Monday, April 30, 2012

My Tiny Home Desire

This past weekend, while out to dinner with two other couples, I confessed my desire for a tiny home. The average American house is around 2600 square feet, while the typical tiny home is only 400 square feet or so. I envision having a tiny (vacation) home parked somewhere on the edge of a forest overlooking a lake, with the idea being that we would spend lots of time outside and use it mostly for sleeping, all cozy-like.

Hilarity ensued when my friends asked how would we get electricity? Where would we go to the bathroom? And a suggestion to affix mirrors to the exterior so it would look invisible. Too funny! Or maybe you just had to be there...

Anyway, I would like to have one someday; a little place to escape the rigors of the day to day and be more in touch with nature. Kind of like extreme camping. Here are some of my favorites from the web. Scroll down to the bottom of the post to find links to some great information about the tiny home movement.

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My Tiny Homes Board on Pinterest
The Tiny Life Blog
We The Tiny House People Documentary
Tiny Home Blog

Monday, April 23, 2012

Before and After Line Drawings

No time for a real post today, I am super busy with landscape design clients and the GardenWorks project. So much so, that I am pulling near all-nighters to get designs completed while the kids are asleep. I'm not complaining, it's a great problem to have. Just send me lots of Diet Coke, OK? I'm not a coffee drinker.

While my little one is napping, I wanted to share a before photo of a home I am working on, and some simple line drawings of how the house could look with a redesigned landscape. Sometimes, it is difficult for clients to envision how a landscape will look when reviewing their plan in "plan view," which is like a bird's eye view. Sometimes I will include some quick perspective drawings to give them a better idea.

This is a great home with a beautiful family. The house just needs some sprucing up and curb appeal. Take a look at my idea for the front yard, then a drawing of a fire pit and seating area for the back yard. I like including fire pits in the back corner of a yard because on most properties, it creates a whole new useable space that the homeowners currently might never occupy.

For ideas on how to increase your home's curb appeal, visit:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chicago Area Native Plant Sales

Native plants are just good. Good for the environment, good for wildlife, good for your soul (more reasons here). Here are some native plant sales in the Chicago suburban area you should check out.

Geum triflorum (Prairie Smoke) is a lovely native plant.
Wheaton Park District - April 28, 8:30am - Noon
Wheaton Public Works Building at 821 W. Liberty Drive, Wheaton

Schaumburg Community Garden Club - Sunday, May 6, 10am - 2pm
Spring Valley Nature Center, 1111 E. Schaumburg Road, Schaumburg

Citizens for Conservation in Barrington - Saturday, May 5 and Sunday May 6, 9am - 3pm
459 West Highway 22, Lake Barrington (across from Good Shepherd Hospital)

Green Earth Institute - Sunday, May 6 - afternoon
McDonald Farm, 10S404 Knoch Knolls Road, Naperville

Forest Preserve District of DuPage County -Friday, May 11 9am-7pm and Saturday, May 12 9am-4pm
Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 31st Street, Oak Brook, IL

Naperville Community Gardners - Saturday, May 12, 7:30am - 1:00pm


Gibson Woods Wild Ones - Saturday, May 12, 9am - 1pm
6201 Parrish Avenue, Hammond, IN

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why Choose Native Plants?

It seems like lots of homeowners are interested in native plants this year. It's been the most requested item from my landscape design clients this year. Everyone wants to know about natives, and why they should include them on their property.

I started writing this post, then came across some information that one of my wholesale plant suppliers, Midwest Groundcovers, came up with and thought they had a really comprehensive list of reasons we should support native plant gardens. The list below is credited to Midwest Groundcovers.

Why use native plants?
  • Require no chemical fertilizers
  • Require little or no pesticides
  • Require little or no water if sited correctly [and I'll add, once established]
  • Provide food and shelter for wildlife. Favorite food for birds and butterflies because they co-evolved together.
  • Are long lived and adapted to our area's environmental conditions (climate extremes, soils, sun, wind, topography, etc.)
  • Provide ecological diversity
  • Are beautiful
  • Improve water quality; reduces the runoff or chemicals into our lakes, ponds, and streams
  • Studies show that a natural habitat improves our mental health
  • Part of our heritage
Native plants really bring me a sense of calm and connection with the earth. I'm not a native plant purist, but they make up the majority of the plants in my landscape and I can see what affect this is having on the wildlife diversity in my yard.

If you want to pick up some natives for your yard, visit me when I volunteer at the Wheaton Native Plant Sale on April 28. It's a great opportunity to grab some native trees, shrubs, and perennials grown by The Possibility Place Nursery.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Red Tailed Hawk at Morton Arboretum

There is always something incredible to see at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL. On a recent visit, the kids and I spotted a red tailed hawk.

The jays didn't appreciate this visitor and tried to protect their turf, or maybe what was inside the house.

The hawk took off...

...and found a better vantage point.

This was quite exciting for the kids (and me) to observe!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

PBS Tonight - America Revealed: Urban Farming

This four-part series on PBS starts tonight, and looks super interesting. Check your local listings and set your DVR (9pm in Chicago).

A description from the PBS website:
"Over the past century, an American industrial revolution has given rise to the biggest, most productive food machine the world has ever known.

In this episode, host Yul Kwon explores how this machine feeds nearly 300 million Americans every day. He discovers engineering marvels we’ve created by putting nature to work and takes a look at the costs of our insatiable appetite on our health and environment.

For the first time in human history, less than 2% of the population can feed the other 98%. Yul embarks on a trip that begins with a pizza delivery route in New York City then goes across country to California’s Central Valley, where nearly 50% of America’s fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown and skydives into the heartland for an aerial look of our farmlands.

He meets the men and women who keep us fed 365 days a year—everyone from industrial to urban farmers, crop dusting pilots to long distance bee truckers, modern day cowboys to the pizza deliveryman."

Wordless Wednesday - Planting the Seed

Monday, April 9, 2012

There Will Be Dandelions in My Lawn This Year

There will be dandelions growing in my front yard this year...

Because I want to protect our local wildlife, the water supply, and my family and our visitors - so I don't use chemicals.

Because my home will be featured on Bridge Communities' Glen Ellyn Garden Walk and I have lots of gardening projects to do this year and had to postpone removing my lawn until fall or even next year.

Because popping out dendelions by hand is great exercise. Ha!

Because I might try cooking with dandelions. Foraging is so in style this year (thanks Hunger Games).

Because my four-year-old thinks the flowers are pretty.

Sorry neighbors. We'll do our best to keep them out, but I'm not promising anything!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Tips for DIY Landscaping Projects in Local Paper

That's me, in the potager with my
weeping cherry tree in bloom.
My local paper, Glen Ellyn News, ran an article about my landscaping business featuring some tips for do-it-yourselfers, and how to create curb appeal.

Read the article

Hot Trend in Residential Landscapes - Short Ornamental Grasses

I love huge ornamental grasses. They are so interesting to look at, especially when massed, peacefully waving in the summer wind. Ornamental grasses really take the stage in fall, when they turn all colors of blue, bronze, yellow and brown, when not much else is going on in the perennial garden. Tall grasses can effectively screen or frame a view, and provide a backdrop to your perennials in a way that shrubs and trees can't.

But there is a downside to these large grasses - the maintenance. They need to be cut down to about six inches in spring, and many people don't have the time, energy, or capability to do that. I have some Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' on the south side of my home that screen my air conditioners. Standing at about six feet tall and almost three feet in diameter they are absolutely gorgeous, especially when in bloom in fall. I cut them back last week, and man, that was rough. I used hedge trimmers, and that eased some of the labor, but then had to clean up all the blades that were thrown around (three yard carts worth), chasing them as the wind blew them around my neighbor's driveway. The rest of the year I don't have to touch them, but that spring cleanup can be a chore.

A hot trend in ornamental grasses this year is the short grasses, often cultivars of their taller relatives. They still require cutting back, but a smaller plant means less work. They look great interplanted with perennials like Echinacea, Agastache, Liatris, and Calamintha nepeta. Here are a few of my favorites that won't be taller than 30" at maturity.

Eregrostis spectabilis (Purple Love Grass)

Sporobolus heterlepis 'Tara' (Dwarf Prairie Dropseed)
photo credit
Schizachyrium scoparium 'Carousel' (Dwarf Little Bluestem)
Photo courtesy of the Midwest Groundcovers blog
My all-time favorite grass - Seslaria autumnalis (Moor Grass)

Deschampsia caespitosa 'Goldtau'
Hakonechloa macra 'Aurea' (Japanese Forest Grass)
photo credit

Carex pensylvanica (Penssylvania Sedge)

Monday, April 2, 2012

How to Plant Asparagus

When I was growing up, my family had a huge vegetable garden. At the time, I found it to be mostly a chore - weeding, watering, sprinkling freshly cut grass around the plants as mulch. There were times though, that I found magic in the garden. Strawberries hidden under the plant's leaves, monster zucchinis that were just babies the day before, and ladybugs on the feathery asparagus ferns (I later learned that these were asparagus beetles, but let's not ruin the magic, K?).

Earlier this spring, I purchased 20 asparagus crowns, half Purple Passion and half Jersey Supreme. Purple Passion is said to be much sweeter and tastier than green asparagus, with none of the "strings" and toughness, so you can use the whole stalk, and even eat it raw! Jersey Supreme is a vigorous producer. Both are disease resistant.

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Many people think planting asparagus is complicated, but it's really an easy plant to plant and grow. Asparagus is a long-lived perennial, often growing in the same spot for 20 years or more. For this reason, it is important to spend some time at the onset prepping the bed. It will pay off later.

Before planting you should soak your asparagus crowns in water for about an hour, especially if you mail-ordered them like I did. While they are soaking, you can prepare the bed.

Be sure to select a spot where the four foot tall asparagus ferns are not going to shade other plants. Dig a trench about 10 inches deep. Add about two inches of compost to the bottom of the trench. Set each crown in the bottom of the trench, spreading the roots in all directions. Place crowns about 12 inches apart.

Backfill the trench with only about two inches of the soil that was removed when you made the trench. As the shoots begin to grow, keep backfilling until the soil is level. It's that easy!

The roots need lots of time to develop and get strong, so it's best not to harvest your asparagus the first, or even the second year. Letting the asparagus stalks grow ferns lets the plant get energy from the sun and grow a strong root system and develop next year's shoots. It takes a while to get a harvest, so don't put off starting your asparagus garden until next year!

Information about harvesting asparagus
Asparagus recipes
Asparagus pests and diseases

Tina Koral Gardens is a residential landscape design studio in the west suburbs of Chicago. For more information, visit: