Thursday, March 17, 2011

The making of a potager - Part 2

It's a beautiful, 60 degree day in Chicagoland, and it has me pining for dirty hands! I divided some lillies in my front yard, and did a little spring cleaning here and there. But what really has me excited is the fact that work has begun on my potager!

In Part 1, I promised the final design, which I've finished using Dynascape drafting software. I included all of the vegetables that my family eats regularly, and a new favorite (more on Swiss chard in another post). I'm using Unilock HollandstoneTM brick pavers in rustic red to get that traditional potager feel.

Potager before. My neighbor's garage; my dog.

But let's go back to the beginning. When we moved into our house about 9 years ago, there was already a fairly large garden. While our family grew, the time available to me to maintain the garden vanished, so we moved to two 4'x8' raised beds. Now that the kids are getting bigger, I am again drawn to a large vegetable garden. I want to ensure that the foods we are eating are free of chemicals. So, last summer, my husband and I marked out the size of the new potager, and laid out cardboard and mulch over it in an effort to kill the grass. We were partially successful. The grass died, however, we had a lot of creeping charlie too, which did not. Nothing kills that stuff! There was still a significant amount of sod to remove, and since we live on a slope, some leveling to be done, which was completed today. Tomorrow the sand and gravel go down and get compacted, and the bricks installed early next week. All that's left is to plant!

Oregano seedlings
My daughter helped me plant all the seeds in their starting trays, and we are seeing results. The chives, onions, and Swiss chard are taking off and need to be thinned, along with the herbs. No sign of tomatoes yet, since we just set those seeds this past weekend, but the beans and spinach are peeking out. Check back next week for pics of the finished garden!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Allium schoenoprasum - more than just chives

I was introduced to Allium schoenoprasum 'Forescate' (Giant-flowered chives) in a class I took on perennial plant communities. The class featured plants that grow well together, look good together, and had similar cultural requirements (soil type, sun, water needs, etc.). Growing plants with similar cultural requirements reduces the amount of time, labor, and water needed to keep them looking great.

This Allium was brought up so many times in class, because its mounding form and round flower heads look great with so many different plants (salvias, sedges, baptisia, calamintha nepeta). In addition, it's drought resistant and is attractive to butterflies. It's easy to divide in the spring, it looks great in the border, and it's a good cut flower, fresh or dried. I love it because both the flowers and leaves are edible!

I'm growing it from seed, and hope to have a lot of plants to fill the yard with them this spring. Chives are an often-used herb at our house; everything from deviled eggs with smoked salmon and chives, to yummy salad dressings, to the good 'ole baked potato with sour cream and chives. Here's a good recipe that uses chives and zucchinis in a new way. And if you're like me, you're always looking for new ways to use all that zucchini from the garden!

Zucchini Chive Dip

  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened

  • 3 tablespoons milk

  • 1 cup shredded zucchini

  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

  • In a medium bowl, mix cream cheese and milk until well blended. Mix in the zucchini, chives and salt. Chill in the refrigerator approximately 1 hour before serving.

    Recipe/photo credit:

    Thursday, March 3, 2011

    Getting your sprouts excited for springtime in the garden

    Or - Rainy Day Reading List

    We're so close to spring! I can feel it coming on, even though the weatherman says we will have another week in the 30-40 degree range. Here are a few books to get your little ones ramped up for spring in the garden.
    Little Pea by Amy Krause Rosenthal
    Planting a garden with your kids might get them to eat more veggies, and this book might too! Love the simple watercolor illustrations.

    The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
    A good book for introducing your kids to environmentalism. Liam discovers a run-down garden and decides to help the struggling plants along. The garden flourishes, eventually greening his whole town!

    Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming
    Mr. McGreely suffers the bain of our gardening existance in the Midwest - bunnies! Your kids will love the suspense until they find out who wins!

    A Seed in Need: A First Look at the Plant Cycle by Sam Godwin
    My little girl is fascinated by how caterpillars change into butterflies. I think she is just so interested in the process of life and growth and how things work, so I knew she would love this book. It had her asking lots of questions, and eager to see our onion seedlings in the basement, which just sprouted!

    The Birdwatchers by Simon James
    Yesterday we bought Averie a pair of binoculars. (I have to mention that these were Nikon 10x25 Callaway binoculars, on sale at Dick's Sporting Goods for $19.99, down from $99.99. We bought two.) I picked up this book for her so that she could learn what birdwatching is all about, since we will be planting more native plants and shrubs in our yard this spring that we hope will attract lots of birds!

    Thanks to my Aunt Gail for the book suggestions!