Take A Hike In The New-Fallen Snow

In the highly recommended department…

Today is the day for a walk in the freshly fallen snow. We got to Busse before anyone else. Peaceful and Pristine. The woods that is. We were more like Nanook and Nanookette.

Winter Interest – What Goes? What Stays?

Yes, it is December 2nd.
Yes, I live in Chicagoland.
Yes, those are my gardening tools outside.
I kid you not.

Its been another balmy December day where I just HAD to get outside. I don’t do all of my cleanup before winter sets in. I do typically leave a lot for spring. After all, snow landing on something is so much prettier than snow landing on flat ground. But today I could not help myself. The areas that I chose to work on were the ones that I won’t see out my window in the winter. The daylilies behind the garage could go. The hosta and solomon seal on the other side of the berm could go.

So what stayed? Certainly grasses. We all know they need to stay for winter interest. Even my mums remained untouched. After all, if I cut them down, its flat out there. If I leave them, I’ll have nice mounds of snow when winter does show up. And I really don’t think the mums care if I cut them down now or in the spring. Either way, maybe they will come back. Then again maybe they won’t. And the goldenrod you see on the right – It’ll come back.

Here’s one for ya. I used the back of an old chair this summer behind a planter. It looks so pretty that I am taking my chances with leaving the planter outside for the winter. It’s in a highly visible spot right outside our bedroom window, so it’s worth it.

We have a very different weather forecast for next weekend…
Yes, it will December 9th.
Yes the temperature will be below freezing.
Yes, I will be inside in front of the fire.
I kid you not.

Pumpkins So Easy You Don’t Need Directions

Simple. That’s what Ginny is aiming for. And the pumpkins we created while camping in Door County are just that. Well, just that and more, with the more part being that they are awfully cute. To Ginny, simple was one big pumpkin transformed to cute in no time at all. To me, it was pumpkins so easy that I could actually make a bunch of them. Still simple, only on steroids.

Carol and Ginny and their pumpkins – Peninsula State Park, WI

Football pumpkin

Or how about this manly pumpkin version. A little something that Mike might even admit he and I worked together on.

My gosh, just look at these pumpkins and you don’t need directions at all. As a matter of fact, the only directions I am going to give you is where to buy your pumpkins. That would be Dairy View Country Store in Door County, Wisconsin. Ok, that might not be possible, but as long as I am aiming for simple, I might as well aim for perfect world as well.

So just imagine…

Sitting in these chairs eating ice cream…

Dairy View Country Store – Door County, WI

Looking at this view…

Dairy View Country Store – The view

And planning your pumpkin. Yep, simple is good.

The War With Invasive Plants Continues

I fought a battle against springtime invasive plants. Now another war has been waged against those that raise their battle flag in summer. This time its ditch daylilies and garlic chives. They have got to go. Here you see my ditch daylilies right where they belong…in the garbage can.

Ditch daylilies with tri-color beech to the right

Sure, if I had a great big empty spot that I wanted consumed by daylilies, they would be the ticket. But I don’t. You can see towards the right that we planted a tri-color beech. That’s part of the area that had the horde of spring invasives. We also planted a larch, redbud, and Black Hills spruce. But that didn’t scare of the ditch daylilies. Nothing does. Well guess what, ditch daylilies – we will win this war! Mike went on the offensive and you don’t want to be his enemy.

Low maintenance will be the victor. More trees, big trees. I’m not kidding. You know a tree is big when they use one of these to dig the hole:

Hole digger

Black Hills Spruce

We selected the Black Hills Spruce because its a little smaller than the Colorado Spruce. 20 to 30 feet high by 10 to 15 feet wide is a good size for us. Could I have bought a smaller one and waited for it to get big? Sure. And usually I won’t spend the money for a big ‘un. But this was war and I wanted a strategy to win NOW. Unfortunately for my wallet, its true that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.

Time marches on and only weeks after the ditch daylilies were defeated, a new opponent joined the forces against us. Garlic chives quickly took over an area where we had conquered another troop of daylilies. Beware of garlic chives. They look angelic, but watch out. I can’t believe how quickly the multitude encamped over a 4 ft x 10 ft area. They put up innocent enough looking flowers, but I know their plan and I’m not gonna put up with it.

Garlic Chives

We are being ruthless, and the garlic chives are easy to remove. Its painful to dig up a flower that is in full bloom; its also necessary or the seeds will scatter everywhere.

Our flag of low maintenance continues to be planted…instead of invasive plants.

The Invasives Have to Go

Yes, there has been a change over the years in my gardening philosophy.  Beautiful isn’t enough.  Well-behaved is required.  My phlox have failed miserably in the well-behaved category.  They have been expanding and had now gone well beyond acceptable.  Note I said ‘were’ as I have literally spent days extracting them from my large garden.  The seeds had landed everywhere and anywhere.  Worse yet, it wasn’t enough to just remove the phlox themselves, I often had to lift other plants to remove the phlox that had entwined with their roots.    No more.


Apparently the phlox had friends with the same bad habits.  The folks who told us Chocolate Joe Pye Weed wasn’t invasive lied.  Plain old lied.  From now on, if I am at a garden club sale or a private sale and there is a lot of one type of plant, it is NOT coming home with me. 

My mantra over the last few years has been to head towards lower maintenance.  Sure, there are some areas of the garden that are worth the work, like the dahlias.  But others, well, not so much.  Take Star of Bethlehem, for example.  Actually, you can’t take it from my yard as it too is going, going, soon to be gone.  That one snuck by as the leaves look so much like grape hyacinth. Fortunately they are small bulbs near the surface. So even though the clumps are large, removal is easier.

Star of Bethlehem blooming in May

Moral of the story – If the plant is invasive, don’t subject yourself to it.  We’ve certainly tried.  We had gooseneck loosestrife at one point.  Because after all, its not as invasive as regular loosestrife, and we can handle it. Ya, right. I had to dig deep for those long runners years after I’d removed the plants.  I literally had to remove and replant the Euonymus bushes in the photo below to get to the loosestrife roots, and after several years, I finally seem to have succeeded.

Gooseneck Loosestrife in Eunoymus

The good news – I get to go shopping for replacements.  More likely flowering shrubs and bushes.  There are some beauties out there.  I’ve also gotten in the habit of researching a plant before it comes home.  I can Google it on my phone if I’m far enough away that I won’t want to make a second trip.  If the plant is from a local nursery though, I’m going home to do a thorough research job before I accidently bring another thud into the garden.

‘Favorite Things’ Presentation at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show

Marie Boisselot clematisJoin me at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show for ‘These are a Few of Our Favorite Things’. I’ll be presenting on Friday, March 24th, at 11 AM.

Managing the seminars on-site at past shows has given me a unique opportunity to attend MANY seminars. It is just one of the ways I have been able to rub shoulders with those who really know their stuff. Take Richard Hawke for example. He manages the Plant Evaluation program at Chicago Botanic Gardens. When Richard gave a 106 slide presentation on clematis in 2016, ‘Marie Boisselot’ was on his list as the best white clematis tested. It has a 7″ flower and blooms in June/July. When inundated with clematis options at the nursery, Richard’s choices are going to be on my list.

Root Slayer from RadiusGarden close up
Oh, there are lots more. Wasn’t I surprised when Jennifer Brennan picked the Root Slayer from RadiusGarden.com. After all, if you’ve seen Jennifer at the Chalet Nursery, on the ABC Morning News, or the Dig In Chicago TV Show, you would expect her to choose a flower as lovely as she is. So what do I get from Jennifer, a brute of a garden tool. Way to go Jennifer!

You don’t need to be a pro to have a favorite or to be in this presentation. And you don’t have to be well-known to show up. I hope you can come to the show and join in the fun. Oh, and Jennifer also picked something more delicate. I’m just not going to tell you now and take the mystery out of our relationship.

Come See Our Dahlias on September 10th

Trooper DanIts beginning to look a lot like dahlias! We’ve inviting YOU to come see them on Saturday, September 10th, from 1 PM to 4 PM. Mike and I are at 331 Forest View in Elk Grove Village, IL.

If you happen to have clothes that would work well for scarecrows, we’ll be collecting them for Elk Grove Village Pioneer Day. The Garden Club will be running its annual Scarecrow Factory at Pioneer Day on Sunday, September 18th. We mostly need shirts, hats, and accessories. We plan to have supplies available for about 100 scarecrows.

Mike and harbor arborThose of you with inquiring minds might be wondering what a beautiful garden looks like ‘before’ the garden walk. Well, hosting a garden walk is pretty much like having Christmas dinner. Granted, we aren’t making any food, but, really, isn’t the week before Christmas the time that you redo your kitchen? Or paint the living room?

Our garden walk is in five days, so we are putting in a new arbor. At least in theory. We bought our harbor arbor (aint that cute) in Saugatuck, Michigan, last week. Mike is going to see if it can become the support to train our two weeping spruce to form an arch. That has been the plan for a long time, probably 5 years. So we are doing it now, just before the whole gang arrives. Yep, sounds like a kitchen remodel right before Christmas, doesn’t it?

We’ve also got a weed or two or twenty. Ok, there is more than 20 but I’m not willing to admit it. And there is a disaster area out back for buckets and branches and this and that and the other.

Fortunately, there is also this…

Dahlia Garden in early Sept

And this…
Pond in early Sept

So you can come over if you promise to ignore this…


You gotta promise!

So You Want To Be A Flower Farmer

Have you got what it takes to be a serious flower farmer? Not a gardener, but an actual ‘I do this for a living’ kind of person. Liz Cardella does. Liz is pretty much a one-woman business when it comes to Collie Flower Farm in Woodstock, IL.

What has Liz got that perhaps you don’t?

1 – A John Deere!

Let’s start with a John Deere tractor. Yep, Liz got a John Deere tractor a few years ago. I would say that was when Liz arrived. It was when she said she was in the flower farming business for the long haul. (Let the bad puns begin.) John Deere(640x480)

2 – Carpentry Skills

Liz CardellaWhat else does she have that you don’t? She has 20-plus years of experience as a carpenter. Liz was a carpenter in a down-turned economy in 2008 who then took her gardening skills to a new level. She also repurposed her carpentry skills to build what she needed for her ‘growing’ (sorry, pun intended again) business. She built hoop houses by bending chain link fence rails on a special jig and screwed them together. She built drying racks that could be used as shelves in the winter. Mike had lust in his eyes when he saw those drying racks. He thought I didn’t see that, but I did. I’ll get over it.

3 – Ingenuity

Here’s a cool one. (Another bad pun, sorry.) It’s a pseudo-air conditioning unit for the trailer. Take one cooler, one small fan, a piece of PVC, and some gallon jugs of ice. That’s enough to get her flowers to florists and the Barrington Farmer’s Market without heat damage. Liz has a link to instructions for a smaller version on her PinterestAir conditioner (640x427) site.
4 – Focus

Long days. Lots of them. Days filled with heat, constant physical labor, and sometimes a head-to-toe mosquito suit. There isn’t time for anything else. Its rumored she cooks all of her meals in the winter and doesn’t clean her house till gardening season is over. And for someone who does the most to extend the gardening season, that is a long time. Liz can plant batches of Oriental lilies in the hoop house at intervals and harvest through November. Lilies in hoop house (640x480).

5 – Business Acumen

Calla liliesLiz has to grow what florists and farmer’s market customers want, not what makes her garden pretty. It’s not about design at all. It’s about mass production. She can grow unique daffodils the florist can’t easily get. When the daffodils are done, she can put landscape fabric on top and plant crate-fulls of canna lilies on top. She can bring budding peonies into the walk-in cooler and sell them four weeks later when they are now harder to come by and sell for more. Liz’s business smarts have to be as strong as she is.

6 – Land

Liz farms about 1 1/2 acres of her 4 acres, and has also started farming on another property. Rows and rows of plants to tend and harvest. You can see here how she is using rounded conduit and netting for plant supports. They can be covered with frost fabric or plastic as a season extender too. Always function over form.Rows

So are ya ready? I’m not. I certainly gained a new appreciation for what it really takes, as did the other members of Central States Dahlia Society who visited. I want Liz’s business when all she does is snip snip here and snip snip there, artfully placing the beautiful blooms in an overflowing basket. I just may have to wait a bit.

In the ‘Oops’ Category

It seemed like such a simple task. A rainy day. A little painting in the basement before work. Just a few signs and a small fence. The operative word here is ‘seemed’, because I have once again proved that everyone needs an editor. Dozens of Dahlias
Now keep in mind that I do Instructional Design for a living, in particular editing and improving other people’s class materials. Perhaps that is a fact I shouldn’t share. Too late. Yes, I too need an editor.

I did better on the next sign, the one for my zinnia garden.

Zillions of Zinnias

Perhaps the dahlia sign with the typo was subconscious, as Mike and I have a running competition each year between HIS dahlia garden and MY zinnia garden. He always wins, and I will repaint the sign so as not to appear disparaging. Perhaps I will even spell ‘dahlias’ correctly. Mike plants dahlias 2

Granted, Mike’s dahlia garden isn’t much to look at yet, but it will be. He will win. It will be an in-your-face kinda win, as you can see here from a past year dahlia that is as big as my face.
Carol and Bodacious

I can live with that.

The Hummingbirds Are Coming!

Hummingbird feeder IMG_7549 (267x400)I put out my hummingbird feeder today. It is early, but I suffer from intense positivity. I also suffer from internet exposure. Fortunately, the internet resource is a reliable one. You too can go to Journey North to see that the first hummingbird in our Chicagoland area was reported on April 16th.

Journey North noted “Hummingbirds surge north on the winds, making 2016 an early migration season.” So out went my feeder. I get credit for even finding it this early. I filled it with one part sugar to four parts water. Of course, I didn’t add any red dye. I did heat the water enough for the sugar to dissolve easily. The extra mixture went into the fridge, where I can keep it for up to 2 weeks. I won’t have to change it often during this cooler weather, but in the summer heat it can spoil outside in just a few days.

Journey North was a learning experience. Whooping cranes crossed into Wisconsin last week, monarchs are nowhere close to Illinois, and whale babies are in the final phase of migration in California.

Polar bearsA link on the Journey North site took me to Explore, which turned out to be quite the cool site. Literally cold according to these polar bears that we watched on Cape Churchill, within Wapusk National Park (NP) in northern Manitoba.

Hmmm…the hummingbirds aren’t here yet, but then neither are the polar bears. I’ll gladly wait a bit for the one and enjoy the other vicariously while appreciating the relative warmth of our Chicagoland spring.