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.


Seed Swap

So we went to the Chicago Botanic Garden Seed Swap and boy was it amazing.  There were thousands of seeds being doled out to new and seasoned gardeners.  I brought a couple dozen different types of seeds and collected maybe 3 dozen new seeds that I have never planted before.  Did you know that sunflowers are a multitude of little flowers on the big head and each one of those little flowers produces a seed.  Watch this short video to see sunflowers that have gone to seed, it’s really cool.

Seed swaps are a great way to share your garden.  At the end of the growing season let some flowers die and go to seed (in other words no deadheading) and collect the seeds in an envelope.  You can store seeds for at least a year and in some cases much longer than that, as long as they are dry and don’t get too hot.

Some of the seeds I collect are Gaillardia, Rose hips, Impatiens, Alyssum, Snap Dragon, Amaranth “Velvet Curtain”, Morning Glory, Moon Flower, Wisteria, Peppers, and Corn.  These are all easy and obvious seeds in abundance at the end of the season.  They all germinate quickly and you can start them indoors to get a longer growing season.

You can set up a seed swap with any group, either organized or impromptu.  All you need is your seeds, envelopes, and a writing instrument.  For an informal swap just pick a time and place; everyone arrives with their seeds and the swapping begins.  For a more regulated system ask participants to give you a list of their seeds, compile all the lists and give everyone a chance to see what is available.  Everyone can make their choices in advance and even set up swaps with individuals.  You can all agree to take pictures of your new plants once they are established and share the pictures at the end of the season.  The fun just keeps on going.

I have all those seeds and more if anyone is interested in swapping.  I love to share seeds and plants and it will be time to start sowing indoors soon.   Anyone interested in swapping let me know.  And as always comments and suggestions are welcomed and encouraged.


Winter Planning

It’s the middle of winter and so much is going on! As you know I had an incredibly successful trip to San Diego filming a Gardenieres commercial series with HGTV.  I have some great news about the next shoot!  I would love to tell everyone in person so if you want to wait for a face-to-face don’t scroll to the end.  If you can’t wait, go to the end of the post for the big news!

Winter is a great time to do your garden planning, getting ready for the spring and summer activity.  I’ve been working on plans and rendering for my certificate from the Chicago Botanic Garden. Here’s a picture of what a rendering looks like in process…

Rendering Project

Given a basic layout you can take any space and design the garden of your dreams.  You can do a free-hand drawing in your journal or a formal line drawing that is to scale using a T-square on large paper.  Use circles for trees and shrubs and color in areas that will be annuals or perennials.  If you want lots of detail you can color in the lawn area with green and the ground cover with yellow.  You can mark out hedges too, use a darker green for those.  You can also include hardscapes like pavers and fountains, and even furniture and potted plants.  You can get a great feel for what the garden will look like, and you can make changes until it is exactly what you want.  Start with a general layout, don’t get into specifics.  Once it feels right then you can start thinking about the plants and characteristics you want to include.

A garden that I want to plan for myself is a traditional medicinal herb garden.  I use herbs for cooking, and those I have in pots on the deck near the kitchen door.  Out in the garden I want another area with Comfrey, Sticklewort, Chamomile, Valerian, Betony, Belladonna, Foxglove, Bloodroot, and Horehound.  Even the names sound old and mysterious.  All of these plants have a history of medicinal value.  I will find a space and plan a layout based on the size and habit of each plant.  I’ll obtain the plants and install them adding a few companions for color if needed.  It’s that easy.  Think about a garden you want to plant and make a plan.  Send me pictures of your ideas and the finished product.  If you need help let me know!

Ok, now for the big news…. Drum-roll please…….I have been invited to film another Gardenieres video at Disney World! Can you believe it – Disney World!  As soon as I have more details I will let you all know.  This is incredibly exciting for me, I can’t wait to get more info and pass it along.

As always questions, comments, send them along.  I’m here for you all.


Making Mini Greenhouses

Here is another gardening project that can be done in the winter.  It’s January in Chicago, at least 2 to 3 months until we can think about getting annuals into the garden, depending on the weather.  So let’s take matters into our own hands and get some plants started.  Let’s make mini greenhouses to get seeds started outside as early as possible.  All we need is a milk carton, soil, seeds, and duct tape.  Oh and we’ll need something to poke holes and cut the carton.

Cut the milk cartoon open on three sides to create a hinged top.  Make the cut at about the halfway (or higher) mark on the carton.  Poke some holes in the bottom for drainage.  Fill the bottom with moist soil.  Sow the seeds in the the soil.  I set up all the milk cartons first, seeds and all, then sealed them up.

IMAG0710 mini green houses IMAG0714 mini green houses


Put them in a sunny spot with the caps off.  This will allow for watering and circulation.  As soon as it gets warm enough the seeds should germinate.  I put a lot of seeds in each carton so I may need to thin the crop.

Once the plants are large enough to transplant to pots or beds remove the tape and open them up, leaving the plants in.  This will harden off the plants, or acclimate them to the outside temperature and sun exposure.  After a week or two you can put them wherever you want.

I chose cool weather plants in the hopes of benefiting from them as early as  mid spring.  I will set up another round of greenhouses in the spring with summer plants that will hopefully be ready to go into the ground after any risk of frost.

If this project is fruitful I will have two kinds of Osteospermum daisies, a purple and a copper color, red Gerbera daisies, snapdragons in multiple colors, and a beautiful Nemesia.  

If anyone has any winter projects to share please do, we love comments and suggestions.


New Design Project

Great News!  Keeler Gardens has been welcomed into a new project with one of our local Chicago parks.  Everything is in the early development stages.  The park has established woods and river front, in addition to general horticulture advice for these areas, I’ll be involved to promote prairie and display gardens.

I am also going to present them with a basic design for a dog park.  It is all very exciting and as the project moves along I will keep everyone updated.  If anyone has any suggestions on their favorite plants, Midwest prairie plants, or even general designs, please comment and we can make this a joint venture!

Looking forward to hearing from you!



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.



More of the Midwest Gardeniere

Great news everyone!  There are more new Gardeniere videos online to watch.  I want to thank everyone for spreading the word and for all the compliments.  Filming has been very exciting and rewarding.

A few posts ago I showed some pictures of the projects we worked on early this fall.  The newest video shows how I planned and put together a fall themed garden design using accents in the color blue. Click here to watch on YouTube or go to my Midwest Gardeniere page and push play.

The other new Gardenieres video talks about sun and shade plants in rail planters that I designed early this summer.  It’s a great transformation from tired withered plants to colorful summer flowers filling up the planters.  Again, click here watch or go to my Midwest Gardeniere page and push play.

I’ve been talking about a design project for a while now and that’s what I’ve been working on this past week.  I took an empty front yard and turned it into multi-season garden.  Tune in for the next post to get all the details and before and after photos!

Thanks so much for your support.  I love to hear comments and suggestions so send them my way.


Fall Gardening

It may seem that the garden season is winding down but this is a great time to be gardening.  There is much to do in this cool wet weather.  It’s the perfect time to divide and transplant.  If you find you have extra plants, there is always a neighbor that can use them.  Do some trading and next year you’ll have more to show.

It is also a good time to plant trees and shrubs.  I will be posting pictures and plans for a project that is being installed next week that has seven big plants and hundreds of bulbs going in.

There is still plenty of time to plant bulbs.  As long as the ground is not frozen you can get the bulbs in and they will bloom in the spring.  We’ll talk about planting bulbs in a future post.

This leads me to remind everyone about their garden journal.  We talked a while back about documenting your garden in every season.  Go back and look at your spring photos and notes.  Where do you want to add plants?  Where do you have bulbs that you need to be aware of when transplanting?  What areas in the summer, and even now, need work that you can address so next year you reap the benefits?  See, so much to do still!

Any fall projects you would like to hear about or talk about let me know and I’ll post. Enjoy this blustery and exciting time of year and come back to see the how the big install is coming along.

Keeping a Garden Journal

As part of our travel series I wanted to promote the use of a garden journal.  On this trip we’re using the journal to take notes on the plant varieties and garden styles and designs we see in our travels to possibly incorporate them into the garden back home.  This is a great way to remember what we saw and why we want to use it.  In the next post you will see some of the things we added to our journal.

A garden journal can help you manage the ever-changing design of your garden.  What is a garden journal, you ask. . .  A garden journal is pictures and notes about your garden in every season.  So in the fall you have a reminder or description of your spring design so you can see where you may want to plant bulbs, for example.  And by referenceing your summer and fall notes you’ll know what areas need attention, like dividing and moving certain plants.

Below is a picture from my journal that shows the spring view in my mum garden.  Clearly this area is barren in the spring and with theese notes I plan to address this in the fall by planting bulbs.  The summer picture of the same area, in the center of the photo, shows a much fuller garden which tells me that the bulbs I plant should finish their growth cycle by early summer to make way for the other plants.


I also see that there is some room for ground cover in the summer and these pictures help remind me how much shade this garden gets when it is in full bloom so I pick the right ground cover.  In this case I want to choose a ground cover that grows no more than six to eight inches tall, has a leaf color outside the average green range, and likes a lot of shade; maybe spotted dead nettle would work here.

Get yourself a spiral notebook or three ring binder or even walk around with your iPad.  Take notes, take pictures, and create a record of the evolution of your garden.

Stay tuned for scenes from the Berkshire Botanical Garden.


btw – Thank you to my sister for her excellent suggestion about garden journals.