Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010--The Year in Review

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas and that you are finding some time this week to recuperate from the holiday rush.  Our Christmas celebrations turned out to be rather fragmented, affected by the weather.  What was supposed to be a light snowfall turned into 5 inches of snow on Christmas Eve, making travel hazardous.  Because of the icy roads, only one son and his family could make it to our traditional Christmas Eve get-together. But my oldest son and his family came over Sunday evening after we had spent the afternoon with my parents, so we did get to see everyone, just not at the same time.  I felt badly for the grandkids who always enjoy playing with their cousins, but it did mean Husband and I had more time to spend with each one of them, so in a way that was good---and quieter:)

This is the time of year when the media always looks back at the past year and reviews the top stories.  Nothing newsworthy happened in my life this year, but there certainly were some highlights in the garden.  Instead of thinking about world events or economic crises, here is a restropect of my life in the garden in 2010:

The East Border of the Idea Garden in mid-summer.
 Undoubtedly, my biggest accomplishment this past year began in January when I started taking classes to become a Master Gardener.  Because I started gardening later in life, I wanted to catch up on all the basics I might have acquired through earlier experience.  For three months, our heads were crammed with all kinds of botanical knowledge, and some of it actually penetrated my long-term memory cells.  I still can't tell you what a monocot or dicot is, but at least I have a great reference book to look it up--should I ever need to know.

A small part of the County Nursing Home Garden in the spring.  Next year I will have to take more photos of this beautiful garden!
  While I took the class to learn more about gardening, I found added benefits I hadn't expected.  New friendships were formed with other class members, people whose eyes don't glaze over when you start talking about indoor seed starting or the different hydrangea cultivars, but actually enjoy these conversations.  Acquiring the necessary 60 hours of volunteer time at first seemed overwhelming, but this time, too, provided more than I expected.  Time to foster the friendships made in class as I worked alongside other interns and time to "pick the brains" of the experienced Master Gardeners.  Many thanks to Rosellen and June, co-chairs of the Sensory Garden in the Idea Garden, where I spent many hours, and to Phyllis and Carol, co-chairs of the County Nursing Home Garden, where I fulfilled part of my community service hours.  I learned so much from these dedicated and amazing ladies. 

In March Beckie and I made our second annual trek to Chicago to see the Chicago Flower and Garden Show.   Beckie and I always have a great time together, but  nothing beats a road trip for quality time and nonstop girl talk.  The Chicago show didn't disappoint with its fantastic displays, but the drive home through dense fog was a scary experience I hope I never have to repeat.

An even longer trip was made in March to Arizona to visit Older Daughter and her fiance.  While there, I had the chance to visit once again one of my favorite places in Phoenix, the Desert Botanic Gardens

  It's always a treat to leave the cold behind and soak up some warm sunshine while viewing wildflowers in bloom and the different flora of the desert Southwest.

Once the warm weather finally arrived in Illinois in April, garden work began in earnest.  I had begun digging up an area for a new flowerbed last fall, but didn't get it finished until spring.  Intended as a garden area to showcase my growing collection of lilies, it wasn't long before it filled up with other plants as well.  I think I must have spent 3/4 of my time on this area alone, but it's always fun to start a new garden, and hopefully next year it will be more low-maintenance.

Spring planting was interrupted for a week while I made yet another trip in early May--this time to visit Youngest Daughter in Portland, Oregon.  Many precious hours were spent catching up as I hadn't seen her in nearly nine months!  But her busy schedule left me with lots of free time, too, so I entertained myself several days by taking in the sights.  It was too early in the season for many roses to be in bloom yet at the famous International Rose Garden, but the show of azaleas made up for it--gorgeous, huge blooms everywhere!

I spent another afternoon enjoying the small but beautiful classical Chinese Garden in the heart of the city and learning about the essential elements of this ancient style of gardening.

L to R: Beckie, Cheryl, and Lisa
The highlight of the year had to be meeting long-time blogging friend Cheryl in person in September.  Cheryl and her delightful husband came all the way from the UK to visit the Midwest, stopping for a few days to visit with Beckie and me.  Lisa and her DB also came up from Indiana to meet Cheryl. What a wonderful few days we had!  Filled with visits to different gardens in the area, there was also ample time for non-stop gardening talk.  Friendships were strengthened and memories were made that will never be forgotten.

Later in September Beckie and I made another road trip to Chicago where we met up with a few other blogging friends.  Together with Monica, Linda, and Diane, we spent a leisurely day strolling through the Chicago Botanic Garden enjoying the beautiful early autumn displays.  And, of course, there was non-stop gardening talk as well:)

Gardeners are almost as obsessed with the weather as farmers are, and a review of the past year wouldn't be complete without looking back at weather conditions in 2010:

The year began bitterly cold and snowy.

Spring was a welcome relief from the long winter and reinvigorated my enthusiasm for gardening.  April surprised us here by being one of the warmest Aprils I can ever recall.

Instead of the usual April showers, we had continual days of sunshine, giving me ample time to get a headstart on the garden.  The unusually warm temperatures meant the spring bloomers were fleeting, but they were a glorious show of color while they lasted.

Soybean field in June

The warm and, for the most part, dry conditions lasted through May, but by June the showers arrived, and I thought they would never end.  Not only were the farmers' fields standing in water, but my roadside garden was flooded for awhile, too, drowning out all my zinnia seeds. 

But the top weather story of the year had to be the relentless heat of the summer and the drought that came with it.  By July the rains ended and didn't return until November.  Constant temperatures in the nineties that lasted well into September stressed many plants and created challenges for the gardener. The blossoms on a new Hydrangea paniculata 'Pink Diamond,' which I planted in late August, turned brown in a matter of two short days.  I thought I had lost it, but I cut off most of the blooms and watered it faithfully after that.  It seemed to recover, putting out new green leaves, but I'm anxious to see if it returns next spring. 

In spite of the drought, the vegetable garden survived, for the most part, producing the usual bounty of tomatoes.

In late August and early September, I spent many hours preserving some of the harvest, including a successful attempt at bread and butter pickles, which my husband loves.

Lack of moisture all summer long meant a more subdued autumn, but there was still enough fall color to enjoy a scenic drive or just to look out to my front yard.  Milder weather that lasted until mid-November meant I had more time than usual to get some fall chores done, including planting some new shrubs in front of the house and preparing a new garden bed for next spring.

The old hackberry covered in hoarfrost--December 19

The year ended as it began with a very snowy December--in fact, it has been the snowiest December on record with over 20 inches of the white stuff so far.  While I've seen enough snow to suit me, thank you, I must remember that it's a great insulation for the garden, and all that snow will eventually melt to provide some much-needed moisture for the soil.

Whew!  I didn't intend to make this long--thanks for hanging in here until the end.  But as you can see, 2010 was an eventful gardening year for me--now I'm excited to see what 2011 brings!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wildflower Wednesday: Holiday Review Edition

It's time for another Wildflower Wednesday, hosted as always by the delightful Gail at Clay and Limestone.  While I have no wildflowers in bloom at the present other than the frosty plumes above, I thought this final WW of the year would be a good time to review some of the wildflowers I have showcased the past few months.

Even before she invited others to join her on the last Wednesday of every month, Gail was celebrating the beauty of wildflowers and native plants in so many of her posts.  My knowledge of wildflowers in particular was woefully lacking at first, but I have learned so much from Gail and others who have shared their favorites the past few years.  With help from my two faithful resources, Illinois Wildflowers by Don Kurz, and the excellent website, Illinois Wildflowers, I took the plunge this past summer and joined in on WW.

At first, I didn't think I had any wildflowers growing in my garden and ventured to nearby places for inspiration, such as Meadowbrook Park, shown above, where I found the gray-headed coneflower Ratibida pinnata happily mingling with Monarda fistulosa and other natives.

But as I thought about it more, I realized I do have some wildflowers growing here, particularly out in back in what I might kindly call the "uncultivated area" (translate--around the farm outbuildings, where Mr. P doesn't always find the time to trim).  Some purists, or those who prefer a well-manicured look, would argue that many of these are weeds, but there is a fine line sometimes between "wildflowers" and "weeds."   After all, as someone once wisely said, "A weed is just a flower in the wrong place."  I would think even purists would have a hard time classifying one of my favorites, Queen Anne's Lace Daucus carota, as a weed when they look at these delicate flowers.

And I've always had a soft spot for the perfectly blue flowers of chicory Cichorium intybus, which can be found blooming profusely around our barn as well as along the roadsides during an Illinois summer.

On the other hand, I'm not so fond of thistle and would definitely consider this a weed.  However, it does have its positive traits, including being attractive to pollinators and goldfinches.

As my curiosity grew, I began to explore the "back forty" more and tried to identify more of the volunteers growing around here.  Early this fall I found this tall weed suddenly covered with small white flowers. 

It was serendipitous that I never got around to cutting back all these plants, because they turned out to be the Frost Aster Aster pilosus (also shown today in first photo).  Though they wouldn't probably fit into a formal garden, they would make a nice addition to a native planting, especially since they bloom when most other plants are turning brown and provide a food source for any pollinators still in residence.

My biggest find, though, had to be the discovery I made thanks to one of Sophie's ventures across the fields.  To my surprise, I found these purple berries behind the barn one day on a huge plant I later learned was pokeweed Phytolacca americana.   I soon learned that the "poke salad" I associated with southern states was also a native here in the Midwest. 

Not every wildflower here, however, is the result of  a lack of weeding.  I planted this Obedient plant Physostegia virginiana in the Butterfly Garden a year ago in hopes it would multiply.  It certainly obliged this year; I just hope it is more "obedient" and doesn't get too carried away next year.

None of the goldenrod I have growing here was intentionally planted, but many gardeners have added cultivars of this native plant to their gardens for its fall beauty.  Mine isn't quite as tidy as those tamer cultivars, but it's just as pretty, I think, and a favorite of all kinds of pollinators.

It even adds some definite winter interest.

Other wildflowers have been cultivated and hybridized, including my favorite flower of all, the purple coneflower.  While I would call these Echinacea purpureas--but not their fancier hybrid progeny--natives,  they are still all descendants of the original wildflowers, including the prairie coneflower, Echinacea pallida

If you would like to know more about any of these plants, you can click on the label "Wildflower Wednesday" on my sidebar for the original posts (sorry I didn't take time to add the links here).  It's been an enjoyable and enlightening experience learning more about wildflowers, and I want to thank Gail for encouraging all of us to participate.  Why not drop by her blog today to see other entries, and maybe you'll decide to join us next time! 

Since this is the last time I'll post before Christmas,   I want to extend holiday greetings to all of you, my dear blogging friends:

From everyone at my house to yours . . .

A Very Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December GBBD: Winter Has Arrived!

Blogging has taken a back seat lately to Christmas preparations and activities.  For some reason it seems to have taken me twice as long this year to decorate the house and get the Christmas shopping done.  Instead of reading blogs, time on the computer has been spent searching through photo files for a photo calendar for my parents, updating Christmas addresses, and online shopping including trying to figure out just what  "Paper Jam" and "Zoobles" are (both requests from two of the grandchildren).  But I didn't want to miss out on the monthly celebration of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by Carol who is probably greeting everyone this season with a hearty "hoe, hoe, hoe!"

Blooms are pretty sparse at my house this time of year.  The only indoor plant worth noting is the Christmas poinsettia purchased just this past weekend.  Although the white poinsettias I saw were lovely and quite tempting, I opted for the traditional red one in the end.  But either red or white was preferable to the other choices I saw for sale--glittery gold or orange and even blue!  Somehow a blue poinsettia just doesn't fit my image of Christmas.

This fall I was lulled into thinking our nice weather would last forever and waited too long to bring some plants indoors.  The only plants that actually made it inside before the first hard frost were the impatiens.  This yellow Fusion impatiens is pretty leggy, but at least it is holding on to a few blooms.

Outdoors, of course, is another story--nothing is blooming under the cover of white snow.  However, I did notice something strange a couple of weeks ago--there appeared to be a few pink blooms on one of the crabapple trees.  This photo was actually taken over a week ago when our first snow fell, and it's been too cold the past few days to see if the blooms are still there.  While the pink bloom against white snow may seem like a happy incongruity, I'm afraid it may not be a good sign after all, and may mean this tree is under some stress.

Like many parts of the country, we have had our share of frigid cold and strong winds the past few days.  Fortunately, we did not get as much snow as some areas, but the winds blew what snow we had into whiteout conditions with windchills well below zero.  Needless to say, I'm not venturing out into the garden these days!

For some real blooms across the world, do check out the posts at Carol's .. . and stay warm, everyone!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The White Garden

Taking a break from decorating and Christmas shopping one day this week, I sat down to watch a little TV and happened to find a documentary about Sissinghurst Castle.  I was mesmerized by the beauty of this place, especially the gardens created by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Sir Harold Nicolson.  As is always the case when I view fabulous gardens, I long to have something similar in my own garden, although on a smaller and more manageable scale.  I've toyed with the idea of creating my own White Garden, one of the more popular and novel areas created by Vita.  Mother Nature must have read my thoughts, because she obliged by creating an all-white garden for me this weekend.

The weather forecast was for a major snowstorm to hit the Chicago area, while we, about 150 miles south, were to get only 2-3 inches.  As is usually the case, the weathermen miscalculated, and the brunt of the storm hit us instead, blanketing our area with 7 inches of snow by Saturday afternoon.

Suddenly, the butterfly garden that was a riot of color in the summer became a white garden instead.

The once-pink Echinaceas now look like drum majors leading a marching band with their tall furry hats.

The remains of Joe Pye Weed make the perfect dish for a frosty confection.

Less than two weeks ago I wandered the garden in a light jacket, noticing the brown seedheads of hollyhocks.  Now, they, too, are part of the white vista.

My "cupcake" yews look a little better with frosting on top.

Even a remaining patch of weeds out in back looks better in white.

Not everything likes the snow, however.  Dill bows to the force of the Midwest wind.

The forgotten fern stand reproaches me with its frosty foliage.  Looks like it's too late to overwinter these asparagus ferns and geraniums.

I am glad I took advantage of Friday's milder weather to put up the outdoor lights and decorations.  But it's hard to tell right now whether the pine boughs and berry stems I added to this urn created the festive effect I hoped for.

But faring the worst are the garden gnome and bikini-clad Ms. Frog who could probably both use a cup of hot chocolate and some time in front of a cozy fire.

The first snowfall is always a bit magical, though the enthusiasm for it soon wanes as winter plods on.  But the one who never loses her enthusiasm for a romp in the snow is Sophie.  She was excited to accompany me as we made our way around the house and yard, looking for more evidence of the garden.

It wasn't hard to spot the clematis on its trellis.

The hydrangea 'Limelight' now looks more like a snowball bush.

Dried hosta and heuchera blooms are the only other visible remnants of the rest of the shade garden.

In the lily bed, however, the new switchgrass 'Shenandoah' really stands out and against a background of white, finally can be photographed to show its lovely structure.

A garden filled only with white blooms may sound rather boring, but Vita Sackville-West's famous White Garden depends on contrast, especially green and silvery foliage, to create a dramatic effect.

While the evergreens provide plenty of green here, the most dramatic contrast is the color red as seen in the tiny berries still covering the flowering crabapple trees.

Say what you will about burning bushes, they do look good in the fall and just as good in the early winter.

Their red berries make the most noticeable contrast of all.

I'm not sure I'll ever attempt planting a white garden--I like color too much.  But judging by the cold forecast for at least the week to come, my Winter White Garden may be here to stay for awhile.