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?