Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy New Year!

Best wishes from the squirrels and me for a very Happy New Year! We've been busy ringing out the old year visiting with the family. The Middle One and her fiance' have been here since Christmas Eve. We skated home safely on black ice from my sister's on Christmas day, thanks to the Lawn Man's excellent driving. Fortunately since then travel conditions have been much better, as we've driven back and forth to K's new home, helping her get unpacked and settled. The Middle One and her fiance return home this week - she's heading to DC to unpack and repack her suitcase to spend New Year's Eve with her fiance' in Miami.

Back here at home the fun will continue as I accompany K to her ultrasound appointment tomorrow - looking forward to it, and anticipating the birth of a new granddaughter early in the new year.

In the meantime, may you dance joyfully into the New Year!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Chrismoose!

Hope your holidays are filled with love, joy, peace, contentment, and all good things. Safe travels to all who will be visiting friends and family. Stay warm! Hugs and blessings from the Lawn Man, George, the Holiday Mooses, and me.

Monday, December 14, 2009

December 2009 Bloom Day

Amazingly, in mid-December in Chicago's south 'burbs, we actually have a live bloom in the garden. This mini-rose bloom has survived three Garden Bloggers' Bloom Days in a row. It's broken all previous records in our garden for a single rose bloom's longevity, and this is the first time I can ever remember having anything blooming in our garden in December. This photo was taken a few days ago.

Even after several days of snow, single-digit low temperatures and gale-force winds, the rose is still holding on. Conditions have been milder for a few days, and the snow is mostly melted. The weather forecasts say we're in for another round of cold this week. I wonder how long this tough little pretty will hang on.

The rest of the December blooms were rescued from certain death and brought inside in October. Most are overwintering in the basement greenhouse, including this rose-like double impatiens.

The fuchsia was cut back hard in October, and is already blooming again. Hopefully this bodes well for it's health and survival over the winter. The fuchsia brought in last fall was already dead this time last year.

This pelargonium was cut back hard too, and has already re-bloomed.

Jasmine blooms are perfuming the basement. This plant was tiny three years ago, and really took off last winter. It seems to like the basement.

The tropical hibiscus didn't bloom outdoors at all this year. It decided to produce one bloom after it came indoors. Its rear view is just as pretty. . .

as its face.

Also blooming here this month are dragon wing and wax begonias, oxalis, a bromeliad, and Diamond Frost Euphorbia.

For more December blooms, please visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Santa might just be bringing her some hoe earrings this year, if she hasn't already gotten them for herself.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This Tiny Vegetable Garden

Now sleeping with a thick layer of leaves and grass clippings that should make a nice mulch in the spring, the veggie bed is a good spot for overwintering a few plants that didn't quite make it into the shade garden or front foundation beds this fall. We had walks and the patio replaced this fall, and I lost a small border on one side of the house in the process. Plants grown for Native Seed Gardeners were in that border. They were transplanted for safekeeping into the veggie bed back in September, and will be moved to new homes early next spring.

Also overwintering in the veggie bed are several Baptisia australis plants started from seeds back in July or August. They're so small, I hope a few will make it through the winter. Tall bellflowers from my trip to Mom's back in September were given a temporary home in the veggie bed too. Since so much of the shade garden was chewed to ground (probably by rabbits,) while I was away, I couldn't really tell where it was safe to plant. That's also my excuse reason for once again not planting bulbs this fall.

Our veggie bed is only about 4' x 10,' and gets less than 5 hours a day of direct sun. Still, it produced an amazing abundance of produce all spring, summer, and fall. We grew lots of lettuce and greens, tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, peas, garlic, beets, radishes, squash, and several varieties of peppers. The bed was planted intensively using square-foot, interplanting, and succession-planting methods. We enjoyed beautiful, fresh, delicious, healthful organic produce every day, all through the gardening season, and had more peppers, green beans, cucumbers, and tomatoes than we could eat.

I shared some veggies with family and friends, and made tomato juice, blanched and froze extra green beans, diced and froze extra peppers, and made pickled jalapenos, pickled green tomatoes, and bread-and-butter cucumber pickles. . . all from our new little raised veggie bed in a part-sun side yard, built late last fall using retaining wall pavers with a thick layer of newspaper at the bottom to kill the grass, and alternating 'lasagna' layers of compost, fallen leaves, and grass clippings. Over the winter the layers aged. By spring we had the most beautiful garden soil, rich, crumbly, and full of earthworms.

Newspaper-lined, lasagna-style, raised, mulched beds have made a believer out of me. I don't think I pulled more than ten weed seedlings from the veggie bed all season. Watering was minimal, limited to about six weeks midsummer when we had no rain. The soil held moisture very well, and the mulch helped prevent evaporation. I've never had such a small vegetable garden before. I'm still amazed how little work, and how productive our little bed was. I can hardly wait for next year!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

November Bloom Day

It's hard to believe it's already November 15th, and time once again for Bloom Day. Frost finally arrived here nearly a month later than average, covering the front and back lawns but sparing the shade garden. In its protected microclimate, even with a low of 29 degrees earlier this week we still have outdoor blooms.

This is the same mini-rose bud shown on October's Bloom Day post. With our cool weather, a full month later it's just beginning to open.

Renamed Actaea by the official plant-naming powers-that-be, I still prefer Cimicifuga. Ours is a late bloomer in its third year. With a late frost last fall too, we enjoyed blooms for the first time. This plant is a slow grower, but has twice the blooms this year as last.

Geranium 'Rozanne' blooms May to frost in our garden. They've slowed down, but are still blooming in November.

The last three years, I've become a heuchera nut - can't seem to get enough of them for their colorful foliage. Most of ours are evergreen. I love the year-round color and interest they add to the shade garden. Some become rodent food over the winter. By early spring the rest begin to look tired and are cut back to stimulate fresh new growth. Heucheras are grown in our garden primarily for their foliage. The tiny, airy blooms are a bonus. Most of the them are done blooming for the year, but Autumn Bride and Mocha, both villosas, are still going. This one's Autumn Bride. She began blooming in August. Mocha has bloomed continuously since June.

Even a few tender annuals are still blooming, like impatiens,

and wax begonias.

Calamint is a long bloomer in our garden. It started in June and still has a few tiny blooms in November. The plants grow naturally into a beautiful round shape. They have a pleasant scent, a profusion of these tiny blooms, and the glossy, dark green leaves stay fresh and unbothered by pests all season.

Ok, I admit it's a shadow of its early spring beauty, but the fact that this hellebore, budded in February, blooming in mid-March, has retained its blooms through Mid-November is nothing short of remarkable. It has earned its place in this Bloom-Day post. The hellebore was added to the garden two springs ago. This year two more varieties were added. Being my first hellebore, I'm curious dear readers. . . Is this one unusual holding its blooms so long, or do yours retain their blooms so late in the season too?

Discovered growing in the wayback wilderness just a few weeks ago, the jury's still out on pokeweed. I love the red stems and the blooms. Being a native plant doesn't necessarily mean it won't become invasive though. Will I regret leaving it there to drop seeds? I'd love to know your views on this plant - leave it or dig it out?

Holding on for over a month in our cool weather, this yellow mini-rose bloom has aged gracefully.

This mum was covered with blooms a couple of weeks ago. All but these two were eaten by varmints.

Last but not least is one of our favorites. The Lawn Man likes yellow flowers. Susans churned out blooms since July in our shady garden. While most are now seedheads providing late-season food for suburban wildlife, a few fresh blooms are still adding color here and there.

By next Bloom Day it's unlikely there will be any blooms left in the garden. Hopefully overwintering indoor plants will pinch hit until spring returns to the Chicago area next year. Happy Bloom Day everyone, and thank you Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting the monthly parade of garden bloggers' blooms.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Thank You Grandma, Grandpa, and Mom

Thank you Grandma and Grandpa, for this beautiful birthday gift. Thank you for letting me be your little princess. It's humbling knowing the tragedies and challenges both of you and our family faced, that my coming into this world brought you such joy and hopefulness.

Thank you for loving each other so much, and for sharing your love with me. Thank you for the blessings you bestowed upon me. I've done my best to live up to your hopes and dreams for me. I will always love and remember you both.

Thank you for blessing me with the best Mom any child could ever ask for.

Thank you Mom, for giving me Life. Thank you for your love, acceptance, and support, and for all you've done for me throughout my life. And thank you for saving this beautiful letter for me. It will always be one of my most treasured possessions. I love you.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Flora Mirabilis - And the Winner is . . .

Thanks so much to all who participated in the drawing for a copy of Flora Mirabilis, the new National Geographic book on plants.

To assure the drawing was fair and unbiased, my spouse, a/k/a Lawn Man, drew the winning entry.

And the winner is. . .


Congratulations Carolyn! I'm sure you'll love this beautiful book.

Thank you to everyone who entered the drawing. I'm confident you'll all enjoy this terrific book. It's worth owning for the rare, never-before-published illustrations alone, and the narrative is utterly absorbing as well. A quote from the book jacket expresses its value well: "Flora Mirabilis is as much a tale of adventure as it is a fascinating celebration of botanical discovery and delight." I encourage you to check it out.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Flora Mirabilis - A Book Giveaway!

Flora (noun, Latin) 1. A treatise on or list of the plants of an area or period.
Mirabilis (adjective, Latin) 1. wondrous, extraordinary.

National Geographic was a staple in our home as the girls grew up, with a subscription to the magazine an annual Christmas gift from their paternal grandmother. The Society's books have been welcomed into our home, eagerly read, and referred to often as school reports and term papers were written. Some still grace the shelves of our home library, while others went with the girls as they moved out on their own.

I'm fascinated by the history of plants, and have always loved botanical illustrations. Imagine the thrill being offered a free review copy of the new National Geographic/Missouri Botanic Garden collaborative book Flora Mirabilis - How Plants Have Shaped World Knowledge, Health, Wealth, and Beauty - An Illustrated Timeline; authored by Catherine Herbert Howell.

This is a gorgeous volume, printed on heavy stock and filled with over 200 rare botanical prints from the MOBOT collection. Examples can be seen in this gallery of top ten plants that shaped the world.

With a forward by the president of Missouri Botanic Garden and an introduction by the director of its library, the book contains a wealth of information on how plant explorations and botanical passions have shaped human history and culture. Flora Mirabilis would make a wonderful addition to your own library, or a thoughtful gift for any plant lover on your holiday list. It's available through booksellers everywhere.

I'm excited to offer a giveaway copy, complements of National Geographic. For an opportunity to win Flora Mirabilis, please leave a comment on this post. This drawing will be open to United States residents today through Saturday, November 7th at 9 p.m. Central Time. (One entry per person.) The winner's name will be drawn Saturday evening, and announced here on Sunday, November 8th.

After the announcement the winner can provide their mailing address to me via email. Flora Mirabilis will be sent directly from National Geographic. Good luck everyone, and remember to check back on Sunday!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Delicious Green Tomatoes

K is a wonderful cook. As a little girl she enjoyed cooking and baking with her younger sisters and me, and as a teenager she prepared a couple of dinners a week for our family.

Ever the experimenter in the kitchen, one fall after the green tomatoes came in from the garden she came up with her own lighter, simpler take on fried green tomatoes - sliced,unbreaded, lightly sauteed in olive oil and garlic, served with lemon wedges and freshly-grated parmesan cheese. Fresh basil, oregano, and/or thyme add additional flavor to this yummy treat. Alternatively, brush them with olive oil and broil or grill, then add your choice of toppings. We enjoyed them so much they became a fall tradition.

Having a vegetable garden for the first time in several years, end-of-season green tomatoes were eagerly anticipated. K's Green Tomatoes have been enjoyed more than once in recent weeks.

With this year's unusually cool summer and chilly, overcast early autumn, there were lots of green tomatoes left in the garden. It was a perfect opportunity to try Mom's newest pickled green tomato recipe. A slightly different version was posted last fall. Mom said this one was even better. I used her new recipe for the rest of our green tomatoes, and made seven quarts.

Yum! These are so good, just like the ones Mrs. Schmidt shared with our family when I was a kid. Here's the recipe.

Pickled Green Tomatoes
For each wide-mouth pint jar:
About 1 lb green tomatoes, enough to fill jar to the shoulder
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and sliced 1/4" thick
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1/2 tsp. coriander seeds or 1/4 tsp. ground coriander (optional, but really good!)
small pinch hot pepper flakes
1 small bay leaf
2 fresh dill heads or 1 1/2 tsp dill seeds (fresh dill is best if available.)
Coarsely-chopped onions and/or a few thick celery slices make a delicious addition.

For brine:
5 oz water
3 oz white vinegar
1 1/2 tsp kosher or pickling salt (don't use table salt)
1 tsp sugar

1. Sterilize a large-mouthed one pint jar in boiling water. Place new canning lid and screw band in water which has been brought to boiling and turned off. Allow lids to remain in water until you need them. Place a dish towel on counter for setting hot jars on.

2. Wash the tomatoes and pat them dry. Small tomatoes can be left whole or quartered, quarter larger tomatoes. Drain jars and set on towel. Place garlic, pepper corns, hot pepper flakes, bay leaf and dill in bottom of jar. Tightly pack tomatoes into jar.

3. Bring water, vinegar, salt and sugar to a rolling boil. Quickly ladle brine over jar ingredients to cover, leaving about 1/2 inch of head space in jar. Immediately place lid and bands on jar and screw bands down finger tight. Turn jar upside down for 5 minutes. Turn right side up and let stand on counter until cooled. Jar lids should pop in during cooling.

Notes: Multiply the ingredients by the number of jars you plan to make. Since we had a lot of tomatoes, I used quart jars instead of pints, and adjusted the recipe accordingly.

Pickles can be processed 10 minutes in a hot-water bath. We like them crisp, and feel the tomatoes and brine are acidic and salty enough to store safely without the hot water bath if stored in a cool, dark place such as an unheated basement or root cellar, or refrigerated after processing and cooling.

Cure for at least two weeks before enjoying to allow flavors to blend.

Always refrigerate after opening.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Amelanchier, a Shrub for All Seasons

Amelanchier is a carefree, deciduous understory shrub or small tree, commonly known as Serviceberry, Juneberry, or sometimes Shadbush. Up to 30 feet at maturity, they're attractive year 'round - even winter, with their graceful form and smooth gray, or sometimes dark brown bark.

Fall color ranges from bright yellow or gold, to orange, rust, or violet-red. They tolerate a range of conditions from sun to shade, and dry to moist soil, from sandy to rich and loamy to heavy clay; either neutral or acid.

The fruits are sweet and tasty, often used in jams and pies. Their flavor is a mix of blueberry and cherry, with a hint of almond. They're loved by birds and other wildlife, disappearing quickly as they ripen.

Native throughout most of the United States, Amelanchier has several cultivars as well. Generally hardy in zones 4-7, some are happy in zone 2, and others to zone 9.

The delicate, hermaphrodite white, or occasionally pink blossoms are pollinated by bees. The serviceberry is a favorite shrub in our garden. Ours has been here since long before either Lawn Man or I. It's beautiful blooming in late April and early May,

Lovely in June with its delicious, ornamental berries,

And just as pretty in autumn.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

While the Gardener Was Away. . .

The rodents did play.

They took advantage of my trip to Mom's, chowing down on about a third of the plants in the shade garden.

Casualties included phlox, coneflowers, asters, bellflowers, heucheras, monardas, an ornamental grape vine, hostas, baby hydrangeas started from cuttings, and more. The grape vine (photo above,) was looking so pretty with it's bright burgundy foliage. Asters, including a couple of blogalong passalongs gifted me by Gail earlier in the season, were in full, glorious bloom. . . were. . . now they're stubs. Golden ragwort, PPPP, and a penstemon (possibly Penstemon X?) Gail sent, though not in bloom, weren't touched.

They ate my favorite coneflowers too. These coneflowers, in bloom since late June, held their blooms a long time. Seeds still haven't matured. There's only one lonely bloom left to save seeds from. Even if time is running out for seeds to mature, they're not getting that one, nope, not if I can help it.

Behind the coneflower, evidence of the carnage is visible .

I'm thankful they didn't dig anything up. Squirrels have a habit of doing that around here, especially small transplants. There are quite a few small seedlings and divisions planted before the trip. They were, surprisingly, untouched.

If it had to happen, I'm glad they waited until nearly the end of the season. Maybe I should thank them for the time I won't be spending cleaning up the garden next spring. Surprisingly, (knock on wood,) they didn't touch the veggie garden all season, not even while I was gone, not even a nibble. I'm glad for that.

Still, I find myself fantasizing about rabbit stew and barbecued squirrel.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I'm Late, I'm Late, For a Very Important Date

Last week was chilly and soggy - too wet for the camera. This morning it's cold, sunny, and dry enough to venture out for some quick shots of what's still blooming in the shade garden in October.

Not fancy, ubiquitous wax begonias bloomed all season, requiring no fuss and no watering, while adding spots of color here and there.

While most of the Chicago area had frost last week, we haven't been hit yet. The yellow mini-rose is blooming again, and the red one is budding. They've been happier this season than most, and weren't bothered by black spot, for a change.

Autumn Joy sedums started from cuttings late last fall, though small, are blooming.

Herbstsonne Rudbeckia has been in bloom since July.

Calamint has been blooming since July too. Easy to start from cuttings, there was initially one of these. Now there are three.

'Rozanne,' blooming since May, will continue until frost. This one's a bit ragged, playing host to a small caterpillar. Please hurry into your cocoon little one - you don't have much time left.

And there are still a few Susans blooming. A deep pink mum, Autumn Bride heuchera, impatiens and other annuals are still blooming. Tender plants that will be overwintered were brought in last Saturday.

Although we weren't hit by last Saturday night's freeze, I'm glad that chore is done. By this time next month, the basement greenhouse will likely be the only place to see anything blooming here.

For more Bloom Day posts, please visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens, who hosts this popular garden bloggers' event each month. Thank you Carol!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Trip to Mom's

Recently I got to spend a week in Southwest Wisconsin visiting Mom and her Garden Buddy. What a pleasure it was enjoying this nice long visit!

With me came The Biology of Transcendence, borrowed from their vast library on a previous visit, divisions and seedlings for the ornamental borders surrounding their lovely, loving Ocooch Mountain home, a batch of Lawn Man's freshly-grilled, delicious, spicy jerk chicken, and yummy yellow pear tomatoes from our garden.

What a time we had playing in the garden, browsing old photos, sharing generations of family letters and stories, going to town for a physics lecture at the university, experiencing two of their favorite ethnic restaurants, enjoying two magnificent foreign films Mom's Garden Buddy (a/k/a Social Director) selected, and seeing Michael Pollan's excellent, thought-provoking talk together.

K, my oldest daughter, joined us for the weekend. Mom's Garden Buddy, K, and I got a workout harvesting a ton (well, more like 75-100 lbs.) of potatoes. K and I came home laden with veggies from their fabulous garden and delicious organic apples from their orchard, enriched by the experiences and fond memories of our delightful visit.

To give you an idea how awesome their garden is, consider one of the delicious, beautiful Kuri squash brought back home. The squash on the left is from their garden, and the one on the right is from ours. Kuris are typically small squash, averaging two to three pounds. My squash weighs in at 2.5 pounds, about the size of a typical acorn squash. This one from their garden weighs a whopping 9 pounds, and many of them were even larger.

Besides visiting with Mom and her Garden Buddy, one of the pleasures of the trip is enjoying the natural beauty of their land - exploring the woods and rock formations, beholding the ancient, forest-covered mountains, observing multitudes of birds at the feeders, surveying the stars, (which seem so much more numerous in the inky, rural night skies than they are here at home,) and keeping eyes and ears alert for the wildlife that share their land.

I heard packs of coyotes howling at the moon, enjoyed birds at the feeders off the deck, watched deer foraging in the woods, and spied a small rafter of wild turkeys enjoying their breakfast on a slope near the woods' edge. The turkeys are shy, alert, and challenging to photograph. Aware of my every move, it wasn't long before they retreated back into the woods.

It's a joy visiting Mom and her Garden Buddy, playing in the garden, and basking in the warmth of the love we share.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thank You!

With so many wonderful, passionate garden bloggers in the Chicago area and throughout the state, I'm honored, grateful, and nearly speechless that Garden Girl was voted 2009's best Illinois garden blog by the Blotanical community.

The past several months have offered little time or focus for blogging and blog visiting. I've missed regularly interacting with garden blogging friends. That makes this honor even more special, and even more humbling.

Hugs and Congratulations to Rose, Carolyn Gail, Cathy, and Stacy for your nominations. I'm privileged to be in the company of such talented and genuinely awesome women.

Thanks to all who voted, and congratulations to all who were honored with this year's nominations and awards.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Seven Things

Carol at May Dreams Gardens tagged me for this meme a little while back. The idea is to reveal seven random things about yourself your readers may not know. I did a similar meme last year, and had to ruminate a bit to come up with a few more.

Without further ado, here are my seven things:

1. I'm a lefty. On the last day of kindergarten the teacher insisted Mom must train me to be right-handed over the summer. Mrs. Meyerbach was a seamed-stocking, orthopedic-shoe-wearing, old-fashioned, kind, yet authoritarian throwback to the days when left-handedness was believed to be sinister. Fortunately Mom disagreed, reassured me there was nothing evil about being left-handed, and sensibly allowed me to be myself, left-handedness and all.

2. I learned to sew, crochet, and embroider as a child, but never learned how to knit. Mom tried to teach me, but I could never quite figure it out, probably because I'm left-handed. ;)

3. One of my maternal great-grandfathers was a cantor at the synagogue, and sang in the NY Metropolitan Opera. One of his sons was a Broadway, Hollywood, television commercial, and industrial film actor. I didn't get the performer gene from them - don't like being the center of attention.

4. I'll be a grandma for the second time early next year. K, the oldest and her husband are expecting their first child. We couldn't be more thrilled. The ultrasound photo is several weeks old, and mama and baby have both grown since then. ;)

5. The Middle One and the Youngest were born at home (on purpose.) The doctor was five minutes late for the birth of the Middle One. As quickly as she decided to be born, in the middle of the night in the middle of a blizzard, we couldn't have made it to the hospital if we'd tried. I was grateful we were prepared to welcome her to the world at home, and grateful she wasn't born in the middle of the back seat of the car in the middle of a snowdrift.

6. For as long as I can remember, I've had a fear of heights. As a child I had recurring dreams of falling down the stairs, and of flying like a bird (just get a running start and flap your arms.) You won't ever catch me on the new Willis (formerly Sears) Tower Ledge. I've never been able to perfect flying, but have fallen down the stairs a few times - sprained an ankle once, and cracked my tailbone another time. The tailbone incident happened when George was a puppy and I tripped over him on the stairs. After that I always made sure he went down the stairs ahead of me.

7. Besides my family and close friends, one of the people I've always admired most was a girl I knew in grade school. She was always kind. I never heard her say a bad thing about a single soul. When the kids at the bus stop started trashing someone, she had a graceful way of putting a stop to it without alienating the mean kids or making them feel threatened. When the kids on the playground made fun of the kids in the special-needs class, she found a way to stop it without becoming a target herself, and she made friends with the special-needs kids. She had a special kind of courage and a special kind of grace. After high school I never saw her again, but I'll always remember and admire her.

One thing you may already know about me is I'm not big on rules. So rather than tag anyone I'm issuing an open invitation for anyone else who hasn't been tagged yet and wants to play to post seven things about yourself your readers may not know.

If you decide to take the challenge, I'd love it if you'd come back and leave a link to your post in the comments.