Monday, December 28, 2009

December: Gardening Resolutions for 2010

A quick thanks to Ramble On Rose for inspiring me to write my gardening resolutions for 2010. I dredged up my list of resolutions (gardening and otherwise) for 2009 on my now-defunct personal blog here. Let's see, how did I do?

1) Read On the Origin of Species. Um... I started it. And I acquired a second copy, so now there are two copies sitting on my nightstand. I think I'll bump this one and try again this year. I do love me some flowery Victorian writing but Mr. Darwin, your prose is turgid, my good man. Good thing I love you so much.

2) Do a talk at a scientific meeting. Check! Now to try this one again without the panic attack.

3) Bring my weight down to N-8, where N is what I weighed in Jan. 2009, and stay there through the end of the year. Would you believe, Check! I actually lost the 8 within two months. Keeping them off however is an ongoing battle, esp. with the holidays just before deadline.

4) Edge the gardens, do more planting, and essentially bring the existing gardens into neat and healthy condition. Well, I did do more planting, but I was gone or busy for much of the summer (see #2) so the rest didn't get done. I blame myself for writing such a vague resolution. More on this below.

5) Get a little brother for Foley. Check! Except it's a sister, and she is smaller but older. Her name is Lucy and she belonged to our friends who can't keep her anymore. Lucy's resolution is to lose 10 pounds but shh, don't tell her. She's shaped like a barrel!
Lucy-face!!! ... *love*

Okay, three resolutions and two partials is not so bad. So how about 2010?

Professional stuff: Write the first chapter of the dissertation. Do another meeting talk, likely at the Evolution conference in June.

Personal stuff: Read Origin, for real this time. Bring weight down to N-10 where N is Jan. 2009's weight, and keep it there through Dec. 31. If that requires some exercise, that wouldn't be a terrible thing.

Garden stuff:
IMG_43431) Grow my first edible garden. I have the location picked out, in a sunny spot against the house (where the ladder is, in the photo). TMCH will help me build the raised bed. Things to plant: green peppers, hot peppers, peas, onions, garlic. I will only plant things that we're likely to eat (no tomatoes!) and that won't take over the planet (no pumpkins!). The railing that extends out from the house will hold window boxes of greens. It's going to be an adventure!

2) Edge all of the gardens and replace the deteriorating wire border fences. Fences and edging are mostly for keeping dogs out of the gardens, and for making my otherwise random collection of plants look more intentional. Now that I have a big pile of nice bricks rescued from the crawlspace, I have plenty of edging material.

IMG_08173) Thin the plants in the prairie garden and top-dress the soil. I've had terrible problems with the plants flopping over in this garden and the extension service suggested these as possible remedies. It is very frustrating to buy native plants adapted to dry, rocky soils and then have them look like they were run over by a truck in late summer when prairies are supposed to be at their best. The soil may actually be too dry and rocky (this used to be a gravel parking pad) and thus nutrient-poor and excessively fast-draining. Meanwhile, the helianthus has spread quite a bit and I have to bite the bullet and reduce the number of plants. *sob*

Corollary to #3: Take more photos of things going wrong in the garden. I couldn't find a single photo to show the flopping in the prairie garden. It's nice to take pretty pictures and all, but I need to see the trouble spots as well. This photo is from two summers ago and the flopping on the left is hard to see but is definitely there; more apparent is the neglect, which I did rectify, and the ill-placed viburnum, which is gone now.

4) Begin overhaul of the front yard garden. This is contingent on getting the broken concrete sidewalk removed in the spring; if we don't do that, the front yard can just coast as it has for years. If we do, then I have some new yardage to plan out!

So apparently I am going to be very busy in 2010. I'm already looking forward to it! What do you have planned?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

December: Yay Christmas!

I'm sitting in my living room with Lucy the beagle mix at my feet and Foley the greyhound lounging on the dog bed. The tree glows warmly from the dining room (it was the spot that required the fewest houseplants to be relocated), the kitchen is full of cookies (butterscotch gingerbread and "elf eyeballs" so far, more to come tomorrow), and it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Happy Holidays to you all and may the new year be filled with peace and joy and beautiful gardens!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

December: 15 years and counting

Fifteen years ago today, my husband and I were married. A church wedding was out of the question and the thought of parading in a frilly dress in front of everyone I know gave me the cold sweats, so we went low-key and had a private ceremony at the Sinnissippi Gardens greenhouse in Rockford, Illinois, my hometown. It was all decked out for the holidays and filled with red poinsettias, which made my wintery color palette of white and royal blue look a bit more patriotic than I'd intended, but oh well. The greenhouse housed a collection of small animals and there are a few budgies and iguanas in our wedding photos. If we were getting married now, we'd probably choose a fancier place like the Garfield Park Conservatory, but we were young and poor and nostalgic in 1994, and Sinnissippi suited us nicely. As the winter sun set on one of the shortest days of the year, the warm light filtered through the frosted glass and gave us a rare peaceful moment on that crazy day.

(can you find the budgies in this picture?)

The greenhouse was a bit run-down and underutilized even back then and was torn down this year to make way for a more elaborate conservatory. I regret that I didn't make it back in time to take more pictures before they tore it down. The place held some nice memories for me besides the wedding; I did my "job shadow" with one of the master gardeners at the greenhouse back in 8th grade, and when I was in high school the whole town flocked there to witness the blooming of the century plant. I'm happy to see Rockford get another nice botanical installation to go with the Klehm Arboretum and Anderson Gardens, but I will always feel affection for the scruffy old greenhouse by the river.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December: Belated Bloom Day!

On actual Bloom Day, I was working like a crazy person on a grant application (which I submitted a full three minutes before deadline).  I was inspired by other Chicago-area people to hunt for miracle blooms in the garden this morning, but alas, nothing but dead leaves and milkweed fluff did I find.  Still, there's usually something cheerful blooming inside the house.  They're all gesneriads but one of these plants is not like the others...

First, a gaggle of Saintpaulias...


I discovered this morning that I can set the brightness of the flash on my camera.  I took a series of photos of this lavender guy and found that a setting of -1 1/3 gave the most realistic color without looking overexposed.  A setting of +2 gave a crazy yellow blob of light, and -2 actually made the photo darker than not using a flash (figure that one out!).  If I learn one new thing about my camera each month, in 10 years I'll actually be good at using it.

Aeschynanthus longicaulis, which blooms several times a year but sometimes I don't notice until the flowers start dropping onto the floor.  The flowers are cryptic but have such a cool morphology. The stamens are didynamous, the anthers coherent at their tips in pairs, while the five petals are fused into a tube, green outside, red inside.

Not pictured:  I potted up my new amaryllis ($7 at Target, with ceramic pot) over the weekend, and also bought a cheapie red poinsettia from the grocery store.  I know "real" plant people scorn poinsettias but I think they're gorgeous and buy one every year.  I try to keep it alive after the holidays but the best I've done so far is July.  They really don't like to dry out, apparently.

As always - thanks to Carol for hosting Bloom Day!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

December: Coldest day since February

The greyhound puts on a lot of miles just looking for her morning pee-spot

Today we had a high temp of something like 5 degrees.  I peeked out the window at the snow and remembered that I never did bring the hose in.  I should do that one of these days.

Houseplant season is in full swing and I love it!  Unfortunately I'm contending with more problems than ever before, possibly because I have more plants than ever before, and from more sources.  The Stromanthe has mealybugs, which I've been attacking with a flashlight and alcohol with good results so far.

The Alocasia has spider mites and is also losing its older leaves just for fun.  And the Clerodendrum x speciosum appears to have thrips, of all crazy things.  What a great word, "thrips."  One thrips, two thrips, a hundred thrips!  The Clerodendrum is doing terribly and I should just pitch it but it's not a plant I see for sale often so I don't want to give up.  And yet just as I typed that sentence I realized I'm being silly and it's getting tossed tomorrow.  Goodbye, Mr. Thrips!  (ugh...I swear I didn't plan that)

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My Saintpaulia collection has recently grown from one to five plants.  One thing I've learned from my fellow bloggers:  if you're good at a certain plant, might as well own a lot of them.

The other major problem is fungus gnats.  I've done everything I was supposed to and yet there are gnats flying up our noses, landing in our water glasses, and generally making nuisances of themselves.  It's hard to believe they're coming from the plants since I don't see them on the soil when I water, and yet where else could they be breeding?!  I finally sucked it up and bought a bag of Bt from Gardens Alive.  First of three weekly treatments was Monday.  I have my fingers crossed because the next step is a bug bomb and nobody wants that.

Tradescantia zebrina 'Red Hill' cuttings.  The root hairs are so beautiful I want to pet them.

Senecio rowleyanus.  I killed one of these earlier in the year but am vowing to ignore this one for its own good.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

November: Chicago Architecture Foundation's Chicago Model City exhibit

Mark and I went to the Model City exhibit at CAF (Michigan & Jackson) a few weeks ago but my silly camera batteries died (and hey, CAF, how about selling batteries in your gift shop?) so I couldn't take the millions of photos I wanted.  Yesterday I slipped out early and returned to do the exhibit full justice.

Sunrise on the river. The lighting is challenging for photographers because they simulate a 24-hour light change and even the brightest daylight is soft, to reduce shadows.

The exhibit is a completely fascinating sight, a scale model of the buildings of Chicago from Roosevelt to Halsted to (hmm, not sure of the north boundary) to the lake.  It's a lot of fun to crouch down and see familiar sightlines, and to pick out the buildings you know.  It even has a replica of the Bean!  I encourage everyone in town to go see it.  It was scheduled to close in November but someone from CAF let me know this morning that it has been extended.  So no excuses!

Website:  Chicago Model City

My Flickr set:  Model City

Here's a comparison:  the model view from UIC:
And the same view in real life:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November: Picture This Photo Contest Entry

My entry for this month's Picture This photo contest at Gardening Gone Wild. The theme is "The End of the Line," interpreted in any number of ways.

I took this picture at University of Illinois at Chicago today. The row of honey locust trees and shadows against the wall suggested prisoners grimly facing a firing line, and with a cold and windy winter coming, that isn't too far from the truth.

November: Campus goes to sleep

UIC's leaves have mostly fallen and the grounds (and the students) are getting ready for a long winter, but under today's autumn sunshine the campus was putting on a show.

When the leaves fall, hidden secrets within the trees are revealed

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sunday, November 08, 2009

November: The Money Pit, part 5

After a full weekend of work, all of the carpentry is finished.

Saturday afternoon:
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A tiny issue with the roof:  it was visibly not level.  It appeared that the back of the roof was level to the siding and the front was level to the ground, and since the house is not level, the roof looked a bit twisted.  This morning's task was to make the roof the same degree of unlevel as the house, which they did successfully.  Of course, first there was much shrugging of shoulders and muttering amongst themselves in Serbian.  We don't speak Serbian but "Give the client what they want, even if it makes no sense to me" sounds about the same in every language.  Too bad!


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Pay no attention to the woman behind the tree; Foley does not like the camera flash and bolted for the door as soon as this was taken

Saturday, November 07, 2009

November: The Money Pit, part 4

Concrete:  done.  Porch:  done enough to be useable, so we no longer have to use a block and tackle to let the dog out (kidding!).  Roof framing:  being done even as I type.  Things are progressing quickly!

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Replacement post is firmly tied to original post and bolted into the concrete.

I think they cemented the coachlight a little crooked.  Oh well!  It won't be noticeable once the clematis covers it again (assuming the clematis survives all this ruckus).

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

November: Oh yeah, plants

In the midst of the excitement of tearing off parts of our house and grading a genetics exam, I haven't been reporting on the plants.  The garden has been put to bed, McHouse-style, meaning hubby mowed the leaves up and dumped them onto the prairie garden, and I cut back the perennials that were in the way of the concrete guys.

Viburnum opulus, fall color

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Calycanthus floridus, Carolina allspice, one of my favorite shrubs, has wonderful fall color.  It has developed its first and only fruit, a fig-like capsule that should persist all winter.  I'll cut it open in the spring and see what's inside.

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My witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is blooming.  American witch hazels have such cool flowers but I usually forget to look for them since they bloom at an odd time of year.  They tend to have low seed set, something like 1%.  I haven't found any capsules from last year's flowers.

I have two strawberry plants running wild in the lawn. I'm told that this is a bad thing but we have such a hard time keeping grass back there, any successful green plant is okay in my book! Until I start smooshing red berries onto my clothes, that is.  We'll see if they survive the winter.

Foley dozes in the November sunshine.  She's definitely an autumn; the earth tones suit her.