Monday, April 27, 2009

Mish-Mash Monday

There's a few things I keep meaning to show or tell you, but I keep getting distracted. Hence (ta da!) Mish-Mash Monday (A Collection of Random Thoughts). Feel free to participate, too!

First off, a few random photos! My round-lobed Hepatica bloomed a little while ago!!!!! I had looked and looked for it, and looked again, and nothing. Then, BOOM!, all of a sudden there it was. Noogie, isn't it darling? The sharp-leaf Hepatica is now up, too, but no flowers yet.

Also out of nowhere, my snake's head fritillary popped up! (Double noogie!)

The Pulmonaria have really opened up a lot, but they'll look even more blue and moundy in mid May!

I keep a bucket in my bathtub to catch the water as it warms up (I then use it in the garden or, in the winter, put it in my washing machine). Both James and Fiona love drinking from it. Fiona is smaller and very light on her feet, so she can sit on the edge of the bucket without knocking it over, even when very little water is in it. I noticed her doing this the other day, with her head way down near the bottom of the bucket getting a drink. Of course I found this pose so cute I got the camera. Of course, being a cat, Fiona did not cooperate and lifted her head up. But check out her tongue! HA! A cute shot after all. Fiona, incidentally, is not a big purrer, but she does purr when she drinks!

Next, I was so tickled that my students took to a little game I made for them in a recent composting class I taught at Washtenaw Community College. The idea came to me last year, seemingly out of the blue. Two hours is a long time to sit and listen to someone talk, so I try to break up the class somehow. I always welcome comments as I go (it's more interactive), and I try to have lots of things to pass around. Even if it isn't a hand's on class, I think looking at something (feeling/smelling compost) helps connect people to the idea and increases the chances of them doing it later at home. I cover a bit of the science of soils/compost and then get practical. But of course the biggest question is what to compost. I explain about browns and greens and give examples. Then I break them into small groups and give each group three envelopes marked browns, greens, and not compostable, plus about 30 pieces of paper with items written on them (such as grass clippings, shredded leaves, wood ash, chocolate, polyester pants, and 33%) that they have to, as a group, put in the correct envelope.

I didn't know how adults would react to this, but they seem to love it! They speak to one another and bring up good points and questions for discussion. You can see they are so engrossed in the task that they didn't even notice the pesky instructor taking photos for her blog, even if said pesky instructor announced that she was doing so!

Speaking of compost, I read somewhere that spent grains and liquids left over from beer making are great for compost. Well, I emailed the local brewing club and I got some good stuff. One gentleman, Bob, brought me a large ziplock baggie of trub (that's the nice smelling, gooey sediment left over after fermenting). It contains yeast, which kick-starts the composting process. I was so excited to add it to my bin that I forgot to take a photo!

Mike of the Ypsilanti Brewing Company gave me several other leftover plant materials (greens) for my bin:

...20 gallons of used malted barley (still warm, mmmmm)

...three bags of hops that had gone too moldy for brewing

...a bit of leftover liquid from barley distilling mixed in with one bucket of barley, and...

...a hops starter plant! Ooh, look at its rhizomes. I have no idea where I'm going to plant it (full sun with room/support to grow to 12 feet or higher), but I'm going to plant it!

Here is the lovely barley on top of my compost bin (which at this time of year has mostly chopped leaves from last fall) before I mixed it in.

On Friday, I volunteered at the annual Washtenaw County Conservation District Tree Sale. All kinds of trees are laid out in a long pole barn and when people come to pick up their orders, volunteers fill them. This involves a bit of walking and an awful lot of bending over, which isn't really a big deal, but getting up again is! Thanks to Linda who took this photo (Genevieve, note my purple gloves!). [ Update: I just learned that 50,000 trees and shrubs were sold in 439 orders--and I'm sure I filled at least 20 of those orders! :) ]

And finally, some winter-sown babies are up! Quite a few actually, in alphabetical order: bean, borage, catchfly, Centaurea (two kinds, one from Frances), chives, Clarkia, cosmos (from Tina), green pepper, hollyhock (pink from Tina and yellow from Beckie & Rose), hummingbird vine (from Adrienne), hyacinth bean (from Randy), Joseph's coat, lupine, Mexican hat coneflower (from Randy), Mexican sunflower (from Adrienne), nasturtium, pasque flower, snapdragon, tomatoes (Gajo de Melon, Ukrainian Heart, Ladino di Panocchio, Red Russian, and Canestrino di Lucca), and zinnia.

Yep, I did say tomatoes. Aren't they cute?!

The yellow hollyhock (which may be Russian hollyhock, Alcea rugosa) has its first true leaf!

And look at the sweet true leaves of lupine, and how crazy full the catchfly is (tiny seeds; I have to thin out). And the Mexican hat in the foreground is so sweet, too!

In winter sowing, you don't use artificial lighting or temperature to coax seeds along; they come up on their own natural schedule, which means like plants sprout at like times (within normal individual variation!), regardless of when they were sown. For example, I saw the tiniest seed leaves on April 2 for both Clarkia amoena (godetia), sown on January 3, and Clarkia speciosa 'Pink Buttercups', sown on March 17.

Likewise, I saw the first seedlings for two kinds of Centaurea cyanus on that same day: "dark burgundy" from GardenBabe sown on January 3 and 'Black ball' from Frances sown on March 17. Check out 'Black ball' yesterday — its roots are really developed and it's more than ready to be transplanted. It's by far my biggest seedling.

I have four trays and one milk jug with seedlings, which have remained uncovered overnight for the last few days, and five trays and one jug that remained covered at all times since no seedlings have sprouted in them yet. I'll post more progress as time goes on.

For now, thanks for stopping by and I wish you a happy Mish-Mash Monday!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Doing A Line

OK, I'm just going to admit it. I've been a little down lately. You know, spring has been so slow in coming, the groundhog ate all my tulips, and I'm just a little out of sorts.

I was really craving a little something to lift my spirits, and only one thing really does the trick. But my normal dosage (a hit here and a hit there) was no longer enough. I needed something more powerful.

I knew what I had to do, even though I'd never done it before, and I didn't know exactly what it would be like. But I craved a bigger fix, so I passed through a new gateway and did a whole line!


Seriously. I do get a little impatient waiting for spring, and the only cure is little doses of spring floweres wherever and whenever I find them. I showed you my hyacinths earlier, but now the daffs are starting to bloom in my garden. I have a few happy sunshine-yellow clumps in my yard that verily lift my spirits.

This shot of yellow greets you near the front door.

Here are some on one end of the house...

... and here on the side.

But these few clumps just weren't enough. I needed more yellow sunshine, shot straight through to my soul. So my friend Carole and I went to Nichols Arboretum to see what Ann Arborites call The Daffodil Line, but whose official name is Imagine/Align. (Yes, complete with the slash; you remember me mentioning Ann Arbor being artsy, right?) According to the website of its designer, Susan Skarsgard, Image/Align is a "site-specific, community-based art installation, mapping thought and inspiring contemplation." The half-mile long line was planted with 10,000 bulbs by Skarsgard and 150 volunteers in fall, 2003.

So, we entered through the gateway, walked a while on a path up above the valley below until...

...we did the line.

There are actually three lines: two long lines that connect in a right angle and one shorter line in another location that runs uphill and backs onto a cemetery. The line in the two photos above, taken from different angles, runs north-south.

This is the other long line, running east-west.

Here's the corner where the two lines intersect.

And a closer view of one of the long lines...

...and of the shorter line in another location.

It was worth it, even though you get some weird hallucinations when doing a line, like this huge and somewhat misshapen squirrel!

And then you not only see something you don't expect to see in a park at all, but you feel it is sending you odd, incomprehensible messages!

And then it gets even weirder because tree bark starts to grow metal sections right before your eyes and numbers appear on the metal!

And, most mind-bogglingly of all, I swear I was passed on the trail by not one, not two, but at least a dozen people running past me, all panting and shiny, even though no one was chasing them! Some even had alien-looking devices strapped to their arms or chests!

Despite this high, it was clear that the lines had gaps. A few were due to natural variations in bloom times and survival rates, but more were caused by the actions of (excuse my French) complete dillrods. One large portion had been mowed and in other areas, daffodils had been trampled to the ground before blooming or had been picked; most never made it to vases, though, as many were thrown where they were picked or farther afield in the grass and paths. That was a bit of a downer and made me glad I have my small hits of daffodils at home.

And this is the end of the line for our magical daffodil ride. I hope you enjoyed your trip.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Chicago Skyline

On my recent trip to Chicago, I was on the lookout for something to include for Skywatch Friday.

Can any locals tell me what that dark water-towery-looking thing is? Here it is close up and heavily lightened. It is on the north side of Randolph Street, several streets east of Wacker and west of State.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Whirlwind Chicago Trip

About two weeks ago, I was so inspired reading accounts of the Macy's Flower Show from Garden Girl and Mr. Brown Thumb that I went ahead and booked tickets on megabus for a Chicago day trip for April 18. I issued an open invitation for any local bloggers to meet me there, and Garden Girl, Mr Brown Thumb, and On the Shores of Lake Chicago (Shores for short) met me around 11:20 outside Macy's.

That big flamingo isn't any of them, or even me, but one of my favorite floral displays. I realize pink flamingos aren't everyone's cup of tea, but I love them. They add a touch of whimsy and, yes I'll say it, class, to the garden. Or garden show.

But wait, here are Garden Girl and Shores posing (I made them do it!) along the main aisle, which had several okame cherry trees down the center and which was flanked on either side with flamingos. (Apparently, they swapped out the cherry trees into refrigerated trucks over night so the blooms would stay fresh longer.)

At Mr Brown Thumb's suggestion, we looked at the same aisle from one floor up...

...and from seven floors up. Cool perspective, huh?!

They also had floral arrangements on top of display shelves...

... and in the aisles. This was the "flower of the day" display, which was changed regularly. I took this shot because all those fuchsia hues just demanded to be photographed, but the display also incorporated a bunch of interesting "found" items along the bottom, such as a bowling ball, pull cart, a big purse, an old cash register, shoes, a hard hat, and a lunch box.

The fountain in the Walnut Room restaurant was also decked out. I was sorely tempted to sneak one of the plastic flamingos out in my purse, but I am happy to report that decency prevailed.

Aside from the flower displays, the Macy's building itself was very interesting. It's been a long time since I've been in a department store full stop (I'm not a big shopper), let alone one with more than two stories. Macy's is like a mini city! Even the elevators are cool.
And check out this magnificent mosaic ceiling by Louis Comfort Tiffany. I usually think of Tiffany in terms of stained glass, but the principles of stained glass and mosaic design are similar. The ceiling really sparkled and the photo doesn't do it justice. I didn't realize we could see it close up from a higher level, but I'll be in Chicago again soon enough!

After Macy's, Shores went home to clean out her pond and Garden Girl, Mr Brown Thumb, and I headed to the nearby Cultural Center. It used to be the main library branch and now houses galleries and rents rooms for meetings, weddings, etc. It has two Tiffany stained glass domes, whose color and detail were very hard to capture in photos, but which were stunning in person.

The walls also had extremely detailed mosaic work, which you can see a little bit here...

...and more close up here (Garden Girl took a better photo, I'm sure!).

The mosaic tiles weren't just near the dome, but extended into several rooms as well. One can only imagine how long that work took to complete. And I just loved the contrast of old and new, looking out the window of the Cultural Center to the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

The second Tiffany dome was equally compelling.

And I'm always impressed how flowers and little garden spaces are tucked everywhere in the big, bustling, concrete downtown Chicago. This little garden patch was visible through a hallway window at the Cultural Center.

This planter somewhere along Randolph Street is all ready for spring.

This planter (I believe along Michigan Avenue) still had some of the red twig dogwood it had before the holidays, but with the addition of pansies and ornamental cabbages. (That's Shores taking a look while I'm taking the shot!)

And would you believe it? A potted larch, complete with baby cones. Awwwww....

After finishing at the Cultural Center, GG, MBT, and I headed over to Millennium Park. I love this shot of the Cloud Gate because due to the trees and angle, you don't see it immediately.

We then walked to the Lurie Garden, which was planted with spring bulbs. It gets more impressive in spring and summer as the perennials fill in and get tall. I love how there's another crazy plant person in the left of this photo, contorting to get that perfect shot.

There were cute clumps of species tulips, plus the other usual suspects of spring bulbs. Plus two herbaceous perennials that none of us could ID. And which weren't listed on the two signs. Honestly, I can't tell you how many times I've visited gardens with friends and, between us, we can ID about 95% of the plants, and those we don't know are inevitably the ones without signs! I've emailed the Lurie horticulturist asking for ID help, but of course I'm sure one (or more!) of my blogging friends will be quick to help me out, too. :) [Added later: The horticulturist, Colleen Lockovitch, just emailed me back and confirmed the plants as described below. Thanks, Colleen!]

This one looks so familiar to me; the flowers look like pasque flower, but I don't think the leaves are right. [Added later: Thank you, Mr. McGregor's Daughter, for IDing this as prairie smoke; I've only ever seen it in photos with its poofy pink seed heads, not the flowers or buds. I also imagined it taller. Even though we're theoretically in the right zone for it, it doesn't bloom too aggressively here, according to my local prairie-expert friend (everyone should have one!)]

And this one I'm completely clueless about (but aren't the buds just the coolest?!). [Added later: Bing bing bing! We have an ID, thanks to Shady Gardener. They're Virginia bluebells, whose blooms I can easily recognize, but I'd never seen the cool, "scrunched up" buds as I don't grow them in my own garden. I can see that needs to change.]

We then walked across the BP Bridge...

...and reached a little stand of magnolias, one of which had wishes tied to it.

The wishes appeared to be written by junior-high or high-school age kids. Most were what you might expect — wishes for fame, beauty, fortune, and love. Others were more poignant, like a wish to meet one's birth parents. But by far, my favorite wish was this one!

Aren't the blossoms gorgeous? I may have told GG that the magnolias back in Michigan weren't blooming yet, but I was wrong. I went to dinner last night at a friend's house and the magnolias were blooming!

We then headed to Grant Park, where we came across this lovely sea of tulips with pansies waving in the background. I love pansies!

Oh, yeah, and this fountain.

I was getting a bit light-headed from the previous four hours of non-stop walking/standing so we headed to Michigan Avenue to have a bite to eat. But first we saw this public planting and from a distance, we thought it looked like its border was made of lettuce. But we thought, no, it must be lime coral bells or something. Intrigued, we walked up closer to it, and it was indeed lettuce! Very, very cool. I should mention, at this point, that it was so lovely being with two other crazy gardeners who totally understood how exciting it was that the city has edged a bed with edibles! I'm getting all misty, humming Island of Misfit Toys to myself now... (but I don't want to imply anything about my blogging friends, only about me!)

We then ate at the Corner Bakery, a Panera-like restaurant that made a mean mixed-greens salad and an awesome tomato-basil soup. Renewed and replenished, it was time for me to head back to Union Station to catch my bus. Garden Girl headed back to her Metra stop and Mr Brown Thumb walked with me most of the way back to the station and got a glimpse of the bright blue bus I'd be taking home. (megabus is cheap and comfortable! Check it out!)

My feet hurt a little (from carrying me around!), but it was a most enjoyable day. Not only do I love Chicago and architecture and flowers, but it was so nice seeing Garden Girl again and meeting Mr Brown Thumb and On the Shores of Lake Chicago for the first time. I really enjoyed spending time with them. What can I say, gardeners are good people. (And smart and funny, too!) I'm so looking forward to Spring Fling and meeting more of my dear blogging friends!