Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fall is Here

     The fall equinox arrived a little after 9 PM Monday night -- and our weather began to improve.

     The summer of 2014 was the wettest on record in Chicago and one of the coolest. The temperature broke 90 degrees all of three times this summer, as opposed to an average of 17 times and a whopping 40 times just two years ago.

     Beach goers gave the season a big thumbs down, but I loved it. Lots of good working weather and a little  relief from all those bills for air conditioning and watering.

     Reactions also  vary among my plants. The cukes are starting to lose steam already, and both the yield  and the size of my tomatoes are smaller than usual. Their taste is as good as ever, however.

One  of our  beans hiding in the  vine.

     The Romano pole beans took a while to get going,  but they have been both productive and delicious for more  than a month. And our hot  peppers surprised us.  They have been producing faster than we can harvest them.

Lemon Grass  is flanked by a Tobasco pepper.

     We tried two new additions to the garden this year. Lemon grass is a  Southeast Asian herb that is a delicious addition to soups and other hot dishes. The second was fingerling potatoes. We tried these because they are so expensive in stores. They turned our to be easy to plant, quick to harvest, and delicious!

Fall sugar snack  peas.

     The fall crop of snow and sugar snack  peas we planted at the end of July have begun to produce pods now. Southern gardeners do this double-cropping all  the time, but I always feel like I am getting away with something when I harvest  a  fall crop right before a frost in Chicago.

     We can do more than harvest, though. September and October are also a great time to plant.  More on that next time.

Coral Bells awaiting fall planting.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

More Late Bloomers

Hibiscus syriacus

     As we pass from summer into Autumn, we can also move from our Bottlebrush Buckeye to the hibiscus family, who tend to bloom from late summer until first frost. The hibiscus family contains under one roof a confusing variety of plants and an even greater variety of names. It's members range from 12 foot woody shrubs to knee-high perennials and have many aliases: Althea, Mallow, Rose  Mallow, Swamp Rose and Rose of Sharon.

     The largest of these, Hibiscus syriacus, is usually known as Rose of Sharon or Althea. Once thought of as old fashioned, Rose  of Sharon are actually appropriate for many houses in our area of Chicago and have experienced a revival in popularity. Although they can get to be 12 feet tall, they bloom on new wood, so you can prune them ferociously in late winter and  still have a substantial and floriferous shrub by summer.

Texas Star Hibiscus

     The other cultivars of hibiscus are far less common  in Chicago yards and we are missing out. Ranging from three to seven feet tall, many die down to the ground every winter. In their prime they produce huge disks in vibrant colors that  can give our yards a tropical flavor.

Hibiscus moscheutos

A PS on the Bottlebrush Buckeye:  The owner of the shrub in my last posting pointed out that his Buckeye also  attracts exotic butterflies. Yet another virtue possessed  by one of my favorite plants.