Bloom Day +1

I’m never able to get this done on the 15th, but so be it. Here’s what’s blooming in my garden:

Native Perennials and Shrubs (including Cultivars)

Asclepias purpurascens, Purple Milkweed. Well behaved milkweed that grows in light shade.

Purple Milkweed

Asclepias tuberosa, Butterflyweed. Love this plant.


Ceanothus americanus, New Jersey Tea. Low growing shrub GREAT for pollinators.

New Jersey Tea

Coreopsis lanceolata and ‘Sunfire’

Cornus racemosa, Gray Dogwood

Heliopsis helianthoides, Early Sunflower

Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’

Lonicera sempervivens,Trumpet  Honeysuckle

Trumpet Honeysuckle

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’, Smooth Penstemon

Polygonatum biflorum, Solomon Seal

Rosa setigera, Illinois Rose. Dainty pink flowers on a monster plant. I may regret planting this, but I’m loving it now. Blooming for first time after three years.

Sambucus canadensis, Elderberry

Tradescantia ohioensis, Ohio Spiderwort

Non-Native Perennials and Shrubs

Achillea millefolium ‘Paprika’, Yarrow

Adenophera lilifolia, Ladybells. Aggressive plant  but flowers just as pretty as bellflowers.

Ladybells with pet concrete chicken in background.

Clematis ‘Jackmanii’. Wanted the Clematis to be blooming through the Cup Plant, but Clematis is early.

Clematis and Cup Plants.

Corydalis lutea

Digitalis ambigua, Yellow Foxglove

Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’, ‘Rozanne’, and ‘Biokovo’

Knautia macedonica

Lilium asiatica, various cultivars

Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’

Rosa ‘Cassie’, ‘Westerland’, ‘Darlow’s Enigma’

Salvia X nemorosa  ‘May Night’ and ‘Blue Hill’

Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’, Pincushion Flower

Annuals: Cosmos, Cleome, Impatiens, Nicotania, Verbena, Zinnia, Lobelia, Lobularia, Calibrachoa, Petunia, Pelargonium, Penta, Bacopa. Various cultivars.

Someone is Out to Get my ‘Casa Blanca’ Lilies

In the horticultural justice system, the gardener expresses two separate but equal responses to the loss of a beloved plant. The first is to have a tantrum. The second is to rush out and buy a replacement. This is my story. CHUNG-CHUNG.

‘Casa Blanca’ Oriental Lillies

I love my ‘Casa Blanca’ oriental lilies. The ivory flowers are wonderful, and the fragrance incomparable. Earlier this spring it looked like they would have an exceptional year, growing tall and healthy.

Then tragedy struck. One of the lily stalks became discolored. On closer examination, I decided that some kind of borer had gotten into it. To be on the safe side, I yanked the whole plant, including the bulb, and disposed of it. There were five lilies to start with, so that left four. Tragic, yes, but I could still move on with my life.

Torso of the victim (center) after the gruesome crime.

A couple  of weeks later I discovered that another of the lilies had become headless – the upper part of the stalk had snapped off. I was so disturbed by this that I went out and bought a replacement in a one gallon container.

Then this afternoon I got home and discovered that another lily had been snapped off near the bottom. Three lilies lost in one season. Coincidence? Hardly. Who is responsible for this crime spree? Neighbors jealous of my flowers or resentful of my unwillingness to have a normal lawn? Senseless vandalism by wayward teens? Or something more sinister?

Third victim.

Even worse, could this be a case of negligent lilycide? One of the snapped lilies was not staked, the other was. Could my failure to stake, or improper staking, be the culprit? Or could it just be birds attempting to perch on the lily stalks?

Will my ‘Casa Blancas’ ever feel safe again?

Changing of the Guard: Container Gardening Edition

I am one of those people who frets. I fret about important and difficult things. I also fret about things I do for fun, like gardening. I fret, therefore I am.

Pansies on the front steps just starting to hit their stride back in May.

These days I am fretting about pansies. Specifically, when should I replace the pansies with summer annuals in the various containers and planters I have? Right about now they should be getting ragged, but actually they are still looking pretty good. If I pull them out now, the summer annuals will fill in and establish themselves that much sooner. Also, the selection of annuals seems to deteriorate some time in June.

On the other hand, is it somehow wasteful or wrong to throw pansies on the compost pile while they are still in bloom?

Pansies and low-bush blueberries on the back steps.

Anybody out there have any thoughts on this? Also, I am doing some preliminary fretting on which summer annuals I should replace the pansies with. I like zinnias, Lantana, red millet, calibrachoa, petunias, caladium, Impatiens, coleus, and tropical milkweed. Also, Judy likes zonal geraniums so I always have a couple of those. Feel free to let me know what your favorite container plants are for sun and shade.

A Stony Path

The stone path to the backyard that lies on the west side of our house had problems. The steps were sinking in places and were covered by soil that had washed down from the border. Also, the stepping stones were a couple of inches below the level of the bricks that start at the backyard gate. Plus, the gaps between the stones were full of grass and weeds.

Path on the west side of the house leading to the backyard. I’m hoping that the Scotch and Irish moss will form a mat covering the gap between the stones. Also that they’ll get along. I’m training roses up that arbor beyond the gate.

So this past weekend I implemented a quick fix. I lifted up the steps where needed, spread new sand, then replaced the steps so that the were adequately elevated. Moving the stones also made it easier for me to purge the path of weeds. Finally, I planted some mat forming low groundcovers in the larger spaces between the stepping stones. I planted nutmeg thyme in the sunnier part of the path, and Irish or Scotch moss in the shady parts.

I also planted some Corydalis lutea along the inside of the path.

I realize this is a lazy way of fixing the path, and that the stones will sink again in a few years. But so what? I’ll just pull them up again, lay down more sand, and put them back in place.

I’ve read that you’re supposed to use the same material for paths throughout your property. I have violated this garden design injunction, but I hope that I am guilty of only a misdemeanor. Actually, I think switching from stone to brick at the backyard gate works as a transition from one space to another. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I have to admit this wasn’t planned. We inherited the stone path, and laid the brick path ourselves without thinking about how it would connect to the stone. B ut we like it anyway.

An Herb is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Every year we grow far more herbs, in gross tonnage, than we consume. A single oregano plant goes a long way, even if you are vigilant in beating back its efforts to take over the entire neighborhood. Admittedly, I make matters worse by planting far more parsley, dill, and fennel than we could ever use in order to entice black swallowtail butterflies to our yard.


It feels just wrong to keep pinching back your herbs to keep them from flowering when most of the pinched material just goes unused. So, I am on the lookout for recipes that enable us to consume large quantities of herbs in a single go.

Judy made just such a recipe last night: chimichurri. This is an Argentine sauce made with fresh cilantro, oregano, and parsley. Delicious!

You can put it on beef, chicken, fish, or vegetables, or use it as a marinade. Here is a link to a good chimichurri recipe.

Weekend Notes: Soaker Hoses, Gluttonous Grackels, Spring Berries

Break Out the Hoses. It’s definitely turned into a dry Spring. Hot, sunny weather, and just a little over an inch of rain for the past thirty days.

It’s a point of pride with me that except for the vegetable gardens, I almost never water. I do hand water my containers and new shrubs and perennials. As for the rest,  many of my plants are prairie natives or otherwise well-adapted hombres that laugh at drought. And if the grass grows dormant, so be it.

Foxgloves (Digitalis ambigua)on backyard path.

However, it’s gotten just dry enough that I’ve given in. I’m being a little extra careful because I do have a lot of new perennials, plus I’m using many more annuals as fillers and these are more vulnerable to drought.

So I got some new soaker hoses that are a big improvement on the last one I had. Sold under the brand name Gilmour, they are flexible and easy to use.

If I have to water, I definitely prefer the soaker hoses. They use water much more efficiently and you can target the water more precisely. The disadvantage is you have to be careful laying down the hose in a bed full of growing plants – I snapped the main stem of a tall white cosmos while doing so yesterday.

Step Away from the Peanuts. On the avian front, I’ve decided to give the peanut feeder a rest until the cold weather returns. I’m tired of feeding the grackles, who’ve been consuming about 90% of my peanuts, sometimes emptying an entire tube feeder in a single day. I put out the peanuts for the benefit of woodpeckers, nuthatches, and other nice, colorful birds.

Yes, I’m talking to you.

Grackles are not nice. They are like the Hell’s Angels of bird feeding: they show up in a gang, eat everything, and then hang around intimidating everybody else.  Grackles can be kind of attractive in a menacing way with their glossy purple sheen, and I wouldn’t mind them if their behavior wasn’t so atrocious. I also like to watch how they dunk their peanuts in water.

Fortunately, the grackles leave the bird feeders alone during the winter. Until then, I’ll have jelly for orioles, suet for woodpeckers, nyjer seed for the goldfinches, and sunflowers for everybody else.  No peanuts.

Berries of Spring. We’ve got a nice crop of ripe spring berries for the birds: red elderberry, blueberries, serviceberries, and wild strawberries. The serviceberries are being gobbled up by the robins and others. This is the first year we have an appreciable number of blueberries. I grow them in containers to make it easier to keep the soil acidic. I have two low-bush varieties: Top Hat and Little Crisp.

Serviceberries. Their taste has been described as a cross between blueberry and almond.

I’m growing the straight species of native red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) as a hedge on the east side of the house. They must be happy because they have a bumper crop of berries for just their second summer. The birds don’t seem to be eating them, though. I wonder if I should put up a sign that says something like “FREE EATS.”

Red elderberries.

I find wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) make an excellent groundcover. The berries don’t taste like much, so I’m happy to leave them for the robins, squirrels, and chipmunks.

I also really like the unusual striped berries of Starry Solomon Seal (Smilacina stellata).

There are other berries later in the Summer and in the Fall. I’m very happy to find that my gray dogwoods (Cornus racemosa) are loaded with green berries for the first time, after several frustrating years. When the berries turn white in Autumn, they are devoured by birds – or so I’m told.

Luxembourg Gardens

Back in April, Judy and I visited Paris for the first time as a birthday/anniversary celebration. Great trip. Judy is still sorting through the 1,500 pictures she took (thank God for digital cameras). So far I’ve done one post on Monet’s Garden at Giverney. Both of us have been very hard pressed at work since then so the sorting is going pretty slowly.

All this is a lengthy explanation for why I’m posting in June about a trip in April. With that out-of-the-way, let me tell you about the Luxembourg Gardens, the second largest park in Paris. The gardens form a sort of enormous front yard for the Luxembourg Palace. It was not exactly my sort of garden (to put it mildly), but I enjoyed it anyway.

Eiffel Tower seen from Luxembourg Gardens. Palace is to the right.

The first thing I liked about this Garden was that it was so alive with people. We went twice, and even on a chilly day it was being used by hordes of people: young, old, and middle-aged; reading, flirting, strolling, hanging out, and (my favorite) racing toy boats in the reflecting pond. There were enough people to make the scene lively, yet the garden is big enough and laid out so that there is never a feeling of being crowded. I liked the idea that this garden, which was built for the amusement of aristocrats, serves as a common open space for the pleasure of so many people.

The second thing I liked was the statuary and fountains. One thing about France is that you really can’t throw a rock anywhere without hitting some statue or other. Most statues in the Luxembourg Gardens were busts or full size creations representing various worthies or mythical characters. These I thought were just ho-hum. The really entertaining ones were those that seemed (to me) completely over the top. For example, there was a fountain containing a bunch of naked ladies holding a giant globe surrounded by rearing horses, surrounded by fish squirting streams of water, surrounded in turn by turtles squirting streams of water right back at them.

Something missing here. Could they add some elephants, maybe? Or pandas? People like pandas.

There was also a statue of a drunken Dionysus being carried off by a bunch of naked lads and lasses. I don’t think this is a statue the old Mayor Daley would have approved of.  Classical themes were much more common than religious ones, by the way, but more on that in another post.

These people who are reading don’t seem to be aware that there is an orgy going on right in front of them.

The Luxembourg Gardens had large areas of open lawn, playgrounds, and wooded areas. There were formal flower beds as well, filled mostly with tulips and forget-me-nots when we were there. The flower beds were not my style, but the element of color definitely contributed positively to the feel of the place.  The other striking element was the views. Given that this was Paris, the “borrowed views” included things like the Eiffel Tower and the Pantheon.

Finally, there were the square trees. Why were the trees square? I’m not really sure. I’ve read that the gardens of Louis XIV (who built Versailles) were inspired in part by the idea of soldiers standing in rank, and these trees certainly give a militaristic impression.

Fortunately, not all the trees are tortured in this way. It was interesting to me that two of the most common street trees in Paris were sycamores and good old American buckeyes.

Pantheon viewed from Luxembourg Gardens.

All in all, I’d say the Luxembourg Gardens should be a priority destination for any gardeners visiting Paris.

Why do we Garden?

Returning from another work trip on late Friday afternoon, the first thing I did was to inspect the garden. Then I spent a couple of hours staking, clipping, weeding and generally puttering around. At one point, I asked myself: why am I doing this after being absent from home all week? More generally, why do I spend so much time as well as physical and mental effort on the garden?

I can think of a few reasons. There is a sense of contentment and tranquility that comes from observing either a single flower – or patchworks of color and texture that seem just right. The same feeling comes from watching a bumblebee climb in and out of the tubular flowers of smooth penstemon, or a monarch butterfly nectaring on purple coneflower, or goldfinches feeding on the ripe seeds of an anise hyssop.

The Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ is doing well this year.

Gardening is an assertion of influence on a small piece of the environment. That’s influence, not control. A wise gardener seeks to channel the elements of the garden’s environment – soil, plants, critters, weather – to produce a small community of beauty and abundance. Trying too hard to rigidly control the garden generally leads to results that are sterile – literally and figuratively – and dull.

Achieving the effect you want with the right mix of effort and letting things take their own course is tremendously satisfying. A wall covered with rich purple clematis, a flower bed that gradually rises from sprawling blue geranium to towering yellow cup plants, makes me feel that the world can be handled to create beautiful results.

Zebra swallowtail nectaring on a purple coneflower.

Personally, I like a style of gardening that maximizes the quantity and variety of creatures in the garden. This world is full of malice, indifference, and selfishness, but a garden can be a small-scale exercise in altruism and benevolence that I find comforting. A healthy garden, of course, is full of carnage and predation mostly invisible to people, so you can easily overstate the benevolence aspect. But at least a garden can welcome many forms of life by providing easy access to those things which are necessary to survival.

The tactile quality of gardening is also very attractive. Like so many people, my work involves dealing with concepts, personalities, varying degrees of truthfulness, and, it must be said, a whole lot of bullshit. So it is a relief to leave that world and literally get my hands in the soil. This may be one reason I prefer not to wear gloves when I garden, though Judy complains I make a mess of the bathroom sink. Of course, in addition to touching things that are  real, the senses of sight and smell are also gratified.

Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohioensis) is just starting to peak.

Finally, gardening helps me be more connected to my human community. I’ve gotten to know a number of neighbors (especially the dog walkers and those with small children) while gardening in the front yard. Without gardening, I’m sure that community connection would be greatly diminished. Some of the neighbors think my obsession is a little odd, but more often I hear expressions of admiration. At one point a neighbor waved at my front yard, bursting with the colors of mid-summer, and told me: “This is a joy!” Yes, that about sums it up.

Front yard, June 2, 2012.
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) is a native bellflower. It’s a low-growing, tough plant with delicate looking flowers. Only drawback is a tendency to sprawl.

Wild Parrots of Chicago

Yes, there are parrots living wild in Chicago. See below for proof. These parrots were eating at our peanut feeder this morning, then flew up to the telephone wire when Judy went to get her camera. I’m guessing they have down coats to make it through the winter.

These are not ex-parrots.

Separation (from the Garden) Anxiety

 One of the unfortunate things about my job is that I have to be out of town a great deal during May, a crucial gardening month. This past week I left on Tuesday morning and returned Saturday afternoon, just a few hours ago. I have to leave again on Monday morning (yes, Memorial Day), and won’t return until Friday.

During these periods I long for my garden. Judy helps by emailing me photos occasionally, but I still  do a great deal of worrying. (Oh, and I miss Judy, too.) Is anything drying out? Are there plants flopping over and in need of staking? Am I missing the fleeting blooms of some particularly choice flower? My plants are  used to fairly constant attention while I’m at home, will they be resentful or alienated by my long absences?

The upside of being away from home is that when I return, seeing the new blooms has a greater emotional impact. For instance, my rose ‘Cassie’ was covered with unopened buds when I left, but with lovely semi-double white flowers when I returned.

My rose ‘Cassie’ sits in front of the house. It’s a mid-size shrub rose with a light fragrance.

Actually, many of my roses took great leaps forward during my absence. ‘Sally Holmes’, now entering its third summer in my backyard, is just starting to hit its stride.

‘Sally Holmes’ has trusses of flowers that fade from blush to cream.

And the roses I planted on the backyard arbor are doing well. ‘Westerland’ has bloomed for the first time (this is its second summer), and ‘Darlow’s Enigma’ is coming into its own.


 I also grow two wild roses, Carolina Rose (Rosa carolina) and Illinois Rose (Rosa setigira). These bloom later in the summer. All the roses I grow are tough shrub roses or ramblers and require little pampering. 

Aside from the roses, I was very glad to see that the baptisia and salvia were now in full bloom.

Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) is a great perennial. Beautiful pea-like flowers, and grows to shrub-like proportions. Only drawback is that it’s slow to achieve substantial size. Also, you can’t move it once it is settled in.
Salvia ‘May Night’ with Cosmos and Golden Alexander.

By the end of this coming week I’ll get to be a homebody again and spend more time in the garden, at least for a while. I can’t wait.

Painted Lady (I think) butterfly on nepeta.
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