The Colors of Autumn

Blue skiesI’ve been going through my recent photos, and I was struck by the vibrant colors that autumn brings. The explosion of color vibrated through each photo, from the last of the dahlias, to each supposedly last bike ride I’ve taken for the year, to the last of the leaves now flittering down. This autumn, color has been God’s gift. So if you are thinking the seemingly plain old blue sky to the right is plain and old, don’t. I have repeatedly enjoyed that blue sky this autumn. No, the sky didn’t have the words in it when I was taking the picture, but it might as well have.

What the sky did have that day was a magnificent view from Peninsula State Park in Door County.

Pretty view at Peninsula (640x360)
Other times, the sky blue has been obstructed by a spattering golden leaves, like these, but that’s a good thing.
20151101_130425 (640x360)

It’s like our dahlias even know to bloom in brilliant fall colors. Our last dahlias seemed to scream autumn. This one is Normandy Sweet Lucy, and sweet she was. Normandy Sweet Lucy autumn (640x427)

Lucy may have screamed autumn, but I think some of our dahlias simply screamed. Utter destruction. I would have screamed too.

Dahlias Done (640x427)

Back to our regularly scheduled program, you know, beautiful colors. I try to plan my Busse bike rides so that I get to this spot when the sun is shining just right. Sparkling water just gets to me. How in the world does water change color like that? I don’t really want you to answer, we are right back to its a gift.

Sparkling Water at Busse (457x640)

Even the sky in Door County was magnificent this year. We have the pleasure of planning our days around what time the sun is gonna set. Sure, I’m used to sky blue, but sky pink?
Sunset pink (640x360)

Pink skies? Shimmering water? Perhaps we are a little jaded. After all, I simply expect the leaves to change color, and I rarely stop my daily activities for a sunset. Yep, a gift. Thank you God!

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17

Bella! Our Dahlias are Bella!

Wandas Aurora

Bella! That was Paula’s exuberant description of our dahlias. Paula is visiting from Italy. Fortunately, she is visiting a neighbor, not us, as we don’t speak Italian. But I knew it was good when she opened her arms wide in our dahlia garden and said ‘Bella’. Again and again ‘Bella’. And I knew it was good when Mike gave her a dahlia. Seeing her smile made his day.

I googled Bella, and she is the most beautiful girl you will ever see. Every feature that she possesses is engraved in your mind from the second you lay eyes on her. You wonder how it is that a person this extraordinary can exist, but find yourself just appreciating the fact that she exists, and even better yet, that you know her.

Paula is right – our dahlia garden is Bella! She is beautiful. So let’s get up close and personal. She will put a smile on your face too.

Magic Moment

Ben Huston

Kelvin Floodlight

Glamour Girl

Ketchup and Mustard

Thank you Mike, for all the smiles your dahlias grow.

Autumn Greetings From Me and My New Friends

2 new scarecrowsThis is the time of year I always make new friends. Our garden club helped folks make 65 new friends last week, and I personally made 2. Here they are, happily greeting passers-by on this (dare I say it) first day of autumn.

Kinda scary isn’t it? Autumn – already. And just when I almost finished my spring gardening tasks! I now its autumn even without the calendar. I wimped out and turned the heat on for a bit when it plummeted to 67 degrees in the house this morning, and I have hot tea brewing right now.

Oh well, it was a lovely summer for us. So lovely and fun filled that I hardly even blogged. My apologies. We were enjoying ourselves so much with Kevin’s wedding, which included growing the flowers. Work did interfere with my social media time as well. We even took a magnificent trip to the Grand Garden Show on Mackinac Island, which I haven’t even shared with you.

Ah, but all of that is over now. Memories and dahlias are what remains. Fortunately, lots of both!

Achieving Centerpiece – Wedding Flowers From The Garden

Heather Dworak (Penczak) wedding dayI have a new-found respect for floral designers. A well-earned one I might add. Just over a year ago, I was honored to say yes to Heather’s request to do the flowers for her wedding. The catch is, Heather was marrying my son, Kevin. That makes me the mother of the groom. It was very much in-character for me to say yes. It was very much out-of-character for me to admit that just perhaps, just maybe, this task was a bit ambitious. Fortunately, I did admit that. As it turns out, it was more than a bit ambitious. It would have been absolutely CA-RAY-Z for me to do it on my own. Little did I know that when my friend Sue, Heather and I met to look at options, it would truly be an adventure.

Sure, I have flowers, lots of flowers. Lots and lots of flowers. That is why saying yes to Heather’s request was even remotely possible. And many of those flowers have graced tables in vases. But this, this was going from backyard touch football to the Super Bowl. Should you do this? Should you do flowers for a BIG wedding? Read on.

  • Better start with a mellow bride. Heather – check.
  • Better have someone who has been there before. Floral designer and friend Sue – check.
  • Better have a mother of the groom (mother of the bride, sister of the bride, insert your relative here ____________) who doesn’t know any better. Me – check.

We got together last July, surveyed the yard to see what Heather liked, and started planning. Enter Pinterest. Cuz not all brides like the same thing. Duh. And it’s her wedding. Duh. Pinterest gave Heather a forum for sharing her likes. We saw lots of white and gold and bling. I, of course, started doing what I do best. I went shopping. Think about it, a gardener, on a mission, who gets to go out and buy things for her garden on the premise that it’s for the wedding. Woohoo!

Wedding gown hydrangea closeup

The planning continued… Looking at wedding flowers - Heather, Sue, Carol

The shopping continued. So much so that my basement started to look like the backroom of a floral shop, overflowing with supplies for the 15 tables. Oh, there were more supplies, two more tables full, because there were also 4 head table arrangements, bouquets for the bride and 6 attendants, a flower girl, church pews, patio tables, the bar, 4 corsages, and 15 boutonnieres. Did I mention CA-RAY-Z. Oh, and no two alike. Add to the checklist: a basement. This stuff has got to go somewhere.

Table full of chargers and bling

Spring came and I got to go shopping again! Now its the wedding garden of annuals I’m shopping for. A garden we are trying to plant. Trying to plant during one very wet spring. Trying to plant when I spent 5 out of 6 weeks out of town on business. Add to the checklist: stress. Plan well to avoid stress. Plan on having stress anyway.Kevin - Wedding garden

What helped me through it? I knew that God sent me Sue when I needed her. That was just a year and a half ago. He sent me the most creative person I know, a dear friend with a floral design background so that she knew what questions to ask Heather, and how to make it happen. She was the person with wholesale connections in case this was the year my garden didn’t produce. A coincidence? I don’t think so.

Allie at Kohls Childrens MuseumPlus, I’m contracting again, which gave me immense schedule flexibility. Add to the checklist: time. Your time, your husband’s time, your florist and crew’s time, even your friend’s time when all of the above isn’t enough. Because it isn’t enough. You either set your sights lower than we did, or you rise. Well, we decided to rise.

Let’s go back to I’m the mother of the groom. I was going to enjoy out-of-town company – this wedding was not going to keep me away from my son John and his family visiting from California. We are talking grandkids here, like Allie, who you see to the left. I was going to say yes, when Kevin, aka groom, wanted to learn to dance (even just a bit) two days before the wedding. And I was going to run the rehearsal dinner for 40 people at Heather’s Godmother’s house (with her family’s help fortunately).

Most of all, I was going to enjoy the moments. Enjoy I did. I really did. It was magical and memorable and mine to remember always.

Was the amount of time needed immensely more than I thought. Yes, yes, yes. Were the flowers beautiful? Amazing? Admired? Yes on all counts. But nothing, nothing, could outshine our wonderful bride. We are so happy to have you in the family Heather!

Oh, you want to see the flower prep and the results? Of course you do. I know you do, even if you don’t yet know you do. You really, really do. But for today, it’s all about Kevin and Heather. Love you both!

Kevin and Heather - Industrial

Clay Pot People Are Too Cute

Meet Gloria and Gracie, the Giving Garden Girls. Sue and I made them yesterday for Willow Creek Church’s veggie garden.

Glory and Gracie Clay pot people (640x360)

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – Painting Renee Style

It’s not that there isn’t color in my yard already. It’s just that most of it is green right now. Don’t get me wrong. After a long Chicago winter, green is good.

For example, these sedum are green, and that’s good. I sure wouldn’t want them to be brown at this point.Sedum starts

And this daffodil. It’s a vibrant yellow that I can see from across the yard. I can also see it is rather lonely out there. You can’t, but I can.Yellow daffodil

So I decided to assist Mother Nature. I went for instant gratification. I went for painting. Painting certainly qualifies as instant gratification. I love that I can start with something too ugly to photograph and turn it into this in just a few hours, including scraping and priming. Add 15 more minutes and you’d have seen a finished product here. But I’m going to leave that for your imagination. Just know that it did turn out lovely. Mike and I got that fence on our honeymoon many years ago, and I wasn’t going to let the ravages of time take that memory away from me.

Painting the red fence

If you want the instant gratification of painting something fully, you are gonna have to do that yourself. I can help though. From a distance that is. And rather figuratively. None-the-less, I can definitely help.

Pantry shelf being paintedWe’ll call this technique ‘Painting Renee Style’. Renee wasn’t really here to paint with me, nor have I ever remotely had anything to do with both Renee and painting together. But I know Renee. Rather, I knew Renee. Back in high school. Suffice to say that was a long time ago. A time when we were majorettes and we had these basic white blouses under our cute little purple jumpers with the big gold ‘S’ for Schurz on it. Renee only ironed the part that showed. I didn’t get it at the time. I get it now. And I bet she’d be proud of me.

Last week I painted my pantry. And you can bet your ironing board that I only painted the parts of the shelves that show. So please don’t lay on my pantry floor and look up. And that red fence, well, if you lay on the ground you’ll see that parts of it aren’t painted. So don’t do that either.

The Renee Style went further than ironing. When we had to do a gym routine to music, she picked the shortest song she could find. And when she designed a majorette routine for us to do on the football field, we each got to do a solo baton toss during ‘One is the Loneliest Number’. Easier for her and fun for us. Ok, it was actually scary for us, but I can’t admit that.

Mother Nature shouldn’t be needing my help much longer to decorate the outside in brilliant color. Till then, I’ll enjoy small pleasures like this crocus.Crocus

And these hyacinths.
Purple hyacinth on berm

Maybe not these green weeds in the dahlia garden.Weeds in dahlia garden

I enjoyed fresh green chives on a baked potato last night. Yep, green is a good color.Chives

Do you want to know what else is blooming in the April garden? To see what other bloggers have blooming on the 15th of every month, visit May Dreams Gardens – Bloom Day for our Garden Bloggers’ Bloom day entries.

13 Tips Inspired by the Chicago Flower & Garden Show

Did you miss the Chicago Flower & Garden Show? You did? I’m sorry. I can help you with your loss by providing some of my favorite take-aways from the show. I can’t recreate the fragrance of hyacinths or beauty of a rose garden, but there is always more to learn about gardening. Let’s go there.

1. It’s time to plant lettuce outside. Start NOW as most lettuces will be bitter if harvested once the weather becomes hot. Mine is in my coal buckets, with my hyacinths. They are out of bunny-reach on the back porch.

Hyacinths and lettuce in coal bucket

2. Hankering to grow blueberries? Try Northcountry in a container so you provide the acidic soil and good drainage this winter hardy variety requires. It also has beautiful flowers and fall color. Though it is self-pollinating, it’s best to have more than one.

Tools clean in basket3. Sharpen and clean your tools. It’s easier for you to work with the tools and creates a nice clean cut for your plants. Beth Botts uses a diamond file to sharpen tools and Lysol to clean them.

4. Jack Barnwell and his staff succeed in maintaining 150 gardens on Mackinac Island without the advantage of motorized vehicles. If Jack says Proven Winner plants make their job easier, then I’m betting they can make my job easier. I too am in favor of strong plants that survive and thrive without a lot of deadheading and care. Proven Winners, here I come.

5. Attracting hummingbirds starts oh so soon. Use 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar to 1 cup hot water and set your feeders out in mid-April. No red food dye. None.

6. Stacey Best, author of “Garden for the Health of It” says that gardening and worrying are both functions of the right side of the brain. They can’t coexist. It’s true for me – when I am in my garden, the stress of everyday life disappears.

7. August 8th is National sneak a zucchini into your neighbor’s porch day. I’m not making this up.
Burlap plant girdle from

8. Short on winter storage space for your containers? Try a burlap girdle from Seed Keepers. Slip the cuffed and stitched burlap over the grow bag and you have an attractive, lightweight, alternative to heavy, hard-to-store pots.

9. Hellebores (Lenten rose) have come a long way, baby. I’ve avoided these early blooming perennials because the flowers faced down. Tony from Chalet Nursery tells us they now come in an incredible variety of colors and forms. One of the few truly evergreen perennials.

10. Miniature roses do well in 5 gallon pots. At the end of the season, bury the plant. You can also bring the whole pot into your garage, and water it about every 3 weeks over the winter.

11. Consider a fern for your container. Kimberly Queen is an annual that takes full sun and is drought tolerant.

12. Shawna Coronado told us about Freecycle. I found a free 48″ round resin picnic table in my area. Did I mention free? Items at Freecycle are free. Yes, free.

13. You can grow a salad a day in a 2’ x 4’ hydroponic garden. Contact Shawn Odneal of Root66 in Brookfield to learn how.

Yes, Chicago weather will become hot. Perhaps not today. Perhaps not tomorrow. But the Chicago Flower & Garden Show was a pleasant reminder that spring, and even summer, WILL come to our gardens.

Chicago Flower & Garden Show (Almost) In Bloom

House beforeIf you’ve been a bit doubtful about those TV shows that do garden makeovers in a few days , know that it can be done. Yes, an Irish inspired garden with customized softscapes, hardscapes and water features. Yes, a Monarch Sanctuary. Yes, a Garden of Weeping Wonder with spruce, fir, beech, pine, ginkgo and Alaskan false cypress complete with a tree stump retaining wall.

What does it take? Tons of dirt and rock, hard work, big boy toys, and lots of big boys (and girls). In this case, all together under one roof – Navy Pier. The Chicago Flower & Garden Show is under way, and what they accomplish in less than a week would be a miracle at my place.

I couldn’t get the house on the right to look like the house below if you gave me several years. Yet the Garden Show has 21 show gardens, delivering a touch a spring and a wealth of ideas to the home gardener.

House after

There are some ideas I simply can’t replicate. In particular if a horse is involved, like the Mackinac Island display below. I’d do ok on the bike part. I even bought a new bike just yesterday. Woohoo! A new bike that just might go with us to the Mackinac Island Grand Garden Show at the end of August. Jack Barnwell and his team have quite the task managing 150 gardens on the island, using horse power, man power, and bike power since there are no motorized vehicles. For ease in maintenance, Jack is convinced that Proven Winners really is the winner, by far. I guess if I had to take my bike to do deadheading, I’d have the same aversion to it that Jack does. Wait – I don’t have to take my bike. I still have the same aversion to deadheading.

Jack’s team built the Mackinac Island show display, with the luxury of motorized equipment. Kid stuff for them.
White horse from Mackinac Island before 20150311_151812 (640x436)

White horse - Mackinac Island

Want to see more? The show runs through Sunday. I guarantee you won’t see this:
Work in Progress

And you won’t see this:
Work in Progress too

But you will see this:
yellow tulips

And this:Red Roses

You can even stop by to visit me. I’ll be in the Seminar room introducing speakers. Hope to see you there.

Let The Blooms Begin

Grape hyacinth in coffee cupFebruary 22nd and we have our first bloom! A high temperature today of 20 and pa-lenty of leftover snow gracing our Chicagoland garden were no deterrents to this determined grape hyacinth.

Nestled in the comfort of our kitchen, recently moved from the garage in its cute little cup, it took about a week for the emerging sprouts to send out the first flower. How does it do that? I don't really want to know - the question is rhetorical. But it still surprises me when a bulb blooms. I know that is what bulbs are supposed to do, and of course, I plant them with that expectation. Yet when it actually happens, I am so impressed.

I planted hyacinth bulbs in plain old water for Christmas gifts, and they are blooming too. Pictured here three weeks after I planted and left them in my garage, the root structure was strong. We kept the water slightly short of the bulb itself and the roots were smart enough to find it. I babysat them till Super Bowl Sunday, and Kathy tells me hers are blooming. Again, I know that is what bulbs are supposed to do, yet again surprised.

Peggy and Kathy's bulbs three weeks after planting, kept in garage (640x360)

Jackies daffodilsIt keeps on happening. I planted Jackie's daffodils on Christmas morning. She kept them in a cool place till about 3 weeks ago and yes, she has blooms.

Gardening skills or not, we are enjoying our flowers. We may be surprised, but God isn't. What a reassuring gift on a cold winter morning of who is in charge.

Was Michelangelo Really Any More Creative Than You Are?

You’ve seen this mosaic at the top of my blog. It’s my trademark, my brand, and yes, my kitchen wall. It was also a 3 year project, often ignored for quite a while until inspiration struck.

Mosaic on wall

Sometimes it wasn’t inspiration as much as persistence. Michelangelo, the artist who painted the Sistine Chapel, is quoted as saying “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.” I don’t know that anything could make me fully agree with that statement, but I get it, especially after I look back at the time consuming creative process for my mosaic.

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali

It all started out being Lynn’s fault. She wanted ‘us’ to take a mosaic class. The ‘us’ turned out to be ‘me’. I already knew how to break plates, and Mike sure knew how to grout. Once I got to class, I was so not interested in making a trivet, and the idea of a mural was birthed. Fortunately, I never even considered that I could fail. It was kind of like Elle Woods in the 2001 comedy, Legally Blonde, waking up one day and deciding she would be a lawyer.

In that first mosaic class, I looked forward to having some guidance in the design. But wait – the design part was up to me. Oh no! Quoting again, Salvador Dali this time, “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” Even without those words to guide me, I knew I had research to do, so research I did.

Yep, Salvador thinks the key ring holder (below left) looks familiar. How true! It’s from Polymer Clay Mosaics by Krista Wells. Our kitty, Whiskers (below right), was a pattern from The Mosaic Idea Book by Rosalind Wates.

Key holder and Whiskers (640x365)

Mike and I made the tiles for the border, with inspiration from Plaster Mosaics by Kristen Peck.


Perhaps I was more like Pablo Picasso who wrote “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

The more I thought about it, the guiltier I felt. Could I take credit at all? Mark Twain says I can. Actually, he said Hellen Keller could take credit for her work when she was sued for plagiarism. I think he meant these words for me too: “When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men — but we call it his speech and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his.”

So feel free to create using other people’s ideas, molding them into that which is uniquely yours. Trust in yourself, because Michelangelo is right when he says “Faith in oneself is the best and safest course.”

Back to our original question: Was Michelangelo really any more creative than you are? May you spend your whole life answering that question. And on your last days, may your be blessed to say, as he did, “Many believe – and I believe – that I have been designated for this work by God. In spite of my old age, I do not want to give it up; I work out of love for God and I put all my hope in Him.”