Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winterized Chain-Link Fence and Garden Cookies

I am in the middle of my annual winter garden sulk, so I made "holiday" cookies yesterday as I saw fit:

Chain-link garden cookies

What looks better, the cookies or my winterized chain-link garden? Either way, one will be gone tomorrow--I know that much. I've been tossing around ideas as to what could make a chain-link garden look festive in the winter, and finally wound up wrapping this fake garland around the fence top, arbor and shepherd's hooks...all to uncertain effect:

At the very least, the garland catches the snow nicely, and the birds seem to alight on it happily.

Garlanded shepherd's hooks, with baskets left up as bird-feeding platforms

A garlanded section of chain-link fence, dusted with snow
I thought about entwining the fence with even more of the garland, but never found time to do it. It looks a bit worse if you hastily drape it everywhere, and weaving it in and out of all the links proved somewhat maddening. I found later, though, that cutting the garland into shorter strips makes it a lot easier!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Nichols Park Community Gardens Reduced

I cut through Nichols Park the other day and saw this:

That's a big change from a few months ago. It used to look like this:

 I'll have to revise my community gardens page. There still seems to be some space for gardening outside the wrought iron fence. Anyway, they appear to be shifting toward youth centered activities. For more info, see: http://www.hpnclub.org/

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ghoulish Gardening - Hyde Park Halloween

Often, gardeners like to add a few final touches to the fragile beauty of their golden autumnal landscapes by swathing everything in cobwebs and hanging ghosts, zombies, witches, and skeletons all over the place. I would do the same if we had any trick-or-treaters on our block. But they're rightly drawn instead to South Harper, Hyde Park's foremost Halloween destination:

What was that hanging in the tree, you ask? Rather horrifyingly, this thing appears to be attached to a pulley...which is to say, it moves.

This fair maiden was one of the creepiest things I saw today, although last year many people waited until the 31st to set up all their decorations. I'm sure it will get creepier still.

If you look closely at this photo, you'll see a Hyde Park Garden Fair poster in the window. I don't think this is a coincidence. I've killed so many plants this year that I should be making amends too.

Who needs hanging baskets of chrysanthemums on the porch when you've got a pal like this? 

Well, only the brave will venture over to S. Harper on Halloween. I will be far away when they finally let this guy out of his house.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Spotted: Corner Corn

Think you don't have room to grow corn? Turns out you can grow corn in a pot. On a street corner! This glorious example of a gardener's determination was spotted by the Hyde Park Cats blogger. Thanks Terren!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Chain-link Coverage: Grapevine (video!)

I return today to my interest in plants that go well with chain-link fences. What about grapevine (Boston Ivy, which is, confusingly, not ivy)? The particular variety I'm referring to is (I think) parthenocissus tricuspidata, and it's all over Hyde Park and covers many University of Chicago buildings. The grapes aren't fit for humans to eat, but birds love them in the fall.

Here is a photo of the vine growing on and sticking to a brick wall. It does not necessarily twine about things on its own (more on this problem below).

Grapevine has one magical quality that I must share, and it requires video. When the grapes begin to ripen (the video was taken in late July 2011), the outer casing bursts open and pops off. There are so many dozens of grapes per cluster, and so many clusters per vine, that the effect is like some sort of dry rain. Have a look:
It leaves a bit of green "confetti" on the ground afterward, which later turns brown (and tracks into your house!). However, it disintegrates fairly quickly on its own, or you can brush or spray it aside.

But how does it work on a chain-link fence? The photo below suggests that grapevine can provide good coverage, but also that training it properly may require some care. Here, left untended, it is growing straight up and then flopping over on itself, rather than moving sideways across the the fence. I can imagine going out every few days to weave it in and out of the wire mesh myself.

So...some PROS for grapevine on a chain-link fence:
*it leafs out early, and hangs on fairly well in the fall (turning beautiful colors)
*coverage can be dense
*grows quickly
*you can get a clipping easily in Hyde Park and start your own vine using rooting hormone (I'm told)
*grapevine "rain" offers a zen-like experience
*it will come back every year; the main vines become thick and woody and will eventually provide winter interest even without the leaves
*may attract birds, or even huge flocks (starlings especially, as far as I've seen), which is fun for humans and cats too!

Some CONS:
*It can be quite invasive
*You have to clean up the leaves in the fall...they leave a thick matting on the ground
*You'll have to train it at least a little on a chain-link fence or trellis
*You'll need to think about what to do if it spreads to a nearby building (or your own building!)... it is easy to pull off, but if it's very high up, it could present problems

I like mine, and I wish I had grown it over my chain-link fence years ago. Other peoples' experiences with it are welcome!

Friday, July 29, 2011

55th/Woodlawn Gardens Revisited

I love before and after photos, and now I can finally offer some from the 55th/Woodlawn community gardens (see original post).

55th St. -- Before

55th St. -- After!
 As usual, I am amazed by what good sun conditions can do for a garden. Look at these monster green beans!

It was hard to capture the dazzling array of zinnias and other flowers on my little camera, so I tried a semi-artsy shot of these orange ones (which I can't quite identify...some sort of coreopsis?).

These giant blue cabbages dominate several plots. They're beautiful, if also perhaps frightful... This one had its own pet frog:

An avid gardener I met on-site eagerly ushered me over to the delicate blooms of borage, which I had never seen before. He was sorry to say they were just past their prime, but we found a few left to admire.

The heat made me appreciate the rest spot in the center of the garden beneath a tall shade tree. In this garden, you definitely want to sit and enjoy everything for at least a few minutes!

See you again in the fall! 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

62nd St. Gardens - Guest Photographer

I had meant to go over to the 62nd St/Dorchester community gardens and take some photos, but it is about 100F out today and generally very hot lately. So I am thrilled to be able to publish someone else's photos, namely those of professional photographer Deborah Marcero. Deborah says she is a "first time city gardener" and is enjoying her experience so far. She is also an aspiring aviator.

Her gorgeous professional website can be found here:  http://honeyandlightphoto.com/ 
and her (also gorgeous) blog is here: http://honeyandlightphoto.com/blog/


Please note that these photos are the property of Deborah Marcero. If you wish to use/reproduce them in any way, please contact her via her blog.

Some little snapdragons?...Must have been taken a while ago!

...And a hen?

How can you not want to grow your own tomatoes?

And the gerber daisies...perfect for vases, or just little spots of happy.

Stay cool everyone! 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Shared: Bungee Trellis


A friend just sent me some pics of an ingenious trellis she made out of bungee cords. They were originally posted on her Flickr stream here. This is a really cool idea because not only is this a case of "gardening with what you've got," but she has found a way to create a privacy screen, or shade screen, that starts at about chest level and rises from there. That means less time is required to grow the vines up high enough. Plus, the morning glory blossoms will soon be exquisite at eye level.

Balconies and fire escapes can be delightful, but you don't always want full sun or neighborly attention. 

The dog's name is Evie. She is very sweet, but pretends to be shy.

And here is a close-up shot of one of the cords ornamented with heart-shaped morning glory leaves. Now she has a good place to plow through books for her exam. I bet Evie enjoys sleeping out there too! Now all she needs is...a hummingbird feeder? Some niger thistle for the goldfinches? Time will tell!

Morning Glory tower

Monday, July 11, 2011

Community Gardens in Sweden

Since my husband is Swedish, I can't resist sharing some photos of community gardens in Sweden. Allotments or "colonies" (kolonier) are rented out as individual plots just as they are here. But Sweden is a country the size of California with about 1/4 the population of California. There's a lot of land to go around, even for those who can't afford a house with a garden.

The photo above was taken just outside a large residential co-op apartment complex. Resting on the edge of uncultivated fields as it does, with thick forests all around, gardeners struggle with (and adore) red deer like this one.

Given that outdoor produce stands (open daily) are a ten minute walk from here, some people focus only on flowers and the cultivation of peaceful, beautiful spaces (below).

But here (below), the allotments are larger, and serious fruit and vegetable growing takes center stage. Roughly 6 separate allotments are visible in this photo:

To my mind, the most notable feature of Swedish community gardens is a sense of permanence. Sheds, greenhouses, and even exquisite miniature houses (for adults) adorn many plots, while a recent article in Dagens Nyheter shows seven photos of a plot that looks professionally landscaped(http://www.dn.se/bostad/lycka-ar-en-egen-kolonilott ). See photo #6 especially. They really do build little houses like that. In my next post, I'll share photos of one very unique space that is elaborate but also possesses a certain DIY charm.

For now, just one more photo. Imagine getting off work, hopping on your vespa, pushing through (minimal)city traffic, and then zooming through the Swedish meadows toward your own semi-private agricultural happy hour.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Spotted: Scrappy Bird Bath

If you garden at all, you'll see some birds. I even had a sparrow come into my garden room once in the middle of winter. It was delightful, at first. But then it wound up hopping all the way through my apartment...back near where my cat was sleeping...in the middle of a phone interview, and...oh never mind. It didn't end well. The bird was fine.

Anyway, I say invite your birds to stay a while (outdoors only!). But rather than buying a specially made bird bath, consider re-purposing materials you'd otherwise throw out...

When I glanced at this as I was walking by, I unconsciously took in a deep, peaceful breath. I thought of a Japanese zen garden.

It took me four or five more steps before I realized that it's an upside down metal stand, propped up with a cinder block, balancing a clay flower pot saucer (although it's darker than a regular clay pot).

I think it's beautiful, and I bet the birds like it. The foliage is quickly covering up the block too.

Overall, this shady garden is greatly enhanced by the addition of one thoughtful, clever inversion. And from now on, I'll try to think upside down before I discard anything.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Scrappy Gardeners Wanted

On June 22nd, The New York Times published an article on the "scrappy" rooftop gardeners of New York, which can be found here. Included was an inspiring slide show...one that also left me feeling grateful for the space we have here in Hyde Park. And a bit puzzled. When you see just how far some people will go to create a little green nook for themselves--on a rooftop--it's surprising that Hyde Park has so much unused land. Whole 1/4 acre lots overgrown with weeds, or worse, covered with enormous, suspiciously weed-free lawns.

But it doesn't have to be that way. One has only to ask one's landlord for a bit of earth.

Case in point. These walk-up units have a large green lawn behind them. Residents clearly enjoy the lawn while reading, having parties etc.

But with so much space, why not designate a small piece of it for vegetables? --Or even a few low maintenance flowers?

Several people tend these plants. They've tilled the soil and planted things and seen to the watering.

I envy them their lettuce. They get about three hours more sun than I do, I'd say, and that makes all the difference.

I'm not holding my breath for some transformation into stylish, quirky, semi-private "urban oases." These are utilitarian plots. But I suspect it's just what the residents have time for, and just what they want. In any case, to see them watering, hoeing, or plucking fresh greens is a peaceful sight in itself.

This plot may no longer be fit for beach towels and BBQ's, but again, there's enough space for that anyway. Good job, gardeners!  AND, if anyone else out there wants to share pics of their own scrappy gardening projects, feel free send them to me at chainlinktrellis@gmail.com.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Spotted: Kenwood Scarecrow Garden

Between Wilder House and the Lillie House on Kenwood and 58th is a communal garden, though I don't know who tends it. It may not be in full swing yet, but being so close to the university, surrounded by massive, famous buildings, tennis courts, and carefully landscaped homes, it seems an unlikely and (thus) happy space for a gardening experiment.

But surely the most notable feature of the garden is not what's growing here. It's got to be the scarecrows.

With the stylized elegance of a Greek tragic chorus, this football player works hand in hand with the one-eared cat man toward their common goal.

I know better than to attack a straw man, so let's just say that if you work 24/7, I guess you get to stand around with your belly untucked.

In any case, I look forward to seeing what precious crops require such careful vigilance.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Chain-Link Coverage: Climbing Hydrangeas

I haven't seen climbing hydrangeas on chain-link (yet), but they were recommended to me by someone at Gethsemane. I find the idea compelling...

For one thing, they provide winter interest. Just now, you'll have to use your imagination, but this close-up shows how the cinnamon colored branches might catch the eye when bare. Also, the thicker vines tend to exfoliate in fascinating ways. When mature, the branches may even provide a little woody coverage all by themselves.

They are not self-clinging; you have to train them when the new growth is soft and flexible. I was assured this would work on a chain-link fence in any case.

I don't have any experience with hydrangeas, but the worst problem I can think of is that they are very slow to start. It could take years to get good coverage.

Photo taken around June 1st
But once you do, they might look like this. Notice there are some gaps in the coverage--even growth may be hard to achieve. But I like the gaps. They're mysterious, something to peek through.

Each small plant costs $15-$50, which could be another problem if you have a huge fence. But think...my (very cheap) morning glory is still at most 1 foot high, and it's June 17th. This climbing hydrangea has been lush and full for weeks. 

Because of its slow growth, this is not a plant for those in a temporary space. But if your more permanent gardening area features chain-link, and you don't mind fussing a bit, you'll probably be pleased with this in no time. For gardeners, time flies anyway (no matter how impatient we are). I also think those big heart shaped leaves would contrast superbly with the small square pattern of chain-link.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Spotted: Reclaimed Oasis

This patch of trackside splendor appeared some time during the last year. It used to be a great green mass of bramble, not without its charms, but also not without its plastic bags and general urban detritus. I could not have guessed I should snap a "before" picture, though I wish I had.

Now someone has taken the time and trouble to create, if not an actual secret garden, the suggestion of one. And in a way, this suggestion is worth more to us all because it's not jealously hidden away.
What I love most about this small-scale project is the curving path:

As with the fairy tale garden, this is a path to nowhere. It doesn't even lead to a fire escape. I would as soon set foot on it as stumble through someone's impatiens. But the mere sight of it makes me think of a barefoot ramble across pastureland in search of wild raspberries or a four leaf clover.

So thank you, Gardener, for casting your miniature spell!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chain-Link Coverage: Nasturtiums

This isn't technically a chain-link fence, but the idea is the same. It's a wire mesh structure that I wanted to cover up. I can't live without nasturtiums in my garden, but for various reasons, they are not my first choice for covering my actual chain-link fence. They might, however, be yours...

Here are the pros and cons.

*they're easy and cheap to start from seed indoors; they are even easier if they're allowed to re-seed themselves outdoors in the ground (and then the plants seem healthier anyway).
*they attract hummingbirds like crazy!
*you can eat them, or so I hear; please read your seed packets carefully before you eat anything! They have a strong peppery smell that would either define an appetizer, or possibly overwhelm a salad.
*they offer lush, bright green foliage that contrast well with a chain-link fence--lovely, round large leaves that would soften any metal structure
*they do pretty well in hot, dry conditions
*they last a VERY long time at the end of the season, even with light frost; they are among the last plants to die in my garden each fall
*if you keep dead-heading the flowers, they keep blooming
*easy to remove when they die in the fall; unlike morning glory, the vines are easy to break and yank loose from mesh structures

Cons (or reasons they are not absolutely perfect):
*not self-clinging; you have to tend them every few days, weaving them in and out of your fence
*they start from seed each year, which means they won't grow up to waist height until early to mid-July each year; but they can get to be 6 feet tall by late August
*some people have trouble starting them indoors; I started some easily in March indoors, but had trouble in May. Don't know why. They start themselves outdoors very well, especially if they choose their own spot on their own terms (I had less success just throwing seeds in the ground myself in the spring)

And that's about it. I love them, but I tend to want coverage earlier, and my fence is long enough that continually weaving them in and out of the mesh is a nuisance. If you fail to tend them, they can flop forward, and possibly break. They also don't like to be transplanted once they have started outdoors somewhere. I've tried moving "volunteers" to where I want them, and I find that while they survive, they struggle at first.

But they are quite nice, and they also come in pretty dwarf varieties for pots.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Free Plants

Someone left a tray of giant sunflower seedlings outside my gate the other day. I still haven't figured out who it was, but Thanks, Plant Fairy! This is a perfect demonstration of gardening with what you've got--in this case, with Dixie cups.

There is something about sunflowers that agrees with a chain-link fence, and I actually have one growing, though it's just from fallen birdseed and will have a smaller head.

I have decided to keep one and give the others away. So anyone who's interested, let me know.

The plants are a little leggy and bedraggled, doubtless due to the long cold spring, but several looked plenty healthy enough to save...

I re-potted a few and put them in the ICU, or the sheltered side of my garden where weak or sick plants reside. Here they are looking a bit happier next to a nicely recovering house plant.
And here are two morning glory plants I started this spring. I have no use for them. They are almost exactly the same size as the seedlings in my garden.
I can also dig up a few more directly from my garden, in fact, if demand exceeds supply.

I thought I could get a head start on my privacy screen by using grow lights, but it didn't work out very well. My morning glory likes to grow when it likes to grow. So next year I probably won't bother starting them early.

By the way, morning glory is pretty invasive, so before you adopt, be sure you know what you're getting into!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Spotted: Fairy Tale Garden

I spotted this mysterious alcove while walking down an unremarkable side street a few years ago. The sheer unlikeliness of this urban oasis and its whimsical statuary caught my eye. Without revealing the location, I'll just say it abuts a basic city alley; the buildings all around it allow for sun only from about noon until 2pm; it is a common area; and down this beckoning, sculpture-strewn path is an average fire escape.

But you'd think there was something more back there. This enchanting sliver of green suggests a kind of narrative...as though each step taken will draw the wanderer deeper and deeper into a half-remembered fairy tale.

Despite the lack of sun, these unique figures and a few key shade plants turn an otherwise barren strip of dirt into a magical passage.

I don't know what's growing on this fence, and the wind blew the leaves out of focus. Wisteria? It looks a little complicated to train up a chain-link fence, although I personally like complications.

Can anyone identify it?

Whatever it is, these thick serpentine vines add to the sense of fantasy.

Part of the wonder, too,  is just that someone decided to put so much thought into this space. And while I'm sure the Gardener here sometimes wishes for a good solid privacy fence, I am glad there is not one.