Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category


We often see only that which we perceive as perfect, unflawed, without blemish. Fashion models and model homes. Flawless complexions and svelte figures. Glossy advertisement and enhanced photography. It is, I think, human nature to appreciate beauty, but, we often are swayed as to what beauty is.  For instance, this bouquet. It caught my eye – for its perfect imperfection!

There is usually a floral arrangement at the information desk just inside the Visitor’s Center of the Morton Arboretum. It is most often a seasonally inspired collection of flowers, branches, leaves and more.  I believe the natural materials used are gathered from the grounds of the Arboretum. The arrangements are always an inviting and cheerful welcome to the Visitor’s Center; a handshake, if you will, to the vast acreage of Morton Arboretum.

On what was mostly a crisp and cloudy day, the sun suddenly appeared, just as I passed this Autumnal arrangement. I walked past, then pivoted around for a second look.

Some things are worth a second look.

It was the unusual color of the leaves that gave me pause. I am familiar with hosta leaves and their many variations, but, I was unfamiliar with this particular color combination. I stood a few feet across from the desk for a moment and admired it, before I stepped closer and took a few photos with my cell phone. It was then that I realized that these leaves were a bit past their prime. They were, in fact, fading , wrinkled – and beautiful!

I squealed (more a squeak) drawing a few quizzical glances.  “Oh, sorry. I was just admiring this arrangement and love that the leaves were left to fade a bit”.

The faded leaves, which I assume were originally a cream color, now mimicked the orange of the pumpkin. They told the story of their emergence from the once frozen soil and of their once tender leaves tasting the springtime air. They spoke of the long, hot summer with too much rain and not enough. Their natural, defining grooves had deepened as they matured, much like my own wrinkles and scars. The once deep green had softened and thinned but were still soaking up the water from the pumpkin pot. I found it brave and I thought it wise for these leaves to still be on display; a natural reflection of life as one season gives way to another.

~ Perfectly Imperfect ~



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Goji berries, rustic outdoor furniture, antique carts, solar panels, country charm and ingenuity; all this and more at Cherry Lane Farm, which was opened to visitors as part of the McHenry County Farm Stroll.


Trudi Temple is a well-recognized gardener, entrepreneur, author and speaker, especially in the Chicagoland area. I have had the pleasure of touring her private garden in the western suburbs, reading her inspiring book, “Trudi’s Garden; The Story of Trudi Temple”, and, like many of you, I have ordered from Market Day@, which Trudi established.


Cherry Lane Farm was our first stop on the Farm Stroll, and we were one of the first visitors. We parked the car and followed a path that meandered through a woodland garden, which was cloistered inside a handmade waddle fence. Bird houses dangled from stately trees and perched upon tree trunks.


Age-old benches and found objects, heirloom plants and new introductions abound on Trudi’s farm; a living testament to what hard work, creativity and sustainability can yield.


We wandered the paths, some under the multitude trees rooted on the property, others leading to the vegetable garden, or the wide pasture where a wind turbine was generating energy. We sat in a magnificent gazebo – surely a haven for family and friends. With all the nature and creativity that surrounded us, what impressed me the most was the evidence of the far-reaching visions of Trudi Temple. She is a remarkable woman whose respect for nature continues to grow and instructs all who find their way to Cherry Lane Farm.


A barn houses plant materials that Trudi uses in arrangements, as well as a shop for antiques, books, dried floral arrangements and other delights. An outbuilding is creatively sided with reclaimed windows of different sizes and shapes. Inside sit long tables, for workshops, I assume, and a patchwork of quilts adorn the walls.


It was such a pleasant day.


We bumped into three members of my garden club, all in groups of their own and all pointing or asking if we had seen this or that, enthusiastically sharing what they had discovered. Even strangers were friends for the moments in time at Cherry Lane Farm. It isn’t often that a piece of land and a crop of buildings is so lovingly developed  that it creates such a wholesome sense of place.


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dairy-farmwalking-to-barnThe way to the barn was a well-worn, rutted path, uphill and scenic, past acres of pasture on a Illinois Centennial Farm, now in its 5th generation of dairy farmers. As we trudged up the path, we noticed most of the herd in the distance, congregating companionably under a brilliant sky. We headed toward one of the farm buildings. This was our third stop on the McHenry County Farm Stroll.

I first heard about this free event from a University of Illinois Master Gardener publication, which caught my attention. This year, 12 private farms would be opened to the public. The properties included orchard, vineyards, dairy farms, hobby farms, and the Loyola University Retreat and Farm campus.

Tom and I marked our calendars and bookmarked the event, intrigued by all the options available, familiar with the rolling hills and farmland in McHenry County, and knowing the wide and well-informed network of the University of Illinois Extension Services and Master Gardeners, as well as the McHenry County Farm Bureau.

We knew we would not be able to see all 12 farms, so, selected 4 that we were most interested in,  mapped out a route and off we went for a Sunday stroll.

This dairy farm was our 4th stop and different from the others. We soon found ourselves observing the cows and their bairn eating in the barn, followed by a very informative mini-lecture on hay and straw, how hay is harvested and stored, the often “iffy” reliance on erratic weather in the midwest. Our docent in the hay stall was from the Farm Bureau and she was a gifted and knowledgeable speaker who had all ages of visitors engaged in her subject matter.


One of the farmers also walked us through a typical day of milking the cows with insight into small dairy farms versus large conglomerates, how he knows the names of all of his cows, and reminding us to check out his Guernsey cows and a calf just born who were just outside the barn.

I did take a few photos of the newborn Guernsey, which did not show well. It was not yet 24 hours old, curled into a brown ball of body and big eyes. If it had some spots I would have thought it was a fawn. Mom, however, was close by, keeping her eyes on the intruders passing by.



So it was on this enlightening leg of our Farm Stroll, that we wandered back down the path, rutted with decades of use. Onward we went, headed toward our car. We stopped as we departed to thank the volunteers stationed there who asked how our visit was – and we were given a choice of carton of milk.

White or chocolate?


We chose wisely.




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IMG_6512 An  inventive and fun challenge entered my life this past spring.

It was Greek Easter. Jennifer and Jason had invited us, along with several other family members, to their home for what turned out to be a most delectable feast along with companionable conversation, laughter, and all that comes with the gathering of kin.

Ever since the Elmhurst Garden Club’s annual luncheon/90th anniversary celebration in April, I was itching to attempt the floral decoration shown in the top photo. It was an abundant spray of tulips and carnations set in a bowl of pink Easter eggs. Teri’s arrangement was spectacular. With Greek (Eastern Orthodox) Easter being observed quite late this past spring, I had a window of opportunity to do my own experimenting with the typical red Easter egg dye symbolic of Greek Easter.

So . . .


. . . I pulled out a smaller vase, the one that I had, in fact, made my own centerpiece for the April luncheon, with a plan to bring it to Jennifer and Jason’s. Lilies and tulips, roses and other spring blooms were nestled into the red eggs and a swirl of grass from the grocer’s florist. The deep red eggs bled into a soft pink as they sat in the water, which enhanced the allure of the bouquet.

As we were leaving, I told Jennifer to keep the vase. It was, to be honest, a $3 purchase from a local grocery store that had already proved its worth in holding flowers. Some time ago, I heard (or read) a suggestion that when bringing flowers as a hostess gift it is considerate to bring it in a vase. The last thing a host or hostess needs when guests are arriving and food preparation is underway, is to search for a suitable vase. I have found it to be a twice appreciated gesture, the flowers and the container, and does not need to be in Waterford crystal. A Mason jar or thrift store find serves the purpose and saves the host a hurried look for a container.

So . . .

. . . on Mother’s Day, Tom assembled a brunch at our house. Jennifer came in with her edible contribution


and this lovely bouquet!

She thought it would be a fun tradition to pass the vase back and forth, from time-to-time, no pressure, just fun – and I wholeheartedly agreed, but, only after I admired her first attempt at flower arranging. Can you just imagine, dear readers, how brightly I glowed at Jennifer’s attention to detail and nod to my interest in flowers?

Thus began a new tradition; this floral adventure between mother and daughter and the traveling vase.

So . . .

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. . . about an hour before leaving on Labor Day for J & J’s house for lunch, I remembered the traveling vase and decided to see what I could find in the  fading gardens here on the Cutoff.

Zinnias and lemon geranium were clipped from the pots on the deck and nestled into floating lemon grass and a spray of Joe Pye Weed that was past its bloom. These came from the now fading Prairie garden. The Joe Pye Weed made a very useful floral “frog”. Green and purple basil, oregano, Rosemary, and Turkey Grass (Big Bluestem) for height, all managed, as well, to follow me inside and into the traveling vase.

Off we went for a lovely lunch – and so goes the continuing adventure of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Vase.

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IMG_9731I find that I need to get out to stretch my legs and ease my back on long car rides, especially if I am driving alone. The urge to move a bit and take biology breaks add extra time to the journey, but also afford an opportunity for exploring. The Wisconsin rest stops along the usual route to our Up North family are safe, clean, and often quite scenic and most have historical markers or honors to veterans. The scenery becomes more breathtaking, the terrain more varied, as the road wends northward. The trip remains just as interesting on the return route.

The weather could not have been better Tuesday as I headed south toward home. Finding myself in need of a walk, I decided to exit the interstate in Janesville and visit the Rotary Botanical Gardens there. It is a mile or so from the exit and a little piece of paradise, much of which is maintained by volunteers.


So . . . I took a little walkabout down the paths and through the gardens, working the kinks out of my muscles and shaking the cobwebs from my brain.


The flowers were in full form with a riot of color and texture and scents – and the pollinators were busy feeding from the many garden hosts.


Moths and bees and butterflies flitted as if on their last fling before school starts.


The gardens were just what my heart and soul needed, along with my muscles and bones. Being in nature always renews my spirit and calms my everyday worries, while giving me a chance to exhale.

I walked and sat and walked some more, wondering how the Antler Man was getting along on the Cutoff. I was thinking how encouraging it was to see so many bees and moths and butterflies when a Monarch floated by, looking for a place to rest.


There has been fretting over the Monarchs again this year. Last year brought some hope that their numbers were on the upswing, but, this summer their numbers seem to be down and I have spotted only one on our little acreage on the Cutoff. There is an abundance of milkweed and butterfly weed and other host plants, but nary a Monarch egg nor caterpillar to be found.

The Monarch danced on the breeze and the landed on the big, green chair which is seen in the background of the photo above on the left, basking in the sun and casting shadows in the most magical of ways.

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Renewed and revitalized, I walked back to the car and set to navigating the last leg of my journey home with a sense of wonder that always befalls me in among flowers and trees and God’s good earth. As I drove back toward the concrete lanes of the interstate highway, the shadows of the Monarch cast a wee bit of wonder in my mind at how this one regal member of butterfly royalty happened to find me miles and miles from home.



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IMG_8771Our prairie garden is flush with native species and an abundance of prairie grasses, while the perennials in the front islands bravely attempt to establish their permanence amid a colony of advancing ferns.

Then, there are the aggressive appetites of the wandering herd of white tailed deer. What’s a gal to do?

Front island:July

Well . . .

. . .  I have been  experimenting with composing prairie inspired floral arrangements, cutting armfuls of grasses out back and small snips of what the deer don’t eat from the front.

Prairie Arrangement:#2

Oat grass, Big Bluestem, Monarda, Indigo, Joe Pye weed, and a curtsy to Queen Anne’s Lace, which was frolicking too close to the road for me to resist just a few of her lacy caps.


These flowers, both tamed and wild, pose quite fashionably in vases, jars, and other containers that are scattered around the house. A few arrangements have even made it to friends’ homes and a graduation party. Prairie Arrangement:2#3

Prairie arrangement:#1

Prairie Arrangement:#4

Part of my daily routine is to wander, clippers in hand, from garden bed to garden bed, observing what is blooming and what is spent, what the deer might have munched on and what I might cut and bring inside.

Sometimes,  just a few buds pinched back from overflowing pots are all that is needed to bring the garden indoors. Have you ever used parsley or basil in a vase? Snipping a few stems not only helps the plant regenerate, but, it brings fragrance into the kitchen and is a quick herb to pinch for extra flavors in a simmering pot or summer salad.

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I love the abundance of summer.

Here are a few more flowers from our garden, and a bouquet I picked up from a vegetable stand where I buy locally harvested sweet corn. The owners are growing flowers and herbs in raised plots behind the barn and selling them from the stand as well.

Farm:Arrangement #1

Do you keep floral arrangements outside on your patio, porch or deck? Do you pick from your garden, a favorite floral shop, or grocery store? Do you have favorite flowers for bouquets?

Prairie Arrangement:#5


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dscn5528-e1283217452175dscn0145-e1283222444675About six years ago, we began looking for a way to soften a large expanse of hard surfaces, provide additional outdoor seating, expand existing garden beds, establish more growing spaces – and find a way to draw the eye further afield.

We talked, we walked, Tom took to the drawing board, measurements were made, wood was purchased, hammer and nails and saws were employed. After a time, an arbor emerged, looking like the shell of cabin. Ma and Pa and their little House on the Prairie. First named Penny’s Arbor House by the then young lad next door, it was christened last year as Papa’s Treehouse by our grandson, Ezra.

Back of arbor:hostas, grasses

Arbor:late June:2016 Arbor:Clematis:purpleA healthy row of existing hostas was divided and transplanted, and a woodland garden started to grow.  New plants were introduced, and climbing specimen took root. First a climbing rose, then several clematis, which came from friends’ gardens, and Abraham Lincoln, a gift from Jennifer and Jason one Mother’s Day. They were radiant this spring, climbing higher than ever before. Sweet Autumn Clematis, a division from my friend Phyllis,  has really taken hold. This year, it has scaled the trellis of the arbor wall, snaked rambunctiously over the top and is presently creeping down the other side. I can’t wait to see the signature white blossoms as Autumn approaches.

IMG_7963Three years ago, sitting in the arbor, Tom and I talked, for the umpteenth time, over what to plant and how to grow and design more space in the garden.

When we first moved in, I initially wanted a rose garden – but, borrowing from an oft used phrase, I was never promised a rose a garden – and never imagined the damage deer can wreak. There IS a sweet, clambering rose that cloaks part of the arbor in June, however.  Gardening, like life itself, calls for compromises.

Our initial plans were big and bold and worthy of the space we allotted.  They would also be free food for the resident deer population. We eventually came to the idea of planting natives and grasses. Once established, they were lower maintenance and they would most likely thrive here on the Cutoff. It seems we no sooner made the decision to go native than plant divisions from generous gardeners and abundant gardens came our way.


A few grasses and some native Ageratum were shared, a plant was purchased here and there from native plant sales, garden club members’ sales, and the characteristic generosity of like souls with very green thumbs  – especially those of the Elmhurst Garden Club. Big bluestem and Butterfly Weed, Indigo and Bee Balm, Compass Plants,  Joe Pye Weed, and much, much more.

Our prairie garden has taken off, pushed past boundaries and developed a blowsy, free-spirited personality of its own.



Prairie Garden:sunny spanArbor #3:directly into prairie
Double Red Bee BalmButterfly weed

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