The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL has always ranked as one of my favorite places, even before I became plant-obsessed. The Children's Garden has enthralled my daughter since she could walk, and my little boy is exploring every corner these days. Their tree collections are just incredible, stimulating my analytical side with all those latin names. And taking a solitary walk through the pine forests, oak savannahs, and prairie often simultaneously takes my breath away while calming my senses and grounding my spirit.
Now is a particularly good time to visit the Arboretum, during their Nature Unframed: Art at the Arboretum exhibit. Two of my favorites are "Wall in Blue Ash Tree" by Letha Wilson, and "How Far Have We Gone" by Theodoros Zafeiropoulos. Wilson highlights the tree's intricate limbs and branches by building a wall to spotlight the individual branches. Zafeiropoulos selected a deceased tree, sliced it up, and created a floating path on Meadow Lake.
As a garden designer, the Arboretum is a wonderful place to find inspiration. The gardens are filled with unexpected yet perfectly matched plant combinations. And the landscapes are always changing. Visit the Schulenburg Prairie this month, and it will be completely different next. If you visit now, you'll see one of my favorite native plants in bloom - Geum triflorum, or prairie smoke. Take a look at the last photo below and you'll see why it's sometimes called "Old man's whiskers". In early spring, it's graceful nodding blooms are a rosy pink color. But it really earns it's common name when in the seed stage and a mass of the plants look like a smoke is hovering above. The foliage turns dark red in fall and is sometimes evergreen. A well-behaved native, it does not readily reseed. I've got some in my front yard raised bed; you should try it too!
Want to be green? One of the first suggestions you hear is to get a rainbarrel. Reducing runoff and reusing water are touted as it's benefits. But how much of an impact does a rainbarrel really make? Some say, "Not much," when it comes to how much water you will reuse compared to how much your landscape actually needs. Check out this post by Owen Dell, sustainable landscape guru and author of Sustainable Landscaping for Dummies, where he calculates that "A single 60-gallon rain barrel will supply 0.00043 of my annual water needs, making it necessary for me to have 2,333 barrels to meet those needs."
He also raises a point in his post that I've been thinking about a lot when considering using rainbarrel water on my vegetable garden. How clean is that water, really? After a few weeks without rain, all kinds of pollution and bird droppings collect on your roof, then dissolve into a "toxic soup" with the first rainfall. This is all delivered neatly into my rainbarrel, which I plan to use to water my vegetables? That I plan to eat? Yuck! And if the rainbarrel is sitting out in the sun, the water could potentially burn the plants.
So, to rainbarrel or not. That's the question. I still see value in rainwater harvesting, even if what's collected is not very much. Your perennials and grass will still love this water, even if it might be too dirty for veggies. In my opinion, any water we can keep out of our storm sewer system and on our own property is of value. Just look at the problems we are having along the Mississippi. Here in DuPage County, the water that runs off our property goes into our sewer system and is then dumped, pollutants and all, into the DuPage River. The DuPage feeds into the Illinois River, which flows into the Mississippi. Who knows how much of their flooding problem could have been avoided if more of us up north saved some of our rainwater?
There are many sources for rainbarrels, but one that I'd recommend is The Conservation Foundation based in Naperville, who recycles plastic containers for rainbarrel use. Check with your municipality - here in Glen Ellyn you can get a $40 rebate from the village for installing a barrel.
I think I have totally brainwashed my soon-to-be-four-year-old daughter. My gardening obsession seems to have rubbed off on her. She loves plants, and can even identify a few of her favorites, like bleeding hearts, ferns, and purple coneflowers. She tries to protect dandelions from my attacking cobra-head weeder. And, she loves worms.
But what really gets her excited in the garden are butterflies. My best pal bought her a netted butterfly cage for her birthday last year, and she learned a lot about the growth cycle of the painted lady butterfly. After that, she was hooked, and so excited to see the first butterfly of the season, the cabbage white. Watching her chase them sure brings back memories of my own childhood!
Monarchs also like sunflowers!
You can do a few things to encourage butterflies to make your yard home. It's important to include plants that feed adult butterflies, but also host plants, where butterflies lay their eggs and from which catepillars eat. For example, say you want to attract our state butterfly, the monarch. Plant lantana, goldenrods, and blazing stars for nectar, and milkweed for caterpillar food. And steer clear of the pesticides. Yes, they kill the bad bugs, but also the good ones.
Since peak butterfly months are July and August, you still have time to add a butterfly garden to your yard. And if you need someone to design it for you, I might know a landscape designer...