Archive for April, 2007

Celandine Poppy

I planted several Celandine poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum) last year, and I’m so pleased with them. They popped right up this spring and are now covered with bright yellow flowers. This particular one right in front of the blackhaw viburnum is over a foot tall! I haven’t noticed any seedlings yet, but they might be pretty small compared to the ones planted las year.

If you’re looking for a semi-shade plant with early flowers and good-looking foliage, Celandine poppy is a very low-maintenance option.

Rain! Mail Order!

After the longest April rain-free period in Chicago history, we are now getting rain. I’m sure the fish are grateful that their pond is now full, although I’m sure I need to supplement their salt. The trees (outside of the oaks and sycamores) are leafing out and it’s really getting green. I am just a little bit too happy about this!

I’ve started my springtime mail-order spree. Even though mid-May is the traditional planting time, I think the natives will be tough enough to handle any early May chilliness. My first bunch will arrive next week from Stone Silo in northeast Wisconsin. I picked up some of their plants last year at the Green Bay Botanical Garden, and they were so strong and healthy that I decided to try to buy more of their stuff. Their prices are great, too! Now I just have to find a place for my impulse purchase of blue false indigo….

23 April

There’s nothing like a warm weekend to get spring restarted! The serviceberry has bloomed and is now losing its blossoms after less than a week in bloom. The celandine poppies are covered in yellow blossoms, and the marsh marigold has its first flower (although all the buds that were about to open before our cold spell are now black). The blackhaw viburnum and its small neighbor the mapleleaf viburnum are starting to leaf out, although it’s unclear whether they will blossom at all. The ostrich ferns that came with the yard are out, but the ferns I bought last year (lady, maidenhair, and cinnamon) haven’t shown themselves yet. (Hmmm.)

I planted 3 Caroline raspberry canes, a Tophat blueberry, English lavender, and some impulse-bought Tete-a-Tete daffodils and purple hyacinths this weekend. I keep peeking at the raspberry canes, but they insist on continuing to look like sticks unrelieved by buds.

Lazy Urban Composting: Part 1 – It Ain’t a Brush Pile

After an inspirational composting workshop at Cheney Mansion, I started composting in earnest. I was always a bit intimidated about getting the right ratio of green to brown correct, etc., but the head gardener at Cheney convinced me that the important thing to do was to just start composting and not get all perfectionist about it. (The exception was to not have it be all grass clippings, but with a very small lawn and a reel mower, this isn’t an issue here.)

So I started dumping everything on the pile: branches, pond algae, fruits and veggies from the kitchen. The yard is a little small for a nice three-bin system, so there’s just one pile wedged between the Siberian elm and the arborvitae. I didn’t really touch the pile, because, well, it was a little scary! Lord only knows what was living in there…although when I did dig it out on rare occasions, there was some nice compost at the bottom. My non-country roots show when confronted with a pile of organic stuff that’s bigger than me.
I finally tackled the pile yesterday, and decided that the branches are going to have to be mulched by the village rather that decaying ever-so-slowly in the pile. There’s just not enough room for both the branches (with a Siberian elm and an American linden, there are lots of branches) and the fruit & vegetable waste from the house. So now the pile is small and tidy and turnable and no longer up against a wood fence, and I have two bags of branches for the village. I think I’ll be able to use some of the branches for a twig fence for the side yard, but I’m going to have to admit defeat for the rest.

Vegetable Garden, Round 2

Last year I planted mesclun and radishes for my early spring vegetable garden. The few surviving radishes were puny, and the only successful leafy greens were the mustard greens (perhaps they were too strong for the rabbits – they were definitely too strong for me).

This year, I’m trying two kinds of Swiss chard. I dug in a small bale of peat moss to loosen up the nasty clay soil in the bed south of the garage before I planted. It’ll be a few days before I know whether they germinated, but I did get a fair amount of pleasure from the size of the chard seed. Unlike lettuce or radish seeds, these guys were huge! If nothing else, I think I got the seed spacing working better this year than last.

Bloom Day – April 2007

Not a whole lot is in bloom yet, but I think things should look better next week!

For now, the only native bloomers are Allegheny spurge (above), Labrador violets, and Pennsylvania sedge. I hope to see some spring ephemerals in the side yard soon, but not much yet.

Among the non-natives I’ve planted just to see some early spring color:
hyacinths (standard and grape)
scilla & chionodoxa in the front yard (below)

11 April

I was going to take some pictures of the scilla and chionodoxa in the front lawn, but the weather intervened. Here’s the pond, with the forsythia to the right (note that it looks the same as it did in the 29 March posting!) and some wild iris (Iris shrevei) to the left, starting to poke up in the pond.

The snow is quite pretty, but enough already. I want to garden!

10 April

The cold snap of the past week has felled many of the spring blooms that appeared during the warmth of late March. The magnolia in the side yard now has shriveled brown petals. The early daffodils have all laid down, as has this gorgeous hyacinth that I bought at City Escape just east of Garfield Park. The later daffodils look fine, as do the front-yard scilla (more about that later).

Everything else in the garden is paused. Leaf buds are no more open then they were two weeks ago, but they’re not browned and burnt, either.  I hold my breath, too, and wait for warmth and rain.

My favorite sedge

The Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pennsylvanica – a NE Illinois native) I planted last year is coming up again, cold weather be damned. This is the first time I’ve seen the flowers/seedheads. Later on in the summer, it will be lush and long and green, even in the shade of a fence and a tree at the top of the biofalls. I really hope it spreads enough to cover the whole top of the biofalls – with only a half a year of growth behind it, it’s still pretty clumpy.

String Algae and the Lazy Ponder

I am really happy that this spring I have not (yet) seen the forests of string algae that covered the pond bottom last year. I was literally pulling out armloads of the stuff from the time the pond thawed until late June. There’s definitely still a bloom going on, but it’s maybe a tenth of the amount seen last year. A 15-minute session with a skimmer net once or twice a week plus emptying out the skimmer basket is keeping it nearly invisible except on our waterfall.

Part of the improvement was just from the pond aging and being fully planted last summer, I’m sure, but I think a lot of it has to do with my aggressively removing leaves and sticks from the pond in fall and winter. The string algae appears to thrive on decaying biological material, and removing the dead stuff seems to keep it down to a dull roar.

Note that we have a standard Aquascape system with a skimmer and biofalls – no UV, no additional filtering, no water changes. I keep the salt level at 0.1% to keep the fish happy. The water is crystal clear (no floating algae) thanks in great measure to the pond sitting in the shade (as does the rest of the backyard).

I can’t wait to find out whether the string algae disappears completely once all the pond plants start growing and sucking up the nutrients that the algae is living on!