Saturday, October 21, 2006


It's been a while since I posted. The summer was kind of rough and I didn't spend much time in the garden, but fortunately it's mostly filled with native perennials so it didn't mind. I went out today for one of the last times this season. It turned cold early this fall, and since it stayed cold late into June it was a pretty short growing season. The butterfly bushes were barely above my head, and the sunflowers I cut back never recovered their height. The dogwood hardly reaches the top of the fence. However, lots of nice flowers, even now...

Witch hazel

Mystery aster #1: white, roughly 3/4 inch flower heads. This is behind the indian grass against the fence, and I didn't know it was there until today. The dogwood and milkweed have interwoven to make a nearly impenetrable thicket back there. No wonder the rabbits love our yard despite the giant dogs!

Mystery aster #2: pink, flower heads over an inch across. I have several of these and they're still flowering vigorously. Mystery aster #3 (no pic), with tiny (1/4 to 1/3-inch) white flowers, I thought I'd identified as Aster ericoides, but the nursery where I bought it doesn't carry that Maybe ptarmicoides? If I ever find my account number, maybe they can tell me my order history. Non-mystery asters, sky blue (Aster azureus) and big-leafed (A. macrophyllus), both did well this year and are done.

The next pictures were taken September 16:

Little bluestem grass

Prairie dock. I have dozens of flowers but they face the neighbor's yard! I was actually holding the stems and turning the faces towards me to get this picture.

Cranberry bush viburnum. As far as I've seen, nothing eats these berries, which seems like a terrible waste.

Downy sunflower. After I cut these back to keep them from flopping over, they flowered on stems about 16 inches tall. I think I need to strike a better balance next year - either cut back earlier, or not as hard.

Today I scatter-planted six hybrid asiatic lilies and five Allium 'Purple Sensation', put 25 dutch irises near the clematis pole, and planted one Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' (between the ninebark and the butterfly bush; no marker). I have a couple more plants coming, supposedly. It's supposed to be in the 30s tomorrow so I don't see how I'm going to be motivated to plant them when they come. That's the problem with fall planting, especially bulbs. In the spring I kick myself for being such a wuss the previous fall, but faced with the reality of planting in the cold, I'd rather watch TV in sweatpants instead.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Well, it *was* cool and pleasant...

We're caught in the grip of a heat wave. Highs today and tomorrow of around 100. Couldn't do anything in the yard over the weekend, though luckily I got the weeding done the weekend before (two whole paper yard bags worth!).

The heat however is great for butterflies. I went out yesterday and chased some with the camera. Got only a few halfway decent pictures, but since the butterfly bushes have started blooming, I expect more visitors in the coming weeks.

Black tiger swallowtail (female?)


Same monarch, on milkweed... have to go look for caterpillars

Also sighted: a red admiral, some sort of white sulphur (they're so hard to tell apart and they move very quickly!), and a tiny lavender-gray fella (azure?).

In bloom: nearly everything. Even one of the asters has started, a pink-flowered aster that I thought was a goldenrod. Oops.

Parthenium integrifolium, wild quinine

Agastache 'Blue Fortune', anise hyssop

Also, a fine stand of horseweed, Conyza canadensis. I had to wait for it to flower so I could ID it; now I need to pull it all out. It's one of those interesting Asteraceaes that has only disk flowers, giving the illusion of a flower that just hasn't quite opened yet. It's lovely now but when it goes to seed it will look very ragged and weedy so it has to go. Some weeds, like chickweed and violets and dayflowers, I leave unless they're in the way. I have some really nice wood sorrel, a couple of feet tall! I wish I had purple clover in the yard. I wonder if I could get some seed from a vacant lot.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

One more thing

The yucca plant looks *terrible*! Hardly any of the flowers even opened; the rest turned brown/black and dried out before they could even fully form. I know the plant is having an earwig problem but I don't know if they're the culprit. I am very disappointed.

July updates

This has been a really good year for the garden - the right amount of rain, not too hot, and only one horribly destructive hailstorm early on. The only plants still feeling the effects of the hailstorm are the daylilies along the south edge. It's very shady there anyway; it may be time to move those to the upcoming birdbath garden.

July 4 pics:

Garage garden

Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa (which a few days later I caught a rabbit felling near the base of the stems. Isn't this plant supposed to be toxic and unpalatable?!)

North edge garden

Wayback garden - it's a jungle out there!

Monarda fistulosa

The only semi-decent shot I could get of this crazy-looking bug (on the milkweed). It was something like a bee, with a narrow, pointed abdomen plated in orange. His hind legs also were plated in orange and the whole effect was of a very wide abdomen that had been subdivided into three independent parts. There was nothing like it in my bug book. He really liked that milkweed, though!

Friday, June 09, 2006


I don't know why it never occurred to me that my darling milkweed, which is now naturalizing all over the garden, would be toxic if the dogs ever decided to nibble :( They've both been sick, and since it's been a week and they're still not recovered after resetting the GI tract, I don't think the milkweed was the culprit. Besides, the chances of them both eating something that isn't even palatable are slim. However, the fact remains that the milkweed needs to be at the *back* of the garden, so I've pulled up several plants. I need to pull out the lilies-of-the-valley, which also contain cardiac glycosides. I won't miss them - they're annoying little plants.

Everything I cut down the other day is already showing signs of budding at the first axial leaf, so I think they'll be okay. I did discover however that my lovely Coreopsis rosea is actually a yellow coreopsis. Maybe the rosea died and I put a yellow one in that spot without remembering? It's very strange, esp. since the rosea tag is still there.

To do: plant those two pulmonarias I just bought!! Also, move the veronica out from behind the daylily. Plant annual pots. Attempt to divide the little bluestem before the helianthus eats it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

And the Baptisia... done blooming, but! BUT!! I have fruits :) When they get bigger I'll take a picture. Baptisia fruits are really gorgeous.


Since 100% of my commentariat demand it (Hi, Zya!), here are some pictures from the first week of June 2006:

Roses, front porch

Tradescantia bracteata

Tradescantia ohioensis

Penstemon digitalis

The yucca plant, this morning

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Finally normal weather

Today and tomorrow: 75, dry, cloudless, perfect. Actually, bad transplant weather, but good for overall maintenance. Today I cut back the Monarda didyma (garage only), Helianthus, and mystery Aster. The Helianthus and Monarda are flopping away from their centers already. Am going to look for some supports that will keep them together better.

Baptisia is pretty much done. Sure didn't get many flowers! But it was still very pretty. Now I can see if any of them got fertilized. Seems doubtful, unless it's a selfer.

Yucca has formed an inflorescence that is just emerging from the leaves. This is the second time it has flowered. I grumbled about it not flowering every year but maybe yucca isn't meant to flower every year? Desert plants and all.

Salvia is just starting to open, as is the new penstemon. Roses are exploding glowingly and look lovely.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day wknd

Hot!! Sticky!! Unpleasant!!
Had to water all the new plantings, and some of the old ones, today. Also used up five bags of mulch, and need more. Mulch never stretches as far as you think it's going to.

Baptisia continues to open up, and both Tradescantias are glowing electrically purple. Butterflyweed does *not* transplant well; I think it's dead. Also, Liatris does not transplant well after the growing season has started. I moved a huge clump of corms from behind the dying rose to up in the garage garden last week. The foliage actually feels a bit rotted and soft now. Plants damaged by the hailstorm of a couple of weeks ago are recovering, though the big-leafed aster looks bad. Most of its leaves were shredded. The backyard side of the rosebush popped overnight last night, so the rest should follow tomorrow or the next day. Right on time!

It's time to buy annuals, but the weather is unmotivating.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


The Baptisia australis is just starting to bloom:

I'm realizing that at this time of year, pretty much nothing in the garden is blooming, except the rhododendron, which looks sad, the snowball viburnums, and the drumstick alliums. I may plant more alliums at the end of the year, here and there, just to jazz things up a bit. April showers bring May flowers, so where they heck are they? (And we all know what Mayflowers bring...)

I dug up the red rosebush last weekend and replaced it with a witch hazel. That rosebush and I had a good run. It was planted next to the patio when we moved here in 1995, climbing on a 10-foot chain link fence that surrounded the patio. In digging it out, my dad broke a shovel that belonged to our new neighbors. I was sure the bush would die after all the roots we cut through, but over the next few years it flourished next to the garage. The flowers were bright magenta-red and very delicate - a touch and the petals fell off. It therefore wasn't the best cut flower, though the nice round clumps the flowers formed fit perfectly into small fat vases. It usually flowered from June until November or December, teaching me one of my first lessons about how long the growing season really can last if the weather cooperates.

In recent years, however, it became very susceptible to black spot. I sprayed a couple times a year but usually too late, and I admit I wasn't good about removing the infected leaf litter (due to my laissez-faire attitude towards the garden). Each year the canes came back a little yellower and a little less vigorous, though I still got as many blooms as the shrub could handle. Finally, this year it was clear that it was never going to recover its former vigor, so I took it out. We still have the pink rose next to the front porch, and despite huge adversity over the years it is primed to be the prettiest rosebush in the neighborhood when it starts blooming in a couple of weeks. When roses succeed, they make you look like the most skilled gardener in the world. When they fail, and this is true for everything in the garden, just cut your losses and move on.

Monday, May 15, 2006


How am I supposed to enjoy my garden if it never stops raining? I suppose I shouldn't complain, since we're coming out of a nasty, horrible drought. Still, I'd rather it only rained every *other* day. Botanic Garden sale is Friday, and I will attempt to replace some of the things killed off by the drought. We also need to go tree shopping because the drought took our Kwanzan cherry.

Funny, the prairie plants did just fine last year.

Went out to visit the massive beech trees near the lab on campus. They're European, Fagus sylvatica, possibly the variety known as the copper beech. Gorgeous fat spreading trees with trunks of ropy modeling clay. I took a bit back to the lab to peer at it and was realizing that my botanical terminology is fading in my memory. Might be good to bring a couple of flowers in and dissect them this summer for practice. I wish we could put a beech in our yard but it needs more space than we can provide.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The garden shopping season has begun

Went to a native plant sale hosted by the Wildlife Preservation and Propagation Committee in McHenry County on Sunday. It was much like the Filene's Basement wedding dress sale, only a little more genteel. We got there shortly after they opened and many species were sold out already - so much for my switch grass fantasy. However, I did buy some things:
Gentiana andrewsii (bottle gentian), Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama), Agastache scrophulariaefolia (hyssop), Liatris ligustylis (meadow blazingstar), Rudbeckia subtomentosa (sweet black-eyed Susan), and Echinacea pallida (pale purple coneflower).
Took today off and cleaned up the garden finally. Now have a backache and am very tired. Cut the dogwood down to about waist-high, though I probably should have just taken it down to the ground. I was hesitant because it's already flowering, but it's not like the thing can be killed. Hard pruning requires strength of character and sometimes I'm too hesitant.

Other things: sky-blue aster volunteers are sproinging up all over the garden. I moved two and if they take hold, will move others. I tried transplanting a common milkweed from the center of the path into the garden, and if it takes hold I'll move the other one. I also learned that Asclepias tuberosa has a taproot; I moved a clump and broke part of the root off. Oops. Geum triflorum is thriving in the horrible rocky dry soil of the wayback, but so is the Tradescantia next to it. Someone's going to have to move, probably the Trad. I have an aster that I can't identify. I may have to wait until it blooms again to figure out what it is.

And!!!! My Baptisia is going to bloom finally!!! *dance*

Friday, May 05, 2006

Another post already!

Suddenly feeling verbose. Must be the gallon of Mt Dew I just downed. Anyway, yesterday when I let the dogs out, there was a white bird in the grass. I managed to keep the dogs from noticing it long enough for it to fly to the fence. I walked toward it slowly - it was *very* tame. Turned out to be a grayish-white parakeet-like bird, a little bigger than a budgie, no stripes (more stripes --> younger bird) or markings at all, and a white band on one leg. I got close enough to catch it, but I was so wary of hurting it that it flew away. It didn't fly far but once it went into someone else's yard, I couldn't get to it.

That's the second pet bird in our yard in the last year. I hope he's okay - he's so tame, and there are so many cats (and dogs) around. The band confuses me, though. Could it be a wild bird? Do pet stores/owners band their birds?

And the bintgoddess said, "Let there be text...."

...and there was text.
Welcome to the newly-spawned McGarden Journal, wherein I will sporadically report on garden projects, dead plants, replacement plants, more dead plants, and the occasional success. Also: pictures!

Background: The McC garden lives on the Northwest side of Chicago, on a lot-and-a-half that also contains our house and the neighborhood's most pointlessly immense garage. We moved to the house in 1995, at which time the yard contained:

  • Some annuals

  • A raised, perfectly square garden with nine plain green hostas in a 3x3 arrangement

  • Two gorgeous rosebushes, one of which we immediately dug up and moved and somehow failed to kill

  • Several artificial pines, like Christmas tree tops

  • Overgrown junipers and yews, a hedge of Chinese elm infested with insect galls, a gravel parking pad, and not a single tree.

Things changed. Things continue to change. I can't begin to guess how much money and time have gone into converting the yard to something more fun and attractive. It doesn't really matter, anyway. Some people play on-line poker, others dig in the dirt. To each his own. (Or is that To Teach This Town? as an illuminated poster I made in high school appeared to say)

Anyway, my garden is my pride and joy, even though it's not as attractive or well-planned as a professional could achieve. My major challenges: dogs, variable soils and micro-micro-climates, dogs, droughts, dogs, rabbits and aphids, dogs, and time & energy, esp. in the late summer. And did I mention the dogs?