Saturday, November 29, 2008

November: nothing much to say

When all else fails, post a picture of the dog.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The indoor garden, part 2

It's barely above freezing in Chicago today, with overcast skies and snow flurries. Just last Tuesday I was lounging about in Grant Park under moonlit skies, wearing a light jacket, cheering our next president with a quarter million of my closest friends. Between weather and politics, it's already been a crazy month! Which makes me appreciate my indoor garden all the more. It's a tiny little universe entirely at my mercy; its successes and failures depend solely on my ability to remember to water them sometimes. Houseplants are great for control freaks like me, and the payoff in sheer gorgeousness is huge.

So let's get to it: the rest of the pictures I took on October 18:

Ponytail palm, Beaucarnea recurvata; ZZ plant, Zamioculcas zamiifolia

Asplenium nidus 'Fimbriatum', a somewhat succulent and deeply dissected birdsnest fern (a real adventure to ID this one... Home Despot's label said, helpfully, "fern". Yeah, thanks, I got that part.) Rather prone to scale as I have discovered.

Dracaena something or other; desert privet, Peperomia magnoliaefolia

Mother of Thousands, Kalanchoe daigremontiana, which keeps rotting at the soil level while the rest of the plant stays lovely; Christmas cactus, Epiphyllum sp. (currently starting to bloom!); ponytail palm, Beaucarnea recurvata. The ponytail palm was rescued from a clearance shelf at Target where it had been glued into a bonsai pot with an impenetrable layer of gravel. I chiseled the gravel out and repotted, and now have an adorable little friend that can actually be watered! What a concept.

Bleeding heart vine, Clerodendrum x speciosum; Aloe squarrosa; and paddleplant, Kalanchoe thyrsiflora, which is losing its leaves just as fast as it can. So annoying.

One of my favorite plants: climbing onion, Boweia volubilis. It should send up a new vine around January 1.

A rooted runner from the Aeschynanthus longicaulis, which is leapfrogging from pot to pot down the windowsill; Tradescantia zebrina 'Red Hill'; and a wooden frog puzzle my father-in-law made. Seriously, I need to gather my frogs and get a picture one of these days. Or maybe it will be too humiliating.

Aloe; chenille plant, Acalypha hispida; and toad cactus, Stapelia variegata, a close relative of the carrion flower (and likely just as stinky when it blooms). Fun fact! The Acalypha has already died, I think. It had some mystery bugs and also it dried out at the drop of a hat. I apparently drop my hat a lot because it's crunchy now. That's twice I've killed Acalypha. Based on Darwinian principles I conclude this species is not adapted to this habitat and I officially give up!

Silver philodendron, Scindapsus pictus argyraeus - so cute!!

Schefflera, some family photos, and the world's most pathetic Norfolk Island pine* on the shelf over my stairs.

*There's a story behind the pine that explains why I keep this sad specimen around. At Alma College where my husband and I both went, the school symbol is the white pine (a species that was of course logged out of existence in central Michigan where the school is located). In each student's freshman year they are given a Norfolk Island pine as a stand-in for a white pine, and asked to nurture it as the school nurtures them blah blah blah you get the point. Anyway, it's kind of touching to see all these different kinds of college students, football players and computer nerds and drunk sorority girls, carefully keeping their little trees alive. Mine died a few years ago but this one is my husband's, and it's still** hanging on, reminding us once a year to send Alma a donation. However, since the tree is rather silly-looking, I don't lavish much attention on it, which perhaps goes without saying.

**I just realized that he has had this tree for 20 years now. Wow.

Housekeeping of the technical sort

I finally sat down and fixed my feeds today on both blogs. I hope I have not already frightened away anyone who tried to add me and got a whole lotta nothin'! The feeds are in the sidebars. If anyone still has troubles, please to let me know. Blotanical should be picking up the mcgarden feed properly now, fingers crossed.

Monday, November 03, 2008

November: more trees

It's a little premature to take a picture of the burning bush but I was afraid the Japanese maple would lose its leaves before the burning bush was fully red. If a better shot comes along I'll just take another picture!

What did we do before digital cameras??

Acer palmatum dissectum 'Garnet' and Euonymous alatus; the burning bush is supposedly invasive and a big no-no to plant but I didn't know that when I put it in. Besides, although it does set fruit, I've never found a seedling anywhere so I suspect it's sterile anyway.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

November: the warm red glow in my bedroom

First day after turning the clocks back. The sun rises earlier, and it's nice to wake up to this:

Acer x freemanii, a red-silver hybrid maple - thank you, Chicago Dept. of Forestry!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

October - quick update

Too busy with school stuff to be profound these days, but here are some pictures from today's flawlessly gorgeous fall Chicago day...

Japanese maple, Acer palmatum 'Sango-Kaku', by the front steps

The hybrid maple in the front yard is turning red from top to bottom... I foresee very colorful mulch in my future!

Aster macrophyllus, big-leaved aster, looks even prettier in fall than it does in summer

There's nothing like sun-warmed concrete to make a doggy sleepy

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The indoor garden, part 1

It's autumn in Chicago, my favorite time of year. The morning air is brisk and invigorating as I walk to the 'L', the juncos have returned and the robins are packing up their little suitcases, and the trees are dressed in yellow and red. I refill the birdfeeders, scowl at the sad handful of flowers on my one remaining mum, and turn my attention to the indoor juniors...

Tolmiae menzieaii, the piggyback plant - SO cute

Gynura aurantiaca, the purple velvet plant - rather leggy; did the nursery grow it in low light?

Homalocladium platycladum, ribbon plant

Jade plant; Echeveria; cactus seedlings from a kit my advisor gave me (and most certainly doomed); and a Schefflera

Iresine herbstii, beefsteak plant; Costus woodsonii, dwarf cone ginger; Chlorophytum amaniense, Mandarin plant. My sweet Jazzy stands guard in the corner. The froggy rain gauge doesn't collect much rain, fortunately. I will tell you some other time about my frog collection :D

Rhipsalis 'Trail' (it's a cactus! really!) and a philodendron

Aeschynanthus longicaulus nicely coordinates with my silly little craft fair purchase

Hoya 'Waxleaf' taking over the house. Observe the vines heading around the corner into the two adjacent rooms... "Hmm, let's see what's over this way!" It used to be in the window but I had to move it because it rooted into the seams of the vinyl window and wove inextricably through the mini blinds. Oy.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

October: infrastructure, earthmoving

The new retaining wall on the garage garden looks very nice:

(Note the little patch of orange that represents the only mums left after the plant got smashed during construction.) :(

I have yet to backfill the edges where the soil collapsed, and at the moment I'm too tired to think about it. I have a feeling the entire garden is going to sink this winter because I'll be too lazy to shore it up.

DH is out of town for the weekend and the weather is super-fantastic so I promised myself I would finally finish laying out the patio garden that has been a half-assed work in progress for about 3 years now:

Since most of it is former lawn, the soil was compacted and awful to work with, but about three hours later, the edge was defined, the grass was pulled, and four bags of tulip and daffodil bulbs were planted. Foley was very helpful, occasionally walking into the hole I was currently digging, lying in the bare dirt, or standing almost directly on top of me so all I could see and smell was brindle dog flank.

Anyway, as the "great" "leaders" of this great nation say, Mission Accomplished:

The dog dish is only a placeholder; there will be a bird bath there as soon as I find one that isn't hideous or plastic. I just needed to make sure I didn't plant any bulbs there! The edge of the garden will be red brick like the rest of the borders. I like brick because it's easy to lay down, it's pretty, and DH can mow right over it. The shrub is Carolina allspice; the other plants are volunteer purple coneflowers, Clematis 'Jackmanii' on the coachlight, and Gaura lindheimeri 'Siskiyou Pink'. More will come, next year.

The McHouse back yard, today

Saturday, October 04, 2008

About a bint

The obligatory "about me" post:
I am a 30-something gardener in a hundred-year-old house on the northwest side of Chicago. Our yard is vast by city standards (37.5 feet wide) and I've been learning how to garden in it for 12 years now. When we bought the house there were artificial evergreens, a rapidly-growing elm hedge, and a smattering of petunias in the yard. I like to think it's a little nicer now but I am rather biased.

In real life I am a graduate student in evolutionary biology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where I study genetic variation in the American basswood, Tilia americana. Ironically, almost having a Ph.D. in biology does nothing for my garden. I can sequence DNA but that doesn't explain why I can't grow phlox!

In my plant choices I lean towards Midwestern native perennials or at least things that look or act like natives. I love flowers of purple and gold and I dislike red and pink. My gardens are mostly border gardens, leaving the rest of the lawn as play space for my darling greyhound. I also have a whole lot of houseplants.

I've kept a garden website and a personal blog for several years. Now that I've finished most of the field work for my dissertation, I'm looking forward to spending more time with my pretty green babies, all of which are named Junior because it's just easier that way. Feel free to comment or suggest; if I know someone's watching, I'm more likely to keep the garden, and the blog, well-maintained!


I'm in the process of listing this blog with Blotanical, which hopefully will be the push I need to keep it up to date. It's a bad time of year for taking photos, since the summer-blooming plants are already going black and crunchy, but there should be migratory birds, picturesque snow scenes, and greyhound sightings a-plenty for a few months. And then: spring!

Anyway, if you're finding this through a Blotanical search, welcome and I promise to have more content in the future. And if you're finding it because you're the 10000000th person to search for photos of sky-blue asters, well, welcome to you as well :)

Friday, October 03, 2008

New additions, sans pictures

Purchased at Home Despot at the same time as my birthday juniors, but with much less fanfare:
Polemonium 'Touch of Class' - Jacob's ladder (my second attempt at keeping one of these alive in the front garden)
Phlox paniculata 'Pink Flame' - an electric pink phlox in the north edge garden. I've had bad luck with phlox for years (rampant powdery mildew) but this year I had one successful plant and drunk with victory I bought this new one. It is of course doomed but don't tell it.
Platycodon grandiflorus 'Sentimental Blue' - balloon flower. I've always wanted one of these. Plus, it has the word "codon" in it so it reminds me of school.

Also, forgot to mention that I received a hops plant (Humulus lupulus) during a tour of the Dorothy Atkins garden at UIC (link). This garden on the west campus contains plantings of over 100 medicinal plant species, several of which are subjects of active study in the pharmacy and pharmacognosy programs. Hops, they told me, will survive the winter, and since it's a vine it needs something to grow on.

Friday flowers, foliage, Foleyage

Ninebark 'Summer Wine', Physocarpus opulifolius

Little bluestem grass, Schizachyrium scoparium - one of my native prairie plants

Cranberry bush viburnum, Viburnum opulus

Autumn Joy sedum, Sedum spectabile

Foley "helps" with rebuilding the retaining wall around the garage garden

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday flowers

Pink asters, species long forgotten

Sky blue aster, Aster oolentangiensis, except it's not looking very blue in this photo

Showy goldenrod, Solidago speciosa - totally flopped over like everything else in the wayback garden

Friday, September 19, 2008

Birthday juniors!

I bought a gaggle of juniors for my birthday this month. I had let the houseplant collection decline and it was in rather pathetic shape, needing pruning and repotting and outright replacing in many cases. Thanks to Logee's and Home Despot, the indoor garden is ready to rebound to its former glory...

Various babies, getting to know each other

Ficus pumila, which dries out if it goes without water for two days; Hoya carnosa variegata 'Stripes'; and a spider plant

Saturday, September 06, 2008


Have been browsing other garden blogs lately - do you know that some people actually update more than twice in a year?! Crazy. Feel inspired and will try to do better.

The coneflowers and black-eyed Susans are on the decline now but the asters are ramping up. Prairie dock is fabulously in flower but the stems have mostly toppled. This is a chronic problem in the wayback garden; the downy sunflower also flops over, as do the asters and goldenrods. I can't imagine it's too wet or loamy back there; the garage wall makes it hot and oppressive, and the soil is rocky. I always vow to cut things back earlier in the summer and maybe next year I'll really do it, but the prairie dock can't be cut back and will just have to deal.

You don't care about that. Pictures!

Prairie dock

Turtlehead, planted just a few weeks ago

The rare and sleepy Foley flower

Sunday, August 17, 2008

August is the garden's best month

My field work is DONE. You can't imagine how happy this makes me! Now I can get back into the garden, which has been sadly neglected for two seasons. The wayback is a lost cause, so overrun with foxtail grass and milkweed that I can barely get back there, much less separate the weedy from the wanted. I think winter is the time to deal with that!

I bought some new things today: Echinacea 'Sunset' (orange coneflower), Rudbeckia hirta 'Goldsturm' (black-eyed Susan), Chelone lyonii 'Hot Lips' (turtlehead), and Liatris spicata 'Kobold' in the north garden (filling in gaps where things died last winter); Gaura lindheimeri 'Siskiyou Pink' in the patio garden; and Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' (bugloss) in the front garden.


Garage garden: phlox, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, Heliopsis, Veronica, and hyssop (Agastache) in bloom. Tallish shrub near the foreground is my darling witch-hazel, finally rising above the other plants.

Coreopsis subtomentosa

Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon, a shrub that every year is half-dead and half gloriously in flower. I've learned not to take it personally.

The wayback garden - bring your machete

Hello, Mr. Spider - You may eat all the bugs you like but if you venture into the house, all bets are off

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Migration season

Two new yard birds in the last few days: a trio of brown-headed cowbirds, and an adorable little ruby-crowned kinglet. Also, a pair of sparrows that I can't quite identify but I think they're new. They refuse to turn to face me no matter how much I snap my fingers and say "Hey! Look over here!"

I hope the cowbirds were just passing through. I'd be sad to discover that brood parasites have taken up residence in the neighborhood.


Am very amused to browse my Sitemeter hits and discover a large number of people finding this blog by searching for "live flowers". I suppose it would be very disappointing to search for plain old "flowers" and find photos of dead ones by accident.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Second sign of spring

Territorial calls from the mourning doves before sunrise this morning.

No more signs of the chickadee, even though I did fill the feeder. We got more snow so no snowdrops yet.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

First signs of spring

Today: the season's first territorial calls from the cardinals. Hooray!

Yesterday: the first chickadee I've seen in the neighborhood since around 2001 (if my notes are correct). The West Nile outbreak hit them and the crows particularly hard, but the crows rebounded with a vengeance. I'm so happy to see a chickadee again after all this time.
The solid ice that covers our yard is slowly melting. I hope to see snowdrops as soon as it's gone.