Archive for the ‘Nature/animals’ Category

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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IMG_8144Homeward bound, we decided to take a small detour. I wanted to check out Crawdad Slough, where I have spotted an egret. She is usually hidden along the reedy edges of the shore, stock still or slowly moving toward an unsuspecting target. I saw her, recently, high up in a tree and wondered if she was building a nest. The detour was my wandering hope that Tom could see it on our way home.

There we were, chatting significantly about the insignificant, just moseying along in the late afternoon, when I saw it!  Not the egret, but, instead a sign. No. Not an omen or an octagon, saying STOP. It was a big, bright, yellow sign, just out of the corner of my eye as I drove right past it.

Did you see that, Tom?”.


That sign?”

I hung a quick left into someone’s driveway and whipped my way back from whence we came.



The sign pointed north. As soon as I turned, there it was. Just up a drive. A big yellow box with bold black letters.


We pulled into the driveway and hopped out of our mocha VW with a latte interior – such a trusty traveller she is – and looked around to see if anyone was outside. I called a cheery “Hello. Anyone here?” IMG_8759With nary a soul in sight, we walked up to the box. It had a few latches but no lock and key, and some bold honeybees painted around it.

There we were, the ever-patient Antler Man and Penelope Pitstop (she who stops at every box) and looked to see if we could open it. We fiddled a bit with the latches, then we slowly opened one door, then the next. One must be very careful when opening a newfound box – especially one with such large bumble bees depicted on it!

Inside was a sign with explanations, and an honor system for any customer wanting a jar of honey. How nice! Honor systems are not unusual down country lanes or in rural areas, but, they are not very common hereabouts, even in our semi-rural neck of the woods.

What a surprisingly delightful discovery this was; while not a white egret, a very sweet cache of local honey.


I dutifully signed the guest sheet. We slipped our payment for our jar of Hilltop Honey in the appropriated container, closed and latched the bright yellow doors, and set back on the road-less-travelled home, where I promptly made a cup of tea with honey – and very good honey it was.


I try to buy local honey, not only to support local businesses and beekeepers, but, also because it is said that ingesting local honey helps counteract seasonal allergies. I do not know if this is scientifically true, but, I do not that my own seasonal allergies have abated since I have been using local honey. Most of the honey I buy is from this general area, usually a farm stand, appropriately called The Farm, but, none of it is from hives only four miles from our home.

So it goes; a sweetened tale of life here on the Cutoff, where small detours sometimes lead to large, snowy white birds – or honey pots and the honor system.

(I did feel, just a wee bit, that I had just discovered the Bee Tree in the Hundred Acre Woods.)


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IMG_8854 - Version 3Echinacea.

A Greek word that means hedgehog, these long lasting flowers are more commonly known as coneflowers for the conical shaped seed head of the flowers. Our echinaceas are just starting their long blooming season and can be found in many gardens throughout the area. They are dependable and easy to care for – a good bang-for-your-buck if you are looking for a reliable perennial.


Our Echinacea is doing well here on the Cutoff. I learned last year to temper my eagerness at pulling weeds too early in the season. While I do have quite a growth of weeds, my patience at waiting until I was sure has awarded us fairly a full crop of Echinacea, which are just starting to perform and have been graciously posing for me and my camera.


These pictures, however, are all from the same photo. I started playing around with the image, cropping it in different spots, and thought you might like see them. Just don’t tell anyone that the photo was taken in the drive-through line of the local Mac Donald’s where I stopped for a cold drink the other day.

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As I sat, my car in the queue waiting to pay, I noticed this bee enjoying her own happy meal and just couldn’t resist.

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You know I am a tree hugger, right? Well, not really a tree hugger (unless the tree really needs to be hugged), more of a tree lover. We both are; the Antler Man and Penelope Pitstop.

We plant trees whenever and wherever we can. We have moved trees, visit the Morton Arboretum and wander the trails of the many forest preserves around us. We are sad when a tree dies, but we truly mourn those trees that are clear-cut for no good reason other than expediency and convenience in getting construction equipment in and out. Some trees may need to be removed to make room for a house, but, not two acres worth on large lots, or those on parkways.  Ah, well . .  these are stories and conversations for other times.

This post is of a milling operation, just outside the City of Chicago. Horigan Urban Forest Products, and a small but impressive exhibit of artists who resurrect wood and bring them back to a purposeful life.

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The Hidden Art of Trees is currently on exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Gardens and it seemed to be a fitting venue for the artistic man of the house on Father’s Day.


We had the pleasure of seeing and speaking to the millers from Horigan at the Morton Arboretum a few years ago. Tom was especially impressed with this company, their milling operation and portable mill and the product they extrude from trees.



The Chicago Botanic Garden, in conjunction with Horigan, has on display a remarkable exhibit of the art of wood; slabs of woods, bowls from burl, tables, chairs, cabinets all made from wood. Much, if not all, of the wood came from trees that were either diseased or otherwise needed to be felled.

I am amazed at the wooden implements, functional furniture and implements that have arisen from the death of trees, such as ash, that have been obliterated in the past several years by the emerald ash borer, as well other hardwood trees, such as walnut and chestnut.  I am in awe of the talented artists who recognize the beauty hidden in wood and who use their phenomenal craftsmanship and artistic gifts to make furniture, bowls, frames and many other items.


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Take some time to check out The Hidden Art of Trees here and see what Horigan Urban Forest Products does here.


Better yet, visit the Chicago Botanic Garden, or a similar art display somewhere near you and encourage respect of trees and thoughtful use of those trees that are felled.

Oh, before I hit “publish”, Tom managed to salvage part of one of the felled trees in a neighboring lot that was clear-cut. Though the tree was felled, he did ask for permission to take it. Sealed now against the elements, it is a sturdy, useful, table in our arbor – and a fun place to put a pickle jar full of fireflies that our nephews caught.



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IMG_8347Never lose an opportunity of seeing
anything that is beautiful
for beauty is God’s handwriting
– a wayside sacrament.
Welcome it in every fair face,
in every fair sky,
in every fair flower,
and thank God for it as
a cup of blessing.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

We have an abundance of potted plants. They fill the nooks and crannies in the garden and soften the landscape the sometimes seems to go on and on. They bring much-needed color into the hardscape of pavement and wood.

Potted plants need more water than those who are rooted in the ground – and they need to be fertilized from time-to-time. That time had come here and so it was on a close to perfect morning that I set about with a watering can and determination to feed my potted plants. I must admit that I was a bit like Mary, Mary quite Contrary as I went about this task. The watering took me away from a chore I was not enjoying; editing submissions for a newsletter , late-comers that were not to specifications. I needed some time to clear my head and the pots needed tending, so there I was, doing it slowly for all the backside bothers I’ve had, putting powder in the watering can, filling it to the brim, then watering, pot by pot by pot, doing the deck first. By the time I was through, I swear there were blossoms smiling at me in mass appreciation.

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The watering can full again, I took to the steps and tended to the pots on the driveway. These are larger pots and they were very thirsty, so, I needed to make a few trips up and down the stairs, then off I went to the front, hauling the watering can, which was easier than lugging the hose all the way up front, which is where I spotted Emerson’s “wayside sacrament”. A hummingbird was darting about, up and down shrubs and in among ferns. She was so busy that she did not notice me, nor the fact that I had just watered the fuchsia where the hummingbirds usually go for sweet nectar. I finally realized that this little wonder was looking for the blossoms of Rose-of-Sharon.

As you might imagine, in my excitement, I spilled the fortified water all over my feet. I wonder if it will help my toenails grow?


I love hummingbirds and am delighted that they have returned and are usually found  sipping on the fuchsia, which is dscn8860-e12785074643571strategically positioned just outside our living room window. They also frequent bee balm out in the prairie and even come up on the deck. Yesterday, one stopped for a sip on a single stem of bee balm I had cut for a small vase.Tom has noticed them on the blooms of  Zeus and Aphrodite – drinking from the flowers of the gods.

I took it all in; the fair faces and flowers, feeling  very thankful for my “cup of blessing”.


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IMG_8077As with many adventures, ours began in a train station; the Riverside train station, to be exact. A group of 23 garden club members met in this historic depot for a customized tour of six private gardens, led by several docents of the Frederick Law Olmsted Society.

The entire town of Riverside, formed in 1868, was designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The entire town of Riverside has a National Historic Landmark designation and is often referred to as the town in a forest. The quaint downtown with its unique tower is the centerpiece of Riverside; a town with gently winding streets, a variety of stately trees and boulevards that meander, much like the nearby Des Plaines River,  down charming lanes reminiscent of another era and past homes designed by noted architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright.

Frederick Law Olmsted is widely regarded as the founder of American landscape architecture.


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Our tour was arranged by the conservation and education committee as we wrapped up our garden club’s 90th anniversary year. We were hoping to see how a town can develop in harmony with nature. We decided to tour Riverside (the past) and visit a relatively new enterprise in nearby Brookfield, Root 66. The owner of Root 66 gave us a program on hydroponics and aquaponics (the future) at our June meeting.


As we “motored in our machines” to the gardens, our cars in procession, hazard lights blinking, racing through town at about 20 mph, we must have looked like a funeral procession. Some of the gardens were more fitting to the architecture and era of the home with prairie type plantings and natives, while others were more precise and controlled. We viewed the grounds of the Avery Coonley Playhouse, designed by Wright, as well as five other gardens.


I found it to be a delightful and inspiring adventure, tired but smiling as I got back into my car at the Riverside train station, where our adventure began.

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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.


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.


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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