You Call It Goldenrod, I Call It ‘Gone’

Invasive only begins to describe goldenrod. An accurate description would need some adjectives; highly invasive, completely invasive, utterly invasive. Think of the kind of invasive that Attila the Hun was. That is the kind of invasive that Goldenrod is. Drive by a local forest preserve and you’ll know what I mean. Goldenrod will not share the late summer expanse of field, it will usurp it. Goldenrod stands tall and wide. Of its territory, Goldenrod says ‘I WILL have it all.’.

Not all goldenrod has such bad manners. Mine wasn’t invasive at first, and some of it still isn’t. I had Solidago Fireworks planted in two places. One has stayed in a nice clump and gets about 3’ tall. The other, well, something went awry. Its 6’ tall and everywhere. Trustworthy is apparently not a goldenrod quality. At first it was rather impressive as a companion for the Sneezeweed.

Sneezeweek and goldenrod IMG_3910 (640x427)

Then it was done and flopped all over the place. Not so impressive. I’m not going to show you that embarrassing picture.

Mike said it should go. I said no. I was wrong. (He likes to hear that so I’ll say it again.) I was wrong. After much effort on a humid day, I had three garbage cans full of Goldenrod and an empty canvas where overgrown had been. Oh, so empty. So empty that when I was done moving Karl Foerster grass from nearby and planting three new Vanilla Strawberry hydrangeas that I even used a mirror on the back fence to make it look more full.

Front 40 - new - mirror - sneezeweed - hydrangea - zinnia - mum - nice IMG_4058 (640x427)

Brilliant! At $12.50 from a garage sale, the mirror reflected nicely on my ability to have an impactful new vignette at a very reasonable price.

Front 40 - new - mirror IMG_4055 (640x427)

Cardboard Castle – You Can Do This! Just Add Kids

I really really like my garden, Mike’s dahlias, our koi. But I’ve got to tell ya, none of it comes anywhere close to loving grandkids. So sure this is a garden blog, but today I have to show you what John & Heather and the kids did. Its a cardboard castle! Pretty cool huh?

Cardboard castle by John & Heather, Allie and Cam

The castle and those 2 cuties below are in California. We’re not. He is Cameron, age 2. She is Allie, starting Kindergarten tomorrow, and yes, that is a front tooth missing.

Cardboard castle with Cam and Allie

We’ll see the castle a bit closer tomorrow thanks to Skype. I’ve never Skyped with anyone who was in a castle before. And we get a fashion show too so we can see the new school clothes. Maybe Allie will even show us the missing tooth area by hanging over the top of the computer again. You haven’t lived till a 5 year old gets that up close and personal and upside down to smile at you. Want to really live? Get some super-sized boxes, a couple of grandkids, an overactive imagination, and love the moment.

Teaching Your Plants To Read Pays Off

We’ve all heard that plants appreciate being talked to. You may not believe it, but you’ve heard it. Now I’m taking that to a new level. After a huge time investment I have been successful in teaching one of my plants to read. You don’t believe that either? Well, read on…

This poor rose was languishing. I taught it to read and look what happened!
Grow darn it grow

Oh, I also trimmed back the phlox that was totally blocking it from the sun. Still, I’m sure it was the sign that did it.

Garlic Is Fun

Garlic is fun. Who would have guessed? Its fun because its curly. Yes, curly. Perhaps curly isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think of garlic. I think that’s because the curliness is a well kept secret. So well kept that its rare when someone even guesses that my garlic is, well, garlic.

Garlic closeup

I never even harvested my garlic till this year. It came back so reliably that I didn’t want to take the chance of disturbing and losing it. Duh, city folk. This year I basically ripped it out because it was in the way of our new pond, and I tossed it haphazardly in a pot behind some ditch daylilies with just a little bit of soil. I then proceeded to ignore it.

I did see a teeny tiny garlic clove lying on top of the soil about a week ago when we finally ripped out the ditch daylilies. Wasn’t I surprised to find that the plant didn’t care about being ignored. It did what garlic does – it made more garlic. In order to prove its worth, fearful that I was going to let it die there, it even made really tasty garlic.

Yesterday I felt sorry for the plant, all withered and dehydrated. I decided to plant what was left of it. I reached into the pot and came up with handfuls of teeny tiny tasty garlic. That too must have been part of its survival tactic, especially after it saw the fate of the ditch daylilies. It subscribed to ‘produce or you’re out’ without me even telling it. I planted some of the bulbs and brought the rest inside for cooking. I’ve got lots more than what you see here.

Garlic cloves IMG_3687 (640x427)

I looked around the internet and found that there are some 600 types of garlic. Yowsa. I think mine must be one of the softneck kinds. Softnecks are so called because the whole green plant dies down to pliancy, which mine does. It leaves nothing but the bulb and flexible stems that would have been easy to braid for drying. I also learned that you plant garlic here in the Midwest in the fall. If you get garlic, expect it to be curly next spring, then the leaves will dry out and be ugly, and you’ll have tasty cloves in August.

What In The World is Phi? And Why Do I Care?

I don’t travel in circles where we use words like Phi in a conversation. If you asked me a week ago what Phi was, the closest I could guess is:

I smell the blood of an Englishman,
Be he live, or be he dead
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

And that wouldn’t be quite right. Actually, it wouldn’t even be close. Yet we are surrounded by Phi. It’s part of the big design. Technically, Phi is the golden ratio, or 1.61803399. There, that clears it up right?

No? How about this?

Lets try this:
Steve Puttrich's poppy painting IMG_2608 (640x427)

You know you like it, but why? One of the reasons is Phi. Steve Puttrich, the artist, knows what Renaissance artists of the 1500’s to graphic artists of today know. They know that Phi gives a sense of aesthetic appeal in balance and harmony of design. Oh, that Phi! It goes back way further, but we aren’t going there.

We are going to art and life. Art and life and what I learned about Phi from Steve while our Willow Creative Affinity Group was at Chicago Botanic Gardens last weekend. For us simple folk, its kind of like the 2/3 rule when I take a photo like this one. The tree isn’t centered. That is on purpose, and it’s appealing. The overexposure that makes the poppies so pretty just kinda happened.

Steve painted these poppies IMG_2607 (640x427)

Phi is everywhere. Its in my hand where the ratio of my palm to fingers is Phi. Its in the universe, where the dimensions of the earth and moon are in Phi relationship, forming a triangle based on 1.618. Its in the human spiral of DNA. Its in leaves. Here is Steve’s Phi tool showing the up and down of a leaf as one aspect of phi, and the left to right being the other.

Phi on leaves  up and down IMG_2618 (640x427)

Phi on leaves left to right IMG_2619 (640x427)

How have I gone this far in life without knowing this? I bet I’m not alone. Just another one of those reasons I know God is in charge. Stuff like this just doesn’t happen by itself. Our world is amazing by design!

The Brilliance of Buckets for Mulching

Bucket IMG_2516 (267x400)What is it about guys and buckets? I think if I asked Mike if he wanted a steak or another bucket, he would pick the bucket. His eyes would light up and it would be an oh so easy decision. Actually, that would be because Mike doesn’t much like steak. But if he did, he would still pick the bucket.

I didn’t have to go far when I wanted to take a picture of one of Mike’s buckets just a few minutes ago. I didn’t even make it as far as the garage when I found this bucket in the mudroom. If Dr. Seuss was here, I think he would say:

Buckets here.
Buckets there.
Buckets Buckets everywhere.

They’re in the yard.
They’re in the shed.
I think they’re even under the bed.

I took a rough count. 5 in the garage, I have 3, the 25 you see here, and oh yes, the 28 that we are going to talk about today. But then who’s counting?
Buckets 25 IMG_2521 (640x427)

We also have a landscape trailer. As in so ugly that Mike thought he’d have to sleep in it when he dared to bring it home. I haven’t wallpapered it yet. I threaten, but I haven’t. I love our landscape trailer. I didn’t say that on day one. On day one I said “What were you thinking?”. Now we always seem to be using it to move something. Especially on days like today when I am planning to mulch. Our yard is big, and I don’t like to weed. So I mulch. Actually, Billy and George mulch, but I digress.

The whole idea of someone dumping 10 yards of mulch on my driveway for me (or Billy and George, but I again digress) to then shovel into a wheelbarrow, move it far from the driveway, then take it out of the wheelbarrow is way too much work. Plus I’d have to look at the constant reminder of all that mulch haunting me as it sat on the driveway for all too long. Whether it was a day, a week, or a month, it would be too long. Granted, I instead get to look at the landscape trailer, but we aren’t going to go talk about that.

Here is where the brilliance part comes in. Mike lines the trailer with buckets before he goes to Bertholds for mulch. They use a front loader to dump enough mulch in to cover the buckets. Not so much as to fill the trailer; enough to cover the buckets. Sure it overflows the buckets some, but I can live with that. And Mike can drive the trailer right to where I need the mulch. Then I (or Billy and George, but I yet again digress) can take the buckets out easily and do the mulching. When I’m ready for more, Mike can go get it. Whether its a day, a week, or a month till I need more, I don’t have to look at leftover mulch.

Landscape trailer with buckets of mulch  IMG_2520 (640x427)

Speaking of brilliance, I get some credit here too. Getting a landscape trailer was all Mike’s idea. Believe me, ALL his idea. Lining it with buckets was all his idea too. Having 2 strong neighborhood teenagers do the mulching (Billy and George, I want to digress), that one is mine.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – Enjoy It Anyway

The birds are singing, they don’t care,
An inch of snow is everywhere.
They’ll sing their song till day is done,
Whether or not the snow is gone.
I’ll follow their lead, enjoy the sun,
The bright blue sky, the glistening ground.
He will fulfill the promise of spring,
The beautiful flowers He will soon bring.

Weeping cherry in snow

Tulips in snow

Scilla in snow

Lettuce bucket in snow
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.

A ‘Small’ Touch of Spring

Finally! My winter aconite is blooming. I took this picture on March 25th, which is pretty much a month behind schedule. It’s a small victory for the coming of spring. At this point, I’ll take ‘small’ as long as the word ‘spring’ is somehow associated. We’ve had warm winters where I’ve taken pictures of it for February 15th’s Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day. THIS wasn’t one of those years.

Winter Aconite close-up - finally IMG_1844 (640x427)

Snowman coffee cup on pine tree - portrait IMG_1918 (267x400)THIS was one of those years where we keep getting more snow and cold and snow and cold and snow and cold. It just continues to hang around, like my cup did the very next morning as I took this picture. Really, haven’t we had enough already?

I have to agree with the writer of the Plum Grove Garden Club’s newsletter when she borrowed this quote from Rottenecards:
“Dear Mother Nature,
Get back on your meds, open a bottle of wine, and start thinking, warm, happy thoughts.”

The newsletter also quoted Helen Hayes:
“All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel it’s energy, and my spirits soar.”

Helen apparently wasn’t writing from Chicago when spring came this year. If she was, she would have written this:
“All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On this first day of spring, I dug my fingers deep into the frozen earth. I can tell they are broken, they feel so sore.”

The Plum Grove Garden Club did more than wax poetically about spring, they brought the ‘small’ to fruition and the ‘spring’ to their member’s homes. And to mine, as Sue had invited me as a guest.

Their Plum Krina offered a workshop on miniature floral arrangements, in anticipation of the Garden Club of Illinois Flower Show on April 27th & 28th. They are serious about small, with 5 inch and 8 inch arrangements being the expectation.
Minis on kitchen counter IMG_1945 (640x427)

Mini with picture behind it IMG_1883 (267x400)

Mini with apple IMG_1897 (640x427)

My arrangements have been gracing the kitchen countertop for the last few days, hopefully giving Mother Nature a hint that its time to give us more. And I aint taking snow for an answer!

Anticipation – Chicago Flower and Garden Show

Mike and I are different. No, not just the obvious differences. Take the cherries below for example.


Well, you can’t actually take them because we had them with our pancakes yesterday morning. Let’s use ‘take’ a little less literally. We bring home a 10 pound bucket of frozen cherries from Door County every autumn. Last year’s stash is just about gone. Don’t tell Mike. (Now he knows.) (That sneak, he read this when I wasn’t looking.) I’m Ok with running out of cherries, because the anticipation of next year’s cherries is so enjoyable for me. Mike, on the other hand, would prefer that we buy the industrial size. The constant reality of readily available cherries for his pancakes would be enjoyable for him.

When it comes to gardening, warm climates are kind of like Mike’s preference for cherries whenever he wants them. Warmth and flowers and pretty all the time. But why would you not want this as constant reality?

Ugly snow

Ok, maybe not the best picture for my point. I call that picture ‘Snow Is a Mountain’, as opposed to today’s picture of ‘Snow on the Mountain’.

Snow on the Mountain

In my mind, I’m enjoying the anticipation of May’s Snow on the Mountain.
Snow on the Mountain and Rose of Sharon  932B1471

We do manage to enjoy flowers year-round in Chicagoland. It’s like if Mike knew I was having a bad day last week when he came home with flowers and jewelry. What a guy!
Asiatic Lilies

In my mind, I’m reminded of last year’s Asiatic lilies in our garden. There it is again, anticipation.

Pink Asiatic lilies and daisies - nice close-up 932B2292

We are both enjoying the anticipation right now, all the signs of spring. The birds were singing loud enough yesterday that we opened the kitchen window a bit to listen, despite the cold. I saw a father and son at Busse Woods in shorts. We do that in Chicago when the temperature is barely above freezing. And now as we drive past Busse, the car window is rolled down just enough to listen for the sound of peeper frogs. Soon. Soon.

The Chicago Flower and Garden Show opened yesterday. Sue went yesterday and said the show was the best it’s been in years. Even if she had to leave after just seeing the entrance, it would have been worth it. Fortunately, she didn’t leave, and was filled with anticipation. I look forward to speaking there tomorrow. I did think of changing my topic name from ‘Winter Interest’ to ‘Winter NOT Interested‘, but I won’t. Join me at 12:30 as I continue my anticipation, or as others might call it, my delusion.

Making More Dahlias

Table full of potsMike is up to something. He disappears into the basement for hours at a time. He does that regularly this time of year. He becomes the mad scientist in his laboratory, planning to emerge victorious in May as his 52 pots of dahlias are transformed into 350 dahlia plants. Last year he probably grew 700 plants. I missed him. So though the 700 was my idea, I’ve gotten a little more realistic this year. As always, we’ll keep about 100 for our garden. The rest will go to dahlia sales for the Central States Dahlia Society and the Elk Grove Garden Club.

You may not be looking for 100 dahlias in your yard, like us, but if you’d like more blooms sooner (and who doesn’t?) it’s just about time for you to get started. ‘Starting’ for you would be to first get your hands on a dahlia tuber. Order on-line, go to your local nursery, or even Costco or Home Depot. If Kelvin Floodlight is available, get it.

Don’t wait till there is no more frost so you can plant it outside.  Start the tuber inside about 6 weeks before the last frost.  A regular fluorescent bulb will provide enough light. A sunny window will probably provide enough light, but the warmth of the sun will dry out the pot quicker than needed, meaning you have to water the pots more often. Fluorescent lights provide good light, but in a cool manner so the pots stay cool and moist longer.

Although dahlias are well known for being fall bloomers, starting early like this will get you blooms from August through frost. You’ll be planting a 1 foot tall plant outside on May 15th, rather than burying a tuber in the ground and not seeing anything above the ground until sometime in June. Clever, huh?

If you’d prefer, you can turn that one tuber into more plants.  Basically, you’ll cut the sprouts off to make individual plants and root them. That process would need to begin now, so that there is time for 1 or 2 generations of sprouts to come up.

Here’s how to make more plants:

Step 1 – Plant the tuber.  Nothing fancy here.  You don’t even need light yet.  Just a basic pot with basic potting soil and a tuber.  As you can see in the picture above, it’s not even fully buried. This allows you good access to sprouts as they emerge.

Step 2 – Keep the soil moist, not wet.  Just normal plant care. Sit back and wait. You’ll see sprouts in three weeks or so.

Step 3 – The sprouts will need light. Basically, green things need light, tubers and bulbs don’t until you see some sprouts coming out of them.  Use fluorescent lights that are about 3 feet above the sprouts.

Step 4 – When a sprout is about 3″ tall, cut it off about 1/8 inch above the tuber. Don’t worry if you only see one sprout coming out of the tuber. When you cut that one sprout, you’ll typically see anywhere from 3-5 sprouts rise up from that very spot that you took the cutting from. Make a mini terrarium like Frank did below using a Styrofoam cup. Plant the sprout in about 2 inches of plain old pre-soaked kitty litter. Use non-scented, non-clumping, with about 1/8 inch of water in the bottom of the cup. The process even comes with a bonus – You get to go to McDonalds for an ice cream sundae so you have the plastic top for your terrarium cover. You can also use a clear plastic cup as Frank does in the photo, but its not as much fun.

Frank demo

Two Sprouts

Step 5 – In about 3 weeks, the sprout should have rooted. Carefully extract the cutting from the kitty litter, using a plastic fork to support the root area as you lift. Watch for the roots and be gentle with them. Its ready to transplant into a 4″ pot with dampened (soilless) potting mix in it. Mike allows his freshly potted cuttings to rest for 24 hours before putting them up near the lights again. They have been through a lot having been shuffled around. Let them catch their breath. They’ll thank you for it.

Step 6 – Take care of it like any other baby plant. It does need lots of light, so bring that fluorescent light within inches of the top. Keep the soil moist and perhaps water it with a very very diluted Miracle Grow solution, barely blue in color.

Step 7 - Plan on planting it outside after May 15th, but for now, keep it indoors. More on that later.

Why do you want to do all of this? Because you’ll get these!
Mike and ???

Join me at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show on March 17th, 12:30. I’ll be speaking on Winter Interest.