November 21, 2011

Bulb Planting for Busy Gardeners

Bulbs are such a treat in the spring.  Sometimes surprising, always colorful, and a welcome reminder that warmer days are ahead.  However, they have to be planted the previous fall when other garden chores may be keeping you busy or it is getting a bit nippy out.  It is worth planning ahead, but don't fret if you find the calendar flipped over and the bulbs still in their bags. 

Generally we think of mid-October as bulb planting weather here.  But it can be warm late in to the year.  And temperature, not calendar, is what counts.  The bulbs don't know if it's October or November (or occasionally December).  But they do know cold means store up the food for blooms and warmth means start growing.  So planting too early is not recommended nor is planting in fall if too warm.  As a colleague put it, plant bulbs when the weather is cool enough for a sweater and sniffles.   And if the ground isn't frozen late in the year, or too wet, it is worth a try.  Beats looking regretfully at those wasted bags of bulbs

October 19, 2011

Keep on Growing - Overwintering Herbs Indoors

I love my herbs.  I'd grow them just for their beauty and the lift I get from brushing up against the wonderfully scented lavender or rosemary.  But I also use them to make salves and soaps, and teas and vinegars.  And of course it is nice to have some fresh herbs to toss into salads and pasta dishes.  So it is a real disappointment for me to have to give them up over long Chicago winters.  But I don't have to give them all up and I am experimenting more each season with what may grow inside, just on or near my windowsill.  You may want to try it, too.

As you may know, plants are categorized by their life spans.  Annuals last for one season only, no matter how nurturing you are. Biennials produce foliage the first year and flowers the second.  Perennials come back year after year. And tender perennials are what we call plants that are perennial in warmer climates.

Basil is an annual.  You can bring it in and it will grow well inside but don't expect to put it outside next year.  However, you can take cuttings of your plant and start new ones just rooting in water.  And they are often sold at grocery stores in winter if you didn't get them inside in time or just want more.

Parsley is a biennial.  I have found it grows decently inside but not as vigorously as outside.  By early next spring it is pooped out.  It is worth it though for the fresh taste, and as an indigestion aid I'm told (hence the sprigs put on plates in restaurants).  And a little goes a long way for me.

Rosemary is a tender perennial.  It grows outside all year in warmer zones.  In fact it is a shrub there.  Here it has to come inside to survive, but with our dry heat in winter that's a challenge.  Humidity is key to keeping it healthy.  I mist mine regularly.  And even then I have had mixed results in keeping it alive until spring.  So I have started harvesting it heavily throughtout the winter in case I miss my chance later on. 

Oregano is a perennial and as such, should have a cold period to survive.  This is why I have not tried common sage or English lavender indoors (just a tender lavender that lives outside in France). However, last year, come time to bundle up my pots outdoors, I realized that I had two different oreganos and one was not supposed to be hardy in zone 5.  So I brought it in.  Well that thing took off like wildfire.  I have since read that they are really the same plant with different common names so I kept one inside again.  And again, it is putting on new growth from the get-go.  So all bets are off now and I plan to try thyme this year.

Just to clarify, I am not using grow lights. I did not have one when I first started doing this and I reserve my tabletop one now for edible and annual seedlings to come.  One thing that is important though, besides as much natural light as you can give them in winter, is warmth.  Many sills are cold or drafty.  Putting the plants on sills near radiators helps but they can fry.  And the rosemary will definitely dry out there.  So try to place them away from the sill if you can and keep tabs on their watering needs.  It may be less in winter but maybe not if it's dry inside or they are near a heat source.  Also fertilize them.  This year I am using a water-soluble seaweed fertilizer every two weeks. 

And don't forget to use and enjoy them.  Even if you just have them a few more months, it sure helps get you through a cold, gray winter.

September 28, 2011

Pollinator Plant Preferences - Say that three times fast!

Here is an excellent guide to pollinators and their preferred plants. Most of our flowers and much of our food are dependent on pollinators. Honeybees especially need help since they are vanishing. It is interesting to see what colors and shapes different pollinators prefer.

September 9, 2011

Fall Gardening Tips And To Dos

Fall is a great time to plant perennials, trees, and shrubs.  The air is cooler but the soil is still warm which invites root growth.  Do remember to water the plants though.  Even though temps may have fallen, roots still need help getting established.

Plant and divide spring and summer blooming perennials now.  Over the winter, newly planted or transplanted perennials will put their energy in to below ground growth, resulting in an improved root structure over those planted next spring.

Mulch before the ground freezes.  This helps avoid shallow-rooted plants heaving out of the ground during frost and thaw cycles.  This is especially important for newly planted perennials with shallow roots such as Heucheras. The mulch should go up to the plant but not touch stems or trunks. 

Organic mulch will break down over winter, improving your soil structure and fertility.  Shredded leaves can be used as a free mulch.  Passive soil amending rocks!

You can cut back perennials in the fall or do it in spring instead.  The latter cuts down on work and leaves some structure in the garden over winter. 

Do cut back any unhealthy plants and remove diseased leaves that have fallen.  This discourages soil-borne diseases.

Pruning summer and fall blooming trees and shrubs now is fine, or wait until leaves fall to see the structure better.  Do not prune spring flowering woodies or you will cut off your buds for next year.

Roses are best pruned in spring, not fall.  You can protect them with thick mulch or soil, and in this case pile it over the root ball.  Don't fertilize after September.

August 19, 2011

Perennials That Carry Your Garden From Summer To Fall

Most, if not all of us gardeners, have experienced a lull in our garden's glory during the summer.  Many plants are done blooming by then and others are not quite ready to start.  Sometimes too we find that everything seems to be blooming the same color.  Yellow is big in July.  Here are three suggestions to help keep color and interest in your garden during that transitional period from summer to fall.

* Perennial Black-eyed Susan (Rudbekia fulgida or its cultivars):
This is an upright plant with bright yellow daisy-like flowers and a brown cone (despite the name).  It will bloom in full to part sun. It does spread quite a bit however, so be sure you have the space.  That being said, it is a good candidate for tough spots such as along alleys or high traffic areas.  And it is very easy to transplant. 

* Wood Aster (Aster divaricata):
For full to part shade, consider this underappreciated gem.  It is a native with small, white daisy-like flowers blushed with pink, and gorgeous mahogany stems. It starts upright but its nature is to cascade.  Let it ramble among other perennials or plant it under shrubs.  

* Heuchera villosa 'Citronelle' : Heucheras also go by the name Coral Bells.  This harkens back to the days when the flowers bloomed in coral but the leaves were green.  Many, many hybrids have been bred now for their colored leaves (although they often have ivory blooms). Not all the early hybrids showed vigor, especially some in chartreuse.  'Citronelle' is a chartreuse heuchera bred from the native villosa species which tolerates our heat and humidity well.  It stays bold even in full shade. What has really impressed me in using this in gardens is how the color hangs on very late in to the season. 

If you have favorites that hang on or at least make the transition more colorful, please share them here.

July 21, 2011

Featured Perennials continues...Blackberry Lily

Belamcanda chinensis is also known as Blackberry Lily.  Like many common names, this is a misnomer.  It is not a lily and it is in the iris family.  The fanned, sword-shaped foliage is a giveaway.  The flowers are unique though.  Some say they look like lilies but they are more open and very small, and appear on branched spikes.  Perhaps it is the orange spotted coloring reminding some of tiger lilies.  To me they look tropical.

Blackberry lily is a full sun to light shade plant.  It grows 2-3 feet tall, with flower stalks held above the foliage.  The flowers appear in late summer and the plant keeps blooming for weeks. The flowers twist on top of the seed pods when spent.  The pods open to expose shiny black seeds that look like blackberries.  They dry on the plant nicely adding fall and winter interest.  I like to cut them for indoor arrangements.

June 23, 2011

A Marigold By Any Other Name....

...won't smell as good!  At least not to me.

I'm going to mix it up this time and feature an annual.  It is Tagetes tenuifolia, also known as Signet Marigold.  And it is a favorite of mine.  I don't often see it in stores but you can find seeds easily.

While I am not a fan of the smell of marigolds, this one has a lemony scent I adore.  The foliage is fine and ferny.  Flowers are smaller than typical marigolds but equally vibrant in oranges and yellows.

They also can deter pests from veggie gardens, and they attract bees and butterflies.  I am told they are edible but have yet to try them.  I just love their wonderful scent!

June 14, 2011

Featured Perennial - Bowman's Root

Our second featured perennial is Gillenia trifoliata a/k/a Bowman's Root.  This native plant has lovely mahogany stems and clean, pretty foliage.  But when it blooms it is even more lovely.  White flowers float above the slender stems like butterflies.  The blooms can last for months starting in spring.  And the show continues into fall when the leaves take on yellow and orange colors.

This is a tough, clump-forming, zone 5 plant that takes shade to part sun and grows to around 3 feet. It prefers acidic soil but will take some lime.  Best to keep it consistently watered but may exhibit some drought tolerance once established.  It makes a beautiful woodland garden plant.

An alternate botanic name is Porteranthus trifoliatus. The common name supposedly comes from settlors' description of Native Americans who use this plant as a medicinal.  It is also known as Indian Physic.

June 4, 2011

Hot In The City

Now that we finally have some heat in Chicagoland, don't forget to water. Containers especially need it often since they dry out fast. Water and let it drain through the pot.  Then water another time or two.

Also, keep newly planted trees and shrubs well watered until established. A good schedule is every day for the first week, every other day for the second week, etc., for at least three weeks.  Let the hose run at a trickle for 30 to 40 minutes.

A long soak every few days is better for all in ground plants and lawns than every day for a few minutes. It encourages the roots to go down for water and nutrients and not stay at the surface.  And water plants at the base - not on the leaves.  Some plants can get powdery mildew and other problems from wet foliage. 

May 29, 2011

Featured Perennials

Here is the first in a new feature on unusual perennials:
Geranium phaeum also known as Mourning Widow or Dusky Geranium.

This is a true hardy geranium that is shade tolerant.  Lovely maroon flowers are held above lobed foliage.  The cultivar 'Samobor' also has maroon splotched leaves.  Flowers appear in late spring to early summer.  It exhibits drought tolerance once established.  An easy and beautiful plant that is one of my absolute favorites!

May 28, 2011

Gardening Quotes

"Spring is nature's way of saying, 'Let's party!' "  -- Robin Williams

May 14, 2011

Tulipmania and Tech Stocks

The tulips have replaced the daffodils and allium are on their way.  But as we say goodbye to a favorite spring bulb, we know our loss is only aesthetic and seasonal.  In seventeenth century Holland it was also financial.

Tulips found their way to Europe via Turkey around the middle of the 1500s.  They may have been cultivated in Turkey as early as 1000 AD.  Special colors were coveted and flowers with brilliant streaks especially so.  (Now it is believed these were the result of a mosaic virus).  In Holland a horticulturist named Carolus Clusius and others began hybridizing the most unusual varieties, and the Dutch love affair began.  Only the wealthiest could afford these beautifully marked varieties.  Later solid colors were sold to the masses and everyone was able to enjoy their beauty.  But at a price.

The mania and prices for specialty bulbs hit a high in 1636-37. The Dutch controlled the trade and bulbs were sold as an investment. It was a speculative market based on future cultivation of a coveted bulb.  Promissory notes were sold and resold at ever higher prices until the flower was finally available.  The investor who held the paper and received the actual plant was the loser.  Like the tech stock bubble it was all based on something virtual – nothing concrete.  The Dutch called it the “wind trade” – transactions based on air.  And like in recent times, at some point the bubble burst.

April 25, 2011

“The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”
Therese of Lisieux

March 31, 2011

What's In A Name? Spring Bulbs' Botanic Meanings

I was walking my dog in the neighborhood recently, enjoying the spring bulbs that come up so quickly and change so fast.  Snowdrops, then crocuses, then daffodils, and soon tulips.  I started thinking about their names.  Snowdrops I understand, but what does its botanic name Galanthus mean?  Crocus is a rather odd sounding word.  Daffodil evokes images of spring by just saying it. And its botanic name Narcissus conjures images of its own.  So I did some research on the origins of bulb names, both botanic and common. 

In order to understand the origin of any botanic name you first have to know about Carolus Linnaeus. “Carl” was a Swedish naturalist in the mid-eighteenth century.  He is responsible for the universally accepted naming system we use today to describe and classify plants.  While the genus category was already around, he created species names to categorize plants within a genus more specifically, and give descriptions of plant characteristics and uses as well. This system is called Binomial Nomenclature.  Apparently he classified himself too since he was born as Carl von Linne.  These names are referred to as botanic or scientific names.  Many call them Latin but they are really a combination of Latin, Greek, and some made up by Linnaeus to describe the ever-expanding world of discovered plants at that time.

Common names are what most of us grow up learning.  They are often descriptive and easier to recall.  But they can cause confusion.  Common names vary not at the very least by region.  In Ireland, impatiens are called busy lizzies.  In the south, lilyturf is monkey grass.  Some plants have two or three common names even in the same area.  It behooves us to learn the botanic names – at least the genera.  Many garden centers and books organize plants by these names.  And more and more I am seeing them used as the common name.  Heuchera is often heard instead of coral bells (a name that is not usually accurate anymore since most are bred for colored leaves but usually the flowers are ivory).

So back to bulbs.  Galanthus nivalis is the botanic name for snowdrops.  These nodding, white, teardrop-shaped flowers are among the earliest we see.  They often bloom in the snow.  Galanthus is Greek for milk flower.  Nivalis means snowy or snow-covered.  This Linnaeus creation is certainly in line with its common name.

Crocus is also a Greek word meaning saffron or yellow.  The common name here is the same.  The ancient crocus that produces saffron is a fall blooming bulb, Crocus sativus, meaning cultivated crocus. There is another fall bulb called autumn crocus, but it is another genus entirely.  (Those pesky common names again).  The rare and pricey saffron is obtained from its stigmas for dyes, flavoring, and medicinal use.  It takes around 4000 stigmas for an ounce of saffron.  There are many species of crocus and most plants we purchase today as spring blooming bulbs are cultivars.  Cultivars are manmade hybrids formerly referred to as varieties.

Narcissus is the botanic name for daffodil.  Here the common name daffodil is itself derived from another genus name most likely by way of a Dutch alteration.  It certainly is not a common name that evokes an image we can relate to like snowdrops.  Narcissus is of course the handsome youth in Greek mythology who fell in love with his reflection at his own peril.  This flower was named in his honor.

Tulips have a unique history of their own.  And I will delve into that story in my next post.

March 23, 2011

Spring Gardening Tips and To-Dos

The outdoor gardening season is finally coming for those of us in the Chicago area.  March weather is iffy here, but there are things you can do now to prepare your garden, and get yourself energized for another season.  Here is a short list of To-Dos for March and April:

Cut back ornamental grasses now or when you see new growth. Leaving up grasses adds winter interest and may help protect the plant during this season.  But it is time to let air and light in to the new shoots that will be coming up.  Be careful not to cut any new growth in the process.  The dried grasses can be cut in to 10-12 inch strips and left out in your yard for birds.  They are starting to build their nests now so the easily accessible materials will be appreciated.

Trees and shrubs that do not bloom in spring can be pruned now.  Remove dead, broken, or crossed branches, and shape as needed. It is easier to see the branches and the shape before the plants leaf out.  Spring bloomers form buds on old wood, meaning last year's branches.  You may see their buds already. (e.g., forsythia). Cutting these now will cut off the future flowers.  Prune them after blooming.

Some plants with shallow crowns, like heuchera, can heave out of the ground over winter if we have frost and thaw cycles.  Take a look in your garden for this, and gently press any such plants in to the ground. You want the roots protected, especially since we may well have more snow.

Keep in mind that the soil is wet now and walking on it is not advised.  It compacts the soil which makes it harder for roots to spread and nutrients to be taken up.  As much as possible, avoid walking in your garden unless you have paths or stones.

Clear away fallen leaves or leaf mulch covering plants over the winter.  Wet leaf debris can harbor pests and disease. Pull mulch back from perennial plant crowns as weather warms.

Now is the time to address your roses.  When the forsythia blooms, uncover rose bushes if they have been mounded up with mulch or soil for winter protection.  Spring is the best time for pruning roses before the leaf buds open.  Maximum energy will be put in to new growth. Cut out broken or darkened canes and dead tips.

This is a good time to plant, divide, or move perennials.  The weather and soil have warmed some, making for a more hospitable environment. Also, less top growth on your existing plants makes them easier to work with and less likely to be damaged when moving or dividing them.  Be sure to water new or transplanted perennials in well, and keep a keen eye on their watering needs to help them adjust to their new home.

Last year's organic mulch can be worked in to the soil to break down further.  Wood chips should not be worked in because they rob your soil of much needed nitrogen.  When you have completed your planting, apply fresh mulch around the plants.  Do not put it up against stems and trunks though or pests and disease could be a problem.

Now sit back and enjoy your efforts and your freshly manicured garden!

March 15, 2011

Color My World

Lady Slipper Orchid
Years ago my grade school friend, Nancy, who also grew up to be a gardener, turned me on to a simple but brilliant idea to get through winter in the Chicagoland area.  Every year at that time she goes somewhere to just "smell soil."  I have made that a part of my winter routine and the benefits are immediate.  From making a trek to the old Jamaican Gardens with it's waterfall surrounded by tropical plants, to just popping into the local plant rental place while running errands, that quick fix really does the soul good.

So I suggested a field trip that would give us those wonderful feelings gained from the smell of fresh soil, the feeling of humidity, and a burst of color.  We went to Orchids By Hausermann in Villa Park. They are famous for their orchid choices and expertise.  Nancy is a regular, but I had never been.  

Hausermann's has several greenhouses full of orchids categorized by species, and a nice selection of sale plants too.  Since we were in between their two open house weekends, they even had an extra greenhouse open with a gorgeous display of varied orchid species.  It reminded me of a Flower & Garden Show display. All throughout there are lovely vignettes with orchids surrounding fountains and garden sculpture.

Open House Display
Not surprisingly, I adopted two orchids to bring home.  Each are Phalaenopsis which is the easiest of the species to grow in your home.  They do not want too much water and they can take our sometimes cooler indoor winter temperatures well.  And they reward you with months of graceful blooms.  A great selection of complementary pots made it fun to pick and choose.  And the salesperson added Spanish Moss and even shined up the foliage for me. 

I asked the gentleman about the connection I had heard of between vanilla and orchids. He told us vanilla comes from a vining orchid called Vanilla planifolia, and kindly pulled one of the plants for us to see.  It is an average looking green vine and will need to grow for a few years before it will bloom.  The flowers have to be hand pollinated to produce vanilla beans.  Now I understand why vanilla can be so costly.

I highly recommend this store for a quick education in orchids, and a wonderful walk through rows of beautiful and sometimes scented specimens. And a bit of fantasy.  Certainly we can all use that during our often dreary Chicago winters.

February 26, 2011

Forcing Forsythia For February

If you have a Forsythia bush you can also have some quick and easy spring color inside while it is still winter outside.  This early spring blooming shrub sets buds on old wood, meaning last year's branches.  You can see buds already formed in the winter.

Cut branches and bring them in to force their early flowering.  I like to get long branches for a graceful look in the vase.  I also look for those with the most buds.  If you can, gather a lot of them for a full look.

Crush or cut the branch tips again when inside.  This helps the branches take up water.  A little warm water at first can give them a boost.  After it has cooled, add in room temperature water.  Change it often, especially if there are buds on the lower branches below the water line.

Within a week I had these fully bloomed branches brightening up my home during a grey winter.  Forsythia blooms come out ahead of the leaves, hence the intensity of the color.  Green leaves unfurl and you can keep the branches when they take over or discard them. 

This is an easy, quick, and free way to bring spring inside.  It has become an annual tradition for me and a real pick-me-up.  I think you'll enjoy it, too.

Chicago Garden Events For Spring 2011

February in Chicago begs for some color and the hope of spring.  Here are some events you can attend for a reprieve from the grey, and for ideas on ornamental and edible gardening.

Garfield Park Conservatory Spring Flower Show

Chicago Flower & Garden Show

FamilyFarmed EXPO
GreenNet's Green and Growing Fair

February 20, 2011

What's the Buzz...Tell Me What's Happening

Well, in the ever increasing urban beekeeping world, a lot is happening.  I had a chance to learn from a panel of beekeepers at an event held at the Chicago Downtown Farmstand in the Loop last week.

"Buzz About Bees" was moderated by Judith Hines, the Director of Culinary Arts for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.  Panelists included Michael Thompson, beekeeper for the city's eight hives; Julio Tuma, Beekeeping Program Coordinator at Garfield Park Conservatory; Aza Quinn-Brauner, beekeeping hobbyist; and Donna Oppolo, hobbyist turned mentor and founder of the only beekeeping group in the city - Pilsen Beekeepers Association.  Each panelist explained their role in Chicago's beekeeping community, and discussed the challenges that face urban beekeepers.

One challenge is space.  Finding a place to keep the hives can be a problem for city dwellers. Aza keeps his two hives at his mom's house which means he has a trip just to get there to check on them. This limits him to weekends and therefore lots of work. But his philosophy is it's better than disturbing them too often, which disrupts honey production, so he let's nature do her thing. Donna went from one hive to five, utilizing her landlord's property and the roof of a bar.  Now she has some of her hives at the growing station at Pilsen's community garden.  Michael is also a co-founder of the Chicago Honey Co-op on the west side where they have 60-80 hives, and offer beekeeping workshops.

Another challenge is getting the honeybees through Chicago winters.  Ideally you want to keep honey at the top of the hive so they will come up for the heat.  Whiles the bees do adapt to the cold, shelter from wind is advised.  Hives can also be moved to an unheated shed.  (If you need to move hives for any reason, winter or early spring is the best time because they are lighter).  Honeybees won't fly if it's freezing and they need to fly to stay alive.  Fact is, they need to relieve themselves and will only do that outside the hive. 

Also, as you may have heard, there is a widespread occurrence of honeybees disappearing.  Many beekeepers find that the adults are suddenly and inexplicably gone. Colony Collapse Disorder is the name given to this mysterious problem. But it has not been classified as a disease, and no specific cause has been determined.  I've heard theories from global warming to pesticides.  Julio feels that it is a combination of stress factors, especially from their industrial use. 

Commercial pollination is a business that many of us may not be aware of. Some people with a large number of hives will ship their bees to whichever parts of the country need them, and when they need them, to pollinate for our food supply. There are not enough local pollinators in these areas. Approximately one-third of what we eat comes from honeybees' efforts. Migratory honeybees are sent to help produce almonds in California, for example.

The travel, the contact with imported bees carrying parasitic mites, and the monoculture diet all contribute to weakening the honeybee's immune system. Also, university studies have found bacteria and viruses in bees.  It has become difficult to find queen bees and many are imported from hot climates, so they often do not survive our cold.  Plus the more contact, the more disease is spread. 

It is still a mystery.  But an ever increasing problem.  Starting in 2006 people started to notice higher than usual losses.  Instead of 15-20%, it was 50-90%.  We currently have about a one-third loss nationally and this is occurring in Africa, Australia, and South America as well.  Garfield Park lost 80% of their honeybees last year.

The good news is that more and more people are choosing to keep bees, including city gardeners, urban homesteaders, and nature lovers. Whether in their backyards or in community areas or on a rooftop, their urban bees add to the growing need for more pollinators, and may just be the answer to keeping bees in our future.  And as a result, a beekeeping community has developed to offer support and education on the methods, reasons, and rewards associated with keeping honeybees.  Fresh, local honey is of course one of the big benefits!

All the groups can be found on facebook.  Also, you can contact Donna at:

Website links:

February 1, 2011

The Safe Seed Dance

Yep, winter in Chicago is when we fantasize about warm weather and sunny skies.  And when we gardeners fantasize about our gardens, plan for them, fantasize about them some more, then order seeds.  Then fantasize again, and then order more seeds.  This post is about edible plants and safe seeds.

Most of us are aware of the presence of genetically modified organisms (e.g., GMOs) in our food. You may or may not be aware that this means many seeds for sale are also genetically modified, and it is not always obvious who is who in the seed biz.

Monsanto is the big player in the modified crop game, producing not only future Frankenfoods but Round-Up Ready crops.  These are resistant to the popular chemical weed killer so spraying can be done for other weeds without harming the desirable plants.  In other words, altered DNA is in the food supply and in the soil.

This has lead to more people growing their own food to be sure it is GMO and chemical free, hence the "safe seed" moniker.  There are other reasons to grow your own food.  It is cheaper, it is environmentally beneficial, and it is fun. 

Heirloom plants have become quite popular along with the edible gardening boom over the last few years.  These are old-timey plants that often produce unusual and colorful fruits and veggies, and are known for their great flavor.  Much of the produce in grocery stores is grown to travel well.  So you may have a pretty little cherry tomato, but when you take a bite, it's like trying to bite in to a rubber ball.  Probably bounces pretty well, too.

Heirloom plants are open-pollinated, which means nature does it's thing.  It also means they will grow true to seed unlike hybrid plants.  So you will get a plant that looks and acts like the one you grew.  Hybrids, be they ornamental or edible, are hand-pollinated or produced by tissue culture.  So far I have not heard that any bees are capable of doing that.  Then again, why should they.  So if you save the seeds of heirloom plants you will be able to reproduce what you grew.  This is a plus for keeping your favorites, and for keeping diversity in our food supply. 

One more point.  Besides checking on the parent of a seed company, you need to check on their seed sources.  The folks on the catalog cover may look all homey or hippie, but there could be a Monsanto connection or another corporate parent.  Seminis is wholly owned by Monsanto and is the largest grower and marketer of vegetable seeds in the world.  Seeds of Change is owned by Mars, Inc. and in 2010 they let staff go and moved from Santa Fe to LA.  It is up to you if you are OK with any of that or not, but I think everyone should know who they are ordering from.  So do your research.  It may change with the seasons.

With that background, let's get to my recommended safe seed companies for 2011:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Botanical Interests, Inc.
Husdon Valley Seed Library
John Scheeper's Kitchen Garden Seeds
Pinetree Garden Seeds
Renee's Garden
Terroir Seeds (Underwood Gardens)

I'm sure there are more.  Please share your favorites here.

January 31, 2011


Hi, and welcome to my gardening blog. I am a garden consultant and coach in the Chicagoland area.  This blog will allow me to share information, tips, resources, and photos of all things garden related.  I'll also note local events and my experiences with gardening in the ground and in containers, edible and ornamental.  And I'll post the occasional musing on what gardening and nature mean to me.  I hope you'll find it enjoyable, helpful, and occasionally amusing - preferably when intended.  Here's to a new gardening year!