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.”

Is December Too Late To Plant Bulbs?

Carol plants bulbs on Dec 27 web 300 IMG_6028Could you – should you – would you – plant bulbs in December? After all, zone 5 tends to be a bit less than balmy in winter. The answer is a resounding YES, if Mother Nature agrees. This year, that meant that Mike and I were out planting tulips Saturday, December 27th. It was 45 degrees and has been above freezing regularly, so the ground isn’t frozen. Bulbs do require time in the cold, and these will have the required 8 – 12 weeks, even with the late planting date. We planted them pointed side up, in case you were wondering. Last year, with frigid temps, this late December planting would have been impossible.

Our garden center, Berthold’s, still had bulbs for sale, at reduced prices. This I appreciated. They were solid healthy bulbs that I was happy to get my hands on. Others in the store who were looking at the after Christmas sales might have thought I’d lost my good senses. I’ll remember those folks as I enjoy my blooms this spring.

Bulbs purchased Dec 27 2014

I also planted inside, in containers large and small. Isn’t the teapot below adorable? The bulbs were placed in potting soil so they were almost touching. Then I covered them with about an inch more of the potting soil. They will be mostly ignored in the garage for the minimum 8 weeks of cold that hyacinths require and the 12 weeks daffodils require. After that, they will go in a window or outside. We’ve done that before with great success, and minimal care, as you can see at Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – Buckets Of Bulbs Planted In December Are Blooming. Mike watered them just a little once or twice that winter, but to be honest, we pretty much forgot about them till we noticed sprouts in March. That’s the kind of dedicated winter gardener I am.

Potted bulbs in garage

I planted the previous weekend as well, including the hyacinths below that are also in the garage. They are in glass containers, with glass gems at the bottom and just enough water for the roots to grow into. The bulbs themselves are NOT in the water. I was excited to see they are already rooting! If it gets too close to freezing out there, Mike will bring them into a cool spot in the house for a while. He will also add water as needed to keep the roots in the water and the bulbs out of the water. A turkey baster will be his tool of choice for that task. After 8 weeks, we will bring them inside by a bright window. I’m really interested in how well this experiment succeeds, as the idea of the stems being supported by the container intrigues me.

Bulbs in glass containers

Are you intrigued too? Call your garden center. Maybe they still have bulbs.

Morton Arboretum Illuminations – So Much More Than You Would Expect

Morton Arboretum’s Illuminations isn’t your typical Christmas light show. No ho ho ho Santa. No Candy Cane Lane. No lighted dancing elves, plastic snowmen, Snoopy decked out for the holiday, or toy soldiers.

No reason to go then? Not so! Illuminations is a sensory treat you don’t want to miss.
Visitor Center and Lake

It’s this…Blue and purple lights

And this…Green and purple lights

And this…Magenta

Illuminations is filled with magical moments for all of your senses.

Regine hugs a treeHug a tree and the light color changes, with green nicely demonstrated in this picture with my friend Regine.

Sing to a tree, and it provides a light show.

Savor the chili at the Ginkgo Restaurant. Maybe even catch live entertainment inside or out.

There are also musical memories to be enjoyed outside at Symphony Woods, as the tree lights dance to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.



Illuminations is a joy for young and old. Mike and Regine consented to go because it was official “Be Nice to Carol Day”, so I got to pick. I ordered our $12.00 tickets on-line. It was a fun hour and a half. Even ‘Mikey’ liked it, as you can see from this picture in the gift shop. OK, so you can’t tell that from the picture. You’ll have to trust me.

What you can tell from the pictures is that Illuminations is amazing.

Morton provides options to keep you warm during the mile long walk along the lake. They have fires, heaters, tents, even s’mores and hot chocolate with Peppermint Schnapps.

Don’t let the cold stop you. The experience will warm your heart.

A Christmas tree tip from Mike: It’s always hard to tell if the tree needs water or not. You have to get up close and personal to the tree stand to see the water level. Mike put a few pieces of easy to see Styrofoam in the stand. If they float high, the level is good. If they aren’t floating at all, run, don’t walk, for the watering can.

The Dahlia Family Garden Party

Invite by GlueMeetsPaper on Pinterest

Invite by GlueMeetsPaper on Pinterest

We had quite the garden party this year, with over a hundred notable guests. They were all from the same family, one with quite a bit of inbreeding I must admit. Did I mention they were all dahlias? 76 varieties were invited, with 113 plants in attendance.

It helped that the weather was so accommodating this summer. Our guests stayed long and looked mahvelous, dahling, mahvelous.


Our guest list included Ben, Emory Paul, and Dan.

Ben Huston

Ben Huston

Emory Paul

Emory Paul

Trooper Dan

Trooper Dan








We had a Harvey, a Harry, and a Helen.

Harvey Koop

Harvey Koop

Harry Meggos

Harry Meggos

Helen Richmond

Helen Richmond








They hailed from across the globe, with appearances by Normandy Sweet Lucy, Colorado Classic, and Spartacus.

Normandy Sweet Lucy

Normandy Sweet Lucy

Colorado Classic

Colorado Classic










There was a Drummer Boy for entertainment, and a Duet. It was quite a Fiesta.

Drummer Boy

Drummer Boy



Carmen Fiesta

Carmen Fiesta







We feasted on Salmon with Ketchup and Mustard, enjoying Honey Dew for dessert.

Wynns King Salmon

Wynns King Salmon

Ketchup and Mustard

Ketchup and Mustard

Honey Dew

Honey Dew








Our party started in August. The guests stayed long enough to see a Tahiti Sunrise, Bill’s Sunset and Wanda’s Moonlight.

Tahiti sunrise

Tahiti sunrise

Bills Sunset

Bills Sunset

Wandas Moonlight

Wandas Moonlight








One group was rather caddy, choosing to move on to a party at Willow Creek Church. We took 32 vases to church that day. Here’s a group picture. A very close family. Many others choose to stay behind and I have to admit there were so many guests left that our defectors weren’t missed.

Basket of Dahlias

Basket of Dahlias


It’s really a rather exclusive guest list, fine-tuned over a 10 year period. Mike still finds new varieties that he wants to grow, and he has to say goodbye to old friends to make way for his new acquaintance, new acquaintances who have to prove themselves to be invited back next year. A dahlia, for example, that has a beautiful bloom, but produces few of them, won’t find an invite in the mail from Mike next year.

Wanda’s Aurora will be on our guest list. She’s beautiful, and quite the repeat bloomer.

Wandas Aurora

Wandas Aurora

To everyone’s chagrin, the good time had to end. Our guests called it quits when there was a hard frost. It was time to bring them in to rest a bit over the winter, then we will start planning next year’s party.

Pioneer Day Scarecrow Factory – OhWhata Photo Op, Part 4

Why a part 4? What was so special about this year’s Scarecrow Factory that these last 2 pictures deserve a blog of their own? Why, its the new opportunity for getting your haircut while you are at our annual event. In this shot, Joan was considering a change.

Joan IMG_4281

Ann took out her trusty hair cutting scissors and Joan got a new hair-do!
Joan gets a hair cut from Ann  IMG_4357

So if you were thinking of stopping by this year, but didn’t quite make it, you now have a new incentive to visit next year.

If you are wondering what other pictures were posted from this event, check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and My Favorite Scarecrow Of The Day Is…

Pioneer Day Scarecrow Factory – OhWhata Photo Op, Part 3

This is it! Almost the last batch of smilers from the Elk Grove Garden Club’s Scarecrow Factory! There will be one more posting just so you can see the something new that we added to this year’s event.









Don IMG_4322

Carol and Ann IMG_4288

Bob, Joann, Carol IMG_4298

If you are wondering what other pictures were posted from this event, check out Part 1, Part 2, and My Favorite Scarecrow Of The Day Is…