Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rain & Plants

Last night we were fortunate enough to be wined and dined by terrific long-term client who is also a superb cook. No photos of food, but we were able to check-in on pots we planted just before Memorial Day, two months ago. With our tropical rains & wild weather shifts, I was delighted to see none of the plants had been damaged.
Here our client mostly desires annuals, though you can see (above) the small Sumac we planted that is showing good signs of growth in the full sun on the roof deck. Below is a glimpse of some of the annuals on the ground in varying degrees of shade.

Next week, we will be on a road trip in Ohio and not posting. We hope to return with decent details of art, architecture & gardens.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Assessing Garden Changes

On this 28th day of July, we have already surpassed our recorded record for rain with nearly 10 far. We have had a half dozen tremendous storms resulting in power-outages, floods and much missed sleep because of the dog pacing under the sheets. If you are a weather geek like I am, there is something wondrous about stage effects so other-worldly that they make me marvel & feel like a bit player on the Globe.

Hard to imagine the two weeks of dry, baking heat that followed the removal of the Parkway Pear Tree. But the effects are here. It's interesting to note what is doing OK and what is suffering or thriving.

Above, you can see two plants meant for shade, but happier with more sun: Peking Cotoneaster (left, upright & darker green) and the Arrowwood Viburnum (right front, more chartreuse...not the Annabelle Hydrangea flopping from too much rain). Also, the Autumn Moor Grass below loves the light.

Some of the recently crispy perennials are the Toad Lilies above and below, behind the mint, is a stand of Big Root Geranium (one of my favorites for the spicy scented foliage) that is completely fried. Not pictured here is a great Heuchera 'Brownie," or it was, until its current crunchy self under mid-day sun.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Traveling Vicariously: Rome & Western Civilization

[While I tried to post this Friday July 22nd, storms and subsequent power-outages made that you may have to look on-line for two shows. Actually, I am posting this on Sunday July 24th.]

For those of us with limited time and/or budget for summer travel: here are a few suggestions.

This Sunday 7/24/11 PBS shows the 2nd of a 3-part series featuring the Roman detective, Aurelio Zen.
The series is a good adaption of Michael Dibdin's crime novels and features some great landscape and food shots. Not to mention compelling plot, Italy and gorgeous actresses & actors such as Rufus Sewell above. [Note: I did see him on the London stage in a production of The Scottish Play, but find him better suited for his role in the movie version of one of my favorite comic novels: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.]

Below, you can see the marvelously presented meal celebrating Marcel Proust's recent birthday (sent me by the photographer, Liz Muir, who was also part of her book group's festivities). It reminded me of the only book connected with Proust that I have been able to finish: How Readi
ng Proust Can Save You Life by Alain de Botton. I mean: how could I not be entranced by a well-written, B & W picture-book whose author claims that reading a great novel "can be nothing less than life-transforming?"
de Botton is the Swiss writer (of Sephardic Jewish heritage living in London whose life has "touched" several different European perspectives on culture) whose many books explore the implications of philosophy on daily life. People seem to either "Thank God" for him or dismiss him as pompous & facile. I was taken by his Proust book, am now nearly through Status Anxiety, and just took out his The Art of Travel from the library so (as a serial reader), I will not be faced with an empty nightstand when craving bedtime reading. Status Anxiety references much in Western Civ., and thus is a grand European tour of sorts...especially given its illustrations from Art History. Additionally, it connects to U.S. history in such a way that I had many light bulbs going off in my head.

de Botton has been dismissed by some "serious" philosophers as making easy points and dumbing down philosophy. So I guess, by appreciation, that makes me a dumb snob. Having taken a year of Japanese Literature in lieu of my Western Civ., requirement in college (my undergraduate years at Univ. of Chicago required...and still do...a Core curriculum that ranged through the heavies of Western Civ.), I am definitely drawn to understand more history in context. Because context is all, isn't it? And because context affects values and values: thoughts & behavior.

And whether it is thinking about a garden, ourselves or our culture: I will make a toast to remembering that our cultural values fluctuate and are determined at a specific place & point-in-time by those in power. And what better way to distract from summer temps of 90+ and power-interrupting thunderstorms than to question our assumptions by vicarious travel? Skol!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer Cooler

To all of you under the 17-state "heat dome," I offer these "garden" reminders of our February 2nd blizzard...and I send gratitude that I live in a place that mostly (ah, the utility companies) has the infrastructure so I can sleep tonight under the hum of AC.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Landscape of a Family Wedding

Last weekend, we celebrated my brother's (Adam) wedding. Everything was amazingly perfect and elegant. Even the weather behaved. But the joy of witnessing the union of two loving people proved the highpoint...
They were married on a best friend's rooftop in Chicago. Here are two shots of the area just behind where the ceremony unfolded. One shows a spruce that had died. The host & hostess were so creative that they painted the needle-less conifer gold and (the next day when the wedding took place) perched a multitude of origami cranes on its sculptural branches.
Below, see the cool shadow...on an unusual marriage of roof, drainage and astro-turf.
Then, look one image further to the elegance of the cakes (two were gluten-free...and yummy: yippee!). They embody the wedding's tres chic black & white color scheme. Well, a few chartreuse orchids did slip in as garnish.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My New Sun Garden Opportunity

Thanks to those who sent feedback (some publicly on "Comments," some privately on email) on the question of what to use in my newly exposed garden bed after the quick & unexpected dispatch of the Bradford pear tree on the can see how shady it was from the patchy turf grass near tree roots. I inherited the Annabelle Hydrangeas and basically used the rest of the space, as I do for most of my garden, to test what works under hard circumstances; the Peking Cotoneaster did great but the Carolina Sweet Shrub, couldn't be pushed this much, which wasn't really a big surprise given its native conditions: wetter.
In my perimeters of dogs & salt, full-sun & sandy soil, I forget to mention pedestrians. This rules out the suggested Rugosa roses because thorns might attack said people...a pity when it comes to those dog owners who let their dogs wander into obvious gardens (I'm sure Dante just forgot to include a place for them in his Inferno). Mint is one of the plants that holds its own against critters of two to four legs, but I want a bolder form in this tiny space. One person rightly warned against the invasive properties of Blue Lyme grass, with which I am unfortunately intimately familiar since a previous gardener installed a patch in her perennial bed to the left of the frame. I was actually thinking of the small Purple Love Grass (Eragrostis spectabilis), a native grass that stays low and has the most endearing bloom, like little spider webs in the morn. Keeping low plants is part of my mission as I am pleased as punch about actually being able to design a section of my condo garden.
To that end, aside from the Love Grass and Allium, I am considering Sedum: it starts growing early and has a nice winter shape. After all, I do often design backwards from winter...Bayberry is something I have liked from the start, but I may need two to get proper fruiting and that may take up too much space in such a tight spot.
One of my favorite perennials is Sanguisorba tenuifolia purpurea. I tried some about a decade ago that I think I first saw in a Piet Oudolf book. Clearly, I didn't have enough sun, so we transplanted it to my neighbor's sunny bed where now, despite no longer having a gardener, being on the sidewalk (dogs) edge and supposedly needing moist soil, it has been thriving in sandy without any care except a spring cut-down. So I may try officinalis which seems to like well-drained. All the Burnets have awesome foliage!
Anyway, I am really excited and hoping to have enough time in the fall to re-do this whole area, something I have never done in this garden...mostly, I just kept pulling out what I inherited before it totally died as the previous landscaper put in everything wrong for the conditions except a double-file viburnum and a yew to cover the gas meter. One thing I have noticed over time is that I think I have too much green in the winter (a yew, some boxwood, some vinca, Christmas ferns) and it just feels too unnatural to me in this small Midwestern space. So: we shall see...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hail Storm Damage Chicago: Jensen's Garfield Park Conservatory

Donate here at Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance.

Storm Damage at Home: Shoe Maker's Children

Our regional hail storm on June 30th, did not encompass Evanston, but we did suffer some dramatic storm damage.
The following afternoon I was returning from a client on the North Shore (which hardly got any rain), when my husband called with breaking news. He wanted to prepare me for the change at home.
For years I have been moaning about the "evil Bradford Pear" tree, in general, but also specifically since we have, or HAD, one mature specimen on our parkway. This is municipal property and thus, basically beyond our control...even more so since we live in a vintage condo. What happened is a textbook case of why liking the flowers that appear for one week is not sufficient reason to plant this tree...ironically I had just returned from aforementioned client whose neighbor had just planted 2 (!) ten feet on center...this for a tree that grows about 40' tall and 30' wide. Yes, I have also cited the fact that being so un-native here, it hardly attracts any insects which would feed the birds. And how its roots reach so far and strong that many municipalities have banned it for the havoc it wrecks on water systems and pipes. But really, the reason you don't want to plant it now is because of exactly what happened to our tree well down-the-road (the arborists guessed about 35 years). This tree doesn't have a strong central leader and that results in many competing branches. That leads to weak crotches and branches that can fall off on cars (what happened here) or people (what luckily didn't happen here).
I assume the storm played a role in helping this weak limb fall, but what was amazing is that in this economy (diminished funds for our municipal forestry dept.), the arborists came out to assess the fallen branch and decided the whole tree was a hazard and had to go immediately. So while I feel a loss, I feel even more strongly that this change was necessary and for the best.

So above you can see the shoemaker's children's garden (mine) on the right running from the double-file viburnum (poorly pruned by some guys who are well-meaning but badly trained) up to about where the tree trunk is down. The surprise for me is that I now have a section of garden about 12' by 2' that is full sun in soil that is basically sand (old lake bed): shocking after years of working in shade. So now my challenge is how to redo that space which will be inundated by dog pee year-round and salt in the winter. I am thinking tulips, grasses, allium and bayberry. ANYBODY HAVE ANY OTHER IDEAS???

Below you can see the nice souvenir one of the arborists cut for me which I plan to display on the back porch.