Monday, December 26, 2011

What's Wrong With My Oak?

Back in 2002, when my husband and I bought our home, one of the things we liked best about the property was our parkway tree. We didn't know what kind of tree is was, but loved it's perfect symmetry, rounded form (although I would have used the word "shape" back then), and fullness when leafed out that gave us privacy on our somewhat busy street. But one thing that drove us crazy was the fact that it would not lose it's leaves in the fall like the rest of the trees! We had no idea why. We thought maybe it was because there was a streetlight nearby, which we'd read could mess with the leaf cycle of trees.

I've since learned that this tree that we adore, is Quercus alba, a white oak. Q. alba is native to Illinois, in fact, it's Illinois' state tree. It's a member of the Fagaceae family, which includes oaks, beeches, and chestnuts. Nothing is wrong with our tree - members of the Fagaceae family hang on to their leaves well into winter. In fact, you'll often see a pile of leaves under the tree in the snow, as they continually lose a few each day. In early spring, old leaves will fall as the new ones emerge.

While my white oak has not produced any acorns yet (mine is only about 15 years old and they are said typically not to produce acorns until 50 years, but sometimes as little as 20) when it does, they will be an important source of food for wildlife as more than 180 species of insects, birds, and mammals feed from this tree.

I'm lucky enough to have "inherited" this tree and a 70 foot tall white pine when we bought our house. I've added other native trees including a redbud (Cercis canadensis), serviceberry (Amalanchier sp.) and hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana). What are your favorite native trees on your property (inherited or not)?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Vertical Garden Roundup

Have you heard that O'Hare Airport in Chicago is growing vegetables using vertical gardens?

Vertical gardens are hot! And why shouldn't they be? We can grow ornamental plants, vegetables and herbs in much less space than if they were planted horizontally (in the ground, that is). If you have little outdoor space - a small patio or a balcony, for example - vertical gardening may be for you. I plan on building a vertical garden to decorate an outside wall of our house that is next to our deck, both to provide some interest on the plain wall, and to grow herbs as close as possible to my kitchen. Here is a roundup of my favorite vertical gardens on the web.

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This garden uses the side of a fence to grow greens. Mounting the "beds" in an alternating unlevel pattern utilizes water more efficiently. These may be rain gutters, which is a great way to repurpose them when no longer in use.

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I like the idea behind this vertical garden made from none other than a shoe organizer! This won't work for me because it's a little too casual for my deck space, but I still think it's a great idea and would love to try it.

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This vertical garden from Urbio combines practical utility with modern style. I am definitely considering this one. The plates and pots can be installed in any arrangement.

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This Wooly Pocket is also a contender for my space. It comes in five different colors and is waterproof, so no drippy mess. You can also use these indoors! Cool.

Have you tried vertical gardening? Share your experience!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Giving Back to the Birds - Native Berry-Producing Shrubs

As you can see from my last few posts, I am on a berry binge. I am completely enamored with berry-producing trees and shrubs. I love the idea of providing plants that will feed birds through winter. We have taken so much habitat from our local wildlife, it would be great to give some back. And it just happens that due to some construction on my house, I had to rip out a perennial garden and plan to replant the area with native berry-producing shrubs in the spring. It's a perfect location for watching birds either from inside the house or on the deck, so I want plants that will initiate a birdy feeding frenzy. There are so many great choices available - how to choose?

Aronia arbutifolia (Red Chokeberry)
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My first choice was Aronia arbutifolia (Red Chokeberry), but I am reading conflicting information about its usefulness to birds. Some sources say it is very attractive to birds, some say birds won't touch it, and some say they will eat it as a last resort in late winter. In this article, the Morton Arboretum says it will attract over 21 different species of birds, and I tend to rely on their information since it is so appropriate to our area here in the Chicago suburbs. The bright red berry-like pomes in late fall and winter are spectacular, as is it's fall color, but it is very leggy and needs the right plant in front of it to hide those bare legs. For this reason, it is best massed. Will do well in many types of soil, full or part sun, and wet or dry soils.

Cornus sericea (Red-Osier Dogwood)
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One of the most useful plants in the residential landscape is Cornus sericea (Red-Osier Dogwood). It will attract over 98 different species of birds (Wow!) and has a nice spring flower and white berry-like drupes and deep green leaves in summer that turn reddish purple in fall. As an added bonus - the red branches provide winter interest and can be used for winter arrangements. Adaptable to many soil conditions, but does best is wet soils.

Myrica pennsylvanica (Northern Bayberry)
Myrica pennsylvanica (Northern Bayberry) is one of my favorite plants. I love the spatulate leaf shape, and the waxy-looking berry-like drupe that cover the plant in fall are gorgeous. Only female plants produce fruit, so a male plant nearby is necessary. Over 85 species of birds visit this plant for food, making it a definite contender for a spot in my garden. While the straight species can grow quite large (8-10 feet tall), a smaller, more compact cultivar is on the way. Grows in full sun or part shade, sandy or clay soil.

Ilex verticillata (Common Winterberry)
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Ilex verticillata (Common Winterberry) is a native holly, complete with the glossy dark green leaves that we all love. It's deciduous, meaning that it will lose it's leaves in the fall, but the red berry-like drupes persist in winter until the birds eat them up. The straight species can grow to 10 feet, but many smaller cultivars are available. This beauty will attract over 20 species of birds. Does well in full sun or partial shade, but produces more fruit in more sun and moist soil.

Symphoricarpos albus (Common Snowberry)
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A low-growing option (3-4 feet) for closer to the front of the border is either Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Coralberry/Indiancurrant) or Symphoricarpos albus (Common Snowberry). While S. orbiculatus has a purplish berry, and S. albus has a very interesting white berry-like drupe, they both attract lots of birds. This plant is unique because it does well in shade.

With all this focus on fruits, it's important to note that birds will choose an insect to eat over a berry or seed anytime, so it's important to select native plants that will attract insects as well as provide tasty fruits, which all of the above will.

I don't know how I will decide what to plant. Do you have any of these plants? What are your experiences?

For more information, visit Carole Seville Brown's post on Best Berries for Birds in the Wildlife Garden.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Dripping with Fruit - Hall's Crabapple (Malus halliana)

Has a plant ever literally stopped you in your tracks?

I was driving along the East Route at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL, when I was urged to pull over to the side of the road to get a closer look at this crabapple. Hall's Crabapple (Malus halliana) is a show-stopper at this time of year. It is just dripping with orange and yellow fruit that will catch your attention from a distance.

The birds have not touched this tree, I assume because it's native to China. They may eat the fruit as a last resort in the dead of winter. While I find this to be a gorgeous tree, it is not available in the industry, possibly due to all those pomes (many people find them a nuisance). So we will just have to admire it at the Arboretum.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Potager Inspiration for Your Garden

Another summer has come and gone, and except for some kale, swiss chard, beets, and pak choi, most of the potager is unproductive. I've spread out what remained in my compost tumbler to enrich the soil for next year, and will blanket each bed with shredded leaves for the winter.

Many friends and neighbors have expressed interest in building a potager in the spring, so I thought I'd give you all some pictures of beautiful vegetable gardens that might inspire you to start growing your own vegetables, or convince you to go bigger!

I love the simplicity of this garden - just wooden beds with a
simple fence enclosure. I wouldn't want to have to mow that
grass though, and would probably choose crushed stone or patio paver paths.

Are you using brick pavers elsewhere on your property? You can easily
tie the vegetable garden to the look of the rest of the landscaping by
matching the pavers and fencework.
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Flagstone makes a beautiful pathing material in this potager.
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Combining both raised beds and ground-level beds creates interest and beauty.
Using crushed stone for a portion of the paths saves money.
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Love the wood planks surrounding these raised beds. No muddy shoes in this
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And of course, I love the design of this potager, because it's mine!

Now is a great time to get started on the design of your own potager, and I can help! Contact me today, and this spring you could be harvesting your family's produce from your own gorgeous vegetable garden! For more information about Tina Koral Gardens, visit .

Monday, November 28, 2011

Yarn Bomb Detonated in Lisle, IL

No need to take cover, just head out to the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL to see "Lichen It!" by Carol Hummel, part of the Arboretum's Nature Unframed outdoor exhibit. Hummel worked with dozens of crocheters to create patches that resemble lichen on this Yellowwood tree (Cladrastis kentukea) using nylon cord. The patches are meant to symbolize our interdependent, nurturing relationships with nature and each other.

Yarn bombing has received a lot of attention lately. Also known as guerilla knitting or grafitti knitting, it's a type of street art that uses knitted or crocheted material instead of spray paint. It was recently featured in the inaugural issue of Leaf Magazine. There is even an International Yarnbombing Day (it's June 11).

Why would anyone do this, you ask? For beauty and interest, primarily. Yarnbombing was originally intended to brighten up bland spaces with color and texture. Cold steel items like lampposts, mailboxes, and fire hydrants, even cars, buses, and bridges have all been yarnbombed since the artistic act became popular in the last five years or so.

Want to start your own yarnbombing movement? Check out these links:
Grafitti's Cozy, Feminine Side
Yarn Bombing: The Book
Go Bomb Something With Yarn

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Garden Blogs I'm Reading Now

I consider myself a "voracious" reader. I read every night, most mornings, during meals, in the car (as a passenger, of course), and any other spare minutes I might have sprinkled throughout my day. By far, what I love reading most are novels, memoirs, and biographies. With this cooler weather, I love nothing more than to take a blanket out on my front porch and read a good book.

Earlier this year, I got an ipad, and a new addiction hobby. I love reading blogs, mostly those focused on gardening/landscape design, interior design, parenting, and food. My magazine subscriptions have nearly all expired because I can use the blogs for that same purpose - short, informative articles with nice color pictures.

Check out some of the gardening blogs I like:


Designers on Design

Happy reading!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights

Have you heard about the Chicago Wilderness Leave No Child Inside initiative? I posted earlier this year about Nature Deficit Disorder, a condition where children (and adults) suffer from too little time in nature, experiencing attention problems, obesity, anxiety, and depression.

I'm sharing the Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights with you because I think every parent and teacher should know about this initiative, and as a reminder to myself. With colder weather upon us, I do find myself getting lazy about getting the kids outside, opting for indoor activities instead. Kids deserve to be outside everyday, even when I'd rather be snuggled up with them in our pajamas under a blanket!

My girl, exploring Lake Michigan
Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights
Every child should have the opportunity to:

1. Discover wilderness - prairies, dunes, forests, savannahs, and wetlands

2. Camp under the stars

3. Follow a trail

4. Catch and release fish, frogs, and insects

5. Climb a tree

6. Explore nature in neighborhoods and cities

7. Celebrate heritage

8. Plant a flower

9. Play in the mud or a stream

10. Learn to swim

More information:
Nature Deficit Disorder
Leave No Child Inside

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Elephant Tree - Fagus Sylvatica 'Atropunicea' (Copper Beech)

My four-year-old has two favorite trees. She absolutely loves gingkos, and are fascinated by their fan-shaped leaves. The other is "The Elephant Tree" as she calls it. This Fagus sylvatica (Copper Beech) is located near the Morton Arboretum's Visitor Center and always captures my little girl's attention, especially this fall.

Fagus sylvatica is a purple-leafed beech that exhibits incredible coppery fall color. Old trees, like the one pictured, develop beautiful grey elephant-skin bark. Because this tree gets so big (70-80ft), and branches so closely to the ground, it is usually not appropriate for the residential landscape, unless you've got a lot of property. If you do, this tree is one of the finest trees available for a large-scale landscape.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - A Fall Hike

Okay, so maybe a few words. This is my entry for the November Gardening Gone Wild Picture This! Photo Contest. November's challenge is to capture photos of people in the garden or out enjoying nature. I love participating in this contest (of which there are no prizes) just for the garden/nature photography tips and constructive criticism. And of course, I'll take any opportunity to show pictures of my kids! This is my little guy on a hike at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dry-Erase Picture Frame - Save Paper!

Try this for a way to clean up your desk and save paper. Take an unused picture frame, remove the picture, place a white sheet of paper beneath the glass, and use a dry-erase marker to write your To Do list! Saves the frame from the trash, and eliminates all those little pieces of scratch paper laying around. I love this green idea!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Residential Landscape Defined By a Lack of Plants

In September, I had the unique opportunity to tour the The Frank Lloyd Wright designed Edward R. Hills House (also known as the Hills-DeCaro House), a historic landmark in Oak Park, IL. The Hills House is an example of Wright’s transition from his traditional prairie style of architecture to his experimentation in Japanese architecture (note the pagoda style roof features). Wright believed that the house should blend in harmony with the natural surroundings. The landscape of the Hills house does just the opposite – the current owners, Mark and Sallie Smylie, did not want plants to detract from the magnificence of the house.
The landscape at the Hills House is in stark contrast to the residential landscape of today, where we design foundation plantings that smooth the sharp angle of the house and the yard.


If you owned this home, would you change the landscape? In a sense, I agree with the homeowners, that foundation plantings might detract from the home. But my own personal style might lead me to incorporate a landscape that was more in concert with Wright's style, perhaps a Jens Jensen inspired landscape that tied the house closer to the original ecosystem (which I would guess in this area would be an oak savannah). What would you do?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Connor Shaw’s Favorite Woody Plants for the Urban Landscape

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of hearing a lecture on native woody plants by Connor Shaw, owner of Possibility Place Nursery, an 80 acre native plant nursery in Monee, IL. Connor is super engaging, funny, and so knowledgeable about native trees – I could have listened to him all day. Here are some of his favorite native woody plants for urban areas, selected for their hardiness, beauty, and wildlife benefits. As always, before selecting a tree, research the conditions it grows best in, and site it correctly.
  • Quercus macrocarpa (Bur Oak)
  • Quercus bicolor (Swamp White Oak)
  • Quercus alba (White Oak)
  • Quercus ellipsoidalis (Hill’s Oak)
  • Celtis occidentalis (Hackberry)
  • Carya ovata (Shagbark Hickory)
  • Gymnocladus dioica (Kentucky Coffee Tree)
  • Aesculus glabra (Ohio Buckeye)
  • Ostrya virginiana (Ironwood/Hophornbeam)
  • Prunus americana (American Plum)
  • Carpinus caroliniana (Blue Beech/Hornbeam/Musclewood)
  • Staphylea trifolia (Bladdernut)
  • Amalanchier ssp. (Juneberry/Serviceberry)
  • Celastrus scandens (Bittersweet)
  • Corylus americana (American Filbert)
  • Ribies americanum (Wild Black Currant)
  • Viburnum prunifolium (Blackhaw Viburnum)
  • Viburnum acerifolium (Mapleleaf Viburnum)
  • Viburnum rafinesquianum (Downy Viburnum)
  • Viburnum cassinoides (Withe Rod Viburnum)
  • Rhus typhina (Staghorn Sumac)

Amalanchier (Serviceberry)

Carpinus caroliniana (Hophornbeam)
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Viburnum prunifolium 'Summer Snowballs' (Blackhaw Viburnum)
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Rhus typhina (Staghorn Sumac)
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Quercus macrocarpa (Bur Oak)
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One of my favorite native woody plants is Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea). What's yours?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How to Make Organic Fruit Leather

Once your kids come down from their Halloween candy high, try this!

My kids LOVE fruit snacks. You know, those bright, chewy globs of sugar and chemicals? They adore them. My neighbor Tanya and I were lamenting about some information she found about unhealthy foods that you might feed your kids thinking they are somewhat healthy. Like, yogurt in the individual squeeze packs, hot dogs, and worst of all, fruit snacks. I found this article that really explains why fruit snacks are unhealthy, and how companies are trying to trick us into thinking they are more than "glorified candy" (the ingredients are so similar).

The good news is, you CAN make your own fruit snacks, and it's simple. Granted, these are more like fruit roll-ups, but they serve the same purpose. You've just got to have a dehydrator, a blender, and some organic fruits, veggies, and a little fruit juice. If you don't have a dehydrator, get one! Especially if you grow your own food. There are so many things you can make with it - beef jerky, kale chips, red pepper flakes, and so much more. Dehydrators can sell from $35 to over $200.

Place the fruits and veggies you want to use in a blender. I used strawberries, mango, and spinach, then added just enough juice to get it all blended. Once it was smooth, I carefully spooned it into the fruit leather tray of my dehydrator. Just be careful not to overfill it.

Turn on the machine, and it should be ready in five to ten hours, depending on what brand of dehydrator you are using. Check it at around four hours and about every 1/2 hour after. It will be done when it is firm and pliable, and not sticky or gluey. It should peel cleanly off the fruit leather tray. For a fruit roll-up style snack, cut into strips and wrap each strip tightly in plastic wrap. One dehydrator manufacturer recommends storing the wrapped strips in a paper bag and closing it with tape for maximum freshness. It will keep like this for two months, or in the freezer for a year. That's it! Easy, right? Now you've got healthy snacks for kids on-the-go.

Just to drive the point home:
My fruit snacks: Organic strawberries, organic mango, organic spinach, and organic apple juice.

Their fruit snack (I won't mention the brand, but they're all similar): Apple juice from concentrate, corn syrup, sucrose, food starch-modified, gelatin, lactic acid, sodium lactate, citric acid, ascorbic acid, natural and artificial flavors, coconut oil, sodium citrate, carnauba wax, Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1.


As a side note, earlier I mentioned my friend Tanya. She and her sister have started a project in honor of their brother Luke who beat leukemia. They are making funky hats and headwear for kids with cancer and delivering them to Chicagoland and Michigan hospitals. Check out Luke's Lids for Kids!