Thursday, September 30, 2010

On the Road Again with Thelma and Louise...

. . . and Monica and Linda and Diane.  Just a little over a week after a special visit from longtime blogging friends Cheryl and Lisa, Beckie and I headed north to Chicago at the invitation from good buddy Monica for another garden blogging adventure!  For several months we've been trying to arrange a time that all of us could meet to tour the Chicago Botanic Garden.  Finally, the stars were in alignment, and Saturday morning found us in the northern suburbs meeting up with Monica the Garden Faerie as well as Linda "Garden Girl" and Diane of  "The Garden of Live Flowers."  Such a treat to see all three of these ladies again after meeting them over a year ago at the '09 Spring Fling in Chicago. 

The day was perfect--despite a chilly wind that sent me back to the car for a sweatshirt, the sun was bright, and a brisk pace around the garden kept us all warm enough.  Even the threatening clouds in the afternoon didn't erupt until we were on our way back home, thanks to Monica, who assured us all she was the Good Weather Faerie as well:)

On my first and only visit to Chibot during last year's Spring Fling, there wasn't time to see all the areas of the Garden, so the five of us were eager to see it all this time around.  Walking across the bridge leading to the main garden areas, we noticed this lush display of blooms above us.  Yes, those are mums--wired to the overhead beams for a perfect hanging display.

Snagging an "unsuspecting passerby," we took time for one group photo before becoming immersed in plant talk.

One of the first areas we saw was the vegetable garden, an area I usually skip--I mean, vegetables are um...vegetables.  But I don't think I've ever seen a vegetable garden with such perfect plants and such absolutely straight rows.  Some, like the ruffled kale above, were so pretty that we saw them in other plantings throughout the garden as well.

Beckie checks out the cosmos in one section of the veggie garden.

I do miss having these blooms in my garden this year.

I remember visiting the Waterfall Garden on my last visit here, but it was nice to see it at a leisurely and safe pace this time, not having to scramble down slippery rocks in order to catch the Spring Fling bus before it left.

One area I saw only from a distance on that last visit was the Japanese Garden.  I do love Japanese gardens, and I appreciated the group's willingness to humor me in taking a short side trip to this area. 
A true Japanese garden takes many years to develop and must be very labor-intensive, which is why I appreciate their serenity but won't try to create my own.  Notice (you may have to enlarge the photo) the cables attached to the tree limbs to keep them at a perfect perpendicular angle. 

This, I believe, was the Circle Garden.  I would love to have just one-fourth of this profusion of blooms in my garden!

Notice Linda on the right feeling the texture of one of the plants.  This was the best part of our trip--visiting a fabulous garden like this with other gardening enthusiasts who like to touch and smell plants and, like you, actually enjoy stopping to check out tags for specific names is so much more fun!  And more often than not, at least one of the group could provide even more information about many of the plants.

You never know what interesting or helpful information you might find by reading the signs.
I found myself talking more than taking pictures during the day, but I did manage to take some photos of new plants that I'd like to add to my own garden one day:

Forsythia Sage 'Redneck Girl', which looks like anything but a redneck to me:)

Salvia 'Indigo Spires', whose tall dramatic spires of purple look good with Soliago cultivars.

Ooh, my favorite color.  Salvia azurea 'Pitcher's Blue Sage'  will definitely be on the "look for this next year" list.

Shrub Bushclover Lespedeza bicolor found in the Japanese Garden.  Don't you love those airy branches?

Smaller than many of the other elephant's ears, this 'Lime Zinger' would make a dramatic container plant, as Linda suggested.

Pretty Colchicum reminds me of spring.

Prairie Dropseed grass--these perfectly mounded grasses with their airy plumes would look just as good in a formal garden as growing wild on the prairie.

Japanese Anemone--already on my wish list!

There were a few plants whose tags we couldn't find nor could anyone identify them.  I know I've seen these planted in the Idea Garden, but can't remember their names.

This very tall plant was growing in an area of natives and had us all stumped.  Can anyone identify it?

Another tagless bloomer--these gorgeous blue and white morning glories or maybe moonflowers were huge!

I could use some tags in my own garden for reference.  This Aster tartaricus was clearly marked, a bittersweet recognition for me.  Last fall Gail kindly sent home a start of this aster with me, and I've been on the lookout for it all fall.  But once I saw these plants, especially the ones not quite blooming, I had the sinking feeling that I pulled them all out this summer, thinking they were weeds!

The only area of the Botanic Garden we didn't make it to was the Prairie area, which Monica especially wanted to see.  But we did visit Evening Island, just across the way from the Prairie, which was filled with many native prairie plants.  Monica did take a gander across the bridge to see mostly grasses and goldenrod in bloom and said she was satisfied.  I do hope so, especially since they all humored me by making the trek to the Japanese Garden.

But there were plenty of prairie and other native plants throughout the rest of the Garden.  Thanks to the others for identifying this prairie dock for me.  I didn't realize this plan grew to such gargantuan heights!  Speaking of natives, I thought it was interesting that the English Walled Garden, such a beautiful place with its brick walls and formal flowerbeds, was actually filled with American native plants!

Most of the natives, like the tall compass plant above, had already gone to seed.  Just in case the Seed Police are reading this post, I assure you that some of those seed pods just fell to the ground . . . and to make sure they didn't re-seed in the lawn instead, I put them in my camera case simply to avoid unwanted volunteers in your garden.

Finally, Chicago Spring Flingers of '09 will surely remember the magnificent display of poppies that spring.  I was eager to find that spot again, wondering what it looked like after the poppies stopped blooming.  A single photograph can't begin to capture the equally beautiful field of annuals blooming here in September.

Diane checks out all the tall zinnias.

The zinnias were every bit as spectacular as the poppies were last spring.  I was mesmerized.

The Chicago Botanic Garden is located approximately 20 miles north of the city, but is easily accessed by train or by car.  (Some of you will be happy to know that I am becoming more and more comfortable driving in this area, and, except for one missed exit that was not clearly marked, Beckie and I never got lost or found ourselves too far "west of west":)  )  It is a must-see for any gardening enthusiast visiting the Chicago area.

Thanks again, ladies, for the companionship and such an enjoyable day!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wildflower Wednesday: Sophie's Choice

I really should pay more attention to my calendar.  Not until yesterday did I realize it was already the fourth Wednesday of September, the day to celebrate Wildflower Wednesday hosted by the queen of natives, Gail of Clay and Limestone.

I have Sophie to thank for my entry for this month.  Despite all her good qualities, Sophie does like to explore a bit and has never quite mastered the command "Come," at least when I am uttering that word, especially in desperation.  (She obeys my husband, my children, my grandchildren--anybody but me; I guess she knows I'm really a pushover.)  During the summer her boundaries were clearly defined with dense soybean plantings bordered by tall corn surrounding our farm.  But now that the harvest is done, Sophie has discovered a whole new world to explore!  Apparently, there are all kinds of new scents and treasures to be found in the fields beyond our house.  This has meant on several occasions lately I have had to trudge across bean stubble (usually in PJ's; hope the neighbors don't notice) to convince her it's time to come home.

On one of these excursions last week I was walking behind the barn, a place I usually never go, and noticed these dark purple berries growing on a tall weed wildflower.  I have never, ever seen these before here, so out came the trusty Illinois Wildflowers book to see if I could find out what they were.  Sure enough,  there in the blue and purple blooms section was a photo that looked just like mine--Phytolacca americana,  better known as pokeweed or pokeberry.  I have heard of this plant before, but for some reason I associated it with the South.  Not so; according to my book, it is common throughout the state of Illinois, too.

"The leaves are smooth, up to 12" long and 3" wide, with long red stalks.  The small, greenish-white flowers are about 1/4" across, lack petals, but have 5 greenish sepals and from 5-30 stamens" (Kurz, Illinois Wildflowers).

The purple to black berries have a juice that stains and which has been used for coloring foods as well as a red dye and ink.  The berries are a favorite of birds.  The leaves of young plants are sometimes cooked and served as "poke salad"--remember the old song "Poke Salad Annie" ?  But since the root and stem are poisonous, I'm not sure I'd care to taste any poke salad:)

Pokeweed can grow up to 10 feet tall.  It's hard to tell perspective from this photo, but I can assure you that this plant extended several feet above my head, so it was at least 8, if not 10, feet tall.  Next to it are other weeds wildflowers just as tall, including an interesting white-flowering plant.

While I had intended just to focus on the pokeberry today, I was curious about this tall plant with the daisy-like flowers, too.  The only thing I can find in my wildflower book that looks similar is a False Aster, Boltonia Asteroides.  It can grow up to 6 feet tall, though mine is even taller.  If anyone can confirm this i.d. or suggest another possibility, I'd appreciate it.

While my garden could use more fall color, there is no shortage of four-season interest plants around the farm.   I just never know what I might find when I go out exploring the "back forty" with Sophie.

For more interesting looks at fall wildflowers, be sure to visit our enthusiastic hostess Gail of Clay and Limestone.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Garden Guests: The Summer's Highlight

What do you do if someone contacts you and asks to visit your garden?  Do you respond with a resounding "yes" and prepare some lemonade and perhaps a special dessert or snack to share with them and then sit back and wait eagerly for their arrival?  Or do you begin to frantically weed and trim, hoping they won't notice the dead plants and other failings of your garden?  I am definitely in the latter group, although when I found out some time ago that a long-time blogging friend was coming--from across the "pond" no less!--I was more excited than if the Queen herself had decided to come visit.

My "royal" visitor was Cheryl of  Take Time to Smell the Flowers, who decided to come to the States, along with her delightful husband Mr. P, to see some of the Midwest and visit Beckie and myself as well as Sherry of Q's Corner.  Cheryl commented on my very first post over two years ago, and we have been visiting faithfully ever since, developing a true friendship along the way.  When she heard Cheryl was coming, Lisa of Greenbow and her husband DB made plans to make the three-hour trip up to Illinois to meet Cheryl as well.

So there we were, five of us--Beckie's husband joined us for a few hours Tuesday morning--eagerly waiting to meet a couple who bravely made a trans-Atlantic journey to meet total strangers.  That sounds a bit strange and even dangerous in this day and age, and yet as we bloggers know, we weren't really strangers at all.  I've been amazed every time I've met a blogging friend in person how much a person's voice comes through in a blog.  Oh, I may have pictured someone's physical appearance differently, but the personality I knew from blogging has always rung true.  Cheryl was exactly the caring, lovely person I had expected to meet.  And lest you think I'm leaving out Lisa, I did meet Lisa at Spring Fling last year where we spent time together enjoying the weekend's activities. 

Beckie and I spent many hours over coffee at our favorite hangout before Cheryl came, thinking of activities during her stay.  What attractions in the middle of Corn Country could possibly interest an English gardener?  Knowing Cheryl's interest in nature, we decided a walk through one of my favorite places, Meadowbrook Park, would be a good place to start.  The sun was shining brightly on a very, very warm day as we made our way around part of the Prairie Restoration.

Not much was still in bloom other than the goldenrod and a few Helianthus, but the tall grasses swayed in the slight breeze, and Cheryl found plenty of butterflies and bees for photo ops.  Lisa came prepared for the blazing sun with her umbrella, but I wilted as usual and soon found a shady spot to escape from the heat.

Mr. P and DB also opted for a shady bench while the women discussed flora and fauna.  I'm not sure what they were talking about, but it probably wasn't gardening:)  These two were such troopers!  Though both are helpful garden assistants, neither is a gardening enthusiast, yet nary a complaint was heard as we led them from one garden venue to another during their two-day stay.

Following the trail at Meadowbrook, one comes to a restored farmstead complete with windmill and--what else--a garden.  Beckie and Cheryl stroll down the path discussing plant varieties, while DB (in the background) finds a photogenic butterfly.

Viewing gardens is an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon, but we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to just sit and chat as well.  From Meadowbrook we headed to my house, where my own Mr. P had a chance to meet our special guests.After a quick tour around my small garden areas, we sat on my front porch drinking tea and coffee and watching the tree swallows swoop down and hordes of dragonflies fly about, all in search of insects.  My friendly hummingbird obliged us with a visit so that Cheryl and Mr. P could see these North American natives in their habitat.  I'm looking forward to seeing her photos, which I'm sure will be far better than anything I've ever taken here.

As we chatted and waited for the lasagna to finish baking, I noticed a special envelope in the mail, one that I knew the others would be interested in--a package from Frances with some seeds I have been coveting.

Hopefully, in another year or two I'll have my very own blackberry lilies like these that we saw at Meadowbrook Park.  Thanks, Frances!

We had more activities planned for the next day, starting with the Master Gardeners' Idea Garden.  I always seem to take visitors here, but it's a great place to see a variety of plants and planting styles within a relatively small space.  The Annual Color Garden still looks good in spite of the drought. Of course, it helps to have 40+ interns eager to water and weed regularly in order to complete their volunteer hours:)

It was Cheryl who first made me aware of the importance of bees in our ecosystem as well as their plight today.  The Idea Garden, though, is an Eden for bees and is filled with all kinds, like these honeybees on the sedum.

It's a mecca, too, for butterflies.  Fortunately, the Monarchs haven't yet begun to migrate, so Cheryl had ample opportunity to observe and photograph these magnificent creatures.

One area of the garden that has been really striking the past few weeks is this planting of Globe Amaranth along one part of the picket fence.  I love this look and have been thinking about where I could copy this idea in my own garden.  It really picks up the color of  Lisa'a blouse, don't you think?

I'm not sure what Lisa and Cheryl were so intently examining here in the Children's Garden . . .

. . . because Beckie and I were nearby, our eyes caught by this deep purple sweet pea.  Add this one to our plant wish list!

All four of us, though, were delighted by the purple hyacinth bean vine which has not only covered its trellis, but grown up into a nearby tree!

Leaving the Idea Garden, we strolled through a shady lane of poplars to see some of the nearby plantings maintained by the University's landscaping staff. 

At the end of the path, we discovered an area that neither Beckie and I had ever seen before.  A sunken garden, much larger than the Idea Garden, was filled with masses of annuals and perennials.  It turns out these are test plots for the University, probably the horticulture department.  We just took a quick glance here, as a class was in session.

Our next stop was a surprise for Cheryl.  I don't think many people in this area are even aware of what this small building hidden behind trees and fields is.  Can you guess from its painted outside wall?  It's the University Pollinatarium, a research and educational facility devoted to pollinators. 

Everyone is looking for the queen bee.

Inside are different exhibits on butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, but we told the curator we were primarily interested in bees.  An enclosed hive is displayed for visitors to get a close look at the bees at work.  A tube from the hive runs directly outdoors so that the bees can travel freely--these bees always fly north, which I found interesting.  Probably many of the honeybees we saw at the Idea Garden came from this hive, since it is less than two miles away.

The curator was very informative and enthusiastic, even after spending all morning teaching visiting second graders about bees.  I certainly learned a lot--I had no idea there were such things as nurse bees and undertaker bees, for example.  Even Cheryl and Lisa, who are much more knowledgeable on the subject, said they had gained some new insights into bee behavior.  I think all six of us really enjoyed our brief stop here; sometimes you don't even know what wonderful places are in your own hometown!

After a leisurely lunch filled with more talk and laughter, our final stop of the day was at one of our favorite garden centers where Mr. P and Cheryl insisted on buying Beckie, Lisa, and me a plant for our own gardens.  Lisa and I both chose a new hydrangea, 'Strawberry Vanilla.'  Thanks again, Cheryl and Mr. P for your generosity--I'll think of both of you every time I look at this beautiful plant.

Then we were off to spend the evening at Beckie's, touring her garden and meeting some of her grandchildren.  Thanks to our earlier stop at the Pollinatarium, we could now identify the bee on her Obedient plant above--a carpenter bee, which is bigger than an ordinary bumble and has a smooth body.

Wanting to take advantage of every possible minute of their visit, we gathered the next morning for coffee and a final chat before Mr. P and Cheryl had to leave for Missouri.  We all agreed what a wonderful time we had had, getting to know each other.  Cheryl promised to try to visit again, and I--well, I hope to one day make my dream of visiting the English countryside a reality.  Meeting Cheryl and Mr. P, as well as getting to spend time again with Lisa and meeting her aptly named Dearly Beloved, was definitely the highlight of my summer.  It was a special time that I will never forget.