Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Easter Lily

Easter lily
An Easter lily

When I was a child, Easter meant spring break, a new dress and-- of course -- a visit from the Easter bunny.

As an adult, though, it has taken on a deeper meaning. Renewal. Rebirth. A chance to wipe the slate clean. To begin again.

The first day of spring, at least in Chicago, is just another date on the calendar. Easter, though, generally is about the time when Mother Nature starts waking up from her winter nap. Although the weather isn't cooperating much this year, the longer days are finally starting to perk things up outside. It won't be long until the gardening year begins.

The Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) has long been a symbol of hope. And after last year's drought, I definitely need all the help I can get in that department. It will be a reminder in the coming days that I need to find a place in the garden not only for the lily but all the other plants I've been lusting after for the past few months.

Yes, this year in the garden will be better than the last one. Not perfect, but definitely better.

Here's hoping you have a great Easter!

Easter lily close up

By Karen Geisler

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Macy's Chicago Flower Show: The Painted Garden

Yellow orchids with Indian wall plate
One of the colorful displays at Macy's Flower Show in Chicago.

I haven't been to Macy's spring flower show in Chicago for a few years now. The last time I went, there were only a few displays on the first floor, much to my disappointment. Given this year's late spring, though, I decided to check out the current show, The Painted Garden, which debuted today. I was happy to see the show is back to its former glory up on the 9th floor.

Orchids and bromeliads are everywhere as are tulips, azaleas, palms and lots of tropical plants. So if you're looking for some inspiration for your perennial or native plants garden, this isn't the place for you. That said, it provided a much needed shot of color on a cold, windy and gray Sunday afternoon.

Visitors are met by a large elephant decked out in brightly colored blooms. A path to either side then meanders around a white square central fountain. Scenes include a home's front door, a marketplace and several plazas. Flowers are in bold colors -- yellow, orange, pink and purple -- and the backdrops, all with Indian architectural elements, are painted in deep hues.

The show continues through Sunday, April 7 at Macy's State Street location during regular store hours. A complete plant list is in the show's brochure. Admission is free.

Spiral, peacock and Taj Mahal
A photo of the Taj Mahal provides a nice backdrop for this spiral and peacock.
Palm tree in elephant pot
This potted palm is just one of many in the show.

Orange couch with aqua colored nettng
I want this one in my back yard.
Hanging baskets of colorful flowers
A marketplace scene includes baskets of colorful flowers.

White fountain with flowers
The central fountain is surrounded with flowers and foliage.
Elephant statue with flowers
This elephant at the entrance is a popular spot for photos.
By Karen Geisler

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Hurry Spring!

Red tulips in blue vase
These will be the only blooms in my garden this year on the first day of spring.

T.S. Eliot was wrong. It’s March, not April, that’s the cruelest month, at least for Chicago gardeners.

Some years, winter quietly slips away, allowing crocuses, daffodils and tulips to burst forth in a cacophony of color. Last year was like that, with record high temperatures in the 70s and 80s.
“In like a lion, out like a lamb,” as the old saying goes.
This year, though, the lion came and shows no signs of leaving anytime soon. The first day of spring is just 48 hours away but we have snow on the ground with more forecast tomorrow. Most of my flower beds are frozen solid. Night-time temperatures are expected to dip into the teens later in the week.

Hyacinth and daffodils
The first day of spring 2012 (left) and 2013 (right)

Magnolia blooms and buds
Magnolia blooming 2012, buds only in 2013

We've obviously been spoiled by mild winters the past two years. Waiting for spring seems more like waiting for Godot. What’s a gardener to do?

I’ve mostly been dreaming about what I want to do in the garden this year. Much of it will be damage control. Last summer’s drought killed one arborvitae and damaged two other trees in my garden. My weeping cherry tree also wasn’t looking too good last fall.
Will there be other victims? I’ll just have to wait until everything starts leafing out. I’m especially concerned about the plants I put in last fall. We had some very cold days in the first part of winter with no snow to protect them. I normally would have planted them earlier, giving them more of a fighting chance, but I was too busy doing the weeding that I had put off because of the summer’s high temperatures.
For now, I'm sharpening (and resharpening) my garden tools, buying seeds, looking at plant catalogs and doing some online research.
Of course, despite the whacky weather we get in the Midwest, I want it all: loads of color, long bloom times, hardiness, drought tolerance, sustainability and, oh yes, the ability to flourish in compacted clay soil. Is that too much to ask?

Once I make up my mind, though, I'm full of indecision. It always drives my husband and son crazy this time of year.
How are you bidding your time? And what are you planning to add to your garden this year? Milkweed and rudbeckia are on my short list so far.

Red tulips an blue vase on snow
Red, white and blue

Awake, thou wintry earth -
Fling off thy sadness!
Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth
Your ancient gladness!

~Thomas Blackburn, "An Easter Hymn"

For a look at what was blooming in my garden last year on March 20, check out The First Day of Spring.

By Karen Geisler

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The 2013 Chicago Flower & Garden Show

Sculpture of branches and stones
"Larger Than Life," a sculpture by Chicago artist Jeffrey Breslow

The minute you step into the 2013 Chicago Flower and Garden Show, the theme of this year's show is obvious: "The Art of Gardening."

You're greeted by two large pieces of art, a sculpture of tree branches, stones and rotating colored lights by Jeffrey Breslow and a large wall of hand-painted window art by Emmy Star Brown. Many of this year's display gardens also incorporate various art elements into their designs.

Of course, there's still lots of tulips, hyacinths and other spring blooming flowers everywhere. At times, the perfume could almost make you forget the major snow storms we've had in recent weeks.

Colorful spring tulips
Canvas of Tulips, Garden #17

Orange tulips with yellow edges
Banja Luka tulips
Double pink fringed tulips
A close up of Cool Crystal tulips
Among the various artistic elements at this year's show are a brass sculpture of a boy with an American flag, a piano and trumpets made into water features and Shona stone sculptures from Zimbabwe, Africa.

African stone sculpture of a person
Shona stone sculpture at Living Art in the Garden, Garden #18

Piano water feature
A piano water feature at A Water Sonata, Garden #9
Trumpets create a waterfall
Trumpets create a waterfall at Garden #9
Pot with colorful tropical plants
A colorful urn at Backyard Utopia, Garden #10
Bronze sculpture boy with flag
A bronze sculpture amid daffodils at Garden #10
There's also a garden, An Inspirational Art Walk, that's dedicated to the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation. It features framed photographs from the series "Mr. Wild's Garden" by David Weinberg set in a landscape designed by members of the Illinois chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. The not-for-profit foundation provides support and assistance to the families of Chicago police officers who are killed or catastrophically injured in the line of duty.

Framed photo in th Police Memorial Garden
An Inspirational Art Walk, Garden #5
In addition, there are two examples of edible landscaping, one by the Peterson Garden Project and another by Growing Power Inc. The latter garden, done with in a spiral pattern, is especially colorful with early spring crops, herbs and vegetables. Both groups help people grow their own food.

Victory Garden posters and plants
The Peterson Garden Project: Victory Today!, Garden #19

Spiral garden with veggies
Art on the Farm, Garden #15
And, of course, the show again featured some tablescapes under the theme "An Art-Full Table."

Wine, roses and grapes on table
Roses are everywhere on this tablescape by Mariano's
The show has activities for the kids as well as educational seminars and demonstrations for adults. It also has brought back its potting parties, allowing people to create a a container they can take home. And if you're more of a cook than a gardener, there are culinary demonstrations every day by various chefs.
The 2013 Chicago Flower and Garden Show continues through March 17 at Navy Pier.
Handpainted glass windows
Hand-painted window art by Emmy Star Brown at the show's entrance
By Karen Geisler

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Japanese Garden in Winter

Pine tree, boxwood and pruned shrubs
The Malott Japanese Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Japanese gardens are all about peace, harmony and tranquility, a place for contemplation and the appreciation of nature. Trees, rocks, stone lanterns and winding paths are there to enjoy year round.
Most visitors to the Chicago Botanic Garden, though, probably visit its Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese garden in the spring and summer given our temperature swings. That's a shame because winter, at least in my opinion, is the best time to appreciate its design.

The surrounding lake is now covered with ice, providing a white backdrop for the many plants along its shoreline. Snow also sets off the twisted and pruned shapes of the trees and shrubs. And when the sun breaks through the clouds, the shadows created are all the more dramatic as a result.
Twisted tree silhoutted against the snow
Trees on Horaijima stand out against the snow.
I recently visited the Japanese garden as part of a free photo walk sponsored by the CBG on the first Saturday of every month. The sky was overcast at first, but patches of blue started peaking through in the early afternoon, lifting my spirits.   
This place officially is Sansho-en, Garden of Three Islands, designed by Dr. Koichi Kawana.
The main island, Keiunto (Island of the Auspicious Cloud) is reached by an arched wooden bridge and is connected to Seifuto (Island of Clear, Pure Breezes) by a zigzag bridge.  Both have winding paths around their perimeters and various buildings.
The third island is Horaijima (Island of Everlasting Happiness) which represents paradise, a place that can’t be reached by mortals. It is not accessible to the public although it can be seen from the other two islands and provides a lot of “borrowed” scenery, a key element in Japanese gardens.
During the rest of the year, these islands have plenty of greenery – deciduous trees and shrubs as well as bamboo and other groundcovers.  In winter, though, it’s stripped to its bare essentials. It’s a scene right out of a Japanese ink wash painting – simple, serene and striking, all at the same time.
By Karen Geisler
Pine tree and stone lantern
The north end of Keiunto as viewed from the entrance bridge.
Twisted pine branches in a Japanese gardet
The twisted shape of this tree is highlighted by the icy lake.
Stone lantern, pruned trees and a stone path
Stone lanterns and rocks are essential parts of a Japanese garden.
Large tree in Japanese garden
The shape of this tree is more easily appreciated in the winter.
Red twig dogwood wth pruned trees
"Borrowed" scenery, a common element in Japanese gardens, is everywhere.