Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Diblik Garden at Lake Foxcroft Park, Glen Ellyn, IL

Any regular readers of my blog (Hi, Mom!) know that I'm somewhat of a Roy Diblik groupie. So when I learned that he and some College of DuPage horticulture students had just installed a garden at Lake Foxcroft Park (2S540 Lambert Road (on the east side of Lambert Road at Windsor Drive), I had to check it out.

Diblik is a well known plantsman, perennial grower, garden designer, and owner of Northwind Perennial Farm in Burlington, WI. I was lucky enough to take a couple of his classes while a hort student, and have toured Lurie Gardens with him (he grew most of the plants and partnered on the design with Piet Oudolf). His "Know Maintenance" style, one in which plants are selected based on their cultural requirements, size, form, and color, then planted tightly in a grid that blocks out weeds once established, has influenced me in my own design style. I was interested to see what plants were selected for the Lake Foxcroft Park garden, and it turns out, there were many of the same plants that I like to use in designs because of their texture, long season of color, and drought tolerance:
  • Sporobolus heterolepis (Prairie Dropseed)
  • Calamintha nepeta (Calamint)
  • Sesleria autumnalis (Autumn Moor Grass)
  • Stachys hummelo (Alpine Betony)
  • Allium 'Summer Beauty' (Ornamental Onion)
  • Coreopsis, probably 'Golden Showers'
  • And this Aster, which was already gorgeously in bloom:

While the garden is still very new, you can imagine how spectacular it will look in a year or two when the plants fill in. No more mowing, aerating, or fertilizing in this area. Just a gorgeous garden that will provide much more interest to birds, butterflies, visitors, and passing drivers, than a patch of grass.

Lake Foxcroft has more to offer than just this stunning garden. My kids love to walk around the lake path, and play at the park too. Of Glen Ellyn's 29 parks, it's definitely one of our favorites!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Just Call Me Morticia - The Flowers of Ligularia 'Britt Marie Crawford'

photo credit

I always feel a bit like Morticia Addams when I lop off the flowers of my Ligularia dentata 'Britt Marie Crawford'. But just because it flowers does not mean I have to like them.

I just think the bright yellow composite flowers clash with the delicate sophistication of the plant. The plant and flowers, to me, seem mismatched; the flowers look like they should appear on a full sun, drought tolerant, super hardy plant. And Miss Britt is not any of those.

She wilts at the first sign of drought due to the large surface area of those amazing leaves, and cowers from sun even though it's needed to produce that incredible dark colored foliage. This type of plant goes against most everything I believe a garden should be - tough, low maintenance, year-round-gorgeous. But Ligularia is truly a gardener's plant, perfect for the person who enjoys puttering around the garden, primping and pruning and keeping things looking maintained. And that's why plants that need babying in my garden are few.

For her large dark green/bronze/purple foliage, and her maroon stems, I'll keep her. But the flowers have got to go.

For more plants better known for their foliage than their flowers, check out Foliage: Astonishing Color and Texture Beyond Flowers by Nancy Ondra. I just bought my copy and have been inspired to look beyond the flower in my landscape designs.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Celebrating Birthdays and Heroes

She's got an unending supply of energy. Wavy blonde hair, almost white really, and big, round blue eyes. She loves to draw, pretend she's a mother bird, and dig in the dirt for "roly poly" bugs. She wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. And she turned five years old today.

She's my baby girl. Not such a baby anymore; we just went shopping for school clothes for kindergarten. But forever my baby, nonetheless. She's my dream come true, the baby I thought I might never have thanks to a cancer diagnosis in 2003. But four years later, she was in my arms, and I alternated between the excitement and heart-clenching love that a new mom feels for her newborn, and a crippling fear that I'd leave her before she was old enough to remember me.

Today I took her downtown to meet a real-life hero, Jenn Gibbons. I "met" Jenn by phone a few years ago when I was coordinating a rowing event between her organization, Recovery on Water (ROW), and the one I volunteered for, Young Survival Coalition, Chicago Chapter. Jenn, a former Michigan State rower, founded ROW, a non-profit that raises awareness about the importance of exercise after a cancer diagnosis by training a team of breast cancer survivors-turned-rowers. While the event that we were trying to coordinate never happened, I've since been interested in her organization, and her plans to row the 1500 mile perimeter of Lake Michigan this summer.

Jenn started her trip on June 15, rowing north from Chicago, past Wisconsin, and around Michigan. I tracked her progress through her blog and Facebook posts, and was just amazed that this woman could take on such an adventure, on her own, to raise awareness about breast cancer. From my couch, I quietly cheered her ups - meeting people along the way that were so kind and generous, many who had lost someone special to breast cancer, and her conquering of waves and wind. I lamented her downs - seasickness that had her vomiting and dehydrated, and the lonliness that would drive others to abandon the trip altogether.

To hear that early one July morning, while sleeping in her boat, Liv, tied to a dock in Michigan's Upper Penninsula, a man entered her cabin and sexually assaulted her, was heartbreaking. Not only did she experience what I could only imagine the terror such an assualt must have brought, but this trip of a lifetime, that she had been planning and training for for over two years, would be forever tainted by the actions of some lowlife piece of shit. Why terrible things happen to such good people, I'll never understand.

But Jenn persevered and did not give up on her trip following the rape. She altered it to ensure her safety, biking with friends over 350 miles to again board Liv at a point on the lake that was not as desolate. She was no longer alone, but it's certain that the memories of what happened that night had not left her either. Jenn went public with her experience on interviews both local and national in order to speak out against sexual assault, and eliminate the stigma that often keeps rape survivors quiet.

So on this gorgeous sunny day, her fifth birthday, Joe and I brought my daughter to see Jenn row into Chicago's Monroe Harbor. It might be her only opportunity to see a real-life hero in person, and even though she didn't understand the significance of it today, I hope one day she will. I never expected to get cancer at age 30, and Jenn never expected to be raped on her monumental trip. It's the way in which we choose to move forward from devastating life events that define us as people. I hope that message becomes clear to both of my kids one day.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Birds Love Lazy Gardeners

Each year I debate deadheading my coneflowers in the front yard. I know the birds love the seeds that form after the flower fades, but I also want a tidier look in the front yard (I never deadhead in the back). Then every year the goldfinches remind me why it's OK to be lazy with the front yard coneflowers.

Goldfinch on coneflower
Goldfinch on Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower)
The American Goldfinch survives almost completely on seeds, with a cone shaped beak to pull them out, and strong feet to hold on to stems while feeding. It also loves Monarda (Bee Balm) seed heads, so it's good to leave those up too. Be lazy with your seed forming plants, and you'll have more birds visiting.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Herb Week Day 5: Rosemary (Rosmarinus oficinalis)

Rosemary is almost the perfect plant. It has culinary uses, it is drought tolerant, attracts birds and butterflies, smells great, is deer resistant, has a nice shape and foliage, it can be used in dried arrangements, and it's easy to grow. Sounds close to perfect, right? Not if you're in zone 5 or colder. It's only perennial to zone 6 (so close!). Luckily, since we had such a mild winter, the plant I bought last year did survive, but it's not a guarantee. But then again, nothing is guaranteed in the garden.

The nice thing about rosemary, for those of us in the colder regions, is that it overwinters in a pot in the house quite nicely.
Growing Rosemary
Throughout Herb Week, I've been telling you that these herbs like very well draining soil, and actually like things a little dry. Rosemary is no different. It even looks like a desert plant to me. I grow mine in a raised bed in the potager, mixed with a bunch of other herbs. I love to grab a sprig of it to smell while I'm walking around the garden, and this pinching is helping it grow larger. It loves full sun, although mine does well with some morning shade.

Harvesting Rosemary
Cut stems or individual leaves in the morning, when the plant is said to have the highest concentration of flavor. It can then be stored in a plastic container and refridgerated, frozen, or air dried. Some believe that rosemary has it's best flavor right before flowering. The flowers are also edible.

Enjoying Rosemary
Rosemary is so wonderfully aromatic, that is used in potpourri and aromatherapy. You can release some of it's calming fragrance by placing it into your bathwater. How luxurious! Rosemary has been said to aid in digestion, depression and low moods, and helps relieve cold symptoms when used in tea. But my favorite way to enjoy rosemary is in cooking, especially chicken dishes. Here is a good list of recipes that call for rosemary.

I hope you enjoyed Herb Week as much as I did! Too many times I've grown herbs with hopes of using them to make savory dishes and calming cups of tea, but end up not harvesting anything. This year, I've already dried lots, shared lots, and used lots in food and drinks. I hope these posts have inspired you to take your vegetable garden up a notch by growing herbs!

Catch up on earlier Herb Week posts:
Herb Week Day 1: Lemon Verbena
Herb Week Day 2: Dill
Herb Week Day 3: Mint
Herb Week Day 4: Lemon Thyme

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Herb Week Day 4: Lemon Thyme (Thymus citriodorus)

A tea made from lemon thyme is said to speed recovery from a hangover. I could have used that when I was emptying wine bottles for my wine bottle edging project. But there are so many more reasons to grow lemon thyme.

Growing Lemon Thyme
Like most herbs, it grows best in a sunny location with well-draining soil. I grow mine in the potager, and while it may get more water than it likes, it is still does well and is a very easy plant to grow. It is a perfect plant for a container herb garden. It's perennial in zone 4 or warmer, and is evergreen.

Harvesting Lemon Thyme
Cut lemon thyme leaves and flowers as needed throughout the season. The more you cut, the more that grows back, so don't be shy. Cut it in the morning when the concentration of essential oils are highest. From there, it can be stored fresh in the refrigerator, air dried, or frozen. I prefer freezing thyme to drying it, but when used after freezing, it looks limp. That's OK for dishes where appearance is secondary to taste, like roasts or casseroles.

Enjoying Lemon Thyme
Lemon thyme is a gorgeous plant, and useful in the garden between flagstone in a path, or to add texture to a rock garden. It comes in green, variegated with yellow, or even silver tiny leafed foliage. And the mild citrus smell is such a welcome gift.

For culinary purposes, lemon thyme can be used in any recipe that calls for lemon flavoring, be it savory dishes with fish or chicken, or in sweets like this Lemon Thyme Bars recipe which I cannot make because I would eat the whole pan. While it's a little tough to find recipes calling for lemon thyme, you can use it in any recipe that calls for lemon and thyme, and there are lots of those.

Thyme is said to relax the mind and the muscles, boost immunity, aid digestion, and even has anti-aging properties. Ummm, another cup of tea here?!?!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Herb Week Day 3: Mint

Apple mint, orange mint, chocolate mint - mint has come a long way! If you're a fan of growing your own tea herbs, this is not news to you. What was news to me is that herbal tea is not really tea, it's a tisane (herbal infusion). Tea is made only from the tea bush (Camellia sinensis). But that's all semantics, we all call our herbal tea tea.

But back to the main point - there are so many wonderful varieties of mint, and they are all easy to grow, harvest, and enjoy.

Growing Mint
Mint will easily grow just about anywhere, and if you let it, it will! That's why you should always contain your mint plants either in a pot or in a raised bed where it can't escape. I grow apple mint and spearmint in the potager in a raised bed, and one plant in a pot. Three plants is enough to keep me busy harvesting, as I don't want my whole herb garden to be taken over. The lovely thing about this plant is that it is a perennial; buy it once and you'll have it all your life. Grow your mint in full sun or part shade in a well-draining bed or container.
Apple mint

Harvesting Mint
Mint should be harvested just before flowering, which for me in zone 5, was last week. It's said that that's when the oils in the leaves are at their greatest concentration. It should also be cut in the morning after any dew has dried. Later in the day, some of the oil has evaporated out of the leaves resulting in a weaker oil concentration.

Enjoying Mint
To be honest, I really don't like the taste of mint in anything but tea and other drinks. But if you do, there are so many culinary uses for this herb. It can be used fresh in drinks, desserts, and jelly, or dried for later use in tea. Like many herbs, it can be hung upside-down in a paper bag to dry, which should take about a week. After that, store it in an airtight jar to maintain the flavor. I tried drying it using the oven method (heat the oven to 175 or so for 20 minutes, turn it off and put in a cookie sheet of leaves) but after doing it twice, the leaves still weren't dry. Air drying using the paper bag method always works best for me and results in the strongest flavors.

Try this recipe that I found on Pinterest: A very refreshing daily cold infusion combining 2 liters of water, a sliced medium cucumber, a sliced lemon and 10-12 mint leaves. Let it steep overnight in the fridge. It's supposed to be good for detoxing and clear skin. And it actually tastes good! I could not find the original link, but you can see this recipe on my Nourish board on Pinterest.

For tea, you'll need a tea ball infuser, into which you place the dried leaves, then the infuser into your cup or kettle of hot water. Then you put your feet up, grab a book, and just relax and know that your tea is completely organic and homegrown!

There are SO many mint recipes out there. Here's a good list of recipes that might inspire you to grow your own mint!