The Garden of Live Flowers

Tales of the bintgoddess and her zone 5b garden in Chicago, Illinois

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June: It's not a weed until I say it's a weed

Anyone know what this is? It appears to be in Polygonaceae, maybe a Polygonum or Persicaria. I'm letting it stay in the butterfly garden until I have a good reason to pull it out. It's cute!

Also on this nasty, sticky, hot day...

Clematis 'Jackmanii', being amazing on the coachlight for over a decade

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Lysimachia punctata, yellow loosestrife; and proof that the shade garden does get some sun, around solstice-time

Daffodil and tulip greens are cut back to give more sun to the butterfly garden. The new plants are all in: Salvia nemerosa 'May Night', and the annuals: lantana, portulaca, gazania, ageratum, cosmos. Keep looking out window, impatient for butterflies to show up. Couldn't find any daisies (Leucanthemum vulgaris) but will look again later. The mix of purple salvia and white daisy outside the Garfield Park conservatory is still on my mind.

I'm leaving soon for a few days in the field, collecting American basswood leaves and visiting the UNC herbarium in Chapel Hill. For anyone I might have promised to visit on the way, I'm sorry but I don't think I'm going to have much spare time, since I absolutely have to get back home by a certain day. These trips are anything but lazy and relaxing, and I am a monomaniacal crazywoman on the road. In a good way of course! I intend to post pictures from the road so watch this space. Soon you will be as sick of basswood as I am!

Monday, June 22, 2009

June: Brookfield Zoo

My husband and I went to the Brookfield Zoo for the first time a few days ago. We had a great time although we had to skip the reptiles and frogs because we ran out of time. We spent a lot of time in the butterfly house, where I was inspired to buy lantana and ageratum and turn my patio garden into a butterfly garden.

If you'd like to see the pictures, the Flickr set is here!


Friday, June 19, 2009

June: Boojum!

The Hunting of the Snark is an epic poem by Lewis Carroll. If you recognize the title of this blog, you can probably guess that I have some love for Carroll, who did more than write the Alice books and have inappropriate relationships with little girls. The Hunting of the Snark outlines a hunting trip in which a motley band of misfits whose titles begin with B hunt the elusive Snark in some far-off land. Some Snarks are rumored also to be Boojums, a horrifying possibility that the band is unwilling to accept. None of this makes any sense of course; like Jabberwocky, you just roll with it, relish the language and rhymes, and say "wtf??" to yourself once in a while. Carroll reputedly wrote the entire epic after the final line popped into his head out of the blue one day. He may or may not have been stoned on absinthe and laudanum as well. (I made that last part up but hey, if Coleridge can write Kubla Khan after an opium-induced hallucination, anything is possible!)

And thus I have a special fondness for the Boojum Tree at the Desert House of the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. It's a crazy-looking tree endemic to the Baja Peninsula and state of Sonora in Mexico. Fouquieria (or Idria) columnaris is related to the ocotillo, a spiny plant familiar to anyone who has spent time in Arizona. I wouldn't say the Boojum is attractive, exactly, but it's rare and interesting and dangerous-looking and through the magic of conservatories it's growing right here in Chicago.


What does our intrepid hero, the Baker, have to say about it?

"But if ever I meet with a Boojum, that day,

In a moment (of this I am sure),
I shall softly and suddenly vanish away--
And the notion I cannot endure!"

Luckily for us, this Boojum is entirely non-lethal and does not cause involuntary vanishification.


The Baker unfortunately met with a less friendly instance of Boojumness...

In the midst of the word he was trying to say,

In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away---
For the Snark *was* a Boojum, you see.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

June: Oh, Stormy, bring back that sunny day

The sun is out at the moment but I woke up to a thunderstorm (or, more correctly, I woke up to a trembling dog who heard the storm long before I could have). Does anyone know a good website or news article that says how many inches over normal rainfall we've had each month?

It is so wet that I'm pretty sure I spied an ark under construction under the viburnum. I dread the powdery mildew that will surely come later in the season, and the mosquitoes are already turning my morning garden walk into a slap-fest.

On the plus side, I have more greenery than most Central American countries...

Would you believe, this is my prairie garden? Just because plants are adapted to heat and dry soil doesn't mean they won't grow like gangbusters given frequent rain and cool temps. It's getting so overgrown I don't even know where to start fixing it. Oh wait, yes I do. I'm looking at YOU, Mr. Dogwood.

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I would never purposely plant a pink rosebush. I don't much like roses and I don't much like pink, but this bush came with the house and for a couple of weeks each June it is impressive. The rosebuds are my favorite part.

Mr. Goatsbeard says "Ugh, please stop the rain!!"

So does the garnet laceleaf Japanese maple, Acer palmatum dissectum. I think I need to move this fella before the burning bush eats it.

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Penstemon digitalis (foxglove beardtongue); Dicentra spectabilis (bleeding heart) in fruit for what is I think the first time ever. Are the seeds easy to germinate?

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Thalictrum dasycarpum (meadowrue), which was covered in fluffy stamens just yesterday, today is a sodden mess; Clematis 'Rouge Cardinal' and Phytolacca americana (American pokeweed). The pokeweed is a weed, yes, but it's also a native plant that I think is gorgeous and tropical-looking so I let it be. However, I diligently pull out any seedlings I find. One per yard is enough.

My Lemon Queen sunflowers for the Great Sunflower Project, and my Blue Lake beans for One Seed Chicago, are making progress. Don't make fun of the tomato cage; I still haven't made it to the store for a sturdier support.

This weekend: douse self in bug repellant and tackle the prairie garden. I can't wait!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

June: Time to get Cereus

It was the big banquet dinner on Friday night at the Garden Bloggers' Spring Fling. I'd been thinking about Carol from May Dreams Gardens and her night-blooming cereus plants all day. She had said the first three people to tell her the Secret Phrase would take a plant home! I was in agonies. How could I possibly receive one of these coveted plants when I was at work all day?! But then Carol, after dinner, miraculously holds up one of the plants and says to the room in general, "Does anyone want this?" I confess I may have embarrassed myself by jumping up and down but acting 8 years old sometimes pays off and this crazy charmer is now living in my dining room. I'm praying to the patron saint of houseplants to keep it alive and happy so I can 1) not disappoint Carol and 2) actually see it bloom one of these years. Carol, thank you!!!!


Here's some inspiration for it from Garfield Park:

June: Spring Fling Chicago - The rest of the story

Garden Bloggers' Spring Fling is well in the rearview mirror by now, but here at last is my take on the event. As a Chicagoan I relish any opportunity to show off my city to visitors, share what I know, learn something new, and clear up misconceptions about what life is like in an urban center. I hope everyone came away with a new appreciation for life in the city; it's not all Asphalt Jungle (thought we certainly have our share of that, too!).

Chicago Botanic Garden - I skipped this because I had to work, and thus I missed that amazing poppy field. Darn!

Lurie Garden - I met up with the group here and was desperately nervous about attempting to locate and interact with a large group of people I didn't know. I should not have worried; what a wonderful bunch of people! Also: the nametags were infinitely useful.

I showed two pics of Lurie, past and present, in a previous blog post. Here are a couple more pictures:

After the garden, I had a tasty dinner at Elephant & Castle, received a very generous bag of goodies, continued to meet people, panicked about the prospect of winning the gigantic tiller (it was a fabulous giveaway but really what would I do with it?!), and had Jane Smith sign my copy of her book.

And then...and THEN... well, I think I received the best giveaway of all, but that story deserves its own post, here.

Saturday was a real smorgasbord of sights and activities.
HAHAHA ahem.

I did not go to the Bayless garden since I am not an edible gardener myself; however, all reports are that it was an impressive production. Easy to be impressive when you have a full-time gardener, right? But what if you are your own gardener? Enter Carolyn, who so kindly invited us to eat a yummy lunch at her neighborhood hangout Andie's, then invade her home and garden, poking our nosy noses into every corner and asking questions about everything we saw. Carolyn, if my husband and I had seen your house before renovating our own, ours would likely have turned out very differently! Your windows.... woodwork... basement renovation... color choices for every room... everything was perfect and worked together so nicely. I'm kind of an old house nut and seeing what Carolyn and her husband accomplished was a wonderful treat.

But! the garden was the reason we were there, right??

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I need to borrow a few of these ideas for my own yard, which is about the same size. I adore the pergola especially. At Carolyn's we also received a nice pink petunia as a sponsor gift:


From Carolyn's we moved on to Ginkgo Community Garden, where I like a ninny did not take any pictures. I apologize for being amused by the following overheard conversation (paraphrased):
"I wonder what they're trying to keep out with all that chicken wire?"
"Probably rats."
"Oh, right, rats!"
Let me tell you, the rabbits in Chicago are legion. And they're big. And they eat everything. Okay, yes, there are rats as well, but they mostly eat junk food, not veggies. I tried to convince people that we also have coyotes in the city, but I'm not sure they believed me. I didn't even try to tell about the deer in my alley, the possums in my yard, or the cougar. Nature in the city is a topic that must be introduced in stages.

Also outside Ginkgo I had the opportunity to introduce several people to basswood trees, the topic of my dissertation. This gave me much joy so thank you for humoring me :)

Next up, and the day is barely half over: Lincoln Park!

The Conservatory:
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And the zoo!
The warthog says, "I'm as pretty as any of those girly flowers. Hmph."

Oh my gosh, is this day still going on?? Not having time to go home and get back before dinner, I walked to State Street with Ani and Monica where we gabbed and checked out the clothes at Old Navy. And then: pizza! and meeting even more friendly people. And finally: an exhausted ride home on the "L".

We're not done yet! I think the Garfield Park Conservatory is my favorite place in the city and it's my own fault I don't go more often. I'm just nuts for houseplants, plus they have stunning outdoor gardens. I bought a book about the history of Garfield Park, which is fascinating. It's a premier example of how much effort is required to design, install, and maintain a public space over the long term, even one filled with "nature".

The view from my car, directly under the Central Park "L" stop; back door of Conservatory.
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Palm House and Fern Room:
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Desert House:
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Am I the only one amused by the installation of carnivorous plants in the Children's Room?
They look well-fed, don't they?

Outside, in the Monet Garden:
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And the City Garden:
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And then - tired but happy, I finally went home for good. Thank you all for such a fantastic weekend, and for giving me a chance to see my city through new eyes!

Friday, June 05, 2009

June: One Seed Chicago

I planted my One Seed Chicago beans on Memorial Day. Three of them came up today (along with two silver maples and an empty peanut shell...funny, I don't remember planting those). I am so excited!! I've never grown anything to eat before, unless you count my popcorn experiments back in grade school. The unfortunate thing is, I'm not that crazy about green beans. However, if I manage to keep these puppies alive to harvest time, I will eat them more or less cheerfully.

They're planted in a pot because I didn't feel like getting my soil tested and I've heard that lead contamination is always a concern in the Formerly Sooty Old Industrial City. I need to get some sort of cage or support around the pot before the plants get too big.

I also planted my seeds for the Great Sunflower Project, a bee-counting project. They came up a couple of days ago. Things are bustin' out all over!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

June: A different kind of birdwatching

In my day job, I'm a graduate student in the biology department of the University of Illinois at Chicago. My fellow student, Isabel, studies the population genetics of reintroduced peregrine falcons in the Midwest, and I've been lucky enough to get to know these amazing birds as a result. On Tuesday, the baby birds at the nest site here at UIC were banded, and I was invited to tag along...

This is Rosie, the mom, a 13-year-old female who has been nesting at UIC for 11 years. She's old and she's tough and she doesn't take crap from anyone.

The babies, both male, cram themselves into the corner and glare at me. Peregrines are very good at glaring. Determining the gender of the birds is tough and is primarily based on size, especially the size of the legs. Males tend to be smaller than females, even as adolescents.

The unnamed, unbanded father. He's probably the same male who was here last year but without bands, it's hard to tell.

A staff member from the Shedd Aquarium retrieves the babies from the ledge and hopes the parents don't attack him. They didn't, but they were flying very close. Both he and the other retrieval expert report that at other sites they've been hit by angry falcons many times, hence the helmet.

Isabel (right) helps keep one of the babies calm while a vet from Lincoln Park Zoo takes a DNA sample.

It was pretty remarkable to watch the whole process, especially in the same room where a few months ago I attended a wine and cheese reception. There are some more pictures here, and if you want to know more about the peregrine falcon reintroduction in the Midwest, go to the Field Museum site here.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

June: Made in the shade

It's a chilly, overcast day, expected high in the low 60s. Not quite what we envision for June but hey, it's better than 90 and humid! Let's go see what's blooming in the McGarden today, shall we?

The shade garden has filled in nicely, and the Rhododendron 'Roseum Elegans' is in full bloom. My iron sunbathing frogs are getting lost in the foliage. I'll have to move them elsewhere.

My lone Siberian iris. I bought lots but multiple years with unexpected January thaws took their toll, and this is the only one left.

Tradescantia ohioensis, spiderwort 'Little Doll' (left) and T. bracteata, prairie spiderwort. One of these is dropping volunteers all over the place but I won't know which until the little ones bloom. 'Little Doll' desperately needs dividing before it swallows the little bluestem grass to its left. Add that to the "to do" list!

Baptisia australis, blue false indigo. It's just not as impressive as the ones at Lurie Garden but I love it. Fabaceous plants have the neatest floral structure. Let's look closer:

And closer still:
The standard forms the upright banner, the wings protrude forward, and the keel is tucked inside (you can see a keel on the leftmost flower because it's missing a wing). The fruit will be an inflated legume which when dry makes a rattling sound when shaken.