Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

IMG_3185 - Version 4It was a Goldilocks sort of day; not too hot and not too cold.

It was, in fact,  just about right with a soft breeze and a few wispy clouds, stimulating conversation with kindred gardening spirits and more than a sprinkling of hope for the future following the footsteps of two bright and energetic high school students.

An inquisitive contingency of garden club members began our excursion wandering the grounds of Lake Katherine. I’ve taken you to this nature center and its grounds often, so, I will leave it to your imagination (or a click onto the featured installments you might like), and just tell you that we enjoyed the waterfall and botanical gardens, the nature center and a long walk around the lake. It was a perfect morning for such an outing.

After time for lunch and time to rest our weary feet – for there is always food for the ladies of the garden club, we headed but a few city miles to one of the more innovative high schools in the City of Chicago.

Set on a busy south side corner of Chicago, a high school sits; not unusual in any big city and certainly not unusual in Chicago. The Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences is relatively new in structure and occupies land, some 72 acres, that was the last farm in Chicago. It is a fully accredited college preparatory high school with core classes and the usual extra-curricular activities, only this school has cows and horses, grows corn and bushels of vegetables, scattered with farm machinery and students who don Wellies.


After an informative briefing by staff, we began our tour of the CHSAS. Our docents were two of the most delightful, enthusiastic and knowledgeable women who have ever led me around a high school – and believe me, I’ve toured many-a-high-school in my life. From computer labs, classrooms and library, to the machine tech labs and a barn, they guided us through a high school as rich in academic studies as it is in animal husbandry and horticulture.

We spent some time in the greenhouse where students were tending to seedlings,


and met some four-legged staff in the barn and pens.


One of our docents is also a student bee-keeper. These hives were in a courtyard which was teeming with apiary activity.

Bee HIves

We walked along a hallway of honors, common in high schools, but this one had honors from the renowned Chicago Flower and Garden Show, 4H, and US News and World Report.


This is a remarkable high school whose teachers, staff and students give me (dare I say all of us on the tour?) hope for the future. An emphasis on agricultural sciences is not uncommon in a state that produces corn, soy beans, and pumpkins. What is remarkable is that it sits in a large urban city that was once the” hog butcher of the world”.

I am sorry there aren’t more close-up photos. I was being mindful of not showing students. Instead, I will show you two of my favorite friends.

A day that was just right.

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IMG_2914 - Version 2This has truly been my summer of gardens with my pages filled to their paper white brims with daffodils and daisies, bees and butterflies. Hopefully, I’ve added a bit of sunshine to your life in the process of showing you everyone else’s garden, with a dash of my own.

We don’t travel much these days, but we are fortunate enough to be invited inside the garden gates throughout the Chicagoland area. Good things should be shared, so, I hope you don’t mind my giving you a few glimpses of gardens and sights I’ve enjoyed  recently.

Last Sunday was the last of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days in our region. As a glorious day dawned, we made haste to get to the first garden, certain to be popular as it was the garden of renowned landscape designer,  Craig Bergmann, at the Gardens at 900.



What a joy it was to run into some friends: bright flowers in the garden.

Right down the road is Ellawa Farm. Both gardens and the structures in them on the Open Day were originally part of the Armour Estate.

Ellawa has been refurbished and is under the protection of the Garden Conservancy. Thank goodness for organizations that preserve and maintain such wonderful gardens and open lands, for now and for the future, and that they are opened to garden and nature enthusiasts on select days.


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Hanging by a thread

It was a downpour at high noon. It was raining so hard that I needed to pull my car into a parking lot to wait out the gale, glad I had brought a book along.

 I always bring a book with me. Who knows when you’ll be stuck in the car in a downpour, a snowstorm, waiting for two freight trains to pass, picking up someone who is delayed? One must always have a back-up plan. Mine is a book – and a chocolate bar.

I digress. Again.

Home again, I put this and that away, checked phone messages and then went out to check our little acreage. The downside of so many tall grasses and prairie plants is that they can look mighty forlorn after a storm. To survive, they must be able to bend in a heavy wind or hard rain. Lessons we learn from plants, are they not? We all need to bend at times, lest we break.

I tossed some vegetable peelings and a wilted bouquet of flowers into the half-hazaard compost pile, set the bowl down and went to straighten some grasses. Just as I reached out to pull a mass of sagging stems, something caught my eye. It was hanging by a thread.  It was something I’ve been waiting for all summer long.

A Monarch butterfly chrysalis.



Still raining, still hanging by a thread – and I am still monitoring my Monarch.


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Country Garden Cuisine:Zinnia 2While most of the schools in our area have already been in session for several weeks, I still think of Labor Day as the last day of summer, signaling the official start of school, not to mention the unofficial start of Autumn. It is a time of new beginnings, at least for school children and their teachers, and for me it is a time of fond remembrances of zinnias.

My grandmother grew zinnias. I’ve written of them before and of how Yia Yia harvested the seeds, saving them in different colored packets made of tissue that differentiated the various colors of her plants. It was a practical and innovative filing system for a woman who did not know how to read or write. I do not know the origin of the seeds, but, I think they followed her home from a trip she took to Arizona, the only trip I ever knew her to take.

Each spring my father, or one of my uncles, would turn over the soil in a large, circular garden. The seeds would be sown, watered and weeded through the summer and seemed to always reach their peak right about the time that school started – the day after Labor Day.

In those days, we did not know who our teacher would be until the first day of school. Teachers’ names and class list would be posted on appointed doors, we would line up according to teacher, and our schooling would begin. A few days would pass in that hot and slow first week of school as we slowly settled in – and a few days would pass until Yia Yia went out to the zinnia circle and cut bouquets for my sister and me to bring to our teachers. Long stems were cut, the stems were moistened, then wrapped in newspaper, nice and tight on the bottom, loose on the top to let the colorful bouquet breathe. I can still remember those bouquets; their fragrance, their colors, the occasional insect who hid among the petals, and the delight of my teachers.

I can still see Yia Yia and her pride in her zinnias. I think of her in these late summer days, when the zinnias are in full bloom and the seasons are starting to flow from summer to fall, and of the scent and textures of those full bouquets, wrapped in newsprint, that came to school with me in the early September days of my youth.

These are a few zinnias that greeted me in several recent garden walkabouts in this summer full of glorious gardens.

Penny’s garden at Country Garden Cuisine

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Downtown Hinsdale

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Nina’s Garden

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DSCN9597 - Version 2It was a good morning for watering and weeding. The hot weather had the late summer blooms begging for a mercy. The birdbaths were dry as a bone. So . . .  I lugged the hose to the “way back” and filled the furthest water bowl to brimming as a chorus of robins and swallows and a few nervous wrens waited, all at a respectful distance, waiting for me to finish.

The robins were first up, though a crow quickly bullied his way into happy hour. No matter. Robbins are always civilized, waiting in line, taking turns at the bath, dipping and dunking and ruffling their feathers when done. They all waited as I snaked the hose to the bird bath just beyond the arbor, followed by the sky blue bath in the shade garden.

I watched as they enjoyed the splash park, and they watched me as I watered the clematis and roses, the Ladies Mantle and the hostas. I love watering hostas, for, no matter their condition, they perk up and say thank you as soon as the water reaches their toes, and is there anything more poetic than drops of water resting in between the creases of her Ladyship’s skirts?

A few steps up the arbor and onto the drive led me to our corner bird bath; a reclamation of a neighbors’ long-ago fountain destined for a landfill. As I dipped the watering wand into the basin, a bird swooped in and landed upon a shepherd’s hook, just a few feet from me. It was a young robin, pictured above, wandering the neighborhood while his parents were off to more grown up matters.

I stood there, holding the nozzle just so, creating a gentle spray. This fledgling watched the droplets and me, tilting and turning his head. At least I thought he was watching me, until he moved, in a wink, opened his beak, and caught a minuscule bug, crushing then swallowing and looking at me, as if to say “see me, Miss Penny, I can do this all by myself“.

It was really a very sweet moment and I mumbled “ohhhhh” and, do you know, dear reader, he did it again. I swear, he was smiling. He watched as I turned the nozzle off and pulled the hose toward the front, where a few more birdbaths beckoned me. As I tugged, for the hose is heavy and the drive is long, there he was, sitting on the rim of a rather dry bowl, waiting. I did not want to scare him off, so, I added water to a much more shallow bath and a few plants until he flew away..

All the baths full, I started pulling weeds, carrying them a short way to my nifty new wheelbarrow – and there on the handle was none other than my little feathered friend.

It is nice, is it not, to make new friends whilst working in the garden?


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In a bucolic setting, along a less traveled road, standing steady against modern housing sits an 1847 historic home. It is surrounded by an equally historic small farm where one can step back in time in the potager and vegetable gardens, learn of newly introduced produce, rediscover old garden favorites , and learn that what you thought to be a weed, purslane, is really a herb rich in omega 3 fatty acids as well vitamins.

So it was, in a heavenly spot called Country Garden Cuisine, which is owned and operated by Penny Newkirk, that I took a local park district day trip with my friend Sharon and a busload of other good souls.

Country Garden Cuisine was a life-long dream of Penny. As she sold her culinary shop in nearby St. Charles, a nearby convent came to the point in DSCN9558time when they needed to close their doors. When they learned of Penny’s interest in their house and that she wanted to open a culinary school, the deal was sealed, the house was moved to a historic farmstead that had a 1860s barn and outbuildings, and her dream became a reality.

Some years ago, I read about Country Garden Cuisine in a house and garden style magazine. It was a lovely article, but, it was the name that popped out at me. You see, Penny and I went to the same university and managed to land on the same dormitory floor. Both of us being Penny’s, and Pennys being hard to find, we struck up a friendship. That friendship eventually became one of yearly Christmas cards, a few visits, and eventually time and space did what it often does in life, widening the tide of contact. When I saw the article, I cut it out, my heart went pit-a-pat, and I vowed to self to try to contact her and see her school.

Of course, more years went by until one day my friend Roz mentioned, then made happen a field trip for our garden club out to Penny’s school and I finally was able to see her and her wonderful farm. Recently, my friend Sharon mentioned a trip to Country Garden Cuisine and thought I might like signing up for it. I did.

On Wednesday, I was fortunate to visit Country Garden Cuisine again. Penny demonstrated to the group of women in attendance how to make appetizers; grapes covered in Roquefort cheese and a delicious kale pesto, which eventually went into the squash “bowl”, just brought in from the garden.


We took a stroll around the herb and vegetable gardens, “oohed” and “ahed” over the sunflowers and zinnias, that are excellent pollinator attractors in the gardens, and took in the scent of the many herbs that abounded, even as the season ends. The squashes and pumpkins are coming to harvest and, oh, dare I tell you of the treat we were directed to? Yes. Yes, I will, for it is too good to keep to oneself. At the end of the vegetable garden was a large bed of raspberry bushes, their tempting red heads beckoning us to come and eat up a handful of sunshine. Joy supreme.

Then, time for lunch, we wandered back in where Penny demonstrated and prepared a raw beet salad and quinoa pilaf that would accompany a pork tenderloin (topped with a peach salsa). We ate in the dining and sitting rooms of the old and welcoming house.

Food, history. and connections with the past linking to the present. A moveable feast.

This is actually a Kobocha squash, just about ready to pick from the garden.


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As summer begins her slow bend into fall, her riotous colors fade to more subdued tones. Tree frogs begin their nightly chorus, while crickets accompany them on their strings and I look to one of the garden’s later season blooms for some visual distraction before Autumn’s splendor.

The August Lily really isn’t a lily at all. It is a member of the hosta family; Hosta plantaginea. It is a late season show stopper, both for its exotic beauty and its seductive scent.

The ideal location for an August Lily is near a window or door, or along a well-worn path, for there is such a sweet fragrance as one’s clothes brush against this plant and its scent drifts past an open window or ousidet a door.

DSCN9422This August Lily sits quietly in a corner of the front border, hugging a coveted place of honor, waiting for me to open the front door and enjoy its sweet scent on a late summer’s night. Other August lilies sit along the arbor, where they wait for brief interludes after I’ve been working in the prairie garden or the arbor’s adjacent shade garden.

Like many white flowers, the August Lily’s scent grows strongest at night, which also makes it an attractive night pollinator. Some plants work harder at night, attracting moths and small insects who are nocturnal and spread pollen when the rest of the garden’s cast of characters is at rest . . .


. . . and if one of the August lily’s stalks should happen to bend under the weight of its blooms, what finer spot could there be but in a vase placed in a prominent spot, such as the kitchen counter?


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