Wild Times at Garden in a City

The north side Chicago chapter of Wild Ones, an organization of native plant enthusiasts, came to our garden today. They were on their triennial garden tour. As I wrote in my last post, I was working hard to prepare for this visit, partly by spiffing up the garden and partly by obsessing over all its fatal imperfections.

The Wild Ones arrive.
The Wild Ones arrive.

The latter activity, as I knew well in the rational part of my brain, was a completely pointless exercise. The Wild Ones are a good natured bunch, and highly appreciative. They were full of questions and positive comments, and it was a pleasure to talk plants with them.

An added bonus was that I got to meet two blogger friends face-to-face for the first time: Nicole of My Garden Diaries and Abby from Woodchuck Acres. Neither live in the area and drove some distance to take part in the tour. (Both blogs are really worth reading.)

Closer to home, I also got to meet two like-minded Evanston gardeners, Bill and Geri. I hope to see their gardens soon for myself.

Mexican Sunflower (right) and Yellow Coneflower (left) generated a lot of interest.
Mexican Sunflower (right) and Yellow Coneflower (center) generated a lot of interest.

I’d say the plant that generated the most comments and excitement was the Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). This is not native to our region (it’s originally from Mexico and Central America), but it is truly fantastic for pollinators.

Mexican Sunflower
Mexican Sunflower

I’m beginning to feel I should be get a commendation from the American Tithonia Society for promoting this plant. Unfortunately, there is no such organization, but I may get it started in order to receive the recognition I deserve.

Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' and Wild Bergamot.
Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’ and Wild Bergamot.

Other plants that generated interest in the sunny front garden were the Yellow Coneflower (Ratbida pinnata), Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), the Joe Pye Weeds (Eutrochium purpureum and E. maculatum), and the various Monardas.

DSC_0495 wild ones tour

Overall, the garden was as well-tended as it has ever been (or at least as it has been since it was last on a garden tour). Unfortunately the Monarch Butterflies did not make an appearance but there was a hummingbird dashing about. Also, the Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) in the front containers was satisfyingly fragrant.

DSC_0484 wild ones tour

In the back Judy had set out ice tea, water and coffee cake cut in little pieces. Happily people were not too shy to help themselves.

American Spikenard, with unripe berries.
American Spikenard, with unripe berries.

There was a lot of interest in the American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa) – I ย need to write a post on this plant in the near future.

'Casa Blanca' Oriental Lilies
‘Casa Blanca’ Oriental Lilies

And in a happy bit of good timing, the ‘Casa Blanca’ Oriental Lilies had just begun to bloom, so that the whole back area was filled with sweet scent.


In under 40 minutes the Wild Ones had to get back on the bus. I had wanted to join them for the rest of the tour, but resisted because 1) I was pooped; and 2) I had some stuff I had to work on for my job.

Taking notes.
Taking notes.

Normally on weekends I spend the days doing garden chores. However, this Saturday all the chores had already been done. It was a nice day, warm but not humid, and the mosquitoes were mostly on vacation.

Farewell, Wild Ones.
Farewell, Wild Ones.

So Judy and I spent a couple of hours sitting and reading in the back garden, enjoying what we are often too busy working on or photographing to really experience. And then I took a nap.


Gardening is a funny mix of solitary and social. Even if no one else ever saw our garden, I would take great pleasure in it. But the pleasure is deeper when you can share it with others, whether they be sidewalk passersby or touring Wild Ones.

59 Comments on “Wild Times at Garden in a City

  1. The garden looks wonderful, your Wild Ones must have really enjoyed it. Having garden visitors is a great way to get the garden up to scratch, but so exhausting. Now tell me how you manage to grow such fantastic Monarda. Are there certain varieties which don’ t get mildew or isn’ t it a problem over there?

    • We do have mildew, though ‘Raspberry Wine’ is strongly resistant. Mainly Judy is very artful in taking the photographs so the mildew doesn’t show.

  2. I’m so glad it all went well, not that I had any doubts! I’m growing Tithonia mainly because I liked it so much in your garden.

  3. Brilliant – I’m sure the Wild Ones were appreciative of all your hard work (and coffee cake!). And how lovely to be able to relax afterwards and enjoy the fruits of your labours. I tell you what, why don’t you start the US branch of the Tithonia Society and I’ll start the UK one ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I can imagine how exciting it is to see Mexican Sunflower for the first time. It is a stunner. I will look forward to the post about the spikenard. You and Judy deserve a nap after the tour. It is funny how we get ourselves all worked up over a tour. Most gardeners don’t see the weeds we miss or the dying and dead. If they see them they avert their attention to something more pleasant. It is good that you survived.

  5. A enjoyable afternoon had by all! Your extra housekeeping paid off.
    A friend grows tithonia from seed each year and it does have star power.
    Whenever I’m on a garden tour, especially on hot summer days, I’m always appreciative of the refreshments that are offered at some locations.
    Well done.

  6. Your garden looks great. Glad the tour went well. From the pictures the visitors were seriously enjoying your plants and you, your rest at the end.

  7. It is so true about the garden being both a solitary and social pastime that one can enjoy alone or in the company of others who appreciate the results of our efforts. Well done, and congratulations.

  8. Sounds like the Wild Ones visit was a success! Yay! Not surprised, you have beautiful gardens.
    I’m growing tithonia for the first time this year because of seeing it in your garden. I think of sunflowers as being primarily vertical and I didn’t allow for all the ‘side branching’. Planted them wa-a-ay too close together and too many. And they are about 6 1/2′ tall and have taken over the garden shed area! Live and learn. But, wow, they’re gorgeous and the hummers love them! I’m collecting seed for next year ๐Ÿ™‚

    • It’s definitely worth remembering that Tithonia is both TALL and WIDE. At a certain point it gets so big that the side branches start breaking off, something I can postpone but not prevent with judicious staking.

  9. I wish I’d been there for the tour. ๐Ÿ™‚ What a lucky bunch. I Googled aralia. Too bad it’s gets so tall. It would have been great in my shady beds.

  10. Wonderful! It sounds like what we go through when we’re having guests (even more so when they’re spending a few nights with us). We clean and fix up the house in a way we never really do as extensively for ourselves. And afterwards, we get to enjoy a clean attractive house (and wonder why we never do this for ourselves). Having said that, I bet you do as much for yourself, with or without tours–just without all the worrying. It must be great to be able to share your lovely garden and all your hard work with others who can appreciate it in the way you do. And, by the way, I think the weeds pop up MORE when you’re having visitors just for spite!

    • I do a lot of work keeping up the garden – the difference is that with the tour coming I forced myself to have everything done at the same time, whereas normally there are always a few things I will get to at some point in the future.

  11. Oh. Your garden makes my heart race. It is SO beautiful. They were very very lucky to get to see it live.

  12. Good for you–the tour, the nap, and most of all, the wonderful garden! One of these days, I’m going to add Mexican Sunflower (recommended by you) and Zinnia ‘Zowie Yellow Flame’ (recommended by Rose @ Prairie Rose’s Garden). I’m imagining all the butterflies they would attract!

  13. Hi Jason, it sounds like the visit was a complete success, just as I thought it would be. You look particularly tired yet relieved and satisfied in that final photo!

  14. Looks like they left you some cake! I hope you had a piece when you relaxed afterwards. Tours are always a bit taxing for the gardener, so I can understand you being anxious leading up to the day.

  15. It looks like you had a very successful day and that after all the prep work you were entitled to a good rest. ๐Ÿ™‚ There is a personal satisfaction in working in your garden but as you said when someone enjoys it there is real joy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Looks like a wonderful day, and I’m glad you were able to sit and just enjoy your garden for awhile, Jason. I can understand your worries beforehand, but I know when I’m visiting other people’s gardens, I don’t notice the weeds or the unfinished projects–in fact, it makes me feel a little better knowing I’m not the only one without a “perfect” garden:) If you start getting commissions on promoting Mexican sunflowers, you can add me to your client list–I need to add these to my garden!

  17. I’m glad you found time for a much-deserved nap. Sounds like a splendid time. Just wish I lived close enough to come.

  18. I’d love to be on that tour! I agree that sharing your garden with those who appreciate your undertaking is satisfying. I still remember the after hours of a garden tour for my former garden….satisfied! The Wild Ones had a treat!,,

  19. What fun, Jason! I didn’t realize that they would all come at once (on a bus). But I bet they really enjoyed themselves. SO nice you got to meet some fellow bloggers, too!

  20. Glad you took advantage of that rare window of opportunity right after a big event like this when all the chores have been done and you are pleasantly pooped. We often forget to plant ime to sit and enjoy what we have wrought.

  21. Oh, it looks beautiful, full and lush! Good for you and Judy for having the energy to keep up with tours – at age 65 I think my tour participation days are over, but I remember the panic and sweat for weeks ahead, and the joy of “the day”, and the great pleasure of the aftermath.

    One funny memory, speaking of (most) gardeners being forgiving: one time I did have one woman, part of a biking/gardeners group (?!) who literally stomped into my yard with heavy army boots on, strode quickly around the garden, and snorted one very pithy and disdainful comment as she exited, “Too many pots!”.
    The bikes, by the way, were like Harleys, not Schwinns.

    This still makes me laugh. But everyone else was totally delightful. And I don’t think there were too many pots.

    • That is an odd comment (how can you tell when there are too many pots?), but it’s good you could enjoy the absurdity of it.

  22. That last paragraph is SO true! Wish I’d been a Wild One that day – and so glad you took the time to sit and veg.

  23. I just love that last pic of you….looking so relaxed and happy after all that hard work. As Chloris said, having visitors certainly helps getting the garden up to scratch!
    Good you got to meet blogger friends and I’m not at all surprised that the Mexican sunflower got so much attention, like Casa blanca….a real show stealer!
    Great that a hummer put in an appearance, that would have made my day! Btw…the note taker would have had my nerves jangling!xxx

  24. As you can tell I am behind with reading so apologies with catching up in one long read…..but I wouldn’t miss your posts Jason! Now on to this wonderful tour. Yours is one garden i hope to see in person one day as it inspires me and you turned me on to tithonia so you do deserve an award. I would say from the last picture it was a wonderfully satisfying day!

    • I’m glad you enjoy the blog – but please don’t apologize! We read and write blogs for enjoyment. If you are ever in the Chicago area you must let us know – I’d be glad to show off the garden.

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