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Wednesday, there was a rare opportunity to tour the greenhouse in the Biological Sciences Learning Center at the University of Chicago . It was a brilliantly clear day in Chicago with calm waters along the many miles of lakefront and an azure sky tempting the skyscrapers and architecture.

Susan, our guide and sister-in-law of one of our Garden Club members, was extraordinary in her knowledge, commitment, and sense of humor as she took us through prep areas, down hallways, one glassed room after another, and atop the greenhouse roof hosting cold frames. It was an illuminating tour amid one of the most respected institutions of higher learning, research, and development in the world.

Can you find the greenhouse? It is mid-right, about 5 stories up, shot from a passageway leading to the facility. The greenhouse needed to be rehabbed because of the emerging structure behind it. This is Chicago, my friends; always changing, rearranging the sky along its magnificent lakefront.

After our tour of the greenhouse, we went for lunch in the Sky Lobby Food Court; a seventh floor cafeteria that is always open, 24/7. You can see it below, viewed from the rooftop area of the greenhouse, it is the glassed rim trimming the building across from where we were standing.

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DSCN5512What better way to start or end one’s day than with a little dip into the honey pot, especially in September, which is National Honey Month?

During the harvesting season, I seek out vendors at local farmers markets and farm stands for jars of this liquid gold. It is said that consuming local honey has health benefits, especially for those with seasonal allergies. I don’t know how scientifically true this is, but, I do know that I don’t sneeze as much when I’ve had a wee tad of local honey on a regular basis.  I always find honey farmers are eager to talk about their honey and that this year they say their bees are producing more.

My gardening friends and I all agree, we are seeing more bees in our gardens. A good sign that leaves one hopeful, in a very tentative way.

I’m a romantic, at heart, dear reader, but, a realist in mind, and the plight of the bee is precarious. This should be alarming to all of us, for without bees, we no longer have the pollination we need to grow fruits and vegetables. Our food supply is in danger in a very large way.

It is more than honey, and More than Honey is an intriguing, stimulating, frightening film that I would like to encourage you to view. Celestia, my co-chair of our garden club’s conservation and education committee, arranged for our club to have a viewing of More than Honey before a recent club meeting. It is a fascinating documentary of bees; their origin in Europe, colonization in North America, how bees are being genetically modified, the plight of migrant bee farmers (I didn’t know there were migrant bee farmers), and much, much more.

Through modern technology, we enter the beehive and soar with the queen. We cringe as we see, first hand, colony collapse and disease, and ooh as a minuscule camera is attached to a bee that we follow as it seeks a new hive. We watch hand pollination in China and explore the lives of killer bees, which may give us hope rather than something to fear.

Please take a moment to click below to see the trailer for the film. I’m sorry if there is an advertisement. It is the trailer you want to click.  You can, of course, buy it from the website or rent it from sources such as Netflix.

This trailer for the film was on YouTube.

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DSCN5391It is the in-between time, here on the Cutoff;  not quite the end of summer, nor yet the beginning of fall.

The ornamental and prairie grasses are reaching their peaks and starting to show their plumes. A few late-blooming hostas are holding court, issuing their intoxicating fragrances, and the Sweet Autumn Clematis is promising a splendid display atop the arbor . . .  the days grow shorter and shorter.  Bittersweet days of August, these are, and none the more so than today and yesterday, as I snipped the last of the daisies.

Deadheading is always such a painful chore.

A week before the Fourth of July, I fretted, hoping that the daisies would last for the holiday. They did! Now, some six weeks later, they are finally spent. To say they put on a good show, and stayed for an encore performance, would be an understatement. The snip, snip, snipping has finally brought the curtain down on their long performance.

The flower beds are a bit tidier now that the daisies are tamed. There is more to do, however, as we begin the long goodbye to summer. Just for a while, though, I’ll dream again of daisy chains and the sunny centers of my imagination.

DSCN5070The daisy follows soft the sun . . .  Emily Dickinson

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After the misty morning fogs, the recent rains, and the August heat, the weeds have been advancing aggressively  into the flower beds, chasing me around the garden like a snake slinking in search of supper.  My nails are split and my ankles are ringed in mosquito bites. A sense of accomplishment reigns, however, each time I bring order to the jungle of overgrowth here.

I found refuge in the tall  grasses, camouflaged.  Can you find me hiding? I top 5’3″. These tall grasses, divisions from my friend Jan, are twice as tall as me – and they have not as yet showed their plumes!

It has been a most pleasant summer here on the  Cutoff.  We have had more nights than not with the windows opened., breezes wafting in; the tree toads and crickets crooning and strumming in late night chorus along with it.  The daisies have been resplendent, showing off from before the Fourth of DSCN5409July, just now starting to fade. The Echinacea and Rudbeckia have been proudly wearing their seasonal crowns of glory and the finch are finding their seeds; a sign of summer’s long farewell at hand.

Just a few feet away from the grasses, Joe Pye Weed,  divisions from the Wilder herb garden last year, have been prolific, with a host of flitting and buzzing visitors enjoying their sweet, sweet nectar.

I am encouraged by the emergence of more bees this summer, and the return of monarchs. While their numbers are low, there is marked resurgence in our winged friends, and I choose to take hope from their presence, especially since I only saw one Monarch on our property last summer.  I was not quick enough, nor was my camera, at capturing the Monarchs on the Joe Pye Weed, but, did catch in the lens a few other butterflies, just before I posed again for Sports Illustrated. DSCN5484

 

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Morning

Glory

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24Clippers in hand, I made my way down the drive to the patch of August Lily hostas. They had bloomed with heavenly fragrance for several weeks, the tall, white spikes attracting bees and showing off in their seasonal splendor.  Now, unattractive spindles of a past life remained. It was time, past time if truth be told, to trim them back, tidy them up, make the large, thick skirted leaves presentable again.

The neighbors were out, a vintage set of wheels emerging off of a trailer. A congregation of teenagers and eager adults reliving their own youth transported the muscle car onto their drive. Trying to be inconspicuous, I moseyed around to the front yard and started clipping the spent stalks from the hostas.

Intent on my work,  I pulled weeds and started tidying up the hostas. There I was, trying to favorably adjust my own vintage posterior in a pseudo plie′, snip snipping away, until I suddenly found myself in a clump.  There I was, indelicately on my moon shaped bottom with my cabbage-like face looking out from amongst the hosta leaves and giant ferns, an antique Cabbage Patch Kid, lost in a fern gully.

Yep. They saw me, I’m sure, for the giggles and snorts had nothing to do with the muscle car being revved up a few decibels louder than my own laughter.

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DSCN5402I just came in from watering and weeding and watching. It is serious work – for there I stood, with a hose that was leaking in several spots onto the driveway, the grass, and me. Snippers and garden knife in one hand, leaking water wand in the other, I decided what I really needed was a cup of coffee. I set a slow drip on the roses, went in for a cup of Joe, snatched a few molasses cookies, and settled myself on a bench in the arbor.

As I sipped and dunked my cookie (are you a dunker?), I could hear a hawk screeching above, his majestic wingspan just visible over the canopy of trees. Mama Robin swept in and out of a branch where I could see her nest of babies peeking up for morsels. The wrens chattered as they tended to their own – in the bluebird house. Then, in the brush next door, I could make out the form of a doe. She was pulling down branches for a morning treat, then, she walked past me, amazingly unaware of my presence. She moseyed past the grassy knoll and went on her way, perhaps to check on the twin fawns.

It is these tiny moments in the vastness of time that bring me joy. I fret about the weeds, the weather, the work, but it is these brief passages that bring poetry into my life and this little retreat that gives me time to reflect.

This arbor, commonly called Penny’s Arbor House, was designed and constructed by Tom,. It has grown into a refuge as it softens the space between the lawn and the house, which is hard blacktop.

grass-areamayThe arbor was envisioned long before we started the grassy knoll. Indeed, it was while sitting in the arbor that the idea was hatched to attempt a prairie garden. A space was marked, soil was turned, and a few plants were slipped into the soil, and a garden slowly emerged.  This photo was taken in the early summer of 2013.

Over the past year, through the generous cuttings and divisions of friends and through amazing opportunities, our vision of a bit of a prairie grew into a reality.

One of my oldest friends, Phyllis, shared grasses and clematis, that latter of which is currently clambering up the arbor and will burst forth in white blooms later in the season. Phyllis and I have been friends since high school. I don’t think either of us thought, way back when, that we would one day be granny gardeners.

Dear Jan has shared tall grasses and other plants that have enhanced our landscape dramatically, turning our eyes upward and outward as they have filled not only this grassy knoll just beyond the arbor, but, are holding court further back as well, training our eyes away from the expressway that passes us by.

Right now, the bee balm are in favor, along with Joe Pye weed shared from the herb garden in Elmhurst as plans were underway for the refurbished  conservatory.  Other plants are coming into their own – and I can’t wait to see what they are. Surprises abound in our garden – gifts yet to be enjoyed.

We have a long way to go with this project; a gate and some edging or fencing to define the space and help cut down on weeds. We keep talking, my Antler Man and me, sitting in the arbor, dreaming. A fire pit is planned and a desire to use what we have on hand to contain the space. In-the-meantime, ’tis good to have a spot to sit and watch the tiny moments of life pass by.

Here are a few photos of the grassy knoll/prairie garden right now. If you click onto the photos, especially those of the grasses, you will see much more. DSCN5392

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