Thursday, February 28, 2013

2013 Plant Wish List

One thing that helps me get through winter is keeping a wish list of all of the plants I want to purchase in the spring. I visit my plant supplier often throughout the season to pick up plants for clients, and always add in a few for myself. Here are some of the plants I'm dreaming of now...

Amelanchier alnifolia 'Obelisk'. Photo credit

Amelanchier alnifolia 'Obelisk' (Amelanchier First Editions Standing Ovation Serviceberry)
I fell like all I've been doing lately is talk about this plant, so I'll keep it short and sweet. Serviceberry. Four season interest. Covered in white spring blooms. Incedible fall color. Native. Birds love it. Edible fruit. And this variety is narrow, reaching only 4-5 feet wide at maturity, so it fits in small spaces. Love.

Aesculus parviflora. Photo credit

Aesculus parviflora
(Bottlebrush Buckeye)

In hort school, I learned that this was a real "gardener's plant." It's not so common, and more expensive than most shrubs. This shrub is a beauty, with long panicled flowers in summer, large glossy leaves, and attractive capsules that persist through winter. Also very tolerant to different sun, moisture, and pH conditions, and it's a native! Adore.
Kerria japonica. Photo credit

Kerria japonica 'Golden Guinea' (Japanese Rose)
Another 'gardener's plant,' Kerria is another rare-ish plant, though I don't understand why. It can handle dry shade, which makes it a stand-out in my book. It's an early (April-May) bloomer, with bright yellow flowers on yellow-green stems that offer nice winter interest. Want.
Heuchera 'Caramel'. Photo credit

Heuchera 'Caramel' (Caramel Coral Bells)I've included this in plans for a few clients, and even picked up a few. Why I haven't gotten any for myself, I can't explain. I absolutely love this plant. Nice rounded form with great leaf color. The flowers are inconsequential - it's that leaf color that sells it. Nothing else is that color througout the season, so it really stands out in the sea of green that makes up the shade garden. Need.
Hepatica acutiloba. Photo credit

Hepatica acutiloba (Sharp-Lobed Hepatica, Spring Beauty)
This is a new plant for me - I've seen it on spring wildflower walks, but have never grown it. It grows only to about 8-12 inches, but stands out because it flowers for about 8 weeks. And I love the shiny, shapely foliage. After all, the foliage is what you get most of in any plant, so if you like it, that's a nice bonus. Like.

Veronicastrum virginicum. Photo credit

Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver's Root)
Here's another native that I've wanted for so long but have not bought for whatever reason. Maybe because I don't have just the right spot for it, since it grows to 4-6 feet tall. I just love the shape of those blooms - spectacular when planted en masse. And it has one of the best botanical names ever. Crave.

If you see any plants here that you love, and need help incorporating them into your garden (and you live in the DuPage County, IL area), contact me for a landscape design consultation!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Juicing for Me, and for My Soil

My Mom surprised us a little over a month ago with a Breville juicer, and it's changed our mornings! I juice fresh fruits and veggies almost every morning, and it's such a treat. Our favorite recipe is 3-4 carrots, a cucumber, spinach, half a lemon, an orange and an apple. I usually also add ginger, unless I'm making some for the kids. We all love the stuff.

Now, some would say that juicing extracts lots of sugar and discards the fiber, thus negating the health benefits of eating fruits and veggies. I say, if you're juicing mostly vegetables, you don't have to worry about the sugar. And if you eat enough fiber throughout the rest of the day, the fiber issue is nil as well. The point of juicing is to get all of the vitamins. minerals, and enzymes of a load of veggies (that would normally take much longer to eat) in a way that is very quickly absorbed and gives the digestive system a chance to rest.

After making a batch of juice, a bunch of pulp is left over. And I look at that pulp kind of how I look at eggshells - like it's almost a crime to throw it away. If nothing else, it's fantastic material for the compost bin because the material (produce skins, seeds) is shredded and will be quickly broken down. But if you've got the time, juicing pulp can be used in cooking and baking. I usually try to juice the veggies first so I can separate it for use in soups, spaghetti sauce, macaroni and cheese, and other meals I can sneak it into. More ideas for pulp.

The fruit pulp can be used for some really great bakery products, like fruit breads. I haven't gotten that adventurous yet, and I'm a terrible baker. For now, I'm freezing the fruit pulp (and my egg shells) for use in the garden in a few weeks. I'll mix it with the ground egg shells, used coffee grinds that I pick up from Starbucks whenever I'm there, and leaves that we shredded in the fall. It should make for one amazing soil amendment.

At this point, I don't know what I'm more excited for - the juice or the compost! Either way, we are happy to have both, so I owe Momma a big, "Thank you!"

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Focal Points for the Potager

When I learned that Amelanchier alnifolia 'Obelisk' (Standing Ovation Serviceberry) is now available at my plant supplier, I was a little giddy. After all, Serviceberries are one of my favorite native trees, and 'Obelisk' gives us the opportunity to plant them in narrower spaces since they only get 4-5 feet wide. A perfect spot for this tree is the center of a potager (formal garden that grows edible plants, herbs, and flowers together). The center of a potager is a great space to do something ornamental and unique, and placing 'Obelisk' in the center would provide a nice focal point and is narrow enough that it won't shade out other plants.

I have a weeping cherry in the center of my potager underplanted with herbs...

...but the options are endless. I like this rosemary standard growing in the potager at Cantigny Gardens in Winfield, IL:

I love, love, love herbs in the center of a potager. Herbs arranged in containers looks spectacular:

So do herbs underplanting a birdbath:

Photo credit

A birdbath on its own atop a center material change (crushed granite to pavers):

How about a sundial?

A bean teepee is whimsical and functional:


I always tell clients that the center of a potager is a place to get creative, and show your personality. Garden art, sculptures, native plants to bring in pollinators, bird baths, bird houses, trees, shrubs, tuteurs, even a scarecrow, would all be nice focal points in your potager.
If you want to grow your own vegetables and crave a potager (and you live in the DuPage County, IL area), contact me for a landscape design consultation. 


Monday, February 18, 2013

Low Tech Window Farm

Lately I've been studying the best way to use a sunny, south-facing window in my office for growing food. For the last few years I started seeds there, but didn't have much success. I'm much better at growing things outside!

I was inspired to create a window farm by some that I saw on the web, most of which used an aquaponics system to recirculate water and nutrients, like this:

Image credit
From my research, this is the most efficient system with the best results. However, I have a three year old who I know will find endless fascination with this set-up, and I don't want to risk the mess. So, with the help of tips from Romanus Willem's blog, I decided to try a window farm my own way.

Willem is a retired professor of Ghent University in Belgium, and his blog focuses on issues of desertification, proverty, and dry-land gardening. He's got some great tips for growing in containers, especially recycled bottles and such. After spending some time on his site, I was ready to give my own system a go.

I used a bottle from Trader Joe's sparkling water, cut off the cone-shaped top, and placed it inside the bottle. This will allow for a water reservoir at the bottom that will prevent the roots from being waterlogged, since there will be no drainage holes in the bottom of the bottle, like the traditional hydroponic systems. I'm trying to avoid a kid-mess here, remember? Using a tall, thin bottle helps the water drain away from the roots better.

Taking a cue from Willem, I placed one end of twine in the reservoir with the other end hanging over the side of the bottle. This will help wick moisture through to the top of the bottle and to the plant. With a hole puncher, we created two holes at the top of the bottom that we will use to hang it in the window.

Next, we filled the bottle with soil, being careful to keep the cone upright and the twine running out the top of the bottle. I used an organic seed starting soil, which we then watered to soak.

We decided to try this gorgeous looking French Red Leaf Lettuce from Renee's Garden for our first swing at a window farm. [Note: I did receive these seeds from Renee's at no charge, but would have selected them anyway because I love their products.] Greens are best to grow in window farms, herbs do great too, and some people even grow tomatoes and peppers!

We dropped in about 7 or 8 seeds, pushed them into the soil a bit, and set about attaching the chain for hanging. I had originally planned to use ball chain, as I figured it would be easiest to work while forming loops and attaching with the connectors. But the hardware store I went to didn't carry them, and I didn't feel like driving around to a bunch. So, I am using a link chain, and that worked out well.

Remember those two holes at the top? I used those to hang the chain from, then another piece of chain was attached to hang to a rod I already had hanging in my office window. We then wrapped the top of the bottle in plastic wrap, creating a mini-greenhouse that aids seed germination.

Then we hung it in our sunny window. It's not a great picture, but you can see how inserting the top of the bottle into the bottom part creates the water reservoir that will help drain the top part.

Here you can see the first bottle hung. As we collect more bottles, we will fill up the window with a natural shade. While I won't get to spy on my neighbors anymore (just kidding, guys!), I'm excited to see this space filled with greens, herbs, strawberries, and more!

UPDATE 3/24/13

We've got seedlings! Red leafed lettuce, bok choi, and Swiss Chard. Can't wait to get more chain and hang at least three more bottles.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Two Years and Two Hundred Posts

Don't you get sick of hearing people say how busy they are? Everyone seems up to their ears in activities these days, myself included. Quite honestly, I'm getting sick of hearing myself talk about how busy I am. But here I go again - I'm sooooo busy, that I missed my two year blogiversary! And, I didn't highlight my two hundredth post!

So this post is just a check in, a how 'ya doin'. The gloomy weather of late has me diving into my gardening books and dreaming of spring. While I'm thankful for the rain and snow we've gotten for the last few days (the plants really needed it) all of the time indoors has me in full garden planning mode, not only for customers by for my own garden. More grass reduction in the front yard, and a fire pit area in the backyard are in the plan for this year at my house. But for now, I'll have to make do with some nice books I've been sent recently (reviews coming) and the mailbox full of plant catalogs.

I have to laugh sometimes at the marketing efforts used in some of the catalogs. For example, Michigan Bulb is selling a species called "Parrot Plant." They say, "The silky seedpods resemble parrots!" and, "Great plant to attract butterflies, especially Monarchs."

Parrot Plant
Photo credit: Michigan Bulb
Those seed pods do actually look like parrots! But "Parrot Plant?" Really? Customers must really be turned off by the true name of the plant - Milkweed - that Michigan Bulb felt the need to go ahead and change the name to something more interesting. I think they'd do better by letting customers know what an important plant this is to our Monarchs and other wildlife, instead of dumbing it down. These cut seed pods look hideous in the vase as shown here anyway. They'd be much better off left on the plant to mature and release their seeds naturally. But I guess that's not what sells.

Anyway, hang in there. Spring is almost here. Really! In the meantime, start making plans for your ornamental and vegetable gardens, and don't forget to include a few extra vegetable plants in your plan to grow for your local food pantry.