The Baltimore Oriole is Back!

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Conservation and Ecology, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Thanks to subscriber Nancy Coolley for photographing this stunning Baltimore oriole [Icterus galbula] in her backyard. Look at the clever rig Nancy devised for hanging the oranges. Great idea! And after they eat the oranges in early May, they want a chaser of grape jelly, but how in the world do you hang up the jar?

Baltimore Oriole 5-12-2013 3-28-59 AM 480x360This bird has probably the prettiest nest of all our northern birds. It’s a finely-woven silvery pouch that hangs about 25′ up on the branches of oaks, lindens, elms, maples and birch trees. The Orioles return to the same site year after year. These birds love to eat insects, especially caterpillars (ie tent caterpillars-ugh), aphids, borers (ash borers!), ants and beetles. They also eat the delicious berries of Serviceberry [Amelanchier], red mulberry, wild cherry, and blueberry. By the way, the blueberry is a highly underutilized shrub in the landscape. It is beautiful red in the fall!

The Baltimore oriole is the state bird of Maryland. Why? Because it was named for Sir George Calvert, the first Lord Baron of Baltimore, who thought Maryland (named either for the King’s wife or the mother of Jesus, or both, no one seems to know) would be a fine place for English Catholics such as himself. The colors on his family crest were…orange and black. As it would happen, everyone who arrived from England to work tobacco was either Protestant or criminal, but the English Catholics got to be in charge. Anyway, the good news is that in 1649, Maryland passed the first law ever to guarantee the right to worship regardless of denomination. So whenever you see this beautiful bird, please also appreciate the idea of religious toleration.

Oh, there are three books I like about “birdscaping”: Wild About Birds: the DNR Bird Feeding Guide; Birdscaping Your Garden by George Adams; and The Bird Garden by Stephen W. Kress. Oldies but goodies, just like me.##




Redbud Trees: Try All the Flavors

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Plants | 8 Comments

Quick! Check your garden! Do you have all the Redbuds?

I thought we had ’em all in our garden: regular “pink”, white, and purple-leaved. But last Thursday I found a new Redbud that puts the rest to shame. It’s called, ‘Appalachian Red’, and it is STUNNING (compare the 1st photo to the 2nd, “regular pink”). Like, let’s say, a Crepe myrtle pink for northern gardens. I gotta have it, but where oh where could I put another tree?  PS I found it at C.J. Fiore’s Nursery in Lake County (who else has it? please comment). ALSO, “pink” is a poor adjective for the color of a regular Redbud. What color is it really? Please comment on that too.##Edit


Red Appalachian Red

Redbud regular color

Redbud white about to bloom 5-12-2013 4-01-35 PM 3240x4320


Fave-rave spring plant, but what is it exactly?

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Plants, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

lathyrus 5-1-2013 12-02-36 PM 4320x3240

Listen up, people! Queen Bee orders you to purchase this plant: Lathyrus. But even the Queen, in all her excellence, does not know exactly which Everlasting Pea she is recommending. It is not a fragrant Sweet Pea [Lathyrus odoratus], as alas, this flower has no fragrance. It is not Lathyrus latifolius, which has no fragrance but is a vine. It could be Lathyrus vernus, aka Spring Vetchling, but the garden center catalog I’m consulting says that Spring Vetchling blooms in June-July, and my Lathyrus definitely blooms in April-May. And it blooms its little head off for weeks. Which is why it’s a favorite plant and you MUST HAVE IT.

[This is where garden centers are supposed to comment that they not only know it but they stock it.]

So…a little botanical background. This plant is cool because it is a Lathyrus. Which means it is a Pea, which means it is a Legume, which means it fixes nitrogen in the soil which everyone knows is important but no one knows why. Lathyrus is in the Fabaceae family of plants, putting it with cousins like chick peas and soybeans and clover and redbud trees and wisteria. Which makes it WAY BETTER company than my cousins, except for the evil Crown Vetch which has the same disqualifiers as my cousin Peter who is a real overreaching hanger-onner too. But I digress. If you consult a botanical tome, you will find out something wonderfully arcane but useful on the garden tour: the leaflets of legumes open in the day and close at night, but this sleepytime movement is actually a circadian phenomenon not dependent on light or dark. OOOH, that’s cool, man, what’s it smokin’?!

To continue, this is one great plant. It is one of the first to bloom in my garden. It throws off seed out of its green, then brown, seed pods and little babies are born and they transplant really easy and then you have my really really favorite thing: a FREE PLANT! What is not to like here, folks? And did I mention the pollination aspects? Oh, well I don’t know what those are because it’s too early for butterflies but possibly bumblebees are gulping its nectar. [Readers, inform me!]

PS What is not to like? Well, I’ll name one thing…if you follow Internet links far enough you may, as I did, come across the caution, “The seeds…if eaten in large quantity, can cause lathyrism.” Oh, really? What the heck is lathyrism and do I have it? Search some more, and Queen Bee will find out that apparently she has been ingesting a few too many Lathyrus peas. Uh-huh, uh-huh, we know this because lathyrism is the “inability to move the lower limbs and the atrophy of the gluteal muscles”. OMG: that’s why Queen Bee wants to lie on a couch and she got a saggin’ ass! But isn’t it nice to know that it’s the plant’s fault?!##

Lathyrus plant 5-12-2013 4-00-31 PM 4320x3240

Get Thee to the Dane County (that’s Madison, WI) Farmers Market!

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

I am such a dope sometimes. I’ve been writing The Weedpatch Gazette since 1991 and yet never took the time to visit the Farmers Market in Madison. How is that possible? But I’ve now made up for lost time and, even as early in the year as it is for northern gardeners, the market was stupendous. So many vendors! So many hippies! Like my own personal favorite time machine…

Having had the fun of visiting farmers markets in Santa Monica, CA; Carlsbad, CA; Asheville, NC’s (where it’s called a “tailgate market”); Coconut Grove, FL; Chicago’s; many towns in Provence; and Union Square in Manhattan, I think this one rocks them all. Maybe it’s because it’s just so, so “Wisconsin”. Care for some cheese bread, cheese head?

P1040599 P1040598 P1040594 P1040591 P1040589 P1040585

AND I had the extra added pleasure of re-meeting David Nedveck. He and his wife, Nancy, own The Flower Factory in Stoughton, Wisconsin. It is THE BEST GARDEN CENTER for a plant maniac. Don’t believe me? How about that they have 234 new plants for 2013?! Their catalog is my Bible. I go there with a trailer on my car. If this place were any closer, I would be in deep, deep financial trouble…

So…drive up to Madison for a long weekend. Go on Friday, visit all 15 species of the world’s cranes at the International Crane Foundation. See Devil’s Lake and learn about glacial geology and see quartzite rocks. Check into a bed & breakfast. On Saturday, go to the Farmers Market and load up with veggies and jams and puzzle through the weird guy’s argument that 9/11 was a conspiracy of the US government. Take a break and hike over to the Daily Scoop at the UW Student Union to slurp some homemade Ag School (motto: “cheese will not be shipped until after October 1st!”) ice cream (which is available at this site on the internet by the way). Then on Sunday go to the Flower Factory and spend the whole day, 9-6, in heaven. That’s the same as going to church, n’est-ce pas?##

Tulip Mania!

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Plants, Public Gardens and Parks, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

P1040568I snapped this photo of tulips while passing by the gatehouse at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I’m usually not a fan of tulip mixes (too gaudy), but I thought the yellow/orange and blue/purple combo used here was excellent. If you want to copy the example, the tulips used are: Tulipa ‘Big Smile’, ‘Blushing Apeldoorn’, ‘Caravelle’, ‘Gavota’, ‘Golden Parade’, ‘Jenny’, ‘Negrita’, ‘Salmon Pearl’, ‘Yellow Present’), backed by fragrant viburnum (Viburnum farreri) and underlaid with Fizzy Fruit Salad pansy (Viola wittrockiana ‘Fizzy Fruit Salad Mix’).

And then all you need is lotsa money and a musclebound hunka-hunka to plant 1,000 bulbs, but no problem with finding those, right?##

Little Bird, Big Threat

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Conservation and Ecology, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

KildeerThis little Kildeer was very upset with me when I walked too close last evening in the Middlefork Nature Preserve in Lake Forest. He (she?) spread its tailfeathers and kept lurching at me–a sure sign that it wanted me–gone! Story of my life….

Here’s what Cornell says about this ubiquitous shorebird: Listen to its call as well. I can’t pick up the sound of “Kil-deer, Kil-deer” but maybe you can?


A Gardener’s April Musings

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Plants, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

This is the way my mind works, on fertilizer…

  • Dream of the day when I whip out my wallet and plunk down $20,000 so we can go on a garden tour of England. Scotland, too. H’mmm…maybe the kid’s life-saving operation could wait…
  • Regret that I bought 1,000 daffodil bulbs and planted only 5 before the hard frost arrived. They woulda looked nice.
  • Consider if this year the tomatoes will have time to ripen, unlike last year. And the year before that. Or will it be 100 degrees for 60 days and it’s too hot to go outside and pick the damn things?
  • Send in a seed order from one catalog, then another. And another. Later realize that I ordered the same seeds over and over. I sure love basil.
  • Variation on above: Order $300 worth of seed after looking at all the pretty pictures. Plant only the marigolds.
  • Congratulate myself on planting 1,000 tulip bulbs. Ponder whether the insanity defense will apply after the deer eat every last one, the day before they bloomed.
  • Vow I will weed every week this year no matter what. Then learn to spell h-e-r-b-i-c-i-d-e. [Just kidding, don’t send hate mail.]
  • Part 1: Resolve that this year I will hire a landscape designer.
  • Part 2: Finally get around to calling several landscape designers only to find out that all are completely booked until 2016.
  • Part 3: Decide to design the garden myself. Then realized it’s an awful lot of trouble to measure everything and find a big piece of paper to draw on. Much easier to buy the plants and then decide what to do.
  • Think about calling an arborist and having him prune that BIG limb hanging over the roof. (What was it I heard about ash trees?) While writing “tree guy” on my to-do list, hear a loud crash.
  • Wish that I had built a coldframe for growing seedlings instead of growing them on the windowsill, which is sagging from rot caused by watering the seedlings. While wishing, watch the seedlings wilt from too much watering.
  • Invest big bucks in lights, plant stands, trays, soilless mix, seeds, i.d. tags, and heating mats. Later realize that that itsy-bitsy head of lettuce set me back $840.
  • Haul out the dirt, the trays, the water, and the ever-so-carefully transplanted seedlings. Next day, come downstairs to find the cat is very happy and the floor is very messy.
  • Decide to replace the lawn with wildflowers. Buy a big bag of seeds and after killing the grass and sowing the seeds, be told it’s full of wildflowers that won’t survive in Chicago. The ones that will survive are noxious weeds.
  • Wonder why I didn’t manage to go on even one garden walk last year. Vow to do better this year. Hope that no one EVER wants my garden on their walk.
  • Wonder if 85 degrees on May 1st is “climate change” and we’d better get used to it. Feel overwhelming fatigue coming on…better go inside and sit down. Thank God for ice cubes–which count as gardening because they involve “water” and “hoses”. And vodka is made from a garden product, right? ##

Thinking Spring Means a Trip to Chalet Nursery in Wilmette, IL

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Landscape Architecture, Plants | 1 Comment

Beautiful spring day. I swung over to Northfield, IL to check on the seedlings that I’m growing  in 90 year old Aunt Sue’s greenhouse, and then I couldn’t resist a detour to Chalet Nursery in Wilmette. It has the best selection of plants on the North Shore, and before opening for the season it underwent a needed facelift inside and out. Well done: someone is very talented at merchandising displays.

Here are a few new plants that caught my eye:

Syringa Tiny Dancer

Syringa vulgaris ‘Tiny Dancer’: grows only 3-4′ high and wide, smaller than another full-scented small lilac that I’ve used over and over: Syringa v. ‘Little Boy Blue’ which grows to about 5′. ‘Little Boy Blue’ is pretty hard to find, even wholesale, so I was glad to see it for sale at Chalet.

Spirea Double Play Big Bang

Bright orange foliage? Whoa, look at this bad boy: Spirea ‘Double Play Big Bang’ (which is also called ‘Tracey’, go figure). It’s orange now, but is yellow the rest of the summer, with bright pink blooms. That’s where I get off the bus. Bright pink on bright yellow? Combine with bright red cedar mulch, and you have….vulgar!

Forsythia Show Off

But I digress. I saw a Forsythia that was awesome. Brightest yellow I ever saw: like a fake flower. Evaston, IL landscape designer Karen Koerth emailed to say that Forsythia ‘Show Off’ has the largest flowers she’s ever seen on a Forsythia as well. She says it looks like a small yellow single rose.

locust-twisty baby-branches-tree

I spied a Black Locust ‘Twisty Baby’ [Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Lace Lady’] that grows 15′ high and wide and has the Locust’s usual fragrant white flowers. My honeybees love our Black locusts. I wish “conservationists” wouldn’t be in such a hurry to cut them down. I know they sucker, but that means that they also hold soil on steep slopes. AND they fix nitrogen. So what’s not to like? Huh? Huh?

One more fine occurence at Chalet: I ran into Jennifer Brennan, who has worked at Chalet for 20 years and hands-down is the most enthusiastic garden geek (also, voted most enthusiastic human) I’ve ever met. She has linked up with Mike Nowak, similarly crazed person, to create a TV show, Dig In []. Watch them on Saturday mornings at 8:30 am on WCIU or on Infinity channels 248,360; RCN, channel 35; or WOW channel 170. Such nice people–please support their work! Find them on Facebook under their names or at diginchicago.

Chalet Larch bridge for roots

Last, thanks to Chalet for protecting the roots of the huge ol’ Bald Cypress [Taxodium distichum] when they moved the old check-out shed and installed a new garden there. Chalet had a damn fine idea and built an arcing pedestrian “bridge” (barely noticeable) instead of taking the cheapo route and putting pavers right up against the aging beauty. Bald Cypress, by the way, is a great tree: tiny female cones release tasty seeds eaten by squirrels, songbirds, wild turkeys, egrets, herons and ducks. The wood of this tree is so hard it is used for building water tanks–like the ones on rooftops in Manhattan.##

Today’s Favorite Flower: Bloodroot

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Bloodroot 4-27-2013 1-57-54 PM 4320x3240 I know each of you is walking around outside in this 80 degree weather–it’s actually HOT, almost unpleasant (it got really unpleasant when the Lawn Guy got me good with the leafblower. Was that deliberate or an accident?). Anyway, the bloodroot [Sanguinaria canadensis] have s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d their little faces to the sun and are delightful delightful. Do you have them in your woods? Or in your garden? Yes, of course you do or you will be driven out of the coven… Love, Rommy

How Many Inches of Rain Does It Take to Fill Lake Michigan?

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Conservation and Ecology | Leave a comment

This morning landscape architect Deidre Toner kindly forwarded information from The Morton Arboretum which said that 17.81″ of rain have fallen there in 2013. In April, the official count was 9.78″ of rain! I got pretty pumped thinking that must mean that Lake Michigan has completely recovered from being two feet below “normal”. But (duh), Queen Bee, think again and maybe have another cuppa coffee this morning. Seventeen inches translates to only two inches spread across Lake Michigan, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers. If you are a weather freak, here’s the link to the Corps’ charts on Lake Michigan water levels:

Erosion on beach at Lake Road 4-19-2013 3-34-56 PM 4320x3240By the way, I’m posting this nasty photograph which shows how a significant slice of beach eroded in Lake Forest after the deluge of April 18, 2013. Water from municipal and private stormwater pipes ran so fast and furious down the narrow ravine leading to this section of beach that it cut this sharp gouge in the sand. There’s much to be done to solve these (highly solveable) erosion problems, but there is a dedicated team of people working on regional solutions. The Alliance for Lake Michigan has produced an excellent ravine webinar. You will not regret spending an hour listening–and if you are a ravine or bluff owner or if you are in the landscape contract and design trade, please sign up for their emails because the Alliance, together with Openlands and “Plants of Concern”, is working on creating brochures of plants appropriate for various ravine conditions, a “rapid response assessment program” for training gardeners in assessing ravine health, and educational ravine seminars at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Thank you, Alliance!##