Friday, December 14, 2012

December Bloom Day

It's that time of year again, when we turn to indoor blooms for entertainment.  The African violet gets little attention during the gardening season, but now that the outdoor blooms are gone for awhile,  she gets some love, and a little fertilizer, and she'll bloom off and on all winter.  African violets are cheap thrills - this one came from the grocery store for under $5.00.  She's perfectly happy with a little water, good drainage, and some fertilizer now and then.

African violets can get leggy, floppy, unstable, and start looking unattractive as older, lower leaves wilt and fall off.   The solution I've found for that is every year, maybe two,  I re-pot.  All I do is carefully remove the pot, slice off an inch or two of roots at the bottom, and add a little fresh soil to the bottom of the pot - just a little.  I leave enough room in the pot to sink the plant down enough to cover the leggy stem and stabilize the plant so it's not floppy anymore.  Then I add more soil to the top of the pot, water, and fertilize.  It renews the plant beautifully, and it looks brand-new again.  I've done it twice with this one, and I'll do it again whenever it needs a fresh start. 

A few things are blooming in the basement greenhouse, including this little fuchsia.  If she makes it through winter, she'll be visited by hummingbirds in the garden again next year, spring through fall.

I hope you're enjoying a few indoor blooms this month too, or you're somewhere warm and still enjoying blooms in your garden.

Happy Bloom Day all!  To see more Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day posts, please visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Peeling Garlic the Easy Way

Do you grow garlic in your garden?  I have, but garlic does best with full sun - a luxury we don't have in our veggie beds.  When I've grown garlic here it was delicious, but the bulbs were very small. 

Mom and her Garden Buddy grow garlic every year, and share some of theirs with us, both fresh, and their homemade garlic powder.  We like to call it Life-Changing Garlic.  Yep - it's that good!

If you're like me you may love cooking with garlic, but could do without the peeling.   Here's a quick, easy tip I learned a couple of years ago for peeling it the easy way, in just seconds.  It's easier and neater than the smash-and-peel method, and your fingers don't get all garlicky.

You'll need two same-sized metal bowls.  Medium-to-large-sized bowls work best, as you'll want some space for the garlic to bounce around in.  Separate the garlic bulb into cloves, and place the cloves into one of the bowls.  Place the rims of the two bowls together as in the photo above.  Use both hands to hold the rims together, and shake vigorously for 15 or 20 seconds.  Separate the bowls, and your garlic will be peeled, just like the photo at the top of this post.  That's it!  Now it's ready to slice, press, or use whole.

Did you know this trick already?  If not, try it - it works!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

November Blooms

This will probably be the last month for outdoor blooms here in our zone 5b garden until next spring. There are still a few hardy hangers-on in sheltered spots, in spite of frosts we've had each night this week. Borage seedlings are sheltered near the foundation of our house.  Even so they probably won't last much longer.

I'm not sure I've shown a shasta daisy photo on Bloom Day before.  I always forget about them because they're in a spot where there aren't many other things (yet!)  They're in a very dry spot where the soil is pretty sandy.  In spite of the heat and drought this year, they thrived, and bloomed all summer.  This last single bloom somehow escaped the clutches of bunnies who eat so much of our garden.

We've had some good rains this month that helped revive this hardy cyclamen.  The blooms are declining now, but the beautiful foliage will remain until it goes dormant in late spring.  It was great to find the other two cyclamens come back after the rain.  They didn't bloom this year, but the foliage is still beautiful and I'm happy knowing they survived the drought.

If we have any outdoor blooms left by December, they will likely be on this mini-rose.  It often retains its foliage and flowers into mid-or-late December.

Sedum 'Matrona' was extraordinarily long-blooming this year.  These tough plants laugh at drought.

Geranium 'Rozanne' lives in a sheltered spot, and this year she sports three last blooms that, while on their way out, still managed to retain their color after several frosty nights.

Pink mums are still hanging on.  The blooms on the orange mums are all gone - eaten by something, most likely rabbits.  I'm amazed there are any mum blooms left.  The orange ones are always the first to go, and these are probably not long for the world.  Every time I'm in the garden now, a couple of bunnies skitter out of their leafy, insulated garden hiding places.

As the gardening season draws to close here in the Chicago area, we're already busy planning for next season, while tending our basement greenhouse, bursting at the seams with tender plants already blooming again after being cut back and brought indoors last month.  Every sunny window upstairs is lined with even more of them.

Happy Bloom Day, and to see more blooms in gardens everywhere, please visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Holiday Wreath Giveaway!

Today's my birthday, and that makes it a great day to kick off a holiday giveaway, don't you think?

I'm celebrating my birthday on the blog this year with a giveaway sponsored by P. Allen Smith's Holiday Collection, with this beautiful, fragrant wreath from Allen's new Lodge Collection.  The Collection is inspired by National Parks lodges from the turn of the 20th century, and honors American craftsmanship and artistry.  
The 20" wreath is made from fresh, sustainably-harvested, hand-tied Noble Fir and pine, with pinecone, birch and  snowflake accents, and can be used either indoors or outdoors.

The giveaway is open to US residents, and here's how it works:  Leave a comment on this post telling me where you'll use the wreath if you're the winner, or alternatively, share your favorite holiday memory, or your favorite holiday recipe - one entry per person.  

For a bonus chance to win, leave a comment on my facebook page and tell me how you spell the cone of a pine tree - pinecone, or pine cone, or share any fun holiday anecdote you wish!  Inquiring minds want to know! (Or is that enquiring minds?)  Have fun, and be as creative as you like.

I'll need to be able to reach the winner, so be sure your email address is easy to find, either through your blogger profile, on your blog, or linked through your comment.  I'll need to hear back from the winner within 48 hours after emailing you.  If I can't track you down, or if you don't respond in time, an alternate winner will be selected.

The winning entry will be selected on Friday, November 16, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. Central Standard Time, via  Once the winner is selected,  I'll update this post.  

Update 9/16/12:  Congratulations, Thea - you won the wreath!  I wasn't able to find your email address so I contacted you both through your facebook, and google+ page.  Please contact me with your email address asap - no later than within 48 hours, or I'll need to select an alternate winner.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wildflower Wednesday

Of course, 'Autumn Joy' sedum isn't a wildflower, but the sweet little pale lavender-pink asters are.  They're the last native plants left blooming in our garden, and they just burst open this week.  

I'm not even sure which aster this is, but my guess is Aster lateriflorus, or if you like those newfangled botanical names,  Symphyotrichum lateriflorum, or if you're like me and find the common names more romantic, fun, easier to pronounce, and so much friendlier, calico aster.  

Like many asters, this one likes to sprawl.  I moved it behind the sedums last fall, thinking they might give it a little support.  They do, and I like how the contrasting blooms and foliage are mingling together - a happy accident, don't you think?

To join in this monthly celebration of wildflowers blooming in gardens all over, please visit Gail at Clay and Limestone, where she's featuring tiny asters too; with wonderful photos of the pollinators that love these native autumn blooms.

Monday, October 15, 2012

October Bloom Day

Blooms around here in October are getting fewer, and further between.   We haven't had frost yet, and there's still some color in our garden.  

These mums were planted in spring three years ago, and they've returned each year.  Planting them in spring helps with hardiness.  Their roots get established and they're less likely to heave in winter.  We think it helps not cutting them back in the fall too.  Stems cut back in fall tend to hollow out and soak in moisture that can rot the roots.  In our garden most things don't get cut back until spring.  Fallen leaves tend to collect around the stems this way too, and that helps insulate and protect them until spring.  That's calamint blooming behind the mums.

Our mini-rose has been blooming continuously all summer.  It's never done that before.  A couple of years ago it even bloomed through an early-December snow.

'Rozanne' has slowed down some, but she keeps blooming until frost gets her.

Gomphrena 'Fireworks' is still going.

Next year the lowly wax begonia will likely replace impatiens here.  I'm tired of watering impatiens, and most of them succumbed to downy mildew this year  - not only in our yard, but all around the area - both the singles and the doubles.

They're not flowers anymore, but the brown balls Previously Known as Coneflowers will make good food for the critters around here well into late fall.  It's not unusual for squirrels to bite them off and carry them away.

You may be able to see the work of critters here  on these mums.  Most years rabbits eventually eat all the mum blooms.

This group of sedums gets just a little afternoon sun.  If I didn't pinch them early in they season they'd be flopping all over, but don't let anyone tell you sedums are just for full sun.  They're great in dry shade,  and pollinators love them in our garden.  This is a spot where many other plants, both natives and cultivars, have been tried and failed.  Here, the roots of silver maples, a serviceberry, and a hedge of mature arborvitaes all come together, and this spot is dry, dry, dry.  But the sedums don't mind at all.

More wax begonias still going strong long after the impatiens bit the dust.

I'm not sure which asters these are.  I do know pinching them a couple of times in late spring and early summer helps keep them from getting leggy and floppy.

This bunch of  'Autumn Joy' sedums got pinched too, even though they get a little more sun than the others. Pinching back tall sedums once or twice early in the season really does help with floppiness.   Another NOID aster mingling with the sedums is just about to bloom.  This one has teeny white blooms too, but it's got a slightly different form from the one pictured earlier, and it blooms later.

The last hardy cyclamen left is blooming, but not as prolifically as in previous years.  The other two seem to have dissapeared.  

Every two or three days since late spring, I've been enjoying a little handful of these heirloom French strawberries.  I started them from seeds from Renee's Garden two springs ago.  The flowers are cute, the berries are delicious, and the plants form pretty mounds.  They can be divided, but there are no runners on these strawberries.  They produce a nice little crop all season long, even in just part sun.

Heuchera villosa 'Mocha' blooms all season.

This is the latest I can remember still seeing phlox blooms around here.  This one's a NOID from a fellow Master Gardener.  Chocolate Joe Pye weed was also blooming in our garden, until something stepped on it last week and broke the stems.

After a very hot, very dry summer, October's been chilly.  It feels more like November than early October.  While we haven't had a frost or freeze yet, all the tender plants came in last weekend just to be safe.  I'm always glad when that task is done!

In spite of the drought, fall colors have beautiful.  And this weekend we had the first substantial rain here    since early August.

Happy Bloom Day all, and to see more October blooms, please visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Troy-Bilt Cordless, Battery-Powered Cultivator Giveaway!

Update, 9/28/12:  Thank you so much to everyone who entered.  I loved reading all your comments here and on facebook.  Your comments made me kind of wish I had one of these babies to give away to each of you!  

Congratulations to SuzOh - you're the winner!  Please reply to my email with your shipping information and your brand-new cultivator will be on its way.

Don't you just love blog giveaways?  I sure do, especially when I get to host one!  For one week, starting today and ending next Friday, September 28th, US residents can enter here for a chance to win this Troy-Bilt Lithium-Ion battery-powered cultivator.

New this year, the TBC57 cordless cultivator has a rechargeable 20-volt lithium-ion battery - no smelly, expensive gasoline, and no extension cord needed!  This light-weight cultivator is easy-to-use, and perfect for both beginner and experienced gardeners.

Entry is easy - just leave a comment here, telling me how you would use this cultivator in your garden.

Want an bonus chance to win?  That's easy too - Be a US resident, 'Like' my facebook page if haven't already, leave a comment on this status update saying how you'd use the cultivator, and share the status update on your own facebook page.

 The winner will be selected next Friday, 9/28/12, at 9:00 a.m. Central Daylight Time, via   Once the winner is selected, I'll update this post.  I'll need to be able to reach the winner, so be sure your email address is easy to find, either on your blogger profile, on your blog, or linked through your comment.  The cultivator will be shipped to the winner directly by Troy-Bilt.  

Good luck everyone!

Friday, September 14, 2012

September Bloom Day

Our long, hot, dry summer has given way to September's milder temperatures.  We're still short on rain, but the  cool nights and mild days, especially this week, have been welcome relief.

This overwintered canna has been blooming for a few weeks, making this one of my favorite spots in the garden lately.

Double impatiens and 'Diamond Frost' euphorbia are among my favorite hanging baskets this month.

'Rozanne' is my favorite geranium.  Here, she's seen with my favorite oxalis.

'David's Lavender' is one of my favorite phlox varieties.  Even during this very hot dry summer, this tall phlox kept all its foliage, and suffered no powdery mildew.  It was one of the earliest phlox to start blooming, and one of the last still going.

Seen with Agastache 'Blue Fortune,' this was one of my favorite coneflowers this year.  It had the most blooms of a single coneflower plant, and the goldfinches left its petals alone.

Sky blue aster, new last year, has upstaged the smooth blue as my favorite this month.

'Autumn Bride' is my favorite heuchera this time of year.  Amazingly, the bunnies haven't eaten any of the flower scapes (yet.)  Behind 'Autumn Bride,' 'Autumn Joy' sedum is just starting to color up.  They're my favorite sedums this year, since I remembered to pinch them in June, and they didn't flop,
(unlike the un-pinched 'Matrona' flopping into 'Autumn Bride' on the bottom right.)

Hanging basket fuchsias are the hummingbirds' favorites, now that the cardinal flowers are finished for the season (and maybe finished for good after the swale went completely dry for the first time since I've here.)

Gomphrena 'Fireworks' is my favorite new annual in the garden this year.

The last black-eyed susan still blooming, just behind Japanese anemones, and next to an upright 'Matrona'  I remembered to pinch.

Of all my favorite blooms in the garden this month, this is my very favorite-ist of all, shown at night when it's not only gorgeous, but amazingly fragrant too.  'Sunset' variegated angel's trumpet is in the midst of it's best show all summer, with two dozen blooms and as many buds yet to open.

There are a lot of favorites here during one of my very favorite months of the year.  I can't remember a time when the mild days of September were more welcome.

For everyone who survived one of, if not the hottest summers on record in the Chicago area, the United States, and around the globe, I hope you're enjoying a mild September so far, with plenty of rain, and cool, refreshing evenings.  Happy Bloom Day to all, and Happy Fall  (almost!)

For more Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day posts, please visit our host, Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Wedding in the Family

Last weekend family and friends from three continents gathered at the Chicago area's Morton Arboretum to celebrate the wedding of our middle daughter.  The day dawned rainy and overcast.  And then the sun came out.

The day before the wedding was a busy one, spent playing with succulents and flowers,

making boutonnières,

a corsage,   

and the Bride's bouquet. 

Her bouquet was made with a dozen roses, 17 hand-wired and wrapped succulents, orchids, baby's breath, and statice, all hand-tied, wrapped in ribbon, finished with an ivory bow, and blessed with a mother's love.

Rain and clouds, sun and warm breezes, family and close friends - it was an entirely beautiful day - one we'll remember with great fondness and joy.

It is written, when children find true love, parents find true joy. Here's to your joy and ours from this day forward. -Unknown

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

August Bloom Day

It's high summer here, and in the Chicago area we've been getting some welcome, and much needed relief from this year's record heat and drought.  The garden is grateful, and so am I.  

Salvia x sylvestris 'Blue Hill' has been oblivious to the weather, maintained its clean foliage as usual, and as long as it's deadheaded regularly, it keeps blooming all season.

Here in a small corner in front where lava rock has been pushed away and the ongoing battle with a neighbor's ivy is waged, an unnamed phlox, Sedum 'Matrona' , a seedling baptisia, and young native grasses grown with seeds from Monica this spring have done well with little rain.  

These are the delicate seedheads of petite purple love grass.

 Here's the whole little plant, along with a couple of flopping phlox stems. This, along with four other kinds of grasses, are my first forays into native grasses.  They were  all easy to start from seeds, and didn't need much coddling in spite of the hot, dry weather.  I kept them in gallon pots until mid-July.  Now in the garden, they're all growing and thriving.  I'm loving this little native grass and hoping the other larger grasses will bloom this year too.

Thank you for the seeds, Monica!

'Happy Returns' daylilies were sheared to the ground about a month ago to clean up the yellow and brown foliage.  Within a week they were back up, and blooming again a few days later.  Still blooming now, they're looking a lot better with clean foliage.

 I wait for angel's trumpet blooms all summer.  They're exquisitely fragrant,

 and beautiful too, don't you think?

Combined with the fragrance from Hosta plantaginea, 

Hosta plantaginea 'Aphrodite' (fully-open bloom further down, below,) and Sambac jasmine (not pictured,) the evening through early morning scents on our patio and floating on light breezes through open windows are simply divine.

Double impatiens are staples in a couple of hanging baskets almost every year here.  I like them with the airy blooms of Diamond Frost euphorbia.  Is there anything Diamond Frost doesn't go well with?

 We like impatiens in multiple colors.

Purple coneflowers are still looking fresh.  So far this season, the goldfinches haven't pulled off all the petals.

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' is about a foot shorter, with fewer blooms than usual.  Pollinators ignore these cultivars.  I'm thinking we need the natives.  Starting native plants from seed takes patience, but it's rewarding, cheap thrills. 

Here's Hosta plantaginea 'Aphrodite,' the morning after the first-ever bloom opened.  They open at night.  They're notoriously slow to bloom after planting.  It took seven years for this one. Unlike most other hostas, The scapes barely rise above the foliage. The foliage is solid, deep green. I love the texture, elegance, substance, shade, and shape of it.  The flowers make lovely icing.

Hibiscus 'Midnight Marvel' is a new introduction this year.  All of us who attended Walters Gardens' Media Day last week got to bring one home.  How thoughtful it was to obligingly open its first bloom just in time for Bloom Day.  

I've made peace with Agastache 'Blue Fortune's' grey-blue foliage.  It performs well in our garden, returns faithfully each year, and while it's not as full as usual, it's tolerated the heat and drought here well.  Although they're cultivars, pollinators are all over them.

Rudbeckia 'Herbstsonne' is a cross between two native rudbeckias.  Pollinators love them in our garden, but they haven't performed nearly as well as they usually do in more normal summer weather.  The plants are severely stunted and not blooming as much as usual.  The two smallest plants have powdery mildew.

Hummingbirds visit this fuchsia multiple times every day.

Cardinal flowers are another hummingbird favorite here.  They look better most years.  I'm glad they survived the hottest summer here on record.

Here's 'Midnight Marvel' fully open a few hours later.

Late summer is one of my favorite times in our garden.  This month, with it's milder temperatures and good rains so far, has been beautiful here.  I hope you're enjoying beautiful weather, enough rain, and lots of blooms in your garden this month.

Happy Bloom Day, and to see what's blooming in gardens everywhere today, please visit our host, Carol at May Dreams Gardens.