Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bad Plants for Chain-link Gardens?

Climbing plants aside, do some plants look better than others next to a chain-link fence? This isn't a great shot, but it's actually true to life.That's an astilbe there, in case you didn't see it. Not the lovely green columbine with pink flowers to the right, the irises and lilies-of-the valley in the back, nor the flopping tulip leaves to the left...but the shadowy thing in the middle.

I love astilbe. It likes part shade and comes back strong every year. It shoots up amazing red brushy plumes about twice each summer. The leaves are small, sharp and elegant, and it's easy to care for.

But sometimes I forget it's there. Some plants have to play a supporting role, fine. But it seems to me that those airy, thin, dark green leaves (with a dark reddish tinge) fail to pack a punch beside a chain-link fence. 

But look how these fat magnolia leaves offer such a great, soft, lush contrast to the fence, even hiding it. They give genuine substance to the garden, something a chain-link fence lacks, since it's practically all air (though that's a benefit, as I'll discuss in another post).

It's not just the height of the plant, I think. Take this humble chrysanthemum with its silvery green foliage. It's hardly bright, or translucent, and the leaves have a fine, feathered shape. Yet it stands out pretty well even from outside, perhaps because of its density.

Here is my azalea about a month ago. It's leaves are slightly bigger now, but not much. Against the see-through metal grid of the fence, the effect is frustratingly scattered. The leaves it has now, though slightly bigger, are a dark forest green, so the color just doesn't "pop".

Of course, azaleas also do this...which is why I keep it around.

Am I completely mistaken? Is it just my garden? Or is it possible to lay out guidelines for plants beside a chain-link fence? --Other than hiding it, I mean. Then again, I've also been reconsidering the supposed ugliness of chain-link fences. Perhaps I'm looking at it all wrong...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fields of Dreams

I love before-and-after photos, so I took this one a few weeks ago at 55th/Woodlawn...and I'll be back for re-takes in July and August. More info on this location can (soon) be found on my new Community Gardens page.

It doesn't look like much yet, but I can see people were already gearing up for a good growing season back in early May. I really like the bricks laid out on the left. Maybe there should be a "Best Garden Plot" contest...? Gardening can be many things to many people, but one thing I'm always drawn to is the way some people go about creating their own space. ...But forget the contest. I'm just going to keep an eye out for great spaces!
But maybe we should have a "Best Scary-ass Scarecrow" award...I nominate this one.
Pics 3 and 4 were taken May 24th at the Nichols Park Field House, where the gardens are up and running, despite the cold and rain. I always see gorgeous butternut squash growing on the wrought iron fence later in the season. 
The plots here seem more expensive and harder to come by, but you get some perks. Benches, a picnic table, and other amenities within the Nichols Park Field House. But in the end, any bit of soil will do (and with hydroponics, sometimes you don't even need that!). So happy gardening to all!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chain-Link Coverage: Clematis

Thanks to Hyde Park Cats for mentioning Chain-Link Trellis here along with a few other Hyde Park blogs! If you haven't heard about Hyde Park Cats, they have rescued more than 200 south side cats in just three years! But this is a non-cat blog. I can't compete with posts like this anyway!

So, back to plants.

It has been a long wait, but these seedlings are finally going out. I have seen it get frosty as late as June 5th, but if that happens, I'll just cover them up with pots or towels or something.

Most of this is my loot from the Hyde Park Garden Fair. About 20 individual plants there, and only half my entire seedling collection. If there are no new gardening posts this week, I'll blame it on...gardening. 

And now, the start of a collection of photos of "chain-link trellises" or how a chain-link fence can be covered up (or not) depending on your needs--the height of the fence or your desired level of privacy etc.

So I'll start with clematis. The pros are: it leafs out early every year, at maturity it's a good thick privacy screen, it's low maintenance, a high climber (8-10 feet), and there are many varieties with gorgeous blossoms (more pics later). I also like how I was able to train this one into a fan shape, so that air circulation in the garden is not compromised below, but there is still good coverage above. Last, clematis twines its tendrils around everything itself--you don't have to tie it up, which is a plus.                                                                                    
clematis; click 'Chain-Link Coverage' link at right of screen for
 more plants; clematis update coming soon

I also found these great pics of clematis on chain-link fences, along with info on specific varieties.

The cons are: a good clematis plant usually starts around $12-$20, which may put off some new, casual, or shoe-string gardeners. It's only a good investment....IF...

...you give it three years at least (as in the photo above, and that's just a 3 ft. fence). This here is my newer clematis. I planted it mid-summer last year. It is shooting up with great vigor, but is not providing any real coverage just yet. Another con can be "clematis wilt" (black leaves, stem rot). Two of my plants have had it and gotten over it; one brand new one died. It is frustrating, and quite common. At least be sure you don't buy a plant with black leaves already on it (I see that all the time). Or at least not more than 2-3 black leaves, and pick those off ASAP.
Three cheers for Treasure Island's latest array of outdoor plants! It's the best outdoor selection I've seen in Hyde Park in years. I haven't seen clematis there yet, but maybe one day...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Best Weed Killer for Tiny Lawns

Tiny gardens have tiny lawns (if they have a lawn at all), so it's quite reasonable to dig out the weeds by hand. Still, I've been frustrated with weeding tools in the past.

When I decided my lawn needed to be aerated I had an epiphany, because I didn't want to rent an aerator for such a small job.

My never-used POTATO PEELER.

Its sharp tip digs deeply and easily into my compacted soil...

...with a simple twist I can carve out a cylinder of earth along with the weed's roots...

...then with a slight tilt and yank, I extract the cylinder of earth and the weed's roots, thereby weeding and aerating the lawn at once.

Perhaps there are better weeding tools and aerators on the market. Lawn connoisseurs (I am not one) may roll their eyes. But this potato peeler was really cheap. As in lying around unused and unloved--till now!

And it works. And it's "green." No poison necessary.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Hyde Park Garden Fair

 The Hyde Park Garden Fair saw about a half day of sun this year. Then the weather plunged into early March temps and there went spring, at least for the next week or so. Parking was another problem. Unable to find a spot, I had to drive home and walk back to the fair, and then carry my plants home. That's fine, but it means I bought fewer plants, and only small ones.

But that's what you get with a two day event. It can even be a bit cut-throat. I always go a little early on the first day to make sure I get my favorite tomato plant. I'm not saying which one it is. Others seem to like it too, since it sold out by noon on Friday again. I got the very last one! You can't get these varieties of tomatoes (not to mention herbs and other plants) at Home Depot. Some require a little more care, but they taste a LOT better. The "worry free" tomatoes from HD are bland and thick-skinned--not worth the little effort they take, in my opinion.

I was so tempted to buy this lonicera (I think it was lonicera, also known as honeysuckle)...but again, there was the problem of carrying it home, and I had a whole tray of other plants already.

Lovely varieties of clematis were available. 

Basics, for all your bedding and potted plant needs...

...along with many dozens of these exquisite specimen plants..
...and these too, Crossandra, or Firecracker plant.
I should mention that there were also hanging baskets, house plants, wildflowers, peppers, roses and a few other shrubs. All in all the fair is always a treat, and it always makes me sad, because it's gone in a flash. I barely have time to fall in love with a plant before it's whisked away again!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

That Scent on the Wind

Stepping out for a walk just now you'll probably notice an incredible vanilla spice scent wafting through the whole neighborhood. Hmmmm...you might wonder: What is that? I should qualify the following by saying again that I'm not an expert, and I could be wrong about which plants these are. But...

Viburnum Korean Spice?

...my aunt identified this shrub for me last week as Viburnum - Korean Spice. It's perhaps a little too full and round for a really small garden, which is why I don't have one. I need to go with vertical height in my space. But I'm glad others are growing it...

Close-up, Viburnum Korean Spice

...and I love to see its pink clusters of buds brighten into these white pom-pons. Once you know what they are, and once their scent overwhelms you, you begin to see them all around Hyde Park.

Mayday Tree?

I couldn't help but notice a second fragrance in the air tonight. These trees are sporting lilac-looking white plumes with a subtle, sweet scent. As far as I can tell, I think it's a Mayday Tree (Prunus padus commutata), which is related to the chokecherry.
Close-up, Mayday Tree

It really does look like a giant lilac tree, but I don't think it is. More information can be found at this Colorado State University site on the Mayday tree.

Either way, lilac time is not too far off!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Grow Light vs. Freezing Sunlight (cont.)

So, how are those grow light seedlings doing now? And how are they doing in comparison to the outdoor seedlings?

Today I planted the grow light cilantro in this pot. I also threw in a few sprigs of cilantro that I found growing outdoors (it pops up spontaneously if you let it go to seed the year before). The grow light cilantro cannot stand up on its own, but it is (actually was) about 5 times bigger than the outdoor cilantro. I had to nip it back a little, and we even got to eat some....So, the grow light cilantro gets high marks for early edibility, and low marks for the general sturdiness of the plant (for now). ...However, the root structure of the grow light cilantro is much more substantial at this point.

Nasturtiums. I threw a few seeds outside in regular dirt about 6 weeks ago. So cute! Nasturtiums are quite nice on a chain-link fence if you take the time to weave them in and out (they are not self-attaching). And hummingbirds love them.

And here is the grow light nasturtium--much taller, but also falling over. I have been hardening up these indoor seedlings...I hope this one eventually takes off.

These are both plants that do okay outdoors anyway. But I have also started zinnias, a variety of lettuce, alyssum, and some unknown wildflowers (pinks? aster? phlox?) and they seem too delicate to make it outdoors without any help (cold frames etc.). Indoors, they have received steady light and consistent moisture and temperature. And, for now, they're alive!

The Hyde Park Garden Center and Magnolia Cafe

Well, one can dream, right? I've also had a vision of the South Side Botanic Gardens at Jackson Park (surrounding the Osaka Garden) complete with regular sustainable/urban gardening classes...

In the meantime, there is the HYDE PARK GARDEN FAIR. For two days. Only!
    WHEN: Friday, May 13 (9am-6pm) and Saturday, May 14 (9am-4pm)
    WHERE: Hyde Park Shopping Center/ 55th Street and South Lake Park (60615)
    MORE INFO: http://www.hydeparkgardenfair.org/

If you like plants at all, it is definitely worth checking out!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Garden With What You've Got

Part of the impetus for this blog is to inspire people to get their hands dirty and enjoy gardening, even if they don't have a large, walled garden with established trees and shrubs. Even if they have, well...see below. In time, I may also go around snapping pics of well potted fire escapes, garden rooms, and window sills--the idea is just to 'garden with what you've got.'

March, 2008

This photo was taken after I had dug up all the weeds along the borders and planted an azalea in the corner (more on that azalea later--I'm not thrilled with it even now). There were (and are) a nice pink rose on the left and yellow and blue irises. I dragged over those white trellises from the alley, but never managed to use them.

August 2009

I quickly discovered Morning Glory, and happily let it spread and spread...and spread...until it finally engulfed everything. One week away from home and this is what it looked like when I returned!

Since the Morning Glory wanted to grow up high, it began to crest and bunch up on top of itself, and eventually fell over. The 'wall of vines' you see in the back was about 4 1/2 feet tall, until it slumped inward.

April 2011

So this year I'm trying something new. These trellises are wired securely to the chain-link fence, and I plan to grow some Morning Glory from the hanging pots, high up. This way, the screening process can begin earlier than normal. Otherwise, my Morning Glory wouldn't reach 4-5 feet in height until mid July.

Further, when Morning Glory vines grow up from the ground, with their large, thick, heart-shaped leaves, air circulation is impeded, and I think this may have contributed to the horrific case of mildew and black spot my roses suffered two years ago.

Sometimes I wish I had just planted climbing ivy or grape vine on the chain-link fence when I first moved in. It would have covered every inch by now and would have provided a more permanent sort of coverage. I do like the way it looks (it is spreading across the house now), but I've always felt that it would be too permanent a step. With a very small garden, it can be almost too easy to finish a job quickly. And I personally prefer having the freedom to 'remodel' every year, and try all sorts of climbing plants--of which, I will say more in another post!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Woodruff, Wood Spurge, and Penstemon

I was in a small town about 4 hours south of Chicago last week. It was raining and cloudy, but still, everything was just a bit greener down there, with more flowers in bloom--particularly the pink and white flowering dogwood trees. I am grateful again today for my grow light...although my seedlings outside are just now gaining some vigor, and I wonder if they will eventually outperform my indoor seedlings (we will see!).

Today, three newish plants: 

Galium Odoratum (Sweet Woodruff)
My husband picked out this Sweet Woodruff at Gethsemane a few weeks ago. It is now flowering (will probably flower later next year). Galium Odoratum - that got my hopes up. But I'm sad to say I cannot smell anything. I've read that it will smell better as it ages and the flowers wilt. ... As you can see, the front has fallen forward. The stems of this plant are not hardy or 'woody' (at this stage, in April). In my very small garden, this may be a problem, since I wind up stepping on everything a little bit.
 Euphorbia Amygdaloides (Wood Spurge)

Now this Wood Spurge is doing rather well. I picked it up at Gethsemane also. It is now sprouting bright green, leafy 'buds'. It's apparently toxic, but I can't imagine my alley's rabbits will bother with it. I love the red leaves...though I wonder what it will look like this time next spring (if it comes back at all). It is so easy to be fooled by plants from the nursery.

Penstemon 'Prairie Dusk' April 21st, 2011

I am glad, I guess, that this penstemon is still alive. It was planted last summer and bloomed nicely. I got it for the hummingbirds that come through here in September or so...but they weren't interested (they love my nasturtiums).

Further, this pic was taken about two weeks ago, and it doesn't look much better now. Perhaps it will shoot up as soon as it's warm. But since I am eager for 'early risers' this plant is so far unimpressive in my garden.

By the way, all three of these plants are situated along the chain-link fence, which means that as soon as the morning glory and clematis grow up and leaf out, they will be largely shaded (except for about 3-4 hours a day when the sun is directly overhead). The woodruff and the wood spurge apparently want shade, and the penstemon tolerates part shade, so that should work out. ...Shouldn't it?