Friday, February 27, 2009

Why Do Experienced Gardeners Blog?

Three weeks ago Mr. McGregor's Daughter asked why gardeners should read garden blogs as part of her preparation for our individual presentations and group discussion at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show March 7th. Also speaking at the show will be MrBrown Thumb and Gina from My Skinny Garden. I thought it was an excellent idea to ask her question to her readers, and planned to borrow the idea here.

Being the plan-ahead kind of person I am, I've had my part prepared for weeks. I'm very nervous about public speaking, and have procrastinated on finishing starting my brief presentation. So finally at this late date, I'm throwing myself at your mercy requesting your assistance in answering the question "Why do experienced gardeners blog?"

We all speak in unique voices, and I'd like to include yours in my presentation. I hope by sharing my perspectives I'll inspire you to share yours too, whether some of your reasons are different from or similar to mine.

For me one of the best things about blogging is the conversation that continues in the comments. I treasure each one. I love how it's always positive, supportive, and I love how much I learn from you. I love the connection that continues to grow between us. We share our joys and concerns and support each other through personal and gardening triumphs and tragedies. It's about so much more than gardening.

One thing I've learned about gardening in all these years is there will always be more to learn, and blogging is a learning experience all its own. Having the opportunity to visit gardens around the world and getting to know the gardeners who care for them is truly a unique opportunity. Blogging has motivated me in my own garden as I've been inspired by yours.

Blogging has inspired me to visit public gardens I hadn't seen since childhood and others I'd never seen. I've even met other garden bloggers for a couple of those visits. Although I didn't attend the first Spring Fling last year in Austin, I'm in the thick of this year's Fling in Chicago. I'm enjoying the challenge and privilege of being a part of the planning, and getting better acquainted with with my fellow committee members.

It seems natural to throw this question out to you who have become friends and virtual neighbors, and are so valued to me for enriching my perspectives and broadening my views, not to mention sharing your wonderful gardens in photos and words, and sharing all kinds of neat plants, hints, tips, advice, support, and inspiration. So, experienced gardeners, Why do YOU blog? (If you can include in your comment how many years you've gardened and how many months or years you've been blogging, I'd be most grateful!)

p.s. Wish me luck! I'll need it!

p.p.s. Speaking of garden bloggers around the world, Blossom Blooms from Malaysia enjoyed these photos from last season and invited me to swap a link to her "Show Your Garden" post. In case you're wondering, the first shot is from my garden last July, and the second is from the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago last March.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chocolate Fest

Last Saturday a neighboring community hosted its annual Chocolate Fest in the village hall's auditorium located in the quaint, historic downtown.

I brought my camera, not realizing the battery was dead. I was glad to have my cell phone, although I'd never used the camera. Eventually I figured it out, and was able to snap a few photos during a break.

Each year, Master Gardeners from the local University of Illinois Extension have a booth at the festival. It's a great way to raise awareness about the Extension and the services it offers to the community. Earlier this month I began Master Gardener training at the extension office, and Chocolate Fest was my first volunteer assignment.

It was great fun! And the day was delightful in more ways than one. After arriving home, upon checking emails I was delighted to learn my youngest daughter and 5-year-old grandson will be returning home to Illinois! As you can imagine, the family is thrilled. We've all missed them immensely and are looking forward to their return. What better way to celebrate than with chocolate!

Our assignment for the day was planting trees with children. We had two sets of tables - one with literature, coloring books, and touchy-feeley stuff like the cross-section of a tree trunk, bark and all. The other tables held our supplies - three tubs of pine seedlings - Ponderosa, Limber, and Southern White Pines - about a hundred seedlings per tray.

We had tubs of soil, cottage cheese containers, soft drink cups, paper lunch bags (where we wrote the name of the variety of tree each child selected for themselves,) and a set of instructions for each tree.

The children scooped soil into the bottom of their cup, and placed their tree in the cup. We supported the trees as they added soil to fill the cup. As they planted, we explained how to care for the trees at home. This shot was taken near the end of the Fest. By this time we had only a few seedlings left.

The kids' eyes lit up with excitement at the idea of taking care of their own little tree and planting it this spring. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon, helping kids connect with nature indoors where it was nice and warm, while a cold, biting wind blew and snow swirled around outside.

Winter is a good time to get a jump on volunteer hours, so I was happy this opportunity came along. Coming home to find a happy email from from my daughter was the icing on the cake. Chocolate and children were a perfect combination for a perfectly delightful day.

Spring Fling Sponsors

If you're a garden blogger, unless you've been living under a rock or hibernating for the winter, you probably know Chicago will be host to the second annual Garden Bloggers' Spring Fling this May 29-31.

If you haven't already, please visit Chicago Gardeners, the official 2009 Spring Fling website for all the latest information on events, accommodations, and registration. Speaking of registration, if you're definitely attending the Fling, please be sure to complete a registration form. This will help us finalize events and reservations and make sure we have enough goodies from our sponsors to go around, so please don't delay! Proven Winners will need a count from us soon, as they will be growing plants especially for us.

Although I don't normally advertise here, I wanted to give special recognition to some folks who are working with us to make the Fling as exciting and memorable as possible. We're working on obtaining additional sponsors, and if we're successful, a later post will acknowledge them as well.

Without further ado, here are a few words about our sponsors, along with links to their websites so you can learn more about them.

Proven Winners: Proven Winners is the leading brand of high quality flowering plants in North America, sold under the Proven Winners name. We're grateful for their support and ask that you visit their website and shop Proven Winners.

Chicagoland Gardening magazine: Published by Growit Communications, Inc. Chicagoland Gardening is the authoritative source for gardening in our region. Visit their website to subscribe to this great magazine or pick up a copy at better garden centers, Dominick's, Whole Foods Stores, Border's Books, Barnes & Noble Books, The Morton Arboretum, Chicago Botanic Garden, Cantigny Gardens, and many other outlets.

Botanical Interests: is a family owned seed company that offers high quality garden seeds. Their goal is to inspire and educate gardeners. The seed packaging merges art, gardening and science. With over 500 varieties, they have many popular favorites as well as heirloom, organic and gourmet seed varieties.

Sunset magazine is the premier guide to life in the 13 western states, covering the newest and best ideas in Western gardening and landscaping, home design and decorating, food and entertaining, and travel. The magazine has five zoned editions to give readers regional Garden and Travel ideas, and is read by nearly 5 million people each month. is the 24/7 how-to arm of the magazine. Its Garden section includes guides to edible gardening, backyard projects, going organic, saving water, garden design, climate maps, how-to videos, and more. Garden writers Jim McCausland and Sharon Cohoon update Fresh Dirt daily with their latest scouting finds, garden events, tips, and ideas.

YouGrowGirl was launched by Gayla Trail in early 2000 and has grown into a thriving online community that speaks to a new kind of gardener, seeking to redefine the modern world relationship to plants. This contemporary, laid-back approach to gardening places equal importance on environmentalism, style, affordability, art, and humour.

Chicago Honey Co-op: In the winter of 2004,three passionate urban beekeepers conceived and created Chicago Honey Co-op. Their purpose was simple, to provide job training opportunities for the under-employed while operating a small business model that is dedicated to sustainable agricultural practices and aims for the highest product of quality standards.

Thanks so much to all of you for your generous support, and for helping us make the Spring Fling as exciting and memorable as possible!

We're still open to additional sponsors who would like to be a part of the Chicago Spring Fling. Sponsors may have their banner ads placed on the Chicago Gardeners blog, and a special post there with links to their websites. In addition, certain CSF committee members have agreed to include a post about them on our personal blogs.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Googly Eyes Gardener

Just for fun! Happy Friday!

Monday, February 16, 2009

February Bloom Day

This month begins the third year since Carol at May Dreams Gardens dreamed up and began hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Congratulations Carol, and thanks so much for bringing us together for this monthly event!

February also marks the first anniversary since I dreamed up this blog, started on a whim.

Initially I signed up for a Blogger account to make it easier to comment on other peoples' blogs. After registering I was taken to a screen to start a blog myself, and I thought, "Why not! Hmmm. . . what kind of blog?"

Not even technically a bloom yet, I uncovered the first bud in the garden last week - a lone hellebore sporting a lone bud.

I thought for only a moment, and decided since gardening has been my life-long passion, why not make it a garden blog? I'd recently come across a few garden blogs, and decided it would be fun to share my passion for gardening through blogging.

Ok, I admit they're not blooms either - not even buds - but I'm crazy about caladiums. This pot of them never went dormant, and continue to light up the basement 'greenhouse' with their beautiful, delicate, almost-translucent, stained-glass foliage.

Since then I've visited with and been inspired by garden bloggers all over the world. I've learned a great deal over the past year, and discovered a new passion along the way - photography! Like gardening there will always be more to learn. The thing I've enjoyed most about garden photography is learning to see things in a different way. I've been inspired by seeing the gardens of other bloggers through their eyes and the lenses of their cameras.

Last year this oxalis was dormant over the winter. This winter, like the caladiums, it has remained growing. Like the caladiums, it has beautiful foliage. I'd love this plant even if it didn't bloom.

Last year as I began discovering and visiting garden blogs, I learned that a group of garden bloggers were planning to gather in Austin, Texas, the World's Capital of Garden Bloggers, for what became the first annual Garden Bloggers' Spring Fling.

The meetup was so successful, a second Fling was planned for 2009 in Chicago, my hometown. Little did I know last February that I would be privileged enough to work with a wonderful group of Chicago-area bloggers on planning the Fling, to be held in Chicago the last weekend of May. (For more information on the Fling, please visit our event blog.)

The geraniums have provided constant bloom in the basement, and have become the parents of several offspring as they wait out winter with me.

Also this month, I started training with the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program, with the goal of sharing my passion for gardening through their volunteer program. I'm enjoying the classes, and looking forward to my first volunteer assignment next week.

I'll be at Chocolate Fest in a neighboring suburb, helping children transplant tree seedlings they can take home for spring planting in their own backyards.

It should be lots of fun. Combining chocolate, gardening, and kids . . . what could be more fun than that!

One of the geranium babies conceived in the basement is budding for the first time.

All in all, it's been a great year for gardening, and I've gotten so much pleasure from this first year of garden blogging. The best part has been getting to know all of you.

Who knew that a sudden whim to share the dreams, memories, and inspirations from my life and garden here in zone 5a would have led to such rich experiences?

Thank you to all who've shared these experiences with me this past year. I'm looking forward to discovering what pleasures the next years of sharing our gardening passions with each other may bring.

Tree of Life? Not So Much!

Earlier this winter, two ice storms wreaked havoc on an arborvitae hedge on the east side of our house. The hedge was already looking rather sad and appeared to be declining, with lots of bare areas and several large pieces dying and breaking off. I wondered if it was diseased or had some kind of bug. I googled, and learned about bagworms. I didn't see any. Before the ice storms the hedge was still upright, except for one tree I staked after finding it leaning last summer.

Now the staked tree is the only one standing. I hoped, but didn't expect that after the ice melted the arborvitaes would right themselves. They didn't. Friday I decided to take a closer look.

George came along to commiserate with me.

Some of them are fractured at their bases, others haven't snapped yet but are badly leaning. It's not pretty, nor is the prospect of losing more of our backyard privacy. I suppose we could try to stake the ones that aren't broken. That would probably be at best a temporary solution for a couple of them, considering the shape they're in aside from the leaning. The broken ones are gonners. Arborvitae means 'tree of life' - looks more like Hedge of Horror to me.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentines Day 2009 Perennial Plant of the Year!

Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' is 2009's Perennial Plant of the Year. How timely, since I've recently become very interested in shade-loving grasses!

Late last fall I brought home a Japanese blood grass and a variegated carex from the garden of a client who was expanding her patio and redesigning her now-smaller border. They are resting in the new raised veggie bed along with a couple of Key Lime Pie heucheras, two or three Stokesias, and possibly one or two other plants I can't recall at the moment. I hope they survived the winter!

Anyway, in learning more about the other two grasses, I kept running into Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' (a/k/a Gold-Striped Hakone Grass or Golden Japanese Forest Grass.) I thought it was lovely, and hope to add it to the garden this year.

To learn more about this shade-loving plant of the year (and how to pronouce it,) here's a YouTube video courtesy of Doug Green.

Happy Valentines Day to the Lawn Man, our families, to all of you, and to 2009's Perennial Plant of the year! Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sign of Life

The first hellebore to grace the garden was added just last spring. I wasn't sure what to do with the tattered, windburned foliage that, until only a few days ago, was buried under several inches of snow. Before I had a chance to look it up, Frances at Fairegarden, as if anticipating my question, came to the rescue with her 2009 edition of Cutting the Hellebores.

After performing the operation, this is what I found - the first bud of any kind in the garden, and a delightful early harbinger of spring! I'm so glad I decided to dig out the pruners and uncover this surprise. Thanks for the tips Frances!

I think it's safe to say once you've grown a hellebore, you're hooked. Anything so easy to grow that buds this early and lasts as long as hellebore blooms last should have a place in every shade garden! This Paintbrush Series is the first, but by no means will it be the last. Planted last April, the blooms on this plant lasted until late into the fall. I suspect this might be a bit unusual, as I was under the impression hellebore blooms lasted about three months, not the six months of bloom we had last year.

Hellebores are new to me. Although I've known of them and loved them for years, other plants were constantly being added to 'the list,' and I never managed to get one. It was definitely my loss and I'm glad to have rectified the situation! I'm afraid I may never get enough of these beautiful plants. This spring, Helleborus niger (a/k/a the Christmas Rose,) and Mrs. Betty Ranicar, a double white hellebore will also find homes in the shade of the notorious silver maples.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


The new veggie bed is still resting under a few inches of snow. It's not very big at about 50 square feet. Because it's a lasagna-style raised bed layered with good stuff like shredded leaves, grass clippings, and all kinds of yummy compost, it will be planted densely. Still. . . maybe. . . possibly. . . I might have gotten a bit carried away with seeds, even if the vining plants are trellised. What do you think? Maybe a little overkill?

There are two kinds of squash: Kuri and Lakota, four tomatoes: Chadwick Cherry, Black Krim, Rutgers, and Brandywine, and four peppers: an orange, a red, a chocolate, and of course, jalapeno.

And what would a spring garden be without a couple varieties of radishes, a few lettuces and mixed greens, a couple varieties of beets, and some peas?

Then of course, you must have cukes, beautiful chard, and some nice spinach. And there's nothing in the world like home-grown green beans. Bush beans were chosen for this small garden - Blue Lake are the same bush beans Mom used to plant - very tasty and heavy-yielding. Oh, and I almost forgot - the veggie bed became official with life-changing garlic cloves from Mom's garden last fall.

How about you? C'mon, 'fess up now! Do you ever get just a teeny-weeny little bit carried away when it comes to seeds?