Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Weeding JACKPOT: Another One Hour Patio!

The Chicago weather has been perfect for weed growth and ice cream. It rains every day. It's so steamy outside that our windows are covered with condensation in the morning. It's New Orleans without the rum and beignets and gumbo and charm.

So, I promised myself that once we got a cool day, I'd go out and do some really aggressive weeding. And so I did... but I didn't expect to hit the jackpot.
I made a copper teepee here last year but it kept falling over. 

 This is an area I kept better control of last year, if only because we had less rain. I've been meaning to get out there for weeks, to the point where I've been photographing it to urge me on, but between the heat and the mosquitoes, I just really needed a cool day. And today was THE day.

THIS is why I garden. Heck, THIS is what I live for!

I pulled out a few chunks of reed canary grass and noticed flagstone underneath. I excitedly kept digging and pulling the poison ivy, creeping Charlie, buckthorn, goldenrod, Adenophora and more until I unearthed and entire forgotten patio!
The teepee was never really in the dang ground! It kept hitting flagstone before!
WHY is it that this stuff happens when my Polar Loop is charging? Because I'm pretty sure I just got my full day's activity out there. It took less than an hour and now I have a great place to put the bench my neighbor gave us. After I glitter it.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Cluster Luck: A little somethin' in the Earth's darkest kitchen

A David Austen 'Munstead Wood' rose with a snippet of Borage, Rue and  'Dark Towers' Penstemon in a vintage, thrifted vase covered with sea shells, glitter and whoknowswhatelse

Dark hole of a kitchen

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Mannequin: In Case You Were Wondering

I think it would come as a shock to many if I said that, occasionally, I put a lot of thought into my hare-brained ideas.

Let me start with this video:
How did you do? Uh huh. I thought so.

Well, I don't need to ask you to pay attention to the lady wearing white in my garden. She asks ALLLLLLLLLL by herself.
She quietly speaks SO LOUDLY that you don't even notice the giant dead patch in the Arborvitae behind her.

See it now???

When we moved in, there was a giant plastic trellis with a trumpet vine growing on it that was placed a little too close to the line of Arborvitae. It's not that I don't love trumpet vine, I do, when it's out on the 3rd acre of your yard or when I drive past it on a telephone pole on a country road, in another state. Here, it was trying to grow into the siding on the house and through the window screens. Frankly, I was afraid it was going to come after me and my family. So we removed it and the trellis.

Of course it continues to plan its next attack, daily, but that's another post for another day.

After we removed it, there was a huge bald spot left in the Arbs. I spent a lot of time thinking about what would redirect the eye, instead of pointing a finger and drawing attention to the large rectangle of death.
I had a large topiary form of a woman there for a while, she wasn't bold and naked enough to do the job.

Does it work? I'm no longer a good judge because I ALWAYS see the dead spot. But people who come to visit never notice, until I point it out.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Best Laid Plans: Begging My Hollyhocks to Think of Baseball

I had this plan for a corner of my garden and that got all blown to shittereens thanks to a freaky freezy spring and dang-blasted polar vortex. The PLAN was to have a large 'Black Lace' Elderberry in the back, peeping through some black Hollyhocks, with a thick fog of bronze fennel and an arching, silvery Echinops ritro setting all that schizz off. 

WELL. The freaking Sambucus got nipped by the cold in the second freaking week of freaking MAY. The top was nipped by frost so instead of growing tall, she's now growing WIDE. And while I sympathize with that specific problem, IT WAS NOT IN MY PLAN. Also? My 3rd year Echinops ritro died in winter, so now I have a shrimpy baby one fighting a street gang of fennel for the light of day.
Taken while the Salvia 'Madeline' was blooming a few weeks ago

At some point, I went out and fed the Elderberry and Echinops 5 gallons of Moo Poo Tea in a feverish fit. Of course that golden elixir went on to supersize the freaking Hollyhocks and flipping fennel that surrounds.
That's the thing about gardening, you think you're in charge but you just pay the bills, bro.
A week later, Madeline is starting to fade, bronze Fennel is smoking UP!

Madeline is gone, a week later, and the Chocolate Eupatorium is finally seeing some sky.  Hollyhocks are tall as me. 

So, despite my asking the Hollyhocks, everyday, to think of baseball- they popped today. I wish they could have held one just a little bit longer, the Elderberry was just about to catch up.
Taken just now, a few Hollyhock buds have blown in the middle, tall dark and HANDSOME. If you can tell, the Elderberry in back has a lot of girth, but not length. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Summer Lovin' for my Front Door (summer pots)

 Here is what my spring-themed container set-up at my front door looked like:
I was glad for those sad Forsythia twigs to GO....

 More photos and excuses for my bizarre choices can be found here. 

I wanted to go COMPLETELY DIFFERENT for summer. But I didn't. So now I know I have to tear it up for autumn.

The large pot includes such hits as Pseudeanthemum 'Black Varnish'. a variegated Abutilon, a DWARF fiber optic grass, variegated St. Augustine grass and a Cardoon. Scented geraniums and cat grass in surrounding pots. I think I want to collect a few more scented geraniums for this scene this summer.  Purple Basil by the door, since it's Hazel's favorite snack. I should not hav mulched it with beer bottle caps, since it's her favorite. It's like an odd wind tunnel in this area, the more I sweep the more crap blows in. So deal with the debris, please. 

The older I get, the more plant names I forget. But I know that's a Peperomia polybotrya in the white urn. 

Friday, June 06, 2014

Cluster Luck: Peonies, Ants and Bedside Awesomeness

This week's bouquet:
Peonies from a remote part of the yard- no sense in letting them blow away out there! Might as well cut them all! The vase was 95 cents at the Salvation army, hobnail milk glass

Peony envy: check out those Darth Vader Vans!

 When I cut the peonies, there were a SHIT TON of ants on them. That's completely normal but I didn't want to bring them in until they were gone. I have used cucumber peels to successfully suppress ants on the inside of my house, so I jammed half of a baby cucumber that Hazel gave up on eating in the bouquet. It seemed to work.

I love Gardenias. I know it's a love it or hate it scent. I'm committing to buying myself one every Mothers' Day so I can sleep next to its terrific stink.

Gardenia at my bedside, 30 year old alarm clock- I have had sweeter dreams since I started doing this

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Galvanized and Confused: When the Budget Goes Up in Smoke

We have a very large, very odd driveway, leading to an even odder yard. This property is about as private as a hospital gown. According to passing weirdos that stop by to chat (I blame the lack of privacy), the original owner had some sort of trailer or something that sat in the driveway. There is certainly room for the long, long trailer. The driveway is terrific parking for all the parties I don't have and it's great for a little 3-year-old who is learning to pedal a bike, I really can't complain. Plus, I have the mad horty skills to make a humongous driveway look a little more cozy and perhaps add a little privacy for us.

A little more than a month ago, I sent a link to Dan that showed him the 4' long, galvanized feeder troughs from Tractor Supply Warehouse that I wanted to help soften up the driveway. I sent the email as a "in the very back of your mind, know that I want to do this" sort of thing. In the email, I mentioned that I wanted a few (about 5) and that they were pricey (about $80 each) and that I had no idea how we'd acquire them. I guessed that we could have splurged on one at a time and it might fit in the back of his car. There really isn't a Tractor Supply Warehouse around here and delivery isn't an option. So this whole scheme is a BIG WHAT-IF? DEAL and I'm expecting my husband, who was at work at the time, to tell me I'm totes Nutella and to get back in the kitchen and learn how to make doughnuts, or whatever.

But he didn't. Nope. In fact, he went the opposite route, entirely.

Dan got on Craigslist and found a scad of 8' troughs for sale, locally. They were the same price as the 4' ones are, brand new. He called me, giddily, "Do you care if they are pre-used? Do you care that they are twice as large? DO YOU WANT ALL 8?"

Please know that this is the deal of the millennium.

Now. I'm a cheap girl. I have buyers' remorse when I check books out at the library. Parting with that kind of money for a bunch of planters made each follicle of my hair sweaty- and yet I had to make a decision before someone else swept up this phenomenal deal.

So, I said that I wanted them and relied on my Better-Half to apply the brakes. Because where I do lose my fool head about money, it's effing plant related. I'll tell you that, for sure.
And a few days later, I came home from a gig to this:

So, here's the deal: Dan talks the guy down in price because we bought all they had and for some reason, he was all ants-in-the-pants to get rid of them. Now, how do we get 8 HUGE troughs in our yard from 15 miles away? Dan asks our rad neighbor, who has a dump truck and outstanding taste in loud music, to go get them for us. Which for some reason he did.

And, drum roll please, our neighbor discloses that when he went to pick them up he asked what they were used for, there in a warehouse in Chicago, where there are no horses to water for miles and miles. Why, marijuana production, of course!

So now I have these 8 tubs with a sordid past filling up my driveway, creating privacy in an especially awkward area. My dream is to fill them with 3 Arborvitae each and then surround them with hangy, drippy perennials. But we are totally toasted on the budget right now as it is. So we managed to get a few Arbs and a few yards of soil for now and we'll finish when we can afford it.
 I didn't estimate correctly and got half the soil we needed, which turned out to be a blessing because the stuff we ordered was "half compost and half topsoil" and I find it to be mostly clay

 Filling these beasts was a good-sized chore, glad to have help

As far as we got
 We only got 3 tubs filled but I feel like at least my hospital gown has a nice line of Velcro down the back. We can sit in that area without being gawked at and if all of Hazel's toys and bikes don't make it into the garage at night, they have a safe and not-too-messy-looking harbor, until I can find the garage door opener.

The empty tubs will be filled, for now, with annual climbers like Canary Creeper and as many Castor Beans as I can manage.

And man, does it ever make a good story to tell where they came from and what their past life was.
Holy smokes!

Friday, May 30, 2014

If You Can't Be With The Patio You Love, Honey, Love the Patio You're With: A Before and After

We have big plans for a really great patio. Lilac stone, a fountain in the middle to remind us of a New Orleans courtyard... But we haven't made it happen yet because of 13 things that are in our way. Like we can't agree on a shape, size or what to do/how to deal with the existing concrete walk.

Also, we don't own this house, yet.

So, for the 2 years we have lived here as renters there has been no place to sit outside- And I just can't live like that, so, I made this patio after dinner one night. I did it 90% by myself. Seriously, it took no time at all.

Or money, really.
The area in question- Who needs a FANTASTIC patio when you have a vintage Malm fireplace, anyways?
So I started after dinner when the kid was at Grandma's
I used a shovel with a rope tied to it to help me make a even, circle shape and spray-painted an outline. Then I went around with an edger and dug where the cheap. crappy, plastic edging would go. I hate plastic edging, but I really like how it looks and works in this case. I mean, it's not for keeps, just until we come up with something better!
It had been raining SO MUCH and the soil was SO WET that it was sort of a disaster, mud wise.
mud platform clogs

Next step: newspaper

Thick layers, hit with the hose
I added a TON of newspaper and wet it with the hose to make a very lazy paper mache effect. Notice I just worked AROUND the Malm?

Looking good, no? Pea gravel is $2 a bag. I think we used about 20 bags. The edging was $20, so this is a $60 patio.
The furniture was a $45 Ebay win, the Malm was free. The table came out of a dumpster. Now, I'm making cushions for that furniture that cost more than they whole thing together because the foam is so, so pricey.
Whatever. It's recycled material and supposed to not mold. More on the cushions at a later date.
One last wheelbarrow full of gravel to go- At this point, I gave up and asked Dan for help. I was HURTING
I think about all the time I wasted waiting for the RIGHT patio when, really, the fastest, cheapest patio will do just fine!
Now I'm obsessed with the idea of adding more circle patios around the yard. A small one under the sand and water table, heck get rid of the sand and water table and make a tiny, round sandbox? A rubber mulch one under the hammock?
Who knows? I may be all talk. It's taken me 2 years to get this far...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Dig Me Out, Dig Me In

Getting plants for free from a friend is THE BEST. When your friend is a bonafide plant collector it's enough to lose your head over.

What did I get? Some Allium, Spanish Bluebells, 3 funky roses (Rosa Carolina, a Scots rose and Purple Pavement), a ton of Virginia Bluebells, 3 different weird Geraniums...

And some bizarre Sedum (possible Hylotelephium 'Clown'), a few cup plants, a Crambe cordifolia, Alpine strawberries, Some purple Lysimachia, some Digitalis...
Some native black raspberries and then I had to leave because my head was going to explode. Because once you dig up that schizz, you gotta get it in the ground right away, like put on the ambulance lights, get home AND DIG!

Put what you can in the ground and put a nice wet sheet on top of what you just can't. I like a tablecloth because it's just that littlest bit thicker. I kept this on all night and everything looked tip top this morning, so I continued the abuse and drove around all day with these poor plants in the back, in full sun. No damage!

That being said, having a wet sheet in your car all night causes condensation issues up the wazzoo all up on your windshield and such. So plan for that. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Cluster Luck: this week's bouquet from the yard

I've been cutting lots to give to other people- there was Mother's Day and a baby shower... But my own dinner table requires something super simple this week. 
Lysimachia 'Purpurea' and Sleepydick. Google it.
All in a vintage aluminum cup. 

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Some Weeds Are Bigger Than Others

Two weeks ago, Giant Hogweed was in the news. My mom and my husband sent notes asking me if I'd heard of it, because neither of them read my bloggging.  Which is honestly okay, it'd spook me out if they did.
I wrote about Giant Hogweed for Fine Gardening a while back and since then, I've come to realize that what I have, growing in my yard, is Cow Parsnip and not Giant Hogweed. Even though it isn't Giant Hogweed, it can still cause major rooroos and even though it is totally gorgeous. I have to kill that shizz before it kills me.

I tried dumping vinegar on it (we can pickle that!) but it just left white streaks on the leaves and continued to conquer this forgotten space in my yard. Then I went at it with a kettle of boiling water. While effective, the boiling water thing is dangerous in its own right. But it seems to be dying, slowly.

I'd love to kill it organically and easily, because I see step 2 as buying one of these and attacking it with a shovel.
after the kettle treatment
Before kettle treatment

It's so freaking pretty. Such a shame.

Money Laundering for Plant Addicts

I am being watched, people. He's reviewing my checking account on a daily basis and as much as it's total bullshit I admit I have a problem. Will I spend this week's day care tuition on plants? Might. Will we eat beans for dinner so I can buy more soil conditioner? Reply hazy try again. 

So I got this idea, that forks out in a few directions, as most of my ideas do.

1. There needs to be a way to siphon money out of my grocery spending so I can use it at the garden center. I can always get cash back at the register and shove that in my pocket, right? Then there is no paper trail for spending money on plants, just wholesome groceries for my family!

Also, schemes like...
If you go to lunch with a friend, put that on your debit card and have your friend split the bill with you and hand you cash. That cash goes right to the garden center and you get new Irises. You can't have enough Irises!
Is this money laundering embezzlement? Maybe.

2. Thank glob that the grocery stores all have their pop-up greenhouses in the parking lots this time of year. It's the only period in which I don't feel the need to do shots before braving the grocery store. I hate grocery shopping. The Man is selling me food. Don't get me started.
I did get some nice mustard plants for $1 this morning and some of my fave Lobelia for $3 each. Usually those places only have crap, but sometimes crap is JUST WHAT YOU NEED!

3. WHAT IF....... Garden centers changed their name in the "system" so that when my charge goes through it says "BIBLE SUPPLIES" or "JUST DISHWASHER DETERGENT, I SWEAR INC." or "DIRECTV". It needs to be something that doesn't raise eyebrows.

Stealing money from my own family for plants, is that totally low or to be expected?
These are questions I rarely think about at all, because I need all my brain-power to decide between this lavender and that hibiscus over there...

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Dahlia Planting, With Shrinky Dinks

I don't do a lot of plant labeling, which is an old habit that has to stop, because I don't know where the hell anything is anymore. When I was younger and had less going on, I had an encyclopedic knowledge of what stuff was and where. Now I have a post-it stuck to my computer to remind me that I have Scrophularia macrantha in my garden, somewhere.

Dahlias are sorta "my thing". I know I have a lot of things (i.e. garden kitsch in general), but I really love Dahlias. And when I'm planting them, I like to mark where I stick the tubers because it'd be nice to know which tubers are which until they come up. So, I needed some plant markers that wouldn't irritate my incredible, superior and fancy aesthetic. 

Which I am totally kidding about because last year I used plastic baby food spoons to mark where I stuck the Dahlias, which worked well until the baby asked "Why my spoons out hee-ya?" and yanked them all out. 

Superior aesthetic=baby spoons

I have an elaborate plant labeling craft that I plan to do in the near future, but I was waiting for more plants to come up before I tackled it. So, what to do?


I just happen to have a pack of Shrinky Dink film laying around, so I used a whole page, wrote the name of each of the 7 Dahlias across the top, sliced up the page, stuck them in the oven for about 12 seconds and SHAZAM. 

And ouch to my grabby lil' fingers. HOT HOT HOT.

They aren't as fancy as I could have gotten them, but shit, I am not THAT blog. There are other blogs out there if you're looking for perfection!
I made quick, cool, useful plant markers and took pictures of them in a weed patch in my back yard.
Yes, I battled my inner high school senior when writing "Black Satin"...

Enough Creeping Charlie for you?

I may have bought this one for the name

Not that noticeable, totally functional

Sunday, April 27, 2014


YES. I do. Crinum is a treat from the South, kinda like pralines, I guess. They are virtually unknown to Northern gardens and I've had them now for over 2 winters, one of those winters was UNGODLY.
I present to you- CRINUM!

I was sent a lovely box of these beauties from Jenks Farmer, a few years back. I read the detailed instructions and then went ahead and disregarded them. Not because I felt I knew better, because what the **** do I know about Crinum?? I just totally garbled the instructions in my mind. So he said "full sun, you big ninny, they are used to growing in the South, duh!" and so I planted them in the dark like a total toot*. And I don't remember what varieties any of them are, one is huge and one has red foliage. None of them have bloomed yet, probs because I planted them in a black hole.

There's this moment in late winter where I have to yank a little rot off the top of the bulb, hence that ugliness at the top of the leaves on the biggest one. The smaller ones will have it, too. No big whoop.

Should I move them? Should I leave them to shake up my shade garden with their totally unexpected stripy foliage in my shady garden?

*"Toot" is what Hazel calls farts.