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