leaves, very pretty yellow flowers, and, like all poppies, produces a latex-like yellow sap that the Indians once used as a dye. Wood  poppies like dappled shade and moist  loamy soil.  They need some local  encouragement. In Illinois they exist only in the far south counties and Cook County (Don't ask me how we lucked out.)



     While not yet an official endangered species, wood poppies are getting ever harder to find -- crowded out by loss of forest land and various European and Asian  invaders, like garlic mustard and Japanese still grass. Left to their own devices they spread quite easily. They are not subject to fungal and insect pests and mammals hate their taste.



          Our shady neighborhood could be a perfect home for this native if a few more of us plant it. So brighten up your day.





Saturday, April 9, 2016

Spring Already!



Scilla


     I discovered to my horror that I had let the entire winter go by without once writing a  post for this blog. I will spare my dear readers any convoluted explanations and just get started again.

     Our recent winter was mercifully warm and brief -- especially compared to the one last  year. The ground barely froze and was able to absorb water quickly. This spared us a frequent spring problem: having ground too wet to cultivate. I was able to cultivate my vegetable garden and re-build my raised beds so they ran in a direction 90 degrees from  last year by the end of March. This is my simple-minded way to make sure I do not plant the same crops in the same space over and over -- a sure way to attract pests.





     By this time our usual April buddies had popped up:

More Scilla

   
Galanthus (Snowdrops)


 
Crocus


     Not only were these first harbingers of spring going strong by the end of March; the second ranks had also made their first appearance. The first Narcissus buds had popped up and the first few Forsythia buds had appeared.


Narcissus


Early Forsythia

     After such a promising March, April has so far been wet and miserable. Who could forget that day of howling 50 MPH winds, rain, snow  sleet and hail? The magnolia buds that were just beginning to blossom, took a beating. But most of these spring bloomers are tough customers and have survived the bad weather intact. Look at the Narcissus and Forsythia now.

   



     


     Wan managed to plant parsley and spinach seeds between raindrops yesterday. The fact that we could cultivate the garden early means that we can now now plant as soon as each crop can survive the over-night lows.  Next week the broccoli seedlings will go  in, as well as seeds for snow and sugar snack peas.

     You really know that spring is here when the tulips arrive.

Early Tulips

     Unfortunately, it just started to snow. Ah, Chicago.