October 28, 2015

The Magic of Autumn Sunlight


Isn't it great to find a new "secret" place close to home? Last week, I discovered a lovely spot of earth, drenched in the oblique light of a mild autumn afternoon.

The temperature was pleasant (~74F/23C), the wind was calm ... and there it was--a beautiful wildflower garden by the lake. A bench encouraged me to contemplate the scene.

Most of the wildflowers had gone to seed, though some--"Asters," Susans, and Coneflowers--were still blooming. (We've flirted with frost around here, but many flowers remain even today.)

The light, sparkling on the lake and the fluffy seed heads, was stunning. I wish you could have been there.

solidago 2

symphyotricum 1


mix 4

solidago 1

mix 2


mix 3


symphyotricum 2

mix 1

I will return to this secret spot next season. I'd tell you where it is, but then it wouldn't be a secret anymore. ;)

Linking this post to Gail's Wildflower Wednesday over at Clay and Limestone. (Have I mentioned how much I admire this meme? Thanks, Gail.)

And I'll leave you with a Wednesday Vignette (thanks, Anna, for hosting). It's a view outside my front window yesterday, stylized because the photo quality wasn't great. (The colors are true to reality, but they're fading fast.)

autumn window

October 25, 2015

This Little Blog Is Five Years Old

The Great White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), which has been the avatar of this blog from the beginning—because it grows wild in my woodland, and because I admire and prize it.

Five years ago today, I published my first post on this blog. Where have the years gone?

During that time, I've graduated kids from high school and college, experienced rewarding career changes, traveled to destinations I never thought I'd see, and encountered many other significant life events.

trillium petals

These five years have been rewarding—personally, professionally, and spiritually. Like any five-year stretch of life, there have been joys, sorrows, frustrations, and rewards.

But some of the biggest rewards have come through this little blog.


Because of this little blog, I see the world in an entirely different way than I did before. I'm constantly aware of the little miracles around us—every moment of every day. Those of you who observe and track living things—through blogs, columns, journals, or other methods—know what I mean.


In addition, and beyond my expectations, this little blog has opened doors that weren't even on my radar five years ago—making friends with people on six continents, learning about hundreds of new plants and hundreds of gardening techniques, meeting numerous blogging friends face-to-face, and many more opportunities.


These new friendships are the most rewarding aspect of all.

Blogging hasn't become old, boring, or drudgery for me yet. I perceive that I've just begun to get the hang of it, really.

I have no idea how long the run will last, but as long as it does, instead of blathering on, I'll sum it up in two words: Thank you!

trillium painting

October 20, 2015

Plant of the Month: Jack-in-the-Pulpit

jack berries

Embarrassingly, I only learned recently that Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is an herb (it lacks woody tissue when mature). I also learned that all parts are extremely toxic to most animals, including humans, but that when cooked or dried, its corm (fleshy root) is edible. In fact, historically it apparently was a staple of some Native American cuisines, according to many sources, including the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

I'll leave the research on how to dry and cook it to you, since I won't be trying this one any time soon. It sounds too dangerous.

jack 1

What I do know is that this beautiful, unique North American plant is extremely common in my woodland garden. In fact, volunteers pop up all over the place--probably by seed carried by birds who eat the berries.

The plant is common in most of eastern North America in woodlands, swamps, and marshes--but particularly common in deciduous forests, which explains why it will grow in part sun or in shade. It prefers humus-rich, moist soils. But when we had a summer-long drought in 2012, the plants came back in full force the following year.


Jack-in-the-Pulpit seems to prefer the same growing conditions as Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and various Trilliums. In fact, Jacks and Trilliums tend to bloom about the same time in my garden, and it can be hard to differentiate Jacks from Great White Trilliums (T. grandiflorum), unless blooms are present.


Often, I'll find colonies of these plants together in mid-spring.

jack 2

Some Jacks are mostly green, with white stripes.

jack 3

Others have fascinating patterns of brown to burgundy markings.


I enjoy watching the foliage unfurl on stems parallel to the flower stems.

jackopen 2

They all seem to have different shapes and sizes.

Each individual plant has a gender. You can tell by looking under the hood! Also, each plant can change its gender from season to season. This excellent resource from Michigan State University explains the gender characteristics in great detail.

Oh, and another nifty thing is that pollinators are more likely to escape from a male flower than a female flower, because the males have an escape hatch!

After the flowers fade, the pollinated plants produce clusters of berries.


They begin bright green,


Change to multicolored,


And end a bright red that brightens the late summer and autumn landscape, if the birds don't get them first.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit grows 1 ft. to 3 ft. in height, and blooms from March to June, depending on your zone and the specific growing season. It's hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9. It seems readily available from most garden centers in my area and from online North American native plant sellers.

I consider this plant a familiar old friend, as it grows wild and is wonderfully plentiful in my woodland garden.

jack 4

I'm linking this post to Dozens for Diana over at Elephant's Eye on False Bay, a meme that celebrates a "plant a month" on blogs from around the world.

October 14, 2015

Rescued From the Impending Frost

bowl of blooms

(Update 10.20.15: We escaped the predicted killing frost this past weekend. All plants shown here are still alive and blooming. Only one was covered--the tiny pink double Impatiens. This is very late for my garden, but I'll enjoy it while it lasts.)

October 06, 2015

Midwest Meet-Up
At Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden


Isn't it a thrill to discover horticultural resources close to home--new botanical wonderlands to explore?

That's what happened when several Midwest gardeners and garden bloggers met in August in Rockford, Illinois, to explore three botanical properties. (Our group included folks from Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. We plan to continue this gathering next summer, possibly meeting in Madison.)

Our first stop was Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden, a 155-acre site that combines native plant and tree collections with rare trees and shrubs cultivated for exhibition.

We met on a Friday, and had the place almost to ourselves.


The grounds were well-maintained, yet warm and welcoming--including this pavilion, a popular local wedding venue.


The Fountain Garden adjacent to the pavilion tempted us. Our visit occurred on a very hot day, and some of us thought about running through the water spouts.


Gathering areas throughout the property provided resting places and inspirational plant combinations. I enjoyed the Foxtail Ferns (Asparagus densiflorus)/Petunias combination and the small potted shrubs with purple Sweet Potato vine (Ipomoea batatas).


rock border

The formal garden areas were whimsical, and had a nice mix of statuary, benches, birdhouses, trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals.

plant sign

azalea sign

Even the signage was bright, colorful, and informative. I'd like to go back next spring to see the Rhododendron and Azalea Dell.

children's garden

This plot in the Children's Garden was arranged by alphabet--using common names. It was bright and colorful, and most of the plants selected for this special area were either in bloom or had eye-catching foliage.

fountain grass

Loved this stand of Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum) along the path to the pavilion.


This bridge over a small stream took us to an interesting woodsy area.

waterfall 1

waterfall 2

Several simple, but very attractive waterfalls dotted the landscape.







Pollinators and accidental pollinators all seemed happy with the nectar and pollen smorgasbord.

I photographed several individual plants that captured my eye, including:

amsonia 1

amsonia 2

Blue-Star Amsonia (A. hubrichtii): There were several patches in various stages of color change, depending on location and lighting. I imagine this area is stunning in the fall!


As always, the Lesser Calamints (Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta) were covered in bees.


Around one corner was a swath of Threadleaf Coreopsis (C. verticillata), which was gorgeous even at this late stage.


A few Daylilies were still blooming.


Cleomes (C. hassleriana) were probably the plant of the day--another specimen that looked stunning en masse.


The Turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) were just starting to bloom.


'Amistad' Purple Salvias were spectacular, too.

While I was drawn to individual plants, it was the formal and informal plant combinations that really impressed, like the grouping at the beginning of this post and several others:


Castor Bean plants, Cleomes, potted succulents, Coral Bells, Alyssums, and more.


A very healthy patch of Cotoneaster (C. horizontalis) framed by conifers and green late-season Hydrangeas (I think these are 'Annabelles').

helio petunias

And a dramatic grouping that we all found fascinating: Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana), Cleomes, Purple Heliotropes (Heliotropium arborescens), and swaths of Petunias.

Recognize any of these people?

It was a fun day! We also visited the Anderson Japanese Gardens and the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens, which I'll highlight in a future post. Rockford is an excellent destination for plant-lovers and garden enthusiasts. I'm already planning a return visit next year!