Gardening enthusiastically in the western burbs of Chicagoland. Former owner of Fraser Landscapes. I love to share the joys of vegetable and perennial gardening with children and adults.
Facilitating the Garden at Congregation Beth Shalom in Naperville IL.
Wberefore art thou, O Spring? Come BACK we miss you!
Yes, we were spoiled by the warm weather and now reality sets in – this is Chicagoland, and we hardy souls don’t put our tomato plants out until at least Mother’s Day no matter what. Mine are still under the lights in the basement, repotted and waiting it out until they can be buried in blissfully warm soil up to their necks. Not now.
Not to say nothing is happening in my garden. The peas, spinach, arugula, mache, radishes, and bunching onions are up, as well as a few potatoes – mainly the ones in a container. I hope the others haven’t rotted in the cold and damp. I’ve set out broccoli, kale, onion and shallot sets and all are doing fine.
The biggest excitement for me is mini-clover. I had a lot of bare spots this year and since I am not a fan of grass, I decided to plant mini-clover and let it spread. I have large patches of regular lawn clover and it looks so lovely! Mini-clover is.. small.. and only gets about 3-4″ tall. Combining small delicate stature with deep green color, self-fertilizing super powers, drought tolerance and durability, this could be a real winner. I ordered one pound from outsidepride.com and sowed it on my front lawn and parkway.
I broadcast the coated seeds in roughed up but bare areas on April 24 and it started coming up a few days later. With all the rain we’ve gotten, it’s off to a great start. Hoping it can outcompete undesirables. I can’t let dandelions get a foothold because I wouldn’t do that to my neighbors (whose lawns are seas of perfect emerald green) but I hope they don’t mind clover.
Not bored any longer! Since my last post I’ve been busy starting seeds, transplanting seedlings, hardening off seedlings, planting out cold weather things and complaining about all the rain. I managed to get my spring cleaning done inside (since it WAS rainy) but not outside. I made sure to concentrate on the front yard at least. So many fun tasks await. At least I got all the cold weather seeds planted and some are coming up: radishes, spinach, peas at least. I got the potatoes in (La Ratte, a french fingerling heirloom from Seed Savers) but haven’t seen them up yet. The garlic is looking cheerful and sturdy. Behind that I’ve planted a row of carrots (3 kinds) overseeded with radishes. Usually I plant according to the square foot method, but I just wanted fewer veggies this year. Weird, huh! So I am going for a linear look instead in some parts of the garden. I also planted out my little seedlings of Zebrune shallots and Newburg onions (also from Seed Savers). All surviving well because of the rain here and there. It was gloriously warm for a few days but this week looks to be back to actual spring weather. The daffodils have been spectacular and this year my Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) is blooming like mad. I planted little divisions from a friend a couple of years ago. Blue + yellow! Genius, if inadvertent. In my garden, I just fill holes with plants and hope for the best. Combo I like best today: Golden Shadows Pagoda Dogwood with daffodils bringing out the yellow. Ooh.
Last year I decided to put in some chartreuse and it really livens things up. Sorry about the weeds – looks like chickweed is going to have another banner year. You can also see the remnants here of last year’s experiment with a fall planted cover crop – in this case oats – that I will leave as is and plant through. This used to be the “nursery” area but all those plants went over to my daughter’s garden and now, hallelujah, I have space to fill!
I love the way hellebores look when they first come out, but then, as you can see, if you don’t have a light colored flower, they tend to look like indistinct clumps, not too exciting. I am going to move the seedlings (many now) to an area by my walkway so I can enjoy them close up.
Veg Garden update:
Trying a new trellis system this year. The stakes are cut from my Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria), which I coppice every year for nice long stems. I’ll tie string between them as the peas and cucumbers grow up past the fencing.
Temperatures in the high 60s! The gardening bug strikes. What to do?
There are some seeds to be started indoors: onions, parsley and basil for indoor use, violas, sweet peas, and any chile that needs a loooong season to produce, like Chiltepin. This Sonoran desert native, also known as bird pepper, forms an airy 2′ tall profile with little round fruits that are hot, hot, hot. But addictive. One little chile in your salsa and boom! Or crush and sprinkle over vanilla ice cream, which tames the heat a little bit. I have to start these very early, plant them in a spot that gets a lot of reflected heat, and hope that it’s not too rainy. I usually get a handful of chiles from a plant, but every year I hope to do better.
Outside, the hellebores need trimming. Last year’s leaves have served as an insulating blanket, but they do nothing for this year’s looks. Cutting close to the emerging buds will let the flowers show in all their glory. Wish this warm weather, they should be opening soon.
Really, what is it with the weather this year? Someone wrote in to the weather man wondering if they should put away their snow blower for the year! Nope. We historically get some big snowstorms in March, but with all this pleasant springy weather, it is difficult to believe that could happen! But the plants know. I have a patch of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) that serve as my climate markers so I know when winter is ending. They are more reliable than Punxatawny Phil, and they are nowhere to be found yet. The earliest they have popped up was last year on February 29th. Usually they arrive in March.
Bloom times of my snowdrop since I’ve kept records at this house:
2006: March 13
2007: no record of bloom
2008: March 22
2009: March 7
2010: March 8
2011: no record, didn’t write in journal until November 1st!
2012: March 6
2013: March 29
2014: April 6!! No kidding, long and brutal winter.
2015: March 28
2016: February 29 (the earliest since I’ve been keeping record!)
I checked the Hellebores out back – those have buds appearing, so there’s something I can do in the garden: trim off the old ratty leaves from last year. There are some Hellebore seedlings popping up around. Later in the season I’ll transplant them nearby and see what sort of blooms they end up creating. I’ve planted H. ‘Winter Sunshine,’ ‘Peppermint Ice,’and ‘Royal Heritage.’ So it’s anyone’s guess as to the bloom type of resulting crosses, but that’s one fun part of gardening.
I feel like I should be doing something. There’s been no real snow to speak of and it’s dicey to tramp around on the soggy ground – and just forget about wandering into the beds. I don’t want to smash the soil. But fortunately I can see quite a bit from the patio and walkways. I am scouting for any premature growth, heaved up plants, or rabbit damage. None so far that’s of any consequence. Last fall I caged the little serviceberry because of all my current shrubs, THAT one is apparently irresistible to rabbits and it was in real danger of demise from constant nibbling.
So, nothing doing outside, and that’s good. Once the ground freezes up again I will do a little corrective pruning on some of my trees (and maybe my daughter’s) but not on spring bloomers. I like to coppice my Cotinus shrubs so they get 10′ tall with huge leaves. I might as well do that as soon as I can. Last year I used the resulting straight branches as tripods for peas and beans. They really weren’t strong enough for beans, but peas were fine.
I inventoried all my seeds and then ordered even more because I have a serious control problem. Last fall I planted garlic all down the middle of one shady section of my garden because it just got to be too much area. Now I am eyeballing that section and I realized I have plenty of room there to plant greens and root crops that don’t need so much sun. But where can I put 8-10 tomatoes and 16 +/- pepper and chile plants? They’ve got to have all the sun I can give them. Believe me, I’ve tried cutting corners on that and they don’t produce enough to earn their keep. But this year, I’m going to tie those tomatoes to one stake each and prune them properly, I promise! No more messy plants in the tomato section. Hopefully. I may have to cut down on the pepper varieties so I can fit everything in. And then, where will the cukes and melons go? Up in the air somewhere.
These are the puzzles that entertain me when I can’t do anything in the soil outside.
I’ve sold my design/install/maintenance business, Fraser Landscapes, so I’m beginning over with a new blog. Still love to garden here in the western burbs of Chicagoland, but I’m switching focus. From my earliest memories, plants have always been my thing. That focus hasn’t changed, but how I spend my time has. My volunteer efforts revolve around plants: teaching about them, getting others involved in the joys and tribulations of gardening, growing food for the community, stuff like that.
What I’ll be chronicling here includes my triumphs and foibles in my eclectic garden, timely tips, gardening with kids, and other observations.
Why Claytonia? When I was getting my first degree (B.S. Forest Management, Utah State University), I fell in love with a little wildflower called Claytonia lanceolata, the western version of C. virginica that grows in the eastern part of the US (and here). I was at some kind of forestry meeting and we all wore name tags. I put “Claytonia” on mine and mingled around. Some fellow looked at my name tag, looked at me, and said sarcastically, “Spring Beauty??” Oh well. That’s one disadvantage of knowing your Latin better than your common names.
So, thanks for reading this far, and welcome aboard.