Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - A Bee's Delight

Monarda didyma 'Marshall's Delight' (Bee Balm) - a gift from a gardening buddy.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Conscientious Gardener Book Review

Image credit
The Conscientious Gardener
Sarah Hayden Reichard
University of California Press, 2011

These days, most people I know are taking steps toward more sustainable living. We are recycling our cans and bottles, shopping at farmers markets, bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, and might even use a rain barrel to harvest water.

I always love to come across a new eco-tip that I can easily incorporate into my life. We learn of new ways to be earth friendly from Internet, newspaper, and magazine articles, to talk shows.  But I have yet to find a more comprehensive source of information about sustainability in the garden than The Conscientious Gardener by Sarah Hayden Reichard. Reichard asks you to evaluate your gardening practices and develop your own "garden ethic," that is, what you will and won't do to protect and heal the planet.

Take her discussion on water. Do you take steps to help the rainwater on your property infiltrate the soil and replenish aquifers, or do you let your rainwater run off into the sewer, collecting pollutants along the way? Do you use a broom or the hose to remove debris from your driveway? Do you select drought tolerant native plants, or use nonnatives that require supplemental watering? Introspection is a good thing; Reichard gives you the motivation to assess your gardening habits, and the information change them if necessary.

Do you know why you should avoid Spagnum peat moss? Why you should limit the use of two-stroke engines? Why it's important to buy locally-grown landscape plants if possible? If not, then it's time to read The Conscientious Gardener and determine your own garden ethic.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Veg Week Complete! My Take-Aways

Veg Week is complete! I did it! Not one piece of poultry, beef or pork! Things I learned this week:

1. I did not really go vegetarian, since I didn't give up fish. So, kudos to all you true vegetarians out there!
2. It was much easier than I thought. As I posted before, I didn't really feel like I was missing out on anything, except when our neighbors invited us over for ribs yesterday. I really wanted some. But they also made these excellent veggie shish-ke-bobs and I brought over a noodle salad, so I felt totally fulfilled.

3. There are some really great meat substitutes out there. Kris Carr would tell me not to eat those because they are processed foods, but when you've got to feed a non-vegetarian family, they really did the trick. Both of the products I used were Morningstar Farms - the crumbles and the breakfast sausage - and they were both good.

4. I did increase the number of organic fruit and vegetable servings I had each day since cutting out the meat. I probably averaged 8 or 9 servings each day, and I know that had to have a positive impact on my health.

5. I really felt better, emotionally, about my food choices this week. The only time I felt a little guilty was when the hubby brought home Oberwise cookies and cream ice cream for us on Saturday night. But it was very little, since I know I had done so well all week. I also felt more compassionate toward animals since taking our family out of the whole meat=processing-to-consumer cycle.

So, the question is, will I go back to eating meat? I don't know. I didn't eat any today, and Veg Week officially ended last night. I'm not going to say I will never eat it, because if confronted with my neighbor's ribs again, I might have to give in.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Veg Week - Day 4 and 5

Hold the meat, please.

I bought "Being Vegetarian for Dummies" by Suzanne Havala about four years ago. Since then, I've cracked it open a few times, and always kind of chuckled when I'd read something to the effect of, "Vegetarianism is not about depriving yourself of certain foods, it's about opening yourself up to lots of new foods." In my mind, the very definition of a vegetarian was someone who does not eat meat. But I've read similar statements a few times in different books, and you know, it really is true. I don't miss burgers, or chicken, or bacon (well, maybe bacon), and I'm adding new foods to my diet every day.

I've been eating lots of salads piled high with fresh veggies, but every time I poured on the bottled salad dressing, I felt I could be making a better choice. So, I found the recipe below in Crazy Sexy Diet and tried it last night. So simple and delicious! I love asian foods, and the tahini (think peanut butter but made with sesame seeds) really brings a unique flavor that reminds me of the salad dressing at my favorite sushi restaurant. Enjoy!

Tahini Dressing
1 cup tahini
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 clove garlic, chopped
water (enough to thin out and create desired consistency)
salt and pepper to taste.

And here's the hard part: whisk until combined.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Veg Week - Day 3 and Garden DIY Project

Yep, I'm still at it. And not feeling deprived or hungry. Cereal again this morning, but that Flax Raisin Bran is so delish! It was a work day, so I treated myself to Panera's Mozarella, Basil, Tomato Panini with a bowl of tomato soup and an apple. My afternoon snack was a strawberry, serviceberry, cucumber smoothie. Yes, I said serviceberry (see this post). For dinner, we all had shrimp and broccoli over brown rice pasta with peanut sauce. Yum! I thought the hubby might pick up on the pasta, but he didn't know the difference from the whole wheat pasta we usually have. It was Tinkyada brand, whole-grain, organic and gluten-free.

Via Life on the Balcony

I hit Fruitful Yield today and picked up some Garden of Life RAW Organic Green Superfood powder to pump up my smoothies. In my research I've seen a bunch of recommendations for enzymes and probiotics, and this has both, plus 34 organic greens, sprouts, and veggies. It's supposed to help with energy, digestion, blood sugar levels, and immune system support. More on this product here. I'm enjoying learning about all of these health food items, as these are things they never taught us in my nutrition program in college!

And finally, I have to share this DIY project - a garden in a pallet! What a beautiful way to save these ubiquitous pallets from the landfill. I'd love to make two of these and hang them on the back side of my garage facing the potager. Can you say, SHOWSTOPPER?

Serviceberry Smoothie, Anyone?

I have three serviceberry (Amalanchier sp.) trees underplanting a silver maple. Our landscape designer recommended these when we moved into the house about 9 years ago. The name immediately put me off. Service-berry? It just sounded so utilitarian and boring. These trees have turned out to be anything but.

Yes, the white flowers blanketing the tree in May are spectacular, and it puts on a good show in the fall, but my favorite time of year to see a serviceberry in action is right now.

My three trees are covered in jewel-tone berries that the birds are going crazy over. I have to beat them to the ripe ones, though, because serviceberries are edible for humans too! My little ones and I picked a bowl of deep purple ones (that's how you know they are ripe) and ate them fresh off the tree. I think they taste like a combination of blueberries and cherries, and they have been found to be higher in protien, calcium, fiber, and many other nutrients than blueberries and strawberries. In fact, researchers in Canada are developing ways to grow and bring the fruit to the commercial market. We blended them up with some frozen strawberries, vanilla yogurt, apple juice, and a cucumber and split a First-Day-of-Summer celebratory smoothie three ways.

I include a serviceberry in as many of my clients' landscape plans as I can. Not only are they a great native landscape tree with four-season interest, they are also drought tolerant and attract birds. It's perfect for underplanting large shade trees, or for a small spot as it only grows to about 12 feet tall in sun, 8 feet tall in shade.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Veg Week - Day 2

Veg Week Day 2 was a success. I started out with Nature's Path Organic Flax Plus Raisin Bran with skim milk, and had a spinach salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, and Trader Joe's Goddess Dressing (I could seriously drink that stuff from the bottle). Dinner was my homemade crockpot chili recipe with Morningstar Farms Grillers Crumbles. Hubby knew I was using the crumbles, but swore they tasted just like ground beef. The kids loved it too!

Image via RRC Facebook Page
The evening is usually when I get my sugar craving, and tonight I satisfied it with a square of Renee's Raw Chocolate that I picked up from Whole Foods. This stuff is healthier than milk chocolate because it doesn't have any fat or sugar added. The organic raw cacao butter has healthy enzymes that aid in the absorption of nutrients. And, it's actually really good. I've never been a fan of dark chocolate, but the raw chocolate has a multi-dimensional flavor that hits the spot when I want something sweet. And, Renee is based in Glen Ellyn, my home town. Try it!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Veg Week - Day 1

Happy Father's Day!

Veg Week began today, and it began with a fresh clean start -  I cleaned out my fridge. Really scrubbed things down and pitched anything beyond it's expiration date. I wanted it to be nice and clean when I filled it with fresh fruits and veggies. Breakfast started off with a banana and skim milk, and pineapples for a snack a little later. The hubby picked where we went for lunch, and chose our favorite Mexican joint, Chevys, where I had a delicious veggie burrito. For dinner, I made hubby's favorite, cajun salmon pasta. Instead of using heavy cream as the recipe calls, I used half and half. This is a dish we make on special occasions, because there is lots of cream, parmesan cheese, pasta, and yum!

Now, I know that true vegetarians don't eat fish, but I'm not sure I'll ever cut out fish or seafood. It's low fat, and really good for you - all those healthy omega 3's!

Overall, it was a great day, and I don't feel deprived at all. After lunch at Chevys, I usually feel full and heavy, and all I want to do is get in bed and sleep. Today I felt light, and really good about my choices. I still got in bed and took a nap, but I think that had something to do with running the Warrior Dash yesterday with my cousins (which I have to say was the most fun I've had in a long time!). Tomorrow will be a true veg day - chili with Boca crumbles on the menu.

Cajun Salmon Pasta (serves 4)
Try this when you want to spice things up a bit! A great way to use up those peppers from the garden. Serve with garlic bread.

8 oz whole wheat spaghetti or linguine pasta
1T olive oil
2 yellow bell peppers (sliced thin)
1 onion (sliced thin)
4 salmon fillets
2t cajun seasoning
2/3c half and half
3T grated parmesan
1/2t cayenne pepper (or to taste)

1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook per package directions; drain.
2. Meanwhile, saute pepper and onion in olive oil for 5 minutes on medium/high heat.
3. Reduce heat to medium; move vegetables to the side of the pan and add salmon fillets (or bake salmon seperately in oven). Cook until salmon can be flaked with a fork and vegetables are soft. 
4. Using a fork, flake salmon into bite-sized pieces and stir with vegetables. Add cajun seasoning.
5. Pour vegetables and salmon into same pot as pasta. Add cream, parmesan, cayenne pepper, and stir. Cook until heated through.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Vegetarian for a week. Can I do it?

I've wanted to be a vegetarian for years. Ever since I watched a film years ago about the gruesome way animals become food, I've wanted to convert to a plant-based diet. Thing is, I like meat! I cook nearly every meal my family eats from scratch, and include meat, usually chicken, in every dinner. And most lunches.

Kris Carr - my girl crush
The more I read about health and nutrition, the more convinced I am that I need to make a change in my diet. A couple of years ago I read Anticancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, a brain cancer survivor and professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. This book really opened my eyes to how modern food processes are creating conditions perfect for disease in our bodies, and how we can increase our immunity with food. I'm currently reading Kris Carr's new book, Crazy Sexy Diet. Kris is living with cancer, although it is not progressing she believes, because of her diet and lifestyle changes since her diagnosis. I'm only about a third into this book and I'm motivated to make changes too. Kris really has practical, do-able ideas on how to put her recommendations into practice.

Both authors advocate a vegetarian (and vegan if possible), low sugar diet. Everything I read tells me that being a vegetarian is the best thing you can do for your body and the planet. Can't be too tough, right? For me, probably. As I write this I am coming off a week long Coke binge, scarfing down cans left over from a family party. I make excuses, like "I need it to keep my energy going," and "I deserve it since I took the kids to the zoo, planted a tree, and did 6 loads of laundry today." But as I'm learning, if I just improved my diet, I'd get all the energy I need from fruits and veggies.  I wouldn't need the rebellious comfort of a sugar and chemical-laden drink or a burger and fries.

Starting on Sunday, I'm off the meats and high sugar foods. I will continue to eat fish, eggs, and dairy. My self-imposed vegetarian challenge will end after a week, and during that time I will post daily to let you know how it's going and will include recipes and any helpful tips I come across.

So, what's all this got to do with gardening? Well, one day I hope to be able to grow the majority of the food I eat on my own property. Until then, I'm off to Whole Foods!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How to prepare for a first meeting with a garden designer

I have to tell you, I've worked with the most amazing clients this year. From the mom of three/attorney who wants to grow fresh vegetables from her potager garden in the front yard, to the couple who wanted a potager and bird sanctuary in their backyard, to my wonderful neighbors who wished to add colorful native perennials, I've been really lucky to be able to work with such friendly, colloraborative, and environmentally conscious people. It's been such an honor getting to know them and their properties.

Interestingly, something all my clients have had in common this year is that they have all been very prepared for our first meeting. They had clearly taken some time prior to our meeting to get their thoughts and ideas together, which helped guide my design process toward a final plan that met their needs and offered ideas for spaces and garden rooms that they hadn't considered.

There are some things that you can do to prepare for your first meeting with a garden designer.
  • Take a look around your property. Which areas do you want to change, and which do you like? Write down things like, "This area is always muddy," or "I hate this fence," or "I love the view from my kitchen window."
  • Gather pictures of gardens you like from books or magazines. Make a list of features that you'd like to include in your landscape, such as patios, fireplaces, additional seating areas, pergolas, or other structures.
  • Think about how you will use your space. Do you need a space for the kids to play? A place to sit in the shade and read a book? A spot for your dog to, well, you know.
  • Do you have a favorite plant? A favorite group of colors?
  • Are there spots in your yard that are always dry? Waterlogged for days after a heavy rain?
  • Consider how the sun moves across your property at different times of the year. For example, most vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. If you want to grow vegetables, there is no getting around that. Also consider shady areas. Is it deep shade, or is it really dappled sunlight?
  • Finally, close your eyes and picture your fantasy garden. Try to be specific as you think of what you really want your garden to be. A quiet place of serenity where you can escape the rigor of the day? A place filled with color and excitement and places for entertaining? A spot where your kids can explore the wonders of nature?
As a designer, my goal is to collaborate with my clients to create outdoor spaces that are functional and provide four seasons of beauty. The more thought a client puts into it ahead of the first meeting, the sooner we can get to an end product that you love! Of course, some clients think about it, and resolve that all they really want is for it to look pretty. And those jobs are lots of fun too!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The making of a potager - Part 3

I really didn't want to post pictures of my potager yet. Don't get me wrong, I love how it turned out, but I didn't want to post pics until it was perfect. I still have a lot of work to do - the shrub and perennial beds around the perimeter of the potager are not defined, weeded, or planted; the beautiful cedar potting table that the hubby built for me needs to be a little shorter (if you know me, you'd know why); and the whole darn thing needs to be rid of the millions of pesky maple seeds and seedlings. Due to lack of time, I've even had to use the cheap wire tomato cages, which are ugly and weak. I've been so busy with clients and fun summer activities with the kids that I haven't gotten around to putting the finishing touches on it. I wanted it to be perfect. But my online gardening pals are asking how it looks, and I'm realizing that nothing in nature is ever perfect, yet is perfectly natural. So here, after much adieu, is the completed potager.
This is how the garden looked when we moved to Glen Ellyn in 2002.

Downsized in 2006 due to time constraints.

The new potager, 2011.

Not yet perfect and never will be!

Hot peppers 'Thai Dragon'. Sounds hot!!! 


I can't wait to eat fresh produce picked within minutes of hitting the table. If you think a potager is in your future, I'd love to help you design it! Visit me at for info on how to get started.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A day best described in pictures

Two of my best gardening buddies and I spent the day immersed in plants and design. First, a trip to the Chicago Botanic Gardens had us drooling over plants and gorgeous gardens. Then, a lecture by famous Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf gave us a glimpse into his amazing career and how he finds inspiration for his designs, including the one for the Lurie Gardens at Millenium Park in Chicago. Here are some of the highlights of this incredible day.

Native Dodecatheon meadia (Shooting Star)

Apple trees in espalier form
Beauty in the veggie garden

Jonamac apples pruned by the pleaching method

Native Chionanthus (Fringe Tree)

We were all gaga over the multitudes of globe allium
My plant obsession for 2011 - Baptisia (False Indigo)

An incredible bonsai

Did I mention in a previous post that I love hosta?

A stunning iris

Artists find inspiration in the John Brooks designed walled garden

A bright field of poppies

It was a full house at the Piet Oudolf talk at the Chicago Cultural Center.