Chicago’s Lurie Garden in Late October

The Lurie Garden is dramatically beautiful right now, and an excellent vantage spot from which to view the lakefront skyline.

Lurie Garden
The Chicago skyline viewed from across the Lurie Garden.

Judy took a walk this afternoon during a break from the work day, and snapped these pictures with her cell phone. 

Lurie Garden

Grasses and foliage provide a tapestry of gold, tan, green, brown, red, and yellow. The contrast with the skyline is exciting, almost startling.

Lurie Garden

This is also one of the few spots where you can see some dramatic fall foliage in downtown Chicago. Those red leaves belong to sugar maples, I believe.

Lurie Garden

The flowers are no longer, but Lurie Garden is still a wonderful place to walk. People who work or live in downtown Chicago should go see it at least once more before everything is frozen, then covered with white.

Lurie Garden
Rattlesnake Master seedheads and Russian Sage in the Lurie Garden.

What gardens if any do you enjoy in October?

GBFD October 2013: Grasses In Their Autumn Glory

So a few days ago the weather turned genuinely cold. I hope that means we will soon see some fall color. However, these pictures were taken just prior to the shift. At that point there wasn’t much foliage of interest in our garden except for the grasses.


Northwind Switchgrass
‘Northwind’ Switchgrass
Northwind Switchgrass
Switchgrass ‘flowers’ and Monarda seed head.

The most impressive grass at the moment is the ‘Northwind’ Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). The two oldest clumps have gotten quite substantial, about 6′ tall and 3-4′ wide. Actually, I’m a little worried they are going to start shading out the Salvias. Regardless, they are a lovely sight at the moment, strong yet delicate.

Northern Sea Oats
Northern Sea Oats


Northern Sea Oats

And of course, Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) shines at this time of year.

Little Bluestem Carousel
Little Bluestem ‘Carousel’ with Calamint


Little Bluestem Carousel

I’m very happy with my new ‘Carousel’ Little Bluestem’ (Schizachyrium scoparium). See how the stems seem to be striped like a green candy cane? The Chicago Botanic Garden evaluation garden gave this variety their top rating.

After this weekend I hope to have some leaf color from the trees, shrubs, and perennials. Until then, what’s your favorite ornamental grass at this time of year?

Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day is sponsored by Christina at Creating My Own Garden Of The Hesperides. Check out her site for more beautiful foliage.


Planting Container Tulips

Today I planted my new tulip bulbs in containers. This is my second year doing this. I started growing hybrid tulips in containers because I found that they did not mix well in perennial borders. In borders I prefer smaller bulbs – including species tulips, grape hyacinths, etc.

Container tulips
Container tulips blooming last May.

Anyhow, I had ordered 110 hybrid tulips from John Scheeper’s, seven different varieties chosen by Judy. Here’s how I planted them.

After pulling out this year’s plants, I refreshed the remaining potting mix with a few handfuls of compost. (One of the horticulturists at the Chicago Botanic Garden recommended this approach.)

planting container tulips

I poured some of the mix into a bucket. The mix left in the container should be at the level where you want to plant the tulips. This should be deep enough so that the tips of the tulip bulbs are at least 6″ below the surface. Deeper is better, because it discourages squirrels and also provides more protection against freezing.

Along with the compost, you can also add some bone meal or bulb food in with the mix. I’ve done both, and haven’t found that it makes a big difference, though I’m sure others would disagree.

In terms of which tulip varieties go with which, we like to mix different bloom times and heights in the same container.

Larger containers are better. The ones I used had an inside diameter of 13″. The bulbs can be packed in much tighter than you would in the ground, about 1″ apart. I put about twelve bulbs in each container. Once the bulbs were planted, you can fill the rest of the container with the refreshed mix.

planting container tulips

Last year I kept the containers in our unheated garage. Tulips cannot survive being frozen, but most of the tulips made it through the winter. The ones in the smaller containers, with a 10″ inside diameter, were the most likely to not survive. A space that stays about 40-50 degrees farenheit would have been better than an unheated garage, but I don’t have such a space.

planting container tulips
Nine containers with tulips bulbs ready to go in the ground.

This year I tried something different: planting the containers in the fallow ground of our vegetable bed. Bulbs in the ground will normally not freeze because they are insulated by the soil. These container tulips will have that same advantage, and I will dig the containers out of the ground in the spring. Once the containers were in the ground, I gave them a soaking.

planting container tulips

Now I can start looking forward to tulips in the spring! Although first I have to get all the bulbs planted.

Have you planted tulip bulbs this fall? Have you ever tried planting tulips in containers?

Stained Glass At Chartres Cathedral

Back to our trip. The thing that really grabs your attention inside Chartres Cathedral is the stained glass. Most of the windows date to the 12th and 13th Centuries and have been scrupulously preserved.

rose window at chartres
Rose window at Chartres.


rose window at chartres

These are called rose windows, for obvious reasons. They are so high up it is difficult to see the detail, but I found it hard to tear my eyes away just from the shapes and colors.

stained glass, chartres
Telling a story with stained glass.


stained glass, chartres
The three kings.

Even more than the sculptures, the windows are like picture books telling the stories of the bible: the infancy of Christ, the passion and resurrection, etc. The amount of detail is incredible. As I’ve said, I am not a religious person, but you don’t have to be a believer to see the artistry here.

Medieval craftsmen:
Medieval craftsmen at work, I think I see carpenters and smiths, hard to tell what the others are.


chartres stained glass
Stone cutters at work.

I think the windows I loved best showed the medieval trades at work, including stone cutters and masons working on the cathedral. One theory is that these windows recognize the contributions of the guilds to the construction of Chartres cathedral, but many historians discount this.

chartres cathedral
The ceiling is 121′ high, so plenty of head room.

The vaulted ceilings, 121 feet high (37 meters), are effective at making me feel very small, something I don’t often feel. A cleaning project has been partially completed. There is a dramatic difference between the gleaming stone that has been cleaned and the grimy ones that have not.

chartres cathedral

I have to say I really like stained glass, religious or not. My favorite piece of garden art is a metal sunflower that has been fitted with pieces of stained glass. Sadly this piece has taken some knocks over the years and is missing some parts. Also the store where we bought it is closed.  What about you – are you fond of stained glass?

Upcoming posts: planting tulips in containers, plus our death-defying drive from Chartres to Amboise.


Don’t Sigh, Eat Pie

Calvin Trillin, one of my favorite writers, credited his father with this excellent four word poem. And I agree with the sentiment, especially as it is applied to apple pie. 

apple pie
Judy’s apple pie

Apple pie has been, since childhood, my favorite desert. So much so that I have always wanted a birthday apple pie, rather than a birthday cake. (My birthday is in October, after all, so it seems appropriately seasonal.)

This year my birthday fell during a week of great busyness and distraction, so we just went out to eat with our son Danny and his girlfriend. However, this past Sunday, while I was busy widening the path on the side of the garage, Judy was making a surprise apple pie. 

And it was an excellent pie. The apples were tender but not mushy, not too sweet and with just a bit of zing. The crust was flaky and crisp – even the bottom crust, which often gets soggy from excess liquid.

How did she do it? She took a classic apple pie recipe from a very conventional source, and then put her own spin on it: 

  • She used Granny Smith apples instead of Jonathans.
  • She put in a full teaspoon of cinnamon (instead of 3/4), and added 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of ginger, and a generous pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.
  • Finally, she mixed in 2 tablespoons of flour to absorb excess liquid.

What desert do you always want for your birthday?

A Quiet Autumn: GBBD, October 2013

Autumn seems to be pretty subdued in these parts. Very little foliage color, and fewer flowers than normal. My theory is that many of the flowers threw in the towel early because it has been pretty dry since the beginning of August. And the warm fall has kept the leaves green late into the season.

Blue Stem Goldenrod
Blue Stem Goldenrod

Nevertheless, there are a few blooms to be enjoyed in my garden. The Blue Stem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) still have flowers, though many have gone to seed.

Short's Aster
Short’s Aster

You cannot have Goldenrod without Asters. This year the flowers of Short’s Aster (Symphyotrichum shortii) have bloomed for a very long season, as has Aromatic Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolius).

Purple Dome
‘Purple Dome’

‘Purple Dome’ is a late-blooming dwarf New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) that is just starting to show its purple and gold flowers. I have it in the back garden, where it is not thriving, perhaps because of too little sun.

Aster seed heads

Most of the Asters, however, have gone to seed.

Brown Eyed Susan
Brown Eyed Susan

There are still some Rudbeckia flowers, like this Brown Eyed Susan (R. triloba). As you can see, though, most of the flower heads have only the ripened seed, which makes the goldfinches very happy.

Caryopteris Longwood Blue
Caryopteris ‘Longwood Blue’

The Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Longwood Blue’ is doing well for its first autumn. I’m looking forward to ‘Longwood Blue’ getting bigger and better in the future.


I have a little patch of Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides), an excellent groundcover. I’m a sucker for blue flowers.

Heavenly Blue Morning Glory
‘Heavenly Blue’ Morning Glory

Speaking of blue, the ‘Heavenly Blue’ Morning Glory (Ipomoea tricolor) continues to bloom modestly even as the weather cools. It was very slow to get going this year, so at least it is hanging on late into the season.  At this point in the year, the flowers can last until late in the day.

Pentas, Cigar Plant
Pentas, with Cigar Plant in the foreground.

Other heat loving annuals, like the Cigar Plant (Cuphea ignea) are also holding their own. Pentas (Pentas lanceolata) still crowns my containers with bright red blooms.

Cleome – that’s the neighbors’ house in the background.

And this one self-sown Spider Flower (Cleome hassleriana), glowing here in the afternoon sun, keeps blooming without a thought to the coming winter. I wouldn’t mind having a bunch of these next year, and have been throwing the seeds around with that in mind.

Rose cassie

Finally, the shrub rose ‘Cassie’ still has semi-double white flowers. not as many as in June but enough to brighten the front entrance.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is sponsored by Carol at May Dream Gardens. Follow the link and see what other gardeners have in bloom.

I Am A Bad Person

For a couple of hours this morning, I was spot spraying my back garden with 2,4-D. 2,4-D is a potent herbicide that is sold under the brand name Weed–B-Gone.  I used about four tablespoons of the stuff, which kills everything that isn’t grass, mixed with water.

herbicide stuff


And as I sprayed, I felt guilt. I think of my garden as a sort of benevolent kingdom where critters are welcome, a tiny refuge where birds and insects will find water to drink, berries and foliage (and other critters) to eat, and a healthy environment at least relatively free of toxins. Spraying 2,4-D violates that vision of my garden.

What’s more, 2-4 D, can be toxic to mammals, birds, and fish. But from what I’ve read there is unlikely to be much toxicity from very limited use (spot-spraying twice a year). We don’t have pets, don’t roll around in the grass, and don’t live near a body of water or natural area. And of course I am following directions to minimize my own contact.


And here’s the thing. The lawn behind the house is a mess. And I don’t mean a few dandelions here and there. In fact, there are some weeds I like to have mixed in with or even taking over from the grass: violets, white clover, and barren strawberry, for example. There are weeds I don’t like, but can live with. Plantain, chickweed, and dandelions come to mind. I just pull some out when I have the time.

But there is one weed whose aggressiveness precludes me from having a live and let live approach. I’m talking about creeping charlie (Glechoma hederacea).  You may tolerate creeping charlie, but it wants nothing less than total domination. It spreads rapidly by seed and stolons, smothering the competition, invading lawns and flower beds alike.

Creeping charlie is almost impossible to pull (I have spent much time trying), as the stolons put down roots every couple of inches.

I do plan on replacing some lawn with pavers.  However, I have been forbidden to replace any more lawn with flowering beds or borders, as there needs to be room in the back garden for people (this last pointed out to me by members of my family at a louder volume than was strictly necessary).

Planting alternatives to grasses isn’t much of a solution, as these alternatives would likely have the same struggle with creeping charlie et. al.

So I have resolved to spot spray twice a year, in spring and fall. This will not eliminate weeds, but I hope it will push them back a bit. And when I am done with spraying, I will spread some compost and organic fertilizer to give the grasses a helping hand. To date I have treated my turf grasses with total indifference (I’m just not into lawns), but I think that must change a bit.

I tell myself that what I’m doing isn’t so bad. But it doesn’t sit right.

On the other hand, perhaps my vision of the garden as a miniature refuge is quixotic. Can we have an island of ecological purity the size of an urban lot? Perhaps not, but I hate to give up trying.

Do you think I’m making a mistake, or fretting over nothing? Do you ever use herbicides in your garden?

What The Heck Is This?

I noticed several of these enormous caterpillars on my Starflowers (Pentas lanceolata) this morning.

Caterpillar on Pentas
Mystery caterpillar.

Enormous and, I might add, really ugly. Note that the head and the butt (do caterpillars have a butt?) are kind of brown and slimy looking, as if it were pooping at both ends.

Apparently Pentas are a host plant for the Tersa sphinx moth, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what this is.  Can anybody ID this critter?

Chartres Cathedral From The Outside

In the late afternoon our train pulled into the station in downtown Chartres. Our hotel was just a couple of blocks away. Though it was pretty basic, from the window of our room we could view what had drawn us here: Chartres Cathedral, which we would see for the first time.

Chartres Cathedral
View of Chartres Cathedral from our motel window.

One thing that absolutely made all the difference to our visit was signing up for a tour led by Malcolm Miller. Miller is English but lives in Chartres and has studied the cathedral for the last 50 years. He’s written books and travels all over the world lecturing on Chartres.

Malcolm Miller
Malcolm Miller

Approaching the cathedral, it seems to be almost completely covered with thousands of sculpted figures, creating a chaotic impression. Miller explained that the sculptures outside and the stained glass inside are not just a conglomeration of images. Rather, the cathedral can be thought of as a kind of giant picture book whose thousands of figures combine to tell bible stories along with related religious messages.

Chartres Cathedral

Most of the images mean nothing to a majority of travellers who see them today. However, they could be “read” by the mainly illiterate people of the 12th and 13th centuries who were alive when the cathedral was built.

Chartres St. Peter
See St. Peter to the right with the keys?

Partly this was because people of the time were steeped in the stories of the bible. But in addition, objects were included that to a medieval person would provide instant identification. For example, the keys held by the the third figure above identifies him as St. Peter, who guards the gates of heaven.

Isaac and Jacob, Chartres
Abraham and Isaac in the center between two other old testament figures.

Similarly, the man and boy above are Abraham and Isaac. If you are in any doubt, you can see that Isaac stands on a smaller image of a ram caught in a shrub – the ram that Abraham was able to sacrifice in place of his son Isaac.

Throne of Judgement Chartres

Here is Jesus on the Throne of Judgement, with Mary by his side. Not sure who the other figure is.

Chartres Cathedral

The damned being sent on their way. Pretty grim stuff.

Chartres steeples

Parts of the cathedral were destroyed or added on over the centuries, which is why the two steeples look so different. The first one is plain and was finished in the 12th Century. The second was built in the 16th Century and is covered in Gothic doodads.

flying buttresses chartres
Flying buttresses along the side of the cathedral

I’m not a big cathedral enthusiast, or even a religious person. But it is hard not to feel moved by this edifice and all the skill and devotion that was poured into it. It stands as a monument to another world, and another way of seeing the world.

Coming soon: Chartres from the inside.

A Few Words About the Village of Giverny

First of all, Giverny is really tiny. The population is only about 500. This seems surprising for a place that is so well-known, but there it is.

Village of Giverny
A view of the hills of Normandy from a road in the village of Giverny

So it is not surprising that you cannot take the train directly from Paris to Giverny. Instead you have to get off at the somewhat bigger town of Vernon, which is about three miles away. From there you can take a bus or a cab – or hike if you are so inclined.

Street in Giverny

Giverny may be small, but apparently its origins are very old, with some evidence that it has been settled since Roman times. Its medieval days are hinted at in street names like Rue Des Juifs (Street of the Jews).

Village of Giverny
Walls obscure the private gardens in Giverny. Darn!
Rose hips
Most of the roses were done, but there were plenty of rose hips.

The village is full of stone houses and walled gardens. The walls are charming, covered with roses and flowering vines, though they frustrate the impulse to snoop on the private gardens within.

Le Clos Fleuri
A nice spot to relax in front of the guest rooms at Le Clos Fleuri

A nice place to stay at Giverny is Le Clos Fleuri, a bed and breakfast with three extremely comfortable rooms. The B&B is run by Danielle and Claude Fouche. Danielle is French but grew up in Australia, so her accent is a little unexpected.

They are very welcoming and friendly, and Danielle is more than happy to talk plants and gardening. In fact, their home is itself is a clos normande-type garden with hedges, fruit trees, roses, and other flowers.

Giverny emus
Did Monet do any paintings of emus?

Their place is about a ten minute walk from Monet’s garden. You can buy your tickets directly from Danielle, which enables you to avoid the lines for getting in.

It’s a walk through pleasant countryside, including an enclosure that features emus, an ostrich, and a pot-bellied pig.

There aren’t many restaurants in Giverny, but a nice one is the Restaurant Baudy (formerly the Hotel Baudy). We had an unusual but delicious salad there of chopped summer vegetables with creme fraiche.

Le Ancienne Hotel Baudy
Restaurant Baudy

After spending most of the day at the Monet garden, we got a ride back to Vernon and then took the train to Paris, changed stations and took another train to Chartres. More on the next leg of our journey soon.

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