Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Christmas card

May you be surrounded by
 those you love this holiday season
and find peace and joy in your garden
 during the coming New Year


Please feel free to copy the photo above and paste it into any emails you send to your friends. It may not show up in the body of the message, but as an attachment, depending on your email program. Try it! (We’ve given the copyright police a week off for the holidays.)

Stay safe and warm!

(Note: The wreath above started out as just plain spruce. I added variegated arborvitae, variegated holly, seeded eucalyptus, pine cones with glitter and a big red bow.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Frosty Morning

Jack Frost visited my garden last night. I was beginning to worry that he had forgotten all about me. It’s already mid-December and I haven’t seen any sign of him. Until now, that is.

Hoar frost on white pine

When I awoke this morning, the white pine in my back border looked as if it had been flocked like an indoor Christmas tree. In fact all of the evergreens had been touched with Jack's frosty brush.
Frost on Yukon Blue spruce

Frost on weeping white spruce

Jack didn't play favorites, though. Oh no. He spread his magic around the garden, from the tallest tree....

Frost on crabapple branches the perennials...
Frost on coneflower foliage

Frosty foliage

...and the grasses as well.
Frost on Prairie Dropseed foliage

But Jack's magic didn't last long.  By midday, the sun had melted all traces of his visit much to my dismay. Here’s hoping you come back soon, Jack. The garden is waiting.

By Karen Geisler

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Gardener's Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the yard,

Not a plant was left standing, the ground it was hard.
The tools were all hung in the garage with care
A well deserved rest now that the garden was bare.

The bulbs were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of springtime danced in their heads,
I in my Snuggie, my husband with our cat
Had just settled in for a long winter’s chat.

When out in the hydrangeas there arose such a clatter,
I dropped my seed catalogs to see what was the matter.
Away to the front door I quickly dashed,
Half expecting to find my yard had been trashed.

When I opened the door, it was suddenly clear.
Here was a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer
With a little old gardener so lively and quick
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick!

More quickly than crabgrass his coursers they came
And he whistled and shouted and called them by name.

“Now Holly! Now Ivy! Now Daisy and Rue!
On Rose, On Petunia, Fern and Lily too!
To the top of the trellis! To the top of the wall!
Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!”

So up to the housetop the reindeer they flew
With a sleighful of gifts and St. Nicholas too.

I closed the front door and was turning around
When he slid down the chimney, hitting the ground.
He was dressed all in red, with Wellies on his feet,
And a poinsettia on his cap made him look really neat.

He stood up quite quickly and went straight to his work
With a composter for Cathy, a Dutch weeder for Dirk.

There were asters for Ann, a pine tree for Paul
And a garden design book for use by us all.
Next came a rain barrel. This was for Rob.
And finally, for me, a ginkgo key fob.

Then laying a trowel aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He ran to his sleigh and gave a quick whistle
And away they all flew like the seeds of globe thistle.

But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,
“Merry Christmas to all gardeners and to all a good night.”

(With apologies to Clement Clark Moore)

By Karen Geisler

Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Greens

This was done by a professional but you can (and should) try this at home.

Nothing says Christmas to me like fresh evergreens. Having them in a pot near the front door or putting a fresh wreath on the front door provides great color, great texture and a heavenly scent.

I’m no Martha Stewart, but I love decorating a front door wreath differently each year. I’ll add a plaid ribbon bow one year and a shiny red one the next. My holiday pots also vary from year to year. It’s a good creative outlet once the garden has gone to sleep for the winter. 

Incense cedar
Variegated arborvitae

Some people, of course, prefer artificial trees, wreaths and other greens. I realize this works better for some people inside the house, especially those with allergies. But putting artificial greenery outside, not too far from real evergreens in my entryway garden, somehow just doesn’t seem right to me. To each their own, though.

I started out just using the trimmings from the bottom of our Christmas tree. In recent years, I’ve graduated to a mixture of greens including cedar, incense cedar, variegated arborvitae, blueberry juniper, white pine, Noble fir and/or Douglas fir. (One of my friends insists the latter smells like whiskey!) Each type has its own unique texture.


There’s also a whole host of materials that can add color and texture. These include pine cones, lotus pods, holly, variegated holly, huckleberry (with lovely red tones), eucalyptus, seeded eucalyptus, pepperberries, canella berries, holly berries and even the white tallowberry..

Variegated holly
To add height, you can use curly willow, pussywillows and the wonderfully contorted fantail willow. Plus there's always an old standby -- red dogwood twigs.

Be sure to use plastic pots, either on their own or as a liner. Clay pots can break if the soil in them freezes.

There are a few tricks to using fresh evergreens. Mash the ends of the woody stems as this allows the branches to draw in more water. Then soak the branches overnight in a bucket or other container filled with water. Arrange. Spray with an antidesiccant if the pot will be in an exposed or sunny area.

The final result should carry you into January and possibly beyond. The pots on my covered porch typically last into February, depending on the weather.

I hope you’ll trying using some fresh evergreens on or near your front door this year. It will make your entry uniquely yours.

Happy Holidays!

By Karen Geisler

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gifts for Gardeners

If your family is already pestering you for holiday gift ideas, join the club.

Non-gardeners always seem to be stumped when it comes to their gardening friends and relatives. I can't begin to count the number of times I’ve gotten garden gloves that are two sizes too big or cheap pruners that fall apart after only a few uses.

So here, in no particular order, are a few Christmas ideas you can leave lying around on a table where your loved ones will see it. Here’s hoping they take the hint!

Christmas tree ornaments: These are fun, especially those in the shapes of  flowers, birds and butterflies. You can also find fruits, vegetables, hand tools, watering cans, wheelbarrows and even garden sheds. It all depends on what your gardener is into.

Really good tools: These can last a lifetime if taken care of properly. They also are the perfect gifts as they are not something most gardeners would buy for themselves. (I’d much rather spend my money on plants, but that’s why I’m a hortiholic.) For lefties only: Pruners and hand weeders specifically for left-handed people are hard to come by and very much appreciated. As a leftie myself, I know.

Hand cream: For those gardeners who either don’t like using gloves or prefer to use their hands. Dirt is really drying! And if they don’t use gloves, it’s a good bet they’ll also need a good nail scrub brush.

Birdhouses: What is a garden without some wildlife, especially birds? Every garden needs at least one birdhouse.

Gnomes: Okay, these aren’t for everyone. But there are some really cute ones out there, and I don’t just mean the Roaming Gnome either.

Memberships: To either the Chicago Botanic Garden or the Morton Arboretum if your gardener doesn't already have one. This is a gift that will keep on giving the entire year.

Garden books: These are great way to keep that gardening spark alive during the long, cold, snowy winter months. It’s hard to go wrong with a garden book, even if it’s mostly pictures. A few suggestions follow. All were published in the past year and have received good reviews. I haven’t read all of them, but have browsed most of them.

“Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older,” by Sydney Eddison. We’re all getting older and she has some good suggestions on how to keep the garden looking good.

“Contemporary Color in the Landscape: Top Designers, Inspiring Ideas, New Combinations,” by Andrew Wilson. Absolutely gorgeous photos!

“The Artful Garden: Creative Inspiration for Landscape Design” by James van Sweden and Tom Christopher. Van Sweden designed Evening Island and several other projects at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

“Landscapes in Landscapes,” by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury. Latest book from Dutch plantsman Oudolf, who designed the Lurie Garden at Chicago’s Millennium Park.

“Designing with Conifers: The Best Choices for Year-Round Interest in Your Garden,” by Richard Bitner. For those who want to move beyond yews and arborvitae in the home landscape.

“Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insects,” by Amy Stewart, who also wrote "Wicked Plants."  Not for the squeamish.

“Continuous Container Gardens: Swap in the Plants of the Season to Create Fresh Designs,” by Sara Begg Townsend and Roanne Robbins. How to keep your container looking good throughout the year.

“Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces,” by Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet. Arbors, trellises, living walls and other vertical options. Especially good for urban gardeners.

“Tomorrow’s Garden: Design and Inspiration for a New Age of Sustainable Gardening,” by Stephen Orr.

“Founding Gardeners,” by Andrea Wulf. For those who love gardening as well as politics and/or early American history. Most of our Founding Fathers were gardeners as well as farmers. They spent a lot of time thinking about the fledgling nation’s native plant life as well as compost. (See July blog).

“The Bad Tempered Gardener,” by Anne Wareham. This is written by someone who loves gardens, but hates gardening, which she claims is akin to doing housework outside. She’s witty, irreverent and always entertaining.

Gift certificates: If all else fails, get a gift certificate at your gardener’s favorite nursery. It’s sure to be used up quickly.

Here's hoping your holiday shopping goes smoothly!

By Karen Geisler

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Look Back

Fall is a great time to review and plan next year's garden

It’s time to hang up that trowel, make yourself a cup of tea and review this year’s garden. Here’s a quick quiz.

My garden was:

a) Awesome! I wouldn’t change a thing.

b) Good, although I lost some plants during those 100-degree days.

c) Okay. There are some sections I need to rework next spring.

d) Well, there’s always next year.

If you’re like most gardeners, you probably checked b) or c). After all, a garden is constantly changing. Trees and shrubs grow larger. Some plants turn out to be too aggressive. Others just don’t make it or aren’t thriving in their current location. Maybe your tastes have changed and that old design just won’t do.

Regardless of the reason, fall is a great time to review because you can still remember this past year fairly accurately. It’s a lot harder in the spring when several months of snow and cold have caused “gardener’s amnesia.”

So what worked? What didn’t? Need more color in the spring? Summer? Fall?

Make a to-do list. I'm still working on mine, which will be a long one this time around. The trees I put in five years ago are starting to create shade and some shrubs need to be moved as a result. Several of my ornamental grasses have reached their mature size and need to be divided. I’ve expanded a few beds. Plus I’m always on a quest to better balance the bloom in my borders.

For some reason I still don’t understand, my front yard looks best in mid- to late summer, while the back yard peaks in spring and early summer. Maybe it’s because I really enjoy looking out at all my spring bulbs in the back yard from my kitchen table after a long winter. And they are always too long.

This year, I’m also trying something new. I’m taking pictures of the sections that need work, printing them out on plain paper in black and white and making notes in bold black marker. Sort of a visual version of a to-do list. I’m hoping that will inspire me to get into the garden earlier and organize my time better.

Of course, there always will be the usual spring transplanting/moving which my husband refers to as “rearranging the furniture.” He didn’t understand until I put it in terms that he, as a roller coaster enthusiast, could understand.

“It’s like Disneyland,” I said, jokingly. “It will never be done.”

By Karen Geisler

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Final Fall Bouquet

From the fall garden

The frost is on the pumpkin and the last blooms of summer have faded. You still have time, though, to bring a little bit of the garden inside. Use dried flowers, ornamental grasses, colorful leaves and seed heads from your border to make a long-lasting bouquet.

Hydrangeas, of course, are the most obvious choice. These work best if you plan ahead. Cut them in September, strip off most of the leaves and put them in a vase. Add water once and only once. Let the water evaporate and the flower will dry out slowly. If your hydrangeas are still on the shrub, don't despair. These will be a bit more brown, but they can still be used.

Ornamental grasses also are a must-have. While almost any variety will do, I'm especially partial to switch grass (panicum virgatum) because of its light and airy seed heads plus the thin narrow leaves. Prairie dropseed (sporobolis heterolepsis) also is a good option.

Other than that, let your imagination run wild. Anything that you might cut as part of a fall clean up is a possibility. In the bouquet shown above, I've used stems of cone flowers, sedum, ornamental oregano, perennial geraniums, panicum, veronicastrum and Queen Anne's lace as well as leaves from spireas, maples and abelias. Other candidates that may be in your garden include rose hips, black-eyed Susans, yarrow, clematis and grapevines.

Once the colorful foliage fades, consider replacing it with lotus pods, curly willow, bittersweet vine or even floral picks with some fresh flowers in them. Ribbons or raffia tied around the container can dress it up when company comes.

Don't fuss over the arrangement too much, though. The purpose of a fall bouquet is to celebrate this past year's garden. Enjoy!

(If you want to see where the phrase "the frost is on the pumpkin" originated, click here.)

By Karen Geisler

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Weird, Wacky & Warty

Pumpkins don't just come in plain orange any more

They’re weird. They're wacky. They’re warty. And they’re all the rage for Halloween.

Unusual pumpkins in a variety of colors and shapes can create a collection worthy of the most ghoulish ghosts and goblins. With names like Red Warty Thing, One Too Many, Peanut and Full Moon, there’s sure to be one that fits your fear factor.

That’s especially true in Illinois, the nation’s largest pumpkin-producing state. It grew more than 40 percent of last year’s crop, twice that of its nearest competitor.

This year was especially difficult for pumpkins in many states because of drought conditions and Hurricane Irene. For a while, it was even touch and go locally.

“Every time we planted, we got two to three inches of rain,” said Kevin Heap of Heap’s Giant Pumpkin Farm in Minooka. The third planting finally took, he said. Then came this summer’s extreme heat, which put the plants under a lot of stress.

Heap said many of his giant pumpkin varieties, which can reach 500 pounds, didn’t get quite as big as they usually do as a result.

“The rains in August and early September really helped a lot of things,” said Heap, who grows about 30 acres of pumpkins annually. “I got a lot better crop than I had expected.”

George White of Country Bumpkin in Mundelein had a similar experience.

“It was really a roller coaster ride,” he said. “The pumpkins did ripen a bit early but the night temperatures have been mild so there haven’t been any problems locally,” he added.

More and more unusual pumpkins are being grown every year. Most people use them whole, without carving, as a way to add color and texture to their traditional Jack-o’-lanterns. If you do want to carve one of the wartier pumpkins, though, be careful. Their skin is tougher than you might think.

“It’s tough but do-able,” White said.

When asked if they had a favorite pumpkin, both men were diplomatic. “I really don’t have a favorite,” Heap said, although he does have a bit of a soft spot for Knuckleheads. “They’re all special to me,” White noted.

For the record, all of the unusual pumpkins are edible, although some are better than others.

If you’re perplexed about these peculiar pumpkins, don’t panic. Below is a primer to help you pick out the perfect pumpkins for your porch this Halloween. Enjoy!

This reddish orange French heirloom
pumpkin is also known as Rouge Vi
 D'Etampes. Thought to be the inspiration
for the coach in the popular fairy tale.

Full Moon
New. The biggest white pumpkin. Especially
striking with black stenciling on it.

Green Warty Thing
A variation of Italy's Marina di Chioggia.
 Blue-gray and very warty. Soon to be
 a classic.

The warts on this pumpkin change color
after the skin, often resulting in green
warts. Particularly scary. 

One Too Many
Looks like a bloodshot eyeball. Orange
stripes and speckles on a cream background.

Pinkish-salmon with tan peanut-like warts.
It's a French heirloom named Galeux
d'Eysines. And yes, it's real.

Queen Anne's Lace
This blue-gray pumpkin is a more elegant
 version of Australia's Jarrahdale. Its bottom
 is sloped, like an upside down pyramid.

Red Warty Thing
Exceptionally bumpy. This new red-orange
variety is a cross between a Red Hubbard
squash and an unknown pumpkin.

Speckled Hound
Orange with blue-green splotches. This is
technically a winter squash but passes
 for a pumpkin.
By Karen Geisler

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Tough Nut to Crack

American Black Walnut
The American black walnut tree

For anyone with black walnut trees, fall can be summed up in three words – duck and cover.

Sit or stand below one of these trees and you can be bombarded. Sometimes by nuts randomly dropping off the tree, but more often by the squirrels. They nibble at the hulls surrounding the walnuts and then drop them as they skitter away, chattering all the while.

Actually, I think they save up their “leftovers” during the day to use when hapless victims pass underneath. At least it seemed that way when I had two black walnuts in my back yard and a third one that stretched over the fence from one of my neighbors.

Black walnuts
Black walnuts on the ground
We hadn’t realized that the mature trees in the back yard were black walnuts when we bought the property and built a deck. It took only one party before we threw in the towel on fall entertaining.

The back yard had been quiet all afternoon.When the guests arrived, though, the walnuts rained down on the only person wearing a very white shirt. As anyone who’s been hit by a walnut hull knows, the resulting brown stains don’t come out. Ever.

These black walnuts were majestic trees that must have been about 100 years old. They were late to leaf out in the spring, allowing plenty of time for bulbs to bloom and recharge. They provided great shade in the afternoon which helped keep the house cool.

I also felt somewhat of an obligation to keep them since they were among the last walnuts in theWalnut Grove Rearrangement. There were times when I thought about it, though, given all the problems growing plants under their canopy.

The American black walnut (juglans nigra) emits a chemical with a distinctive smell called juglone. It instantly kills roses and tomatoes. It's also toxic to horses and possibly dogs.

Not all plants die. Many just didn’t thrive. I found several lists of juglone-tolerant plants but ended up more confused than ever. Each list was different.

One list said peonies wouldn’t work but I had a lot of peonies at the base of my tallest walnut tree. In fact, they had grown under a chain link fence from my neighbor’s property. The old-fashioned version of Jacob’s ladder (polemonium) did well, as most lists suggested. A cultivar with variegated leaves died after a month.

My planting style became one of trial and error. I’d buy one plant. If it survived, I bought two more. I learned that wild flowers, leopard’s bane, spiderwort, hostas, astilbes and toad lilies were my friends. In fact, the older the variety and more vigorous it was, the better the plant seemed to do.

Black walnut tree leaves
Black walnut leaves
At times, it was hard to determine whether juglone or shade was the reason why a plant didn’t do well.

Don’t count on using your walnut crop as food unless you’re willing to do some major work. The hulls are so caustic that you need solvent-proof gloves to handle them. The shells are hard to crack. It's a lot easier to just buy walnuts at the grocery store.

Whatever you do, don’t call a tree service and ask them to cut down a walnut tree for free. Although walnut is an expensive wood, they will only laugh. They generally need an entire grove to make it worth their while and most urban trees aren't suitable.

Walnuts don’t reliably produce a crop until they are 30 to 50 years old, making them very big and very expensive to take down at that point. Also, some years the walnut crop is very light. We tried, but during the 15 years we lived there, we never were able to determine why some crops were heavier than others.

Even if you cut the tree down, juglone remains in the soil for a long, long time. One of my neighbors, a major rose fancier, unfortunately found this out after moving in and cutting down her walnut tree. All of her roses instantly bit the dust. Their replacements a few years later also died.

In my book, it’s definitely better to learn to live with walnuts. Focus on the other three seasons. Try wildflowers. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Black walnuts can be a tough nut to crack but you can still have a beautiful yard.
By Karen Geisler

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Colors of Fall

Fall container kale pumpkin

Fall is here at last! I love the reds, golds, oranges and purples this time of year. Every autumn I vow to put more color in my garden. I’m not there yet, but I’ll keep trying.

There are lots of options beside the burning bushes (euonymus alatus) that so many people have. I especially love smoke bush (cotinus coggygria), oak leaf hydrangeas and some of the viburnums. Of course, you have to have some sedums and mums as well, just to liven things up.

Here are some photos I hope will inspire you. Enjoy!

Golden Spirit smokebush fall color
Golden Spirit smokebush

Alice oakleaf hydrangea fall color
Alice oak leaf hydrangea

Prairie Flame sumac fall color
Prairie Flame shining sumac
Limelight hydrangea flower in fall
Limelight hydrangea

Bloodgood Japanese maple
Bloodgood Japanese maple
Autumn Blaze maple
Autumn Blaze maple
By Karen Geisler

Monday, September 26, 2011

Toad Lilies

Samuri Toad lily
The 'Samuri' Toad Lily has variegated leaves

The name “toad lily” may sound like an oxymoron. But this is one toad you don’t have to kiss to get a princely flower.

Its exotic blooms, often a combination of purple and cream, resemble miniature orchids. They also provide wonderful color in the shade garden this time of year when few other perennials are blossoming.

These Asian natives have been in cultivation for quite a while. They were discovered in Japan in 1784 and have been grown in this country since the 1890s. It was only after the Chicago Botanic Garden published a 10-year evaluation of the plant in 2001, however, that toad lilies started becoming more widely available.

Toad lilies, or tricyrtis, require at least part shade and a soil that is consistently moist and fertile. They keep on blooming for a long time, often until a hard frost, and spread by underground rhizomes. Its arching stems will form a "colony” over time.

If you're a worry wart, they are very reliable. Toad lilies are slow to wake up in the spring like many other late bloomers so be patient. And because their flowers are so intricate, you need to put them near a bench or a path where you can admire them up close and personal.

Exactly how toad lilies got their common name is unclear. The blooms are spotted, not unlike a toad. The plants like moisture, unlike some other lilies. Search the Internet and many articles say that early hunters used to smear it on their hands to help them catch toads. Some sites even link the name to a fictitious tribe in the Philippines during the days of dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his shoe-loving wife Imelda (!?)

Wherever its common name came from, be sure to jump on this plant for some fall color. I promise it won't give you warts.

(Photo by Lynn Dipple)

By Karen Geisler

Friday, September 16, 2011

From Soup to Nuts

Now Cheesier echinacea
Now Cheesier echinacea

Have you ever noticed how many of the newer perennials have food-inspired names?

Several of the latest coral bells or heuchera have yummy-sounding titles as do many new coneflowers or echinacea. In fact, you could make a whole “meal” with them if you toss in a few old standbys.

Guacamole hosta
Guacamole hosta
For starters, there’s Guacamole (hosta). First course: Tomato Soup (echinacea). Follow that with Mac 'N Cheese (echinacea) or maybe Now Cheesier (echinacea). Have some Fried Green Tomatoes (hosta) on the side.

Want something to drink? There’s Spilt Milk (hosta), Spilled Milk (pulmonaria), Bowl of Cream (peony) and Milkshake (echinacea). You also could enjoy Coconut Lime (echinacea) or Sweet Tea (heucherella).

If you'd prefer something stronger, there's Merlot (echinacea), Blackberry Wine (corydalis), Raspberry Wine (monarda) or Peppermint Schnapps (hibiscus).

Lemon Queen helianthus
Lemon Queen helianthus
Need some fruit to cleanse your palate? Check out Hot Papaya (echinacea), Lemon Queen (helianthus) or Tangerine Dream (echinacea).

If you still have room for dessert, there are plenty of sweets: Crème Brulee (heuchera), Plum Pudding (heuchera), Key Lime (heuchera), Caramel (heuchera), Peach Flambe (heuchera), Chocolate Chip (ajuga), Cotton Candy (stachys) and Raspberry Sundae (peony), just to name a few.

And then there’s chocolate -- lovely, delightful chocolate, good for whatever ails you. You could build a whole garden around plants with chocolate in their names. Two of the best are Chocolate Ruffles (heuchera) and Chocolate Joe Pye Weed (eupatorium).

If you'd prefer something lighter, try Pistache (heuchera), named for the tree that produces pistachio nuts.

Pistache heuchera
Pistache heuchera
Ironically, and perhaps thankfully, none of these perennials with food-inspired titles smell like their namesakes. The only plant I’ve ever found that even remotely smells like food is an ornamental grass called prairie dropseed or sporobolus heterolepsis. Its plumes smell like hot buttered popcorn to me on a good day although my husband can’t smell it at all.

The trend toward food-related perennial names is a bit puzzling, as you don’t see many such names much among annuals, trees or shrubs. The only candidates that come to mind are Chocolate cosmos and Popcorn doublefile viburnum.

Maybe it’s because developing new hybrid plants is a lot like cooking – take a cup of Plant A, add a dash of Plant B, put them together in a warm environment and … well, you get the picture. At least putting these food-inspired plants in your garden won’t pack on the extra pounds the way the real thing would.

All this, however, does leave me wondering what's next. At this rate, it probably won’t be long until someone comes up with a plant named PB&J. Just remember you heard it here first.

(With photos by Lynn Dipple)

By Karen Geisler

Friday, September 9, 2011

Circle Onion

Circle onion in full bloom
The circle onion in full bloom
It’s always a bit sad in my garden this time of year. There are sedums and grasses blooming, but the coneflowers are a little long in the tooth and almost everything else looks a bit tired. One big exception is a plant at the end of my front sidewalk – allium senescens ssp. glaucum, better known as the circle onion.

It’s a funny name for a cool little plant. And it has a number of other nicknames as well. Among them are German garlic, Blue Siberian onion, cowlick onion, corkscrew ornamental onion, spiral onion, curly chives and circle chives.

Circle onion flowers
 A closeup of the circle onion's flower
One look at the plant, especially in the spring, explains why. Its blue-gray leaves form a spiral, almost a cowlick of sorts. Even this late in the season, when the plant explodes into a bouquet of purple-pink lollipops, the foliage is still a bit twisted and curly.

Like all alliums, or ornamental onions, it likes a well drained site with plenty of sun. The plant tops out at 10 inches tall when in bloom and spreads about 6-10 inches wide. It’s deer- and rabbit-resistant, a big plus.

You can easily divide circle onion. In fact, you need to divide it to keep the plant vigorous once it gets large. I’m going to have to divide some clumps this fall that have been in the ground for about three years. Just make sure you keep the “bulbs” intact.

Circle onion
Circle onion's foliage

What separates this plant from its cousins is that the foliage is nice before and after it blooms. Many alliums that flower in the early summer go dormant after they bloom. In other words, the leaves die. That can leave a bit of a hole in your border unless you put it near other plants that will grow and cover the spot.

Circle onion, though, keeps on giving the whole season long. So if you want some gorgeous color in the late summer and some fantastic foliage, consider putting some circle onion on your plate.

By Karen Geisler