Sunday, November 13, 2016

Falling Leaves

     Nine out of the first ten months of 2016 have witnessed above normal temperatures. And, with two highs in the seventies, November seems to  be traveling down the same path. The city's average first frost date is October 24, but we whizzed  right by that date and well may make it past mid-November without a  freeze.

     As a result we had an entire month of  slowly changing colors before the  leaves began to come down on Halloween.

     This photo was taken on November 6 and you can see how  this tree's  leaves have begun to litter the park lawn.

     Beverly's tree cover  makes it a  delight to live in. But once  a year our trees can be a real chore. We are almost buried alive in dead leaves. Most people still  rake and bag their leaves, and it is nothing to see a house with 40+ leaf bags stacked near the city cans.

     Not my house. I blow the leaves in my beds  onto the lawn and then run over them with a mulching mower. I blow part of the shredded remains back into the beds to use as a winter mulch. The rest is left to decompose and fertilize the  lawn. No raking; no bagging; and no trips to the city landfill.

     We picked and ate the last of our tomatoes, peppers and green beans over Halloween weekend. I am hoping we will get one more crop from our snow peas. Meanwhile, we have lots of leafy vegetables to keep us going.

     Shown in front are  our collards and kale, with Swiss chard peeking up in back. Broccoli is in the upper right corner. Parsley is hiding in yet another row.    All of these  plants will continue to feed us until the first hard frost, which now looks like it will not arrive until after Thanksgiving. Mother Nature has been kind to us this fall.

Saturday, October 8, 2016


This broccoli plant is almost ready for its 12th cutting.

     This September was one of the hottest and wettest on record. And once more I was too busy running around to write a single blog post. Disgraceful. The month was also the peak  of our vegetable  harvest. Our cucumber plants grew pounds  of new cukes daily, forcing us  to recruit more and more help simply to eat  the harvest. They ran to their last gasp in September and are basically done for the season.

     Our most recent picking of tomatoes was about nine pounds. There are about the same number of fruits now ripening on the vine, but we are  leaving them alone while  we try to finish off what is already in the kitchen. As  the weather finally cools, they, too,will slow down. Joining them in a last rush are our chilies, eggplant, and okra.

We planted two styles of small, Asian eggplant.

Your can see the okra pod just below and
 to the right of its attractive flower.
     Our leafy vegetables are continuing  to produce, and we are working on second crops of snow  peas and  Bok Choy. Our pea pods will be ready to harvest before our Italian pole beans  are finished producing.

Snow Peas Crop 2

     Meanwhile late season shrubs and perennials have continued to provide a feast for the eyes:

Autumn Clematis

Hardy Hibiscus 

Japanese Anemone

    Our special treat this season was the coming of age of our Viburnum  trilobum, or American Cranberries. We bought ten of these as knee-high bare root plants in 2012, hoping they would act as an attractive screen between us and our neighbors. This year they finally made it past eight feet tall and produced the gorgeous fruit for which they are famous.

American Cranberrybush Viburnum

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.