Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Look What We Found! Spring Ephemerals at Johnson's Mound

On the suggestion of my friend, Kevin McGowen, I took the kids to Johnson's Mound Forest Preserve in Batavia, IL today. Kevin is part of the sales staff at my plant supplier, Midwest Groundcovers, and also writes the Midwest Groundcovers Display Gardens and Plant Trials blog. Kevin is an expert in our Illinois native plants (and a super nice guy), so when he told me about Johnson's Mound, I was excited to check it out with the kids.

"Johnson's Mound is a heavily wooded classic example of a stratified gravel hill known as a "kame", which was deposited by glacial ice and water some 10,000 years ago. This kame is a prominent feature on our mid-county landscape, rising 50 feet above the surrounding tributaries of Blackberry Creek and the glacial outwash plain." - Kane County Forest Preserve website

Now, I often take the kids on these "adventures," we call them, when I want to explore a garden or natural site and study plants. We both win - they get to spend time absorbing the natural world, and I get my plant fix. On this adventure, we were on a flower hunt. I was looking for spring ephemerals, those wildflowers that quickly fade when the forest trees leaf out, in an effort to learn more about them.

The topography of the preserve is it's main feature, along with the carpet of wildflowers. The steep hills and valleys were really obvious with the trees in their mostly bare state. This created a sort of otherworldly feeling - very surreal and natural. That feeling was promptly broken by the kids asking for crackers, tripping over branches, and the little one asking me to carry him, but hey. Whattareyagonnado?

So, what was blooming at Johnson's Mound? Many plants in our area are way ahead of schedule (Mother's Day just won't be the same without the lilacs in bloom - some are blooming now!), and the spring ephemerals are no exception. I hope to return to Johnson's Mound in a week or two and see what else has awoken!

Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's Breeches) were everywhere

Uvularia grandiflora (Large-Flowered Bellwort)

Claytonia virginica (Spring Beauties)
Podophyllum peltatum (May Apples) were up, but not in bloom yet.
Look under the leaves in a week or so for the pretty white flowers.
Anyone know what these sweet flowers are?
They carpeted the forest floor.

Sanguinarium canadensis (Bloodroot) was not in bloom
 (nor were trillium), but I love the shape of the foliage.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Monday, March 19, 2012

Selling Your Home? Create Curb Appeal

If you currently have your home on the market, your realtor may have mentioned the importance of curb appeal. So, what is it, and how do you create it?
Curb appeal is when a home's outdoor decor looks, well, appealing from the curb (or sidewalk, or street), and elicits a second glance. Many people do their home shopping online, and you want the picture of the front of your home to grab their attention in a good way, and not cause them to click through to the next home on the list. Buyers are not going to see how great  your home is on the inside if they can't get past an unappealing outside.

There are many ways to use landscaping to your selling advantage. Stand on the sidewalk in front of your home and look with a critical eye, like you are seeing it for the first time. What stands out? Is it the overgrown evergreens? The weeds in the planting beds? The out-of-style light fixtures? Here are some ways you can enhance the front of your home.

Clean Up What You've Already Got
Nothing makes a house look as unwelcoming as an unkempt front yard. Pull the weeds, prune the trees and shrubs, and clean up any trash (including old newspapers and flyers).  Spade edge your garden beds, or replace any old or damaged edging. If you've got lots of yard ornamentation, like bird baths, sculptures, or flags, make sure they are tasteful, clean, in good repair, and that there are not too many. If you have cheap, old solar lighting, get rid of that too. Roll up and hide your hose. Store your garbage cans out of sight. No one likes clutter, inside or outside of the home.

Just updating your address numbers could make a big impact.
Assess Your Hardscaping
Hardscaping are the brick, stone, or cement elements of your landscape, including the stoop, front walk, and raised garden bed edging. Repair or replace any parts that have cracked, sunk, heaved, or are otherwise dangerous or ugly. If you've got a paver walk that is showing signs of settling, it is relatively inexpensive to pull up the pavers and have the area recompacted and relaid. Redesign front walks that are too narrow or don't complement the home.

Add Welcoming Landscape Features
A focal point, such as a specimen tree, container planting or arbor can do wonders for increasing a home's curb appeal. A well-placed bench invites visitors to stay and take a closer look. Many homes in our area still hold onto old-fashioned evergreen shrubs in the front foundation plantings. It may be time to let those go and bring in some fresh plants for a more modern look. The front yard plantings should soften the edges of the home, draw attention with varying colors and textures, and provide four-season interest.

Don't Forget the Little Things
Get a big bang for your buck by replacing old mailboxes, coach lighting fixtures, and doorbells. And my personal pet peeve - house numbers. It is so inexpensive to buy a modern set of house numbers and really makes a big impact.

Just making some of these small changes could change your house from one that buyers pass up, to one that invites them to stop and take a closer look. Contact Tina Koral Gardens today for help with your outdoor decor.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Nature Up Close

The kids and I were able to enjoy the warm Chicagoland weather yesterday at Red Oak Nature Center in Batavia, IL (on Route 25 one mile north of Route 56). We originally planned to explore the cave there (yes, there is an actual cave!), but I forgot the stroller, and my little one would never make the two mile round trip journey. It was not a loss, though, there was plenty to see.

Inside the nature center there are educational displays for kids, but what mine loved best was visiting the animal room. They were so excited to pet a bunny and see walking sticks up close that I could hardly get them outside. But once we did, we hiked the Dolomite Trail along the Fox River and studied nature up close.

The scaly bark of Carya ovata (Shagbark Hickory)

Fallen trees like sculpture

We thought maybe a racoon made this scratch

Shelf fungus, or fairy house?

Sugar maple tapped for syrup

Striated ridges of Celtis occidentalis (Hackberry)

Where will life lead these two?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Birdscaping My Garden

Yesterday, I mentioned in a post that I would be using the tips from Beautiful Wildlife Garden's post on 7 Steps to Birdscaping Your Wildlife Garden when I start to design the garden in my middle-yard. It's a garden off my back deck that I had to relocate when construction started on a home addition this winter. The area needed to be freshened up anyway, so it was a good excuse to dismantle and move the plants to other areas of the property.

Because it will be near the house and deck, and because so many habitats are lost to birds, I've decided to birdscape the area. I will select mostly plants that are native to our area and attract birds.
How my birding garden looks today.

My first selection for the spot is the native Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwood). This small deciduous ornamental tree tree has four seasons of interest, with it's spring flowers, summer berries, fall color, and lateral branching habit, bringing interest to the winter garden. Cornus alternifolia also attracts over 90 species of birds, including flycatchers, woodpeckers, catbirds and thrashers. With my row of Thuja (Arborvitae) and three native Amelanchier (Serviceberry) trees nearby, I'll br providing lots of food and shelter for birds.

Cornus alternifolia, Pagoda Dogwood (photo credit)
Because the Cornus alternifolia is has a lateral branching habit, meaning that the branches reach more sideways than upwards, there will only be room for one tree. But that doesn't mean I can't include more plants that birds go gaga over. Now, the shrub layer.

The fruit of Myrica pensylvanica, Northern Bayberry 
A few months ago, I highlighted berry-producing shrubs that attract birds and do well in zone 5. One of my favorites from that list is Myrica pensylvanica (Northern Bayberry). I love the shape of the leaves, and it smells incredible. The berry-like drupes are a favorite of birds, and are just stunning to look at. Because it is a small area, and a straight species Bayberry can reach upwards of 10 feet, I will select Myrica pensylvanica 'Morton' (Silver Sprite Bayberry), a more compact variety. I'll have to also be sure to plant a 'Morton Male' as a pollinator lest there be no fruit production.

A smaller shrub that I will include is the native Ceonothus americanus (New Jersey Tea). It's small size makes it perfect for the space and attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. It also has a nice yellow twig color for winter interest. I'll also add the native Aronia melanocarpa 'Iriquois Beauty' (Black Chokeberry). Birds love the berries, and I love the fall color!

I haven't planned out the perennials yet. Did I mention all of my landscaping plans need to be complete by June 16? My garden is one of six that has been selected for the Bridge Communities Garden Walk in Glen Ellyn to benefit our area's homeless population. Eeek! I've got a lot of work to do!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Favorites on the 5th - Birdscaping Your Wildlife Garden

Happy Monday!

I've been invited by Carol of the Oh What a Beautiful Garden - Chicagoland blog to share a recent post useful to zone 5 gardeners that I've enjoyed. I read a bunch of awesome blogs, so this was tough! But overall, my favorite, most informative post of late is:

7 Steps to Birdscaping Your Wildlife Garden from the Beautiful WIldlife Garden blog.

It includes helpful tips on how to bring more birds to your garden by providing food, water, shelter, and nesting spots. I plan to use lots of these tips when I "birdscape" the area along my back deck. I will keep you updated on the progress. In the meantime, check out the post, and visit Carols' blog to see what other zone 5 gardeners are up to!