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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

IMG_7424Sunday was reported as the area’s coldest May 15 in more than 120 years; a colder morning than even Fairbanks, Alaska.

Anxious to put color and springtime into their gardens, eager beavers who had planted their annuals scurried about Saturday to haul pots into garages and cover tender plants already in ground beds with bedsheets, tablecloths and other means of protection.

It is always a guessing game in Chicagoland when it comes to the weather. We actually hit 80 degree temperatures a few weeks ago. The weather has seemed even more mercurial this year. Gardening centers and nurseries keep waiting for a sustained break in weather for business has surely been slow for them this year.

The good news is that cooler temperatures have afforded a long season of spring blooms. From the sustained performance of the daffodils, to the surprise emergence of Jack-in-the-Pulpit, the fragrant lilac blooms to the exquisite tulip displays, it has been a good spring for early bloomers – and Mayapples!

I purchased a few divisions of Mayapples at our garden club’s annual spring plant sale a few years ago. There are many reasons for joining a garden club, and this is certainly one of them. Our member plant sales help fund the rich and varied programs we have at meetings. They also provide tried-and-true plant stock for members. It is no secret that here on the Cutoff a good portion of our garden beds are filled with the offspring of plants from my garden club friends.

May Apples are a vivid example.

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In establishing  a woodland garden, the celandine poppies, Jack-in-the-pulpit, trillium and now Mayapples all came from Mary’s garden. Waiting in the wings (the garage) are bluebells, also from Mary’s garden. Interspersed are anemone, from Bev and Jerry. Many of our daffodils are from Jerry’s bulb divisions. The darling of the patch, Lady’s Mantle, catches dewdrops in between them all.  M’lady really needs a bit more sun, but, she serves us well in the woodland garden) and was from Dorothy.

Underneath the umbrella of leaves, small buds appeared this year on the Mayapples. I observed this plant,  both in the garden here, and in my forest wanderings. They are abundant throughout the area and quite visible on the forest floors this year. They seem to have sensed the need for umbrellas long before we did as they sent out their bumper-shoots in anticipation.

With my yellow rain slicker and red rubber shoes (I am a sight to behold) I slogged about in the biting wind on Saturday afternoon. This is what I found.

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I will be checking these Mayapples as we swing into summer, hoping to see an “apple” or two come from these sweet May flowers.

Do Mayapples (mandrake) grow where you live?

Image below from here.

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“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts…There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”   –  Rachel Carson

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There is some fretting hereabouts; too much rain, not enough sun, cool weather, stiff winds, etc. All true – but, then there are those “repeated refrains of nature” that slow us down, still our souls, give us pause to cast away our worries.

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I have been fascinated lately with the way Mother Nature bends the water , the trees, the floral tones of flower petals and pine needles.

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We are often frustrated with the cool, cloudiness of our recent days , yet, it is this coolness that has kept a long, sustained performance of daffodils  and tulips, apple blossoms and bluebells.

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Spring has been more of a slow waltz than a jitter bug. I find myself enjoying the tempo this year,  with some gentle dips in the winding paths I dance upon, and Mother Nature wearing her softer, more subtle shades of green and purple and blue. I marvel at the bend of light in water and the slow turn of the earth as I find myself reveling in “the repeated refrains of nature”.

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Prescription

IMG_6301In early spring and fall, when weather conditions are favorable, forest preserve districts, prairie restoration sights, arboretums and other areas are treated with prescription burns.  Prescription burns are controlled fires in specific areas. They are conducted by individuals specifically trained to execute these fires.  Fire departments and 911 (emergency contact systems here in the States) are notified and signs are prominently posted notifying those who are entering a burn area that a prescribed burn is in progress.

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A burn can be in a forest preserve as well as on a prairie. Even before one sees a sign alerting travelers that there are prescribed burns, the distinctive smell and the haze of smoke are indications that a burn is being conducted.

The purpose of these burns is to clear the forest floor or eradicate prairies of invasive species that may have taken hold and bullied native plants out of their natural habitats. It opens up the field or understory for native species to once again thrive and sun can filter in as years of debris are burnt away.

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A prescription burn also serves as Mother Nature more naturally did, providing the intensity of heat and fire to open up dormant native seeds, allowing them to not only germinate and grow, but, to also provide food sources by exposing insects and seeds that birds thrive on in their migrations.

Prairie fires were a natural occurrence in this vast land; before farming, towns and cities arose across the prairies and great plains. So were forest fires. Lightening strikes on particularly dry tinder or native grasses happened with more regularity. Indigenous populations also purposely set fires when needed, observing nature’s ability to revive their hunting and gathering areas.

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So it was, on several fine spring days, that I came upon prescribed burns, sometimes seeing the flames and smoke, other times seeing the dark, scorched earth where fires had recently been. I know that they will soon be alive with new growth as I saw birds swooping in to gather what only they could see, feasting on the forest and prairie floors.

Closer to home – well, actually at home – the Antler Man and I have been busy clearing away Winter’s leavings; twigs and reeds and weeds that we leave out of the mulch piles that are too small for the city’s brush removal and too big for composting. We live in an area where brush can be legally burned. Our neighborhood is often lightly peppered with smoldering brush piles in spring and fall.

After many-a-day that were too windy for fires, and the subsequent additions of fallen debris because of the winds, our pile had grown quite large and the day had bloomed quite adequately for a burn. I was heading out when Tom asked me to stay nearby for a bit as he was going to start a fire. So, there we were, adding a few more remnants of nature (there always are some) and a fire was lit.

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As Tom stepped away for a few moments to get something-or-other, I reminded him to make sure the hose was turned on. It was. The fire, my friends, was quite hot and the wind kicked up and before we knew it the fire jumped,  just a bit of hop, but a hop is hop and Pop was not on top!  I shouted for Pop to bring on the hose for the fire was rushing toward the garden.  I wasn’t as worried about the garden, which is a prairie garden, after all, but,  I was worried about the arbor and barn and lions and tigers and bears, oh my !

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All’s well that ends well.

We quickly snuffed out the errand flame’s path. The area is already alive with new growth, birds have been rummaging around in the charred spot, and so life goes, here on the Cutoff.

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Spring has sprung!

Bluebells:close-up

We have been enjoying some bright, sunny, warm days and pleasant nights for sleeping with the windows open.

Robins have constructed a nest in the crook of the gutters, Mr. Woodchuck made a brief appearance, the spring peepers have performed with a great deal of gusto, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard have returned from their winter down south – and I saw an owl, perched upon a dead tree, seemingly directing traffic on a busy route.

Life is good.

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I took some time to walk about at the Sagawau Canyon Environmental Center; a slow walk with the sound of songbirds, the babble of a brook coming tumbling out of the canyon. At first, I thought this was a bluebird oh, how I hoped it was!  He sat on the pole for the longest time, serenading with all his might, then, suddenly swooping into the cerulean sky, his true love joining him in a a dance of love.

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I never, ever tire of this, dear reader; this primal rhythm of love and life and nature with the slow pull of wonder that leads me to wander about my garden, into the woods, across the arboretums and conservatories and lands that have been wisely conserved for generations upon generations to enjoy.

Redbud?

I “get it”.  I think I understand Mr. Emerson’s words that “earth laughs in flowers”.

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There have been several days of hard work in the gardens, for sure. Two beds are now raked clean of winter’s wrath, three more beds still sit await, including the swath of prairie we have been slowly developing. There is a bit of a story of our little prairie that I will try to share in another post. Let me just say that where there is smoke, there is fire (and not-to-worry, all’s well that ends well).

Along with my “walk-about”, there is “here-about” the tender emergence of Mayapples, brunnera, and celandine poppies. Lily of the valley are pushing through, as are lungwort and feverfew, marjoram and lavender. Siberian squill is abundant – and then, there are the sweet violets that I first noticed while walking the grounds on my mother’s birthday.

Ma’s name is Violet.

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IMG_6484A mid-afternoon errand took me into La Grange, first to the post office, then Trader Joe’s, where they were holding some flowers for me to use in an arrangement for our garden club’s luncheon. Once those stops were made, I crossed over the tracks and my car just did what it often does, it veered left (when I should have been heading due south). I heard that a new florist had opened, and, well . . .

. . . this is what I found.

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Bloom3 is a unique florist with unusual flowers as well as garden inspired objects,

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and through this door, which looks like the original door to what must have been a safe, was another long table and chairs. Such an atmospheric space can be used for small gathering, planting workshops, and, I suppose, wherever one’s imagination might wander. I can imagine a garden club making arrangements, or a group of youngsters learning how to transplant violets, or even a small bridal shower.  What a fabulous place to bloom.

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IMG_6517A sea of pink flowers,  artfully arranged by the ladies of the garden club. A simple set of instructions: clear vase, pink, white, green and black flowers and adornments.

A historical presentation of The Little Black Dress, modeled in vintage dresses covering the nine decades our garden club has been celebrating this year, in the grandeur of the magnificent Medinah Country Club.

More than 130 women, elegantly attired in black and pink, green and white, tailored and flowing, long and short, sipping drinks and chatting with friends as they perused more than twenty artistically adorned raffle baskets.

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A delectably plated luncheon of tomato bisque soup, salad topped with warm chicken, and this pièce de résistance.

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It was a remarkably memorable afternoon. Two wonderful women, my friends,  were honored as Women of the Year. Our garden club members and their guests forgot their worries and troubles for a few hours, or, at least felt those burdens lift.  They were, hopefully, feeling as special as they are in this all-too- brief  but very special moment in time

A few glimpses into the Elmhurst Garden Club’s annual luncheon – A Little Black Dress.

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IMG_6084On a recent Saturday morning, a contingency of garden club members, clippers in hand, were led by library staff to the basement. They were on a mission of horticultural concern. The library, Elmhurst Public Library to be precise, was preparing for an open house in celebration of their 100th anniversary. The Elmhurst Garden Club, which is celebrating their 90th anniversary, was asked to make table decorations.

What an exciting, innovative time the early 1900’s must have been. All around the Chicago suburban area (not to mention the city of Chicago itself) growth was apparent. Passenger lines, such as the “L”, were winding their way out to the suburbs, where forest preserve park districts, local park districts and libraries were being established. These were visionary folks who looked toward the future with a sense of the common good that should be found in their communities. It was also a burgeoning time in which women’s organizations were formed; clubs where women had a chance to gather, but, more importantly, where they could do good things and make a difference outside of their homes.

So it was that on this particular Saturday morning, for several hours, at least a baker’s dozen worked, under the expert eye of Marie, arranging flowers in slim bud vases, chatting and laughing as women are wont to do. A few members took what was left of the flowers to make more substantial bouquets for the library’s reception desk, circulation desk, etc. They were beautiful.

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The next morning, many of us wandered in for a delicious pancake breakfast. Imagine that!  Pancakes! In the library!  I keep saying, dear reader, that the most “happening” places today are local libraries.  Several of us, plates of buckwheat, s’more, or apple fritter pancakes found tables in the children’s section, while a combo played, and I enjoyed the best conversation on bakeries with my friend Jean’s husband.

Eventually, we were invited upstairs to one of the study rooms, where we all grabbed vases of flowers.  Imagine us, if you will; flower girls, again.

One of the best treats of the morning was hearing my name called out. “Penny”. At first, I thought it to be the aforementioned Jean, but, quickly realized it was the woman behind her. Well, by gosh and by golly, it was none other than Dawn of Petals. Paper. Simple Thymes. We have been trying, for ages, to meet up and there we were, face-to-face, in a place we both love – the library.

Dawn and I met up again, upstairs. We chatted some more and decided to have our photo taken. What fun! As we walked out, a staff member asked if we would like to scan our photos and send to our phone, email, etc.  Isn’t it amazing?  100 years after its inception, in a public library, perhaps working on a term paper – or looking to build a chicken coop – you can scan the pages of a book and send it to your computer or phone?

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But wait. There’s more.

Many libraries now have meeting rooms for big groups or small. Card holders can check out tools and blenders, knit with friends, watch a movie or attend a lecture. One can request a book, from another library, and have it waiting for you, and many libraries now have designated spaces for teens.

As a teenager, I was often in the library. I relished the day I was old enough to go the main branch of the Maywood library. I loved browsing the shelves, doing research for a term paper, and discovering all sorts of magazines I never knew existed, but, I did so in a hushed atmosphere, where even turning the pages of a book were quiet pursuits. Today, teens can meet up in a room like this, work on projects, write on a glass-like board, study, or, just hang out. Pretty wonderful, I think.

Happy 100th Anniversary to the Elmhurst Public Library!

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