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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

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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Can you see it?

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Closer?

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Now can you see it? Click on the photo.

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This is one of five caterpillars I could see, ferociously eating a leaf of the milkweed plant. It was eating in a circle, munching and lunching and doing it’s “thing”. I was so excited to see them, a mature Monarch flitting nearby, stopping to sip on the nectar of the flowers atop the milkweed.

Last year, I counted one. One Monarch butterfly. Only one Monarch all summer long in my garden. To see these beautiful insects eating away on their host plant in front of my eyes was exciting. It gave me hope – and it gave me courage. Maybe, just maybe, one by one, little steps, like planting milkweed, that citizen scientists like you and like me can do will help save the Monarch.

Let’s at least try. Okay?

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DSCN4807One of the garden stops I did not get to visit on Sunday’s Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire was the Elmhurst Park Conservatory. This historic building had been closed this past winter for refurbishing. It reopened this spring, but, months before that, the garden club and park district agreed that it would be an excellent feature for this year’s event and was included as a garden stop along with the six private gardens.

DSCN4814The original greenhouse dates to 1868, followed by the conservatory in 1923. The conservatory was the Elmhurst Park District’s first capital project. The greenhouse, and a subsequent greenhouse following the 1868 building, were improved upon by owners of the estate over the years. The estate’s home eventually became the Elmhurst Public Library, which is now the renowned Wilder Mansion. The Mansion is where our garden club holds its meetings and where Garden Walk visitors can buy refreshments and floral arrangements on the day of the walk. It is also the venue of other clubs’  meetings, wedding receptions, art exhibits, and a host of other events. It is a sparkling treasure in the suburbs and a stellar example of how communities truly can save their historic buildings and put them to good use.

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A little tidbit that has drawn some attention lately is that the estate was briefly owned by none other than Mrs. Henry Gordon Selfridge.

While I wasn’t able to slip inside this favorite spot of mine this past Sunday, I did visit one early June afternoon. The plants had recently been watered, giving the conservatory an even more tropical atmosphere. There is nothing quite like stepping into a conservatory and smelling the distinctive aura of chlorophyl and new growth. It is rejuvenating; as it was on the day I took these photos.

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A trio of tourists were the only other visitors at the time. They were enjoying the beauty and serenity of the conservatory, and were a little curious of what I was taking pictures of. You see, there was a generous  donation of a kaleidoscope by the family of a long time supporter and Board Member of the Elmhurst Park District. The kaleidoscope is a wondrous tool for seeing tropical plants and is very child friendly. Actually, the child in me was busy taking pictures of what the kaleidoscope was seeing, and the trio wondered what I was doing. I explained and invited them to take a look. Oh, the oohs and ahhs as they saw for themselves the beauty and breath of colors beneath them. They left, then, so did I, but, just as I was backing out of my space, I noticed one to the trio, camera in hand, was going back inside. Wonder what he was up to?

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The garden gods DID smile down upon us, and the day dawned with promise. An overcast sky allowed homeowners to open their gates and vendors to unload their wares without theDSCN5318 heat of the sun beating down. Later, the clouds lifted, the sun came out, the humidity dropped and it was a most excellent day for a garden walk.

The ladies of the club, the Elmhurst Garden Club that is, and their sons, daughters, husbands, nephews and friends arrived to help, bring coffee, set up welcoming ticket tables at the featured gardens  (and decorate them with flowers and hard candy). Area organizations volunteer at these entry tables. Scholarship winners were available in Wilder Mansion where members were available and where many of members brought floral arrangements they crafted for sale. Isn’t it amazing how a vase of flowers can bring a smile to one’s face?

All-in-all, it was a delightful affair – our Afternoon in the Garden. Please, come with me, through the garden gate, and see a bit of what I saw along the way – and please accept my gratitude for all your well wishes. :)

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Smack dab in the center of what was once the “hog butcher for the world” is a repurposed food packaging plant that is being used for raising tilapia that eat the plants that drink the water that The Plant filters.

DSCN4963I tagged along with the Downers Grove Organic Growers on a steamy Saturday morning to tour The Plant in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago. I’m so grateful that they let me join them. This is what garden clubs are like; open and eager to share the knowledge of growing things and learning about how we are expanding growing environments.

The Plant was home to Peer Foods since the 1920’s. It was where bacon and hams and other meats were processed and it provided jobs for many, especially those living in the Chicago neighborhood known as The Back of the Yards. The “yards’ refer to the stockyards. When it moved it’s operations westward, into the suburbs, it left a substantial employment gap in the neighborhood.

While the scene above may appear bucolic, it is not. It is about as urban as a neighborhood can be DSCN4993with rows of small houses on small lots that have stood the test of time and labor;  city streets with small businesses serving the community – and an immense industrial area at its back. Smokestacks and cement cut the blue sky and poverty is but a day away.

The photo on the top is looking out of a second story window onto what was likely a parking lot and upon which now sits an urban farm.

As we departed, volunteers were setting up tables and tents for a small farmers’ market, providing fresh greens and vegetables from the site to the neighborhood. A large cooker was set up in what was once a loading dock to cook lunch for the volunteers and interns working at The Plant.

This is an exciting, emerging environment in an otherwise inhospitable cement jungle with a forward thinking agenda of providing food where food has not grown. Oh, the places one can go when thinking “outside of the box”. DSCN4991This old, dilapidated structure is receiving CPR. Its innards are being rearranged and repurposed. It will take some time to recover, but, recovering it is, with food business “incubators” finding tenant space inside this cavern of possibilities.  A nearby bakery rents space and houses ovens inside its doors. A brewery will be taking up residence, as well as storage space for a cheese company. Mushrooms are farmed in a lower level room. A large portion of the basement houses enormous tanks where tilapia are raised; the water filtered back into the water plant beds, pushing up through holes juxtaposed in recycled cardboard gardens.  Various heat lamps hang, testing different types of lighting as college interns plant seedlings just a few steps away. There are plans for a museum focussing on the surrounding neighborhood, classes, artwork and numerous other ways to replant The Plant.

I get confused, dear reader, over hydroponics and aquaponics and their relatives, but, you can read more about this topic if you choose by going to http://www.plantchicago.com/non-profit/farms/plantaquaponics/ and you can find out more about The Plant at plantchicago.com.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few pictures of the growing areas inside The Plant – and outside of it. On the day of our trip, there were several volunteers working on the 3,000 square foot mural being painted on the outside of the building and designed by Joe Miller.

Hope, ideas, agriculture and more grows these days in this city neighborhood. A good thing. A good thing, indeed.

Mushroom growing chamber.

Mushroom growing chamber.

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Roots

Roots

Plants

Plants

Cardboard grid awaiting seedlings.

Cardboard grid awaiting seedlings.

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DSCN4783As I disembarked from my infamous mocha VW with latte interior, I grabbed my lime green umbrella. The mid-morning sky was as dark as night; an early summer storm was most definitely brewing. By the time I rushed into the clinic, rode up to the fourth floor, and signed in, the storm had arrived and the rain drop racket on the roof above could be heard in the waiting room. While waiting, patients chatted “sure is loud” and “well, my tomatoes needed the rain“. By the time I was done with my appointment, some 50 minutes or so later, the temperature had dropped from 84°F to 64°!

So it was yesterday, a stormy day and night, full of extremes known in the midwest. The alliums, sans their blooms, seemed content, dripping with moisture, and the weeds, well, the weeds are behaving like teenagers who have just graduated from high school and are out having fun.

Several of us are heading downtown to Millennium Park for a special viewing of a new documentary on legendary landscape architect, Jens Jensen. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that yesterday’s storms remain yesterday’s weather. If you are interested, the documentary will be simulcast tonight on WTTW. Mr. Linky still isn’t cooperating, but, if interested, you can go to this link. schedule.wttw.com/episodes/289622/Jens-Jensen-The-Living-Green/

How about you? How’s the weather where you are?

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DSCN4730DSCN4735From Marilyn's peonyBev peony:3:one bud, one opening, one openedDSCN4738This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open —
pools of lace,
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities —
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again —
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

from New And Selected Poems by Mary Oliver

I posted the first verse of this ethereal poem by Mary Oliver when my tree peonies first opened. I wanted to save the rest of the poem for when the herbaceous peonies came out to play – and they have, indeed. They have been frolicking in the front gardens, under the tree peonies, over the ferns, and atop all else that awaits blossoming, and, yes, dear reader, I did “hurry, half-dressed” in my pajamas, enjoying their “honeyed heaviness”  enjoying their perfect moments, for they shan’t last long, but, oh, while they are here – what joy they are to behold. 

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There is no cure that I know of for the seasonal malady commonly called garden fever! It starts with an itch to be outside at first light and ends toward evening with dirt under one’s fingernails, hat hair from a wide-brimmed hat, and a worn out feeling around one’s knees.

There are so many distractions in spring, like the swirling confusion of ferns

 

DSCN4604and more blossoms from the tree peonies than Penny knows how to ooh and ahh over!

DSCN4646Should I mention a little jaunt in the jalopy to nearby Maple Lake and a sit-upon moment watching children fish? DSCN4662Then, there were several days of staining Penny’s Arbor House (with Penny even taking up a paintbrush for a spell – but, staying off of such a tall, tall ladder). DSCN4629Midnight, the marauding, milk-loving cat, came by for a visit at the arbor. We don’t know as yet if he approves of the fresh look.DSCN4617This chippy little chipmunk was contemplating the newly potted plant near the door. Click onto the photo to see how cute this ground imp is.chiipmunk on stepOur Community Garden was bustling with activity all weekend . Our plot is now planted with cucumbers and tarragon, several varieties of tomatoes with basil nearby and a row of bush beans. I left some space for zucchini and, well, I’ll just have to see what else whets my gardening appetite in the next few days.  DSCN4659

 

It has been a busy few days here on the Cutoff, but, we did take some time to watch the Memorial Day Concert in Washington DC on PBS, fire up the barbecue grill for some brats, and now I am going to snuggle up with this month’s read for our book group, M. L. Stedman’s “The Light Between Oceans”.  I am having a hard time putting it down.

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DSCN4611I wait for them to open up; first a tightly wound bud, then the petals pealing away like yarn from a skein, to reveal their true identity. If you have been reading about life on the Cutoff for a few years, you surely know how much I adore tree peonies. If you are new here, waiting for these beauties to open are among my most cherished rites of spring.

These light pink ones opened up yesterday. They were stubborn buds in the morning, but, by late afternoon, they bloomed, filling me with appreciation for their sunny disposition.

From Mary Oliver’s “New and Selected Poems” I found her poem, Peony. The opening lines are perfect.

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

 

 

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May Apples, Brunnera, and Celandine Poppies.

What’s popping up in your neck of the woods? May Apples Brunnera Celandine Poppy

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