Sprout the Titan Arum at the Chicago Botanic Garden

We recently visited Sprout, the newest star of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s titan arum display.  We were fortunate to catch a couple of videos of CBG staff collecting pollen from Sprout’s male flowers.  Pollen will be stored, frozen actually, so it can remain viable for about two years, and will be used to pollinate future titan arum female flowers.

If you missed the show at the Chicago Botanic check back here for more videos of Sprout in bloom and Alice in fruit.

Dr. Michael Dirr Talks Shrubs

I had the great fortune to attend the iLandscape show in early February and heard Dr. Michael Dirr speak on shrubs.  You can watch the video below, he is a hoot!  It is an amateur recording though you should be able to hear everything he says.

Details on many of the cultivars he talks about will follow soon.


Planting Bulbs

A few posts back I mentioned planting bulbs.  Now is the time!

I plant my spring booming bulbs in the fall when the temperature drops and the ground is still workable.  You can plant up until the ground freezes and you should wait until the temp gets down below 55 degrees.  Keep your bulbs in a cool dry place until then and if you can bear it, plant them as late as after the first frost.  Make sure your bulbs are firm.  If they are soft it can be an indication of rot and you will not see plants in the spring.

When planting bulbs with the goal of having perennial blooms, the bubs should be placed at a depth of 3 times their size.  For example, if you have a bulb that is 2” tall, aim for a planting depth of 6”.  You can mark this depth on your shovel or you can use a bulb planter/soil knife with inch markings on them.  Another easy trick is to stack three bulbs on top of each other.  As long as the top bulb does not clear ground level you are fine.  Of course the stacking is just for measurement, unstack them before burying.

You can fertilize bulbs after planting.  Do not put fertilizer in the hole with the bulb, this can burn them.  Bonemeal is also an option.  You may choose to check your soil before you add fertilizer to determine which nutrients you need.

I do not water my bulbs after planting as my soil is very damp and high in clay.   Too much water can cause the bulbs to rot.  Depending on your soil, watering the bulbs after planting may be beneficial.

Make sure you label or mark on your map where your bulbs are planted.  During spring cleanup, depending on the bloom time of your bulbs, you will need to be aware of their presence to preserve their sprouts.  Another reason to mark your plantings is that you can plant summer blooming annuals and perennials over bulbs.  For example, I have a patch of crocus bulbs (which are actually corms, but that’s for another post) that sprout very early, as early February.  Once the flowers are spent the striped leaves hang around for a while and as these leaves are basking in the sun and storing up energy for next year’s blooming, companion plants around them are just sprouting. As the annual Alyssum and perennial dead-nettle start to fill in the area, the crocus leaves have naturally faded away.  With this plan, this area in the garden is full and lush from early spring to all the way through the summer.

If you have a problem in your area, one more important step is to protect your bulbs from critters.  You can protect bulbs underground by either planting them in a cage or laying a single layer of chicken wire over them before you cover them with topsoil.  If you use this method make sure the open spaces in the chicken wire are thick enough for your stems to easily grow through.  Another option is to apply a fresh mulch layer over the area in which the bulbs are planted.  Make sure that this is a very strong smelling mulch.  The smell will deter pests.  Composted leaf mulch is very effective.  For added protection you can lay plastic mesh or chicken wire over the mulch and tack the edges down with sod staples.  There are also many bulbs which are less likely to be dug up by wildlife.  Try Allium, Chionodoxa, Colchicum, Muscari, and Narcissus to name a few.

In addition to being wildlife-resistant like those named above Anemone and Fritillaria meleagris are good choices for shady places.  Two very versatile bulbs are Galanthus and Leucojum, both being wildlife-resistant, good for shade, and tolerant of wet soils.

All the links for the bulbs are to Brent and Becky’s, a great supplier.  Another good supplier is Van Engelen.  If you have a favorite supplier let me know and I will share the link.  Bulbs do sell out so it’s good to plan ahead.

So now the bulbs are planted, the mulch is down, maybe you are thinking about a perennial or annual overlay for the area for next summer.  Make some notes in your journal while you sip hot cider and look forward to your spring blooms.


Building a New Garden

I just finished a nice-sized garden for a friend and wanted to share the process with everyone.  Here is what the space looked like when we started…

As you can see there is no garden, just lawn.  My friends had a specific design in mind for the new garden.  They wanted a break between the porch and the yard, since there is no railing, multiple levels of plants, and color all season long.  Oh, and the ground needed to be raised near the house and sloped away since flooding can be a problem in their area.  This meant adding a good 4 to 6 inches of soil in a large part of the garden to build it up and create a slope away from the house.

The first task was removing the grass.  The outline of the garden took shape once the grass was gone.  Then, as plants were added soil was also, to bring the ground up to the desired level.

I put together a design that offered tall plants on the flanks and smaller plants in the middle so as not to block their big front window.  I also included a multitude of bulbs for the spring and perennials for the entire season.  Many of the plants are evergreen or offer winter interest.

Here is the garden now, after the plants were installed and the ground graded…

On the far right is a Cotinus ‘Grace’, under which is Carex ‘Ice Dance’.  The three round shrubs are boxwoods and tucked in the back is a barberry ‘Rose Glow’.  The large shrub on the left is Viburnum ‘Mohican’, which is surrounded by daylilies on the left and Siberian iris on the right.  There is a small shrub in the front that is hard to see, oak leaf hydrangea.

There are many other perennials, including Sedum, Hellebore, Campanula, HostaPeonies, Grasses, and ground covers like Lamb’s ear, creeping buttercup, chameleon plant, and periwinkle.  And under all those perennials are many spring blooming bulbs.  We chose Tulip ‘Cashmir’, Corydalis ‘Greg Baker’, and Narcissus ‘Segovia’ for one area; Camassia accented with Muscari ‘Blue Magic’ for another area; and Triteleia ‘Starlight’ to accent the Hellebore mix.  Oh, and there is a carpet of 100 Crocus “Cloth of Gold’.  They will have flowers from the bulbs all spring and as that foliage dies away the summer perennials will take over.  Next year is going to be stunning for them.  I will be sure to post pictures as things start to bloom.

Hope you enjoyed the before and after pictures, it was an exciting project to design and install.  As always let me know what you think, comment or suggest, I am up for anything.



Perennials For Your Display Garden

So this post will wrap up the travel series showing a bunch of perennials we saw on our trip to The Berkshire Botanical Garden, which, by the way, is one of the oldest botanical gardens in the nation!

Here are two exceptional plants, each special in their own way.  The first is Arum Italicum, Italian Lords-and-Ladies, which does best in shade gardens.  This plant is so interesting…it offers up arrow shaped leaves in the spring with a stunning “flower” that looks like a calla lily.  The actual flowers are on the spadix, which is the spike in the center of what appears to be one big petal, which is itself a modified leaf.  When the leaves and flowers die off the spike remains and each little flower on it produces a berry, and you get this unique plant shown in the first picture above.  You can plant other things under it that offer foliage in the summer because the Arum leaves will reappear in the fall!

The next picture is Eucomis pallidiflora, Pineapple flower.  It speaks for itself with that wonderful collection of flowers seen in the summer.  This plant can get tall and really is a sight to see.  There are varieties of this plant, like Sparkling Beauty with purple leaves and flowers, that may make it thorough a Zone 6 winter.  Regardless of the variety you chose  you can pull the bulbs out and replant in the spring (like Dahlias) for a guaranteed summer show.

This is Clethra alnifolia, Summersweet.  This plant reminds me of a butterfly bush with its spiky grouping of fragrant flowers, accompanied by a rich, full foliage.  A really nice native shrub to add to your garden.

Here are two plants that just fill in empty spaces so well.  The first you may already know, Stachys byzantina, commonly called Lamb’s ear.  This amazing plant has foliage as soft as a fluffy fleece.  You can not really imagine it until you see it and feel it brush your skin.  I would recommend this plant to everyone just for the shear joy of watching people experience its softness.  It also produces a tall spike with small purple flowers that can be enjoyed or cut back.  It grows quickly, can handle full sun, and is easily managed by just keeping in clean and reined in.

The second plant is a grass, Hakonechloa macra or Japanese forest grass.  The blades of this colorful grass just float on the breeze and drape gently over like a waterfall.  The mounds appear full, covering the ground well, and yet the grass is light and airy.  This one likes part shade, too much sun and it may scorch.

I saw this plant and just loved it with its huge display of flowers, like a foxglove I thought.  I was going to leave it out of this post because I could not determine its name.  I am sure someone out there must know what this is.  Please do share it with us, leave a comment and I will let everyone know.

The last picture I include for the beauty shared by the flower, a Hydrangea, and my niece, Zoe.  We spent the entire afternoon together just taking in the scent and color of all these amazing plants and when it got a little to warm she would ask if we could rest on a bench in the shade.  The sweetest, most precious little voice, and look at that face!  Again, thank you to my husband Ed for catching this moment forever.

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

The next post will be on my Garden Party!  I will share my garden through photos, spreading the joy of flora and fauna.