Patrice Does Winter Interest Right

I’ve made winter containers before, and they were nice. However, they were not even in the same league as Patrice’s. Patrice has the creativity gene. I think she also got the creativity genes that were supposed to be allocated to many others. Take the container to the right as a fine example. Well, don’t literally take it, because Patrice would be very sad to find it missing. It would probably take her all of two minutes to make something bigger and better with items she would find in her junk drawer or wastepaper basket, but let’s not put her to the test.

The birch branches are lovely, aren’t they? And she’s drawn your eye to the top with the ceramic bird. Nicely balanced on the bottom she has repeated the red and brought in some green for contrast against the white planter. What I like best about this planter is it is not Christmas themed. This one can stay out for the duration of winter.

Last winter was a bit different at Patrice’s. Actually, I think every day is probably different at her house. Take this bench for instance. Now come on, you should know by now that I don’t mean it. Please don’t take her bench. It was decorated for Valentine’s Day, then for St. Patrick’s and other holidays. I know how Patrice works. Nothing was purchased at full price, or even close. It’s easy to be creative when you can spend money. Patrice does it without. (Reference above: Junk drawer and wastebasket.)

Flowers in bloom haven’t quite left her enclosed porch. Perhaps it’s a bit chilly out there to enjoy them right now. Perhaps not as we do have a few degrees here in Chicagoland and we’re tough.

Speaking of things that haven’t quite left the porch and being tough…I’ve got to go now as its time to water my plants outside.

Date & Nut Cookies

Date and nut cookies are a favorite at our house. You’d expect it to be chocolate chip or gingerbread men, but the unlikely winner is date and nut. I haven’t done much holiday baking yet, but we are already enjoying the delicious date and nut cookies.

1 c salted butter
1 ½ c DARK brown sugar
2 ½ c flour, unsifted
2 c dates (10 oz), cut in pieces
(Freshest if you buy whole
pitted ones and chop them
yourself into kinda small
2 c walnuts, cut in pieces
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 t baking powder
3 T cinnamon
¼ t salt
1 t honey
1 t pure vanilla extract
1 t pure almond extract

(Parchment paper is optional, but nice.)

Chop the dates, (getting rid of dry ones), also leaving them rather large – about 6 chunks per date.

Mix flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder.

In large bowl, cream butter, add brown sugar and mix till fluffy. Add beaten eggs one at a time. Add honey, vanilla, almond. (All ok to do in mixer, but do not overmix.)

Add dry ingredients to wet and mix thoroughly.

Add dates and nuts and MIX BY HAND. Still do not overmix!

No liquid is used. Batter should be stiff. Drop from teaspoon onto greased pan (or pan with parchment paper) and leave it in a lump. (See picture for size.) They don’t spread out much at all. (See picture – the ones not on parchment paper are baked.)

325 for 18 minutes, or 300 convection for 14 minutes. They are done when the bottoms just barely start browning. DO NOT OVERBAKE!

Freeze nicely. But don’t wrap them till totally cooled.

Makes 4 dozen

Easy And Fun Last Minute Thanksgiving Decoration/Recipe

We made this healthy appetizer last Thanksgiving and we’ll be doing it again tomorrow. It will look so cute on our host’s table, and give us a healthy appetizer option.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – Last Chance to Dance

This is a magnificently creative world we live in. A world not of our own creation, but certainly one where we have been gifted with the option of enjoying God’s creativity. I say ‘option’ because so many of us don’t slow down enough to appreciate it. I know I don’t. Maybe that is why I like gardening so much. It meets my need to be busy, and still allows me to appreciate the amazing beauty around me.

Here in Chicagoland, our gardening season is coming to an end. That makes it clean up time, so mentioning that Mike and I have been busy in the garden would be an understatement. See the shine on that trowel? You can be sure it doesn’t usually look like that. And the red basket itself, well, it is usually filled with as much dirt as it is gardening tools. Until last weekend. That was when I admitted gardening season in Chicago is done. Finished. Over. Hasta la vista baby. Or should I say ‘Hosta’ la vista baby to tie the phrase to gardening.

I have been cleaning up, right down to my gym shoes.

Everything I need to do in the garden is done. Sort of. Kind of like when relatives are coming and the living room is spotless. The bedroom, on the other hand, has piles jammed under the bed till the relatives leave. And cleaning the refrigerator gets plucked off the list entirely.

The main garden is the room that is spotless, or at least as spotless as a garden gets, with everything that can’t survive winter having been moved inside. The barn, on the other hand, has piles of garden related items that will be jammed in till warmer weather returns. And moving the Solomon’s Seal to a sunny spot, that was plucked off the list.

It was just a few weeks ago that the same frog you see above looked like this.

The kale still looks good, as do the berries on the beautyberry bush. The roses made a valiant effort, but succumbed last week. All of the other flowers are done, and most of the leaves are down.

Seems to me that God is saying slow down. My garden followed those orders. Now it will be my turn. I did take one Last Chance To Dance last weekend. Well, not literally dance. More like bike ride through the crunching leaves. And if slowing down in the garden does give me more time to dance, well that’s ok with me.

Do you want to know what else is blooming (or not blooming) in the November 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.

Kiss The Dahlias Goodbye

Bad news – The first frost took down our dahlias. Good news – The first frost turned them into some pretty scary looking dead plants appropriate for the Halloween season.

Our dahlia garden went from full bloom to fully cut down in a 36 hour period.

We started with this last Monday morning …

And ended with this last Tuesday evening…

And in-between, created this…

Personally, I much prefer the pre-frost look. So much so that I spent the good part a day cutting blooms when it looked like the threat of frost was serious. I had to rescue the flowers before frost had its way with them. Dawn (pictured), Joan, and I cut about 30 vases full of beautiful blooms to share with the world. At least it seemed like I shared them with the whole world since there were so many.

Mike got the dirty work – coming home and cutting the plants down in the cold and dark. He likes to get the water-collecting stems immediately cut down. He cuts the plant down to just a few inches above ground. The stake and tuber stay in the ground for a few weeks. The poor tuber knows it is in trouble and starts regenerating. The idea is to give it a few weeks to start that process and create eyes that will eventually develop into shoots for new plants in the spring.

Enough of the technical stuff. Look at the magnificent blooms we played with that day…

Sadly, it’s time to kiss the dahlias goodbye…till next year.

Even The Grim Reaper Loves Dahlias

DOOR COUNTY, WI – This just in from Peninsula State Park. Campers report a rare sighting of the Grim Reaper soulfully grasping a dahlia. Here he shows his true colors, which are apparently sunshine yellow and creamsickle. Or perhaps he is in search of the muse who the dahlia was named after, Normandy Sweet Lucy. Mr. Reaper was unavailable for comments.

How To Make A Stepping Stone – So Easy!

Now that I made my first stepping stone, I can’t wait to make more. And I’m not gonna wait. John will be over with the kids Thursday and it’s time for handprints in stepping stones for Grandma (that’s me). Allie is 4 and Cameron is 1. Allie and I will do ours while Cameron naps so we can decorate ours with glass beads and whatever else suits our fancy. I am soooo ready cuz it was soooo easy.

Mike will pick up a few more molds for me so we can make multiples in one day. It takes 24 hours for one to harden, so it’s worth the extra cash for me to get the project done before they up and move to Fresno next week. Mike will also check options for coloring stepping stones. I want cobalt blue.

I’ll check out Pinterest and coloring pages for more stepping stone decorating ideas.

Steps for making a stepping stone

Step 1
- Visit the craft store for cement, a mold, and items to decorate the stone with. Remember to buy extra molds if you plan to make multiples the same day. My mold is about 6″ round and it takes a little over 3 pounds of cement to fill it. The cement package will guide you on quantity.

Step 2 – Find a place to set up where messy isn’t a problem. Keep in mind you can’t use your kitchen sink for clean-up. There is something about putting cement down a drain that is a really bad idea. Also, it takes 24 hours for the stone to fully dry and you don’t want to be moving it while wet. There is something about dropping a glob of cement on the carpet that is a really bad idea too.

Step 3 – Make a plan and have everything ready so you can decorate the stone during the first hour.

Step 4 – Mix the cement with the recommended amount of water. I used a bucket and a flat-bottomed wooden spoon that I could throw away. A wide container is good so you can easy stir it.

Step 5 - Pour the mixture in the mold and smooth it out with something flat; in my case – the spoon.

Step 6
– Place the decorations in. Wholla!

Step 7 – Step away from the stepping stone. Let it set for 24 hours. If you absolutely must move it sooner, be sure to put something solid under it. A cookie tray with a rim would be a good option.

Should You Build Your Own Pond?

July 25th may not seem like a long time ago. Two months from the end of July to the beginning of October is just a grain of sand on the beach of time. In the history of our pond though, it’s a much longer time period than we planned on for pond completion. And completion isn’t quite where we are at.

We have come a long way though from this starting point.

Time is what you need when you do the work yourself. I’m using the word ‘you’ rather freely, as the ‘you’ in this case was Mike, not me. You also save a lot of money, the ‘you’ in this case being Mike and me. You know how that one goes ‘What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine too’. At least that is how it works around here.

So was it a good idea? Let’s look at it this way – It was the only way we were ever going to get a pond. And a pond with a waterfall like ours would easily cost $10,000 if someone else did it. I’ll compile our actual costs at some point. For now it’s enough to say the savings were significant. Let’s make that Significant with a capital ‘S’. Ok, SIGNIFICANT in all caps, based on this sign we saw on a pond walk this summer.

The learning curve was also significant. An experienced pond builder could have done the work in just a few days. Knowing what to do and having a whole crew do it is way different than figuring it out yourself. They would have the right equipment too. We do have a landscape trailer, so that gave us the flexibility of getting our own rocks. Mike was able to select the rocks he wanted, and to shop around for the best price. That was good on the pocketbook. But it was one of the many time grabbers on the time/pond continuum. Somehow, this man who is willing to buy the first shirt that fits was highly selective when it came to picking rocks.

Yep, 2.5 tons of rocks into the trailer and out of the trailer. Worse yet, many of them had to get to the top of the waterfall, and not one rock climbed up there itself. Fortunately, he can drive up relatively close to the pond, so that helped. We also did some rock shopping in our own back yard. We’ve been collecting for years.

We did meet one of Mike’s big goals – to get the fish in the pond before mid-September. Technically, they went in on the 14th, well before mid-September in his book. It was a whole new world for them, and they spent most of the first weeks hiding. Now they are swimming around freely and sending us big thank yous.

We even rejoined the Midwest Pond and Koi Society (MPKS). They just happened to have me out to speak on Low Maintenance Gardening exactly when we were thinking it was time to get back in the group. We belonged several years ago when we wanted to learn what was involved in having a pond. If you are thinking of building a pond, do your research!

Research includes going on Pond Tours. We’ve done some in the past with MPKS and Aquascape. If there is one thing you quickly learn, it’s that whatever size pond you were building, it isn’t big enough. We did have someone else dig the pond. Then we went on a pond tour. Mike came home and quickly moved the already placed liner to make ours bigger. Ours won’t look like this, but tours do quickly create pond envy.

Where do we go from here? Well, now it’s time for me to pretty-it-up. The first plant is in. I even followed my mantra of ‘no drifts of one’. I was only successful in finding two of the Winston Churchill Aster I liked, so two it is.

Many more plants will follow, as we potted up a lot of plants when the patio and pond were being dug this spring. Like the fish, it is time for the plants to go in before mid-September. Too late! They will go in by mid-October. That is not too late. In the time/pond continuum, autumn is a great time for planting, and plant I will.

Make A Scarecrow With Us!

Tradition. That is what our annual Garden Club Scarecrow Factory has turned into. Maybe not Fiddler on the Roof style tradition, but close. It’s just so much fun for child-sized kids and adult-sized kids to make a scarecrow. The Elk Grove Garden Club had enough supplies for about 120 scarecrows at our factory last year. We sold out.

This year, it wasn’t ‘sold out’; it was ‘rained out’. Michele George to the rescue! Elk Grove’s Pioneer Days won’t be rescheduled, but our Garden Club president was able to reschedule our garden club’s portion, the Scarecrow Factory.

Join us on Saturday, September 21st where you can pick your parts and make a scarecrow for just $7.00. We’ve got the hay, the heads, the hats, the hair, the faces, and all sorts of clothes. Basically, everything for your scarecrow except the brains. Bring yours.

The factory will be held from 9 AM – 1 PM at the Elk Grove Village Farmer’s Market. We’ll be in the library parking lot at 1001 Wellington Ave.

Did you hear about the scarecrow that won an award?
Apparently he was out standing in his field.

If you’re looking for scarecrow ideas, I’ve got lots for you.  I guess I’m one of those adult-sized kids myself.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – What’s Blooming at Boerner?

Field Trip! I was in Milwaukee for a business trip, which of course means you get to see pictures of a garden I visited. Writing for you gives me a reason to visit gardens when I’m out of town (as if I need a reason). If you want to get picky about it, Boerner is actually in Hales Corners, a bit outside of Milwaukee

They were even nice enough to give me a plant to take home. I joined an evening garden walk and won the door prize – an Amsonia. It’s not in bloom right now, but you have to look at it on Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day because I just got it. It will grow to be a 2′ – 3′ mound. Commonly known as Arkansas Blue Star, I’ll be looking forward to blue blooms in the spring and yellow fall color.

I only got to stay for a short while, so they are either a rather small public garden, or it got dark before I got to see much that was exciting. One area that was blooming beautifully was the rose garden. As you can see by the picture, it was quite the rose garden.

One annual combination that impressed me was the contrast between the coleus and two kinds of elephant ears. I always like seeing options that are colorful without blooms. This one would give you some long lasting interest.

Here is a pretty hosta garden. Again, nice interest without flowers.

We’ll enjoy a close-up of the ligularia. We won’t look at the leaves, as slugs have had a field day with them. I’ve got the same problem at home unfortunately.

One last combo that caught my eye included rudebeckia, echinacea, and Japanese blood grass. At this time of year, the gold rudebeckia is great against the Japanese blood grass. My blood grass back home took many years to establish itself and is finally spreading to a nice size. It’s the only red grass that survives our zone 5.

I’m back home now and enjoyed working in my own garden today. I planted mums, an aster, ornamental peppers, and blanket flowers. I’m especially loving the new ornamental peppers.

We picked flowers from the dahlia garden for neighbors and for ourselves.

Dahlias are prime right about now. Come to Chicago Botanic Gardens next weekend (Sept 21 and 22) for the Central States Dahlia Society Show. You’ll see them in their glory.

Do you want to know what else is blooming in the September 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.

Make scarecrows with us Saturday 9/21. Pioneer Days, our usual venue, was rained out but we won’t let that stop the family fun. Make a scarecrow with the Elk Grove Garden Club from 9 – 1 PM for $7. We’ll be at the Farmers Market by the Elk Grove Village Library.