Sunday, March 30, 2008

State Flower of Illinois

"The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day..."
Dr. Seuss

Larry at Growing Up has suggested we bloggers could participate in a meme about our State, National or Provincial Flower. And since it was too wet and cold to go out and play, I did some research on Illinois's State Flower. I'll admit, I did not know. However, I do now and I will try to share with you what I have learned.

The State flower of Illinois is the Common Wood Violet, violaceae family. In 1907, Mrs. James Fessler launched a campaign to name a state flower and a state tree. The vote was put to school age children with the violet being one of three choices. The goldenrod and the wild rose were the other 2 choices. The violet won by more than 4,000 votes. And so, in 1908 by a bill sponsored by Senator Jackson the violet became our official flower.

The common wood violet is found in a wide variety of habitats including forests, roadsides, meadows, and lawns. It flowers from March thru June, although I have not seen any this year yet. The flowers have five petals and rise up an slender stalks. The leaves are heart-shaped, often with a saw-toothed edge. Color can range from deep purple to almost white and some are purple with a white throat.

The common violet is a perennial that sends out rhizomes from which new growth emerges. But there are also special flowers near the ground that do not open, but produce seeds. It prefers a slightly acid soil... hence the forest growth.

I have heard of candied violets which are real violets dipped in sugar or syrup. What I didn't know is that all parts except the roots are edible. Violets are high in vitamin A and C, and can be eaten raw in a salad or as cooked greens early in the spring. They even make jelly out of them as well as teas. They contain an antioxidant called anthocyanin. They are ground up and used in some herbal medicines for clearing the lungs and stopping coughs. It has been used to lessen boils, help with sleeping, relieve pain from swollen joints, and clear toxins from the blood. That is an awful lot for one little plant to do! I should say here that these claims have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA.

So now, I have learned something new about my state and about the common wood violet, and I hope you have enjoyed reading about them. I think I will enjoy them even more now when I see them blooming in my lawn, along the roads and in with my garden flowers.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spring Fever Cure!

My friend Rose of Prairie Rose's Garden and I went to a local garden center today for a day of pure spring joy. The center was hosting an open house with seminars on plants and planting. The sessions were small and informal but filled with lots of practical information, ideas and of course plants.

Session 1 "Fun in the Garden" was hosted by a professor of ornamental horticulture at the University of Illinois. She is also the host of 'Illinois Gardener' a PBS television program in our area. She started out with a pink potted tulip which she set in a decorative wooden box. She told us she was going to use pinks and purples (her personal favorites) but any color combinations could be used. She explained the trendy "new wave" idea for gardening was to use gradations of the same colors. You can use bulbs, perennials, and annuals together as long as you repeat color, textures and habit...height and shape.

To the tulip she added a pink mandovilla on a short trellis and a Martha Washington geranium, which would be planted in the ground. She added a small silver gazing ball and suggested using a garden stone for another accent. We were slowly working our way down the planting bed. Next could come Leucanthemum Becky a Shasta daisy(one of my personal favorites!). This grows in zones 5-9 and blooms profusely in heat and humidity. The blooms are 4" across on very sturdy stems reaching to 40" tall. Cutting and deadheading encourages more blooms from mid summer to fall.
Our next plant was a pink and white variegated leafed Weigela 'My Monet'. This grows in zones 4-8, has a tighter habit with larger blooms and flowers mid spring. It reaches a height of about 20".

Still working our way down the garden, she suggested bringing in a purple. The 2008 perennial of the year, Geranium 'Rozanne'. Growing in zones 4-8, it blooms from early summer to early fall and can tolerate partial shade to full sun, and it gorgeous!
In and around these she suggested Coral Bells in varying shades. You can find them from deep purple to chartreuse. This one Heuchera 'Sashay' has ruffled leaves with dark green topsides and pale pink undersides. The rosy-mauve blooms on long slender stems grow 12-18" tall in zones 4-9. It tolerates partial shade to full sun , is drought and deer resistant and attracts butterflies and birds.

The Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' grows in zones 3-7 blooming in spring with delicate bluish flowers with leaves of apple green that turn silver as the season progresses. She suggested that the foliage on this would "pop" in with the other colors and the shape of this is similar to the weigela as it grows to about 18' tall by 18" wide.

Another beautiful plant she showed us is the Columbine Aquilegia 'Dorothy Rose'. Again a variation of the pink color. This stunning cultivar grows in zones 3-9, blooming late spring to early summer and is 24"to 30" tall by 24" wide. Rabbits do NOT like this pant but it does attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

Bee Balm or Monarda 'pink supreme' is a very compact variety that butterflies and hummingbirds love! Growing in zones 4-8, it blooms from mid summer to mid fall. Although this can be an invasive plant growing in moist to wet soils, she suggest it be planted in less hospitable ground and by placing stones around it , it can be contained.

One of the last plants she talked about and this one is a purplish one, is Nepeta 'Walker's Low'. A cat mint. This was the 2007 perennial of the year and is fragrant and drought resistant. It blooms in zones 5-9 from late spring to late fall. This one could be spread out in and among the others to add more of those 'pops' of color.

I think her main theme was try unusual varieties along with the tried and true. Spice up your gardens and use garden accessories in new ways. Trade out non-blooming for newly blooming by using pots within pots. And don't be afraid to do what feels right to you.

We had 3 other sessions today on other aspects of gardening and could have attended 2 more. By the time we finished with our 4th one, we were in need of food and coffee! We did stay long enough to check out some of the spring annuals, and purchase some wire baskets. Next Sat. we are signed up for 2 more and will have time in between to go crazy... buying!

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Weather Did What?

First of all, I want to apologise in advance for the quality of my pictures. The lighting was poor and the operator of the camera(me) is not very skilled! But I did want to share with you our unusual weather.
After a cold misty rain much of the day on Thursday, towards evening it began to rain in earnest. Just before dark, it started to storm with lightning and thunder. I heard what I thought were those extra large rain drops hitting the garden window, but looked out to see hail. In the past we have had hail that lasted maybe at most a minute or so and I was sure by the time I got my camera out it would be gone. It didn't stop! The noise was deafening! I was actually a little scared!

This is on the front steps. On the patio, and can you see it falling?

You can see it on the roof of the house across the street and in the yards. It looks like snow!
The pea-sized hail accumulated to about an inch before it quit. And then it did RAIN! We had a little over an inch in about twenty minutes. Even with that, the hail didn't melt completely for a while.
Luckily, when we checked for damage this morning, we found none. The car was fine, no broken windows in the house, and the tulips and daffodils seemed to be none the worse for wear. I hope that is the extent of our bad weather for spring!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mammillaria Elongata (Cactus!)

The other day, I was surfing the world of garden blogs, following Jodi at Bloomingwriter's advice on improving your own blog and adding readership. One of her tips(great post by the way!) was to search out other blogs and leave comments. For me, I check my favorite ones and then look to see who they have on their list of favorites. From there you can end up in a whole other world. I have found blogs devoted to cooking, wine, crocheting, writing and reading. Most of which I thoroughly enjoy. But gardening and birding are my main passions and while I enjoy reading some of the others, I rarely leave comments on those sites. But I have found some wonderful new(to me anyway) places to visit and am learning so much from them.

All of this is a prelude to the fact that I found a picture of a cactus that looked a lot like one I have. I have never know a name for it and was intrigued that the pictured one was called Copper King. Could it be related to the one I have? So I left a comment on Water When Dry asking her. She very graciously answered and told me mine was probably a regular 'mammillaria elongata' Another question I had for her was how did she get hers to bloom. Mine has, usually in late February or early March, but it hadn't in a couple of years. She explained they were sometimes hard to get to bloom and were not reliable bloomers. Okay, I could understand that. I have trouble with house plants re-blooming, why should this cactus be any different? The next day, while watering the plants in my garden window, I decided the cactus could use a sip as I often don't water it for weeks at a time. What is that on it's spines, another moth, a piece of fuzz? I do get those things in that window and they do get hooked on the cactus spines. No It was a bud! Moving it carefully towards the front, I found several blooms and buds. It must be cactus envy!

If you are into native plants from other areas, check out Water When Dry. She has excellent pictures and descriptions of the southwest's plants.

I also found another sign of spring today. It is a day lily poking it's leaves through the much and leaves. Sorry, I don't remember the name...I've had it for years and was not in the habit of writing down the names. That has all changed this year as I have made a resolution to track everything in my new garden journal. Over at Prairie Rose's Garden, she has some very interesting resolutions for this year's gardening!
Our weather forecast calls for rain eight out of the next ten days, so very little actual gardening will get done. The temps are supposed to moderate in the mid-fifties though and that sounds wonderful. Almost spring like!

Dragonflies, Tulips and Grandaughters!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter. We certainly did at our house. Our daughter brought us this lovely azalea plant that looks so springy. And the beautiful plant stand she put in on has a dragonfly! I am so happy with it and plan on putting a very special container on it filled with flowers to compliment the blue dragonfly. Maybe something in yellows and silvers.

My tulips are coming through the ground at an amazing rate. I have found almost all of them up. I am missing a bunch of bright red ones, though. Am wondering if they have died. Last year they were beginning to really be crowded and I should have dug them up and separated them...I honestly forgot by the end of the season.

These look a little strange don't they? Okay, I will admit to the fact that a rabbit probably ate the tips of the leaves. I did find a couple of spots where they were eaten. I have been leaving comments at Greenbow and May Dreams Gardens that I have never been bothered by little bunnies. In fact, I went as far as to say I even liked having them in my yard. I guess I will have to recant! (I still think they are cute!)
What a week we have had here! Most of you know we had made the decision to place my mother-in-law in a nursing home, and do it on Monday of this week. And while a difficult one to make, the family felt it was best for her health and safety. It went much better than we had hoped. She wasn't thrilled, but neither did she refuse. We think she knows deep down that this is best for her. I want to thank all of you who have given us words of encourgaement. Such a wonderful network of friends we have in this blogging world. I spent many evenings reading your posts and feeling such a sense of calm and peacefulness.
Along with all of that going on, the granddaughters that we only get one weekend a month came to stay with us for 6 days and 5 nights. This after having them last weekend for their regular visit. I picked them up last Friday afternoon. Long story here, but I think their dad needed a place to park them for most of their spring break. And that is so alright with us. We will take them anytime, anywhere!
On Sat. I had those 3 and one of the other granddaughters and we made pies for Easter Sunday. I had 4 batches of pie dough going at one time. That is a lot of activity for my small kitchen.

Of course there were a few spills. But we didn't mind. We made 2 coconut cream pies and a blackberry pie. Plus an angel food cake with green coconut topping and jelly beans for tiny Easter eggs! What a joy to spend extra time with them having fun but being able to teach them also. More than anything, I want to make lasting happy memories with them!
And we had time to color eggs. There were a few dyed fingers and some spots on the counter, but who cares when you see the smiles on their faces?! We marked each egg with different colored crayons first. There were flowers on some, names on others, and a few had abstract drawings. When we put them in the dye, the effect was beautiful to them. Of course I thought they were all works of art!

On Easter Sunday, we had quite an egg hunt. Lots of extended family were here to share the day with us. The weather even cooperated and held off raining until after the hunt. That Easter bunny sure left eggs in strange places!
We had the girls, four, five, and six of them at times until Wednesday afternoon. We thank the powers that be for the extra time with them. So even though this post is not all about gardening, I hope you enjoyed seeing my beauties and hearing of our week.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dragonflies and Dumb and Dumber Birds!

Imagine my surprise, the other day, when I opened a package expecting to find a book and also found this! Lisa, from Greenbow, and I are sharing books on gardening. She sends me one, I send her one. With this one was a note saying she had started out to make me a bookmark and got a little carried away. I am thrilled! She knows how crazy I am for anything Dragonfly. But I am not going to use it as a bookmark, I am going to frame it! And when the world discovers her talent, I can say, " Why yes, I have an early original watercolor by Lisa!"
Thank you Lisa, thank you!!
Do any of you have fireplaces? And do you get birds in them? We do. Every spring and fall, we get dumb ones who sit on top of the flue and fall down into the fireplace. We do have doors that we keep closed when not burning a fire. Thank goodness, or they would be flying through the house at all hours. Normally, when I hear one in there, I open our front door, open the fireplace doors and the bird flies out straight to the outside. Occasionally, I get a really dumb one and he flies the opposite direction and ends up at our window in the bedroom.

This time Fat Cat heard the commotion and came to see what was going on. She just sat on the bed and watched him as he tried in vain to escape to the wild blue. When I grabbed the camera, she turned to look at me as if to say "Well, do something!"
Eventually, I get them rounded up and head back the right direction. Starlings and sparrows aren't exactly the brightest crayons in the box are they?!
I won't be posting for a few days. At least not until next week some time. We are going through a family crisis of sorts. The decision has been made to place my mother-in-law in a nursing care facility on Monday. She has Alzheimer's and has been living with her daughter for a few months now. Sadly, she needs more intensive care and supervision than can be given at home. We have know for a while that she wasn't doing well, but since Thanksgiving she has deteriorated quickly. This disease, also, took my grandmother from me years before her death. It is an insidious disease that robs one's dignity! It puts families into turmoil and feelings of helplessness and guilt abound. Thankfully, there are more resources available now to help both victims...the loved one and the family.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Good Luck Ladybug

Beautiful ladybug-away it flies.
In that direction good luck lies.
If on a shamrock it does land-twice the luck you'll have at hand!
(author unknown)

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bloom Day and Surprises!

I know, I know. I am late for Garden Blogger's Bloom Day. I have a good excuse. We had our granddaughters this weekend. And I was very busy with six of the seven of them from Friday evening until Sunday evening. More on this later. I have been waiting for almost a month to post this bloom. It is a peace lily that I have had for a year and a half. After the original blooms died, nothing. I had it outside all summer and it seemed to really like it out there in the shade of the dwarf Cherry Tree. It grew several new leaves and turned a dark healthy green, but no hint of a bloom. You can imagine my surprise when watering it one day to see a hint of white at the base of the leaves. And then as the days went by, a stalk appeared and finally it started to unfurl. I'll admit, it is not eye-popping or show stopping, but it is a bloom and I have nurtured it.
Now for the girls. Three of them we only get the 3rd weekend of the month. This is a long and involved story and we won't go into it now. But during that weekend we celebrate birthdays and holidays of the month. This month we had a birthday and of course Easter. So we had the Egg Hunt today. The weather cooperated by being sunny and not too windy or cold. The Easter Bunny can hide eggs in the strangest places!

We hope all were found! Once in a while we find one in the garden late in the summer.

While helping to find the eggs, I found a surprise. Tulips about 2 inches tall, and in several places. Yeah!! Spring really is coming. Next month there should be real garden blooms!

All in all, a good egg hunt, a good day and a great weekend!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Spring Day Equals Work!

Yesterday was one of those wonderful sunny, breezy, glorious days that herald the beginnings of Spring! The temperature was in the middle 50's and the outside was calling my name.

Out I went, prepared to do battle with the leavings of winter. Where to start? Begin with has been a long winter and I am so out of shape. That settled, I did start with the smallest flower bed. I had trimmed the Russian Sage last fall and thought I'd done a fair job of raking leaves. Apparently not! But, brave of heart, I began. I raked, and raked and raked! Fat cat came out to help or at least lend moral support, or so I thought. Instead she decided to rest, and keep an eye out for birds while I worked.

I did find green! Unfortunately it was the dreaded Vinca Vine, growing merrily along under the leaves. Years ago, I planted some in a container and "oh look, it's rooted in the ground. How great!" We have been fighting it ever since. Somewhere on the identifying tag it should have said," Will be very invasive!"So once again, I cut and pulled and pulled and cut. Don't worry, it will be back!

I finally got the leaves, vines and trash (yes trash... candy wrappers, a drink box, and assorted paper, but from where?) raked to the edge of the street. What a pile!

Not wanting a strong wind to undo all my work, I lit it on fire. Smelled more like fall than spring, but the smoke blew away from the house. A good thing because I had forgotten I had windows open. And yes, we can still burn leaves in our small town.

Two hours, and many sore muscles later, the bed was clean! I even put out a new garden flag with, what else, Dragonflies! Still a bit bare looking, but ready now for warmer weather, new plants and blooming flowers.

If only I had the other gardens cleaned!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Zick Dough, Starting Seeds and Geese!

It is a beautiful spring day with the sun shinning and the promise of temps near 60. I have concocted a double batch of Zick dough for the birds and am letting it cool before putting it outside. Seeing this dough mentioned on several blogs peaked my curiosity and finally Beth had a link to the recipe. She promises my camera and I will be very busy taking pictures of all the birds coming to dine!
I have all the essentials gathered to start my seeds indoors. I have the Jiffy instant peat pellets, and will admit it's been years since I have tried these. Actually, it's been years since I've attempted to grow my own seedlings. But as there have been many of you posting on the how's, I am feeling fairly confident. I am also using the plastic trays with individual cups that you fill with seed starting soil. Both of these trays have clear tops to keep in the moisture. I even bought a grow light, something I have never used. In past attempts, I placed the newly sown seeds in a west facing window and assumed nature would do her thing! Last, but certainly not least, I have a new pair of gardening gloves. Any gardener, novice or experienced, knows gloves are part of the ensemble. Usually the more tattered and threadbare, the more one is perceived as a 'green thumb' gardener. In my case, I have no such illusions and besides my old ones were last used pulling wild berry briers out of the wisteria.

So the problem now becomes what to plant. I have really let my eyes overload my plate so to speak. My enthusiasm is greater than space or my purse allows, and I will have to give careful consideration to my choices. If, in a few days, I post pictures of tiny seedlings growing, you will know I have had success. If no photos show up... well, let's just hope for a bumper crop.

I did find a new garden marker that pretty well sums up my gardens!While I was is town doing my many but necessary (ugh!) errands, I decided to take a few moments for me. Along one of our newly developed business areas are several water retention ponds. They are populated mostly with Canadian geese who have multiplied by scores in the last few years. And they are almost tame now, with people feeding them year round. They are so funny to watch as they turn en masse on the water and swim toward the new source of food. The braver ones come bounding up the bank as fast as their gated wobble will let them. They hiss and honk, flap their wings, and charge at the more timid ones sneaking in on their booty of bread crumbs. Some are even bold enough to take morsels from your hand. It is pure joy to be among them.

Refreshed, I went back to doing errands!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My Dad and Nature

This must be my week for nature excursions. Sunday I had my granddaughter, Nikki, out and on Monday, my Dad.

My Dad is 83 years young and this winter has discovered the joys of nature watching. He lives very close to Lake of the Woods at Mahomet, Il. It is a 900 acre forest preserve with hiking trails, lots of wooded areas and many picnic spots. For those who can't hike, there are roads to drive. My Dad drives! He usually goes over at least once a day to watch the deer, squirrels and birds. He even took our Halloween pumpkins in Novvember for them to eat! I know he has been enjoying these jaunts as he tells me about them every time we talk or meet.

Today, I went over to help with the house work and laundry. It is amazing to me how one person can have so many dirty clothes and cause so much clutter! But I digress, it is nature we are talking about today. When we were driving back from lunch, he asked if I was in a hurry and even if I had been, I would have still said no. He wanted to take me to some of his favorite spots. I was afraid we wouldn't see anything because it was so early in the day. But we did! There are actually 3 deer in these pictures... 2 are laying down. He was very proud to show me his spots and was very excited when we found some deer.
I think there is a lesson in here somewhere. Something about still learning from your parents even though the roles are reversing. Add to that something about the gift of time and I think we might even have a moral to the story. So learn the lesson and share it forward.