The Plant That Launched A Thousand Others

It was glowing in the setting sun in Tuscany. Yellow flowers reaching for the rays:

This was the last image, burned forever in my mind, of the glorious garden. Before we backed out of the gate and swung the doors shut and latched the lock. Thud. Our week there was over.

Will we ever return? I don’t know. But while we pined over wanting breakfast with that view every day, my husband shared wise words from elders. Because no matter how wise and worldly we think we are, we can always learn from others, right? Here’s what they say:

You do have it, because it’s yours for now.

How logical. I decided to make it mine. I’d bring a garden back to Chicago. Thus, the visions of gardens outside our sunroom were sown there at that wooden table. It all started with that glowing Tuscan plant. The vision embraced plants slightly odd for gardens in our suburban Chicago neighborhood: euphorbia, sedum, ornamental oregano, mosses, sedges, oats. Quinoa, even. Colors of caramel, golden yellow and burning orange, set off with purples and burgundies. Nearly black leaves next to tea color leaves.  I like the garden when it’s dead too … the brown spikes and fluffs and tufts in the fall and winter. And pods. Yes I’m one oddball gardener.

This weekend I found a plant very similar to the glowing Tuscan memory. It’s different, but it’s close enough:

This is an Angelina Stonecrop.

Does anyone happen to know what that plant is in the first photo above? It looks like a sedum, but I don’t know the variety. Let me know in comments, please! After four years I can close my eyes and see this plant as if it’s right here:

Don’t we all like to hold on to favorite images from our travels …

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Iris and Honeysuckle and Other Garden Things

While looking for one of my cats, who was hiding under my nose the whole time under dense daylilies, I snapped shots of things flowering in our gardens right now.

Here are irises, with Japanese hakonechloa aureola grass, weigela and peonies in the background. And way over to the far left is a river of blooming lavender irises.

Here’s my little guy hiding under the daylilies, just behind the irises above. You can’t see him in the photo above, can you? Neither could I. I like the yellow columbine flowers with the yellow grass in this area.

Geranium, hosta and columbine under the river birch tree, in the shade garden between the driveway and porch.

I’ve been growing sweeps of this golden grass under trees in the shady areas on the south side of our house. The sweeps are bright enough to be seen from the street. We’re on 1.5 acres so the street is pretty far away. This grass grows slow. This sweep here is furthest along, nice and full. It’s under a crabapple tree, and behind it is a sweep of grass under a hawthorn tree. You can also see in the background, big globes of allium are emerging.

Here’s clematis, russian sage and peonies. There are gold-flowered plants here that add a nice contrast to the clematis color, but they haven’t bloomed yet. The peony plant beyond is so large, it’s all held up with four peony rings. These peony flowers are enormous, heavy and floppy and I hope we don’t get heavy rain until they’re done with their show.

Here Chaai is getting a lesson on how to climb a tree. He doesn’t really appreciate it. Maybe we don’t want him climbing trees anyway.

And here’s my gorgeous Siamese Snowshoe who was out with me today. She follows on my heels all over, like Mary’s little lamb. I have to watch every step. She was stubborn and refusing to look at the camera at all.

Moving right along to the gardens behind the sunroom … honeysuckle! There are three vines all in different colors. The red and orange are blooming right now. Also in this corner is a dark tea color heuchera (I forget the variety) and a coneflower that will soon have deep orange flowers.

I love the colors of autumn fern. My ostrich ferns (gifted from a neighbor’s garden) are super big and impressive looking, but I appreciate all the colors in the autumn fern.

I’m euphoric over euphorbia! An uncommon plant in gardens around here. I think this is supposed to be a zone 6 plant, but we’ve been having zone 6 or higher weather lately in the Chicago area, so it’s been coming back.

See how the euphorbia glows in the sun. Love this stuff!

Iris next to an armillary sphere, which is sitting atop the base of a broken leaky birdbath. In the background are ornamental oregano that cascades over a little wall, agastache, and about a 5-foot row of catnip. For the cats, of course.

This is at the edge of a sitting area behind our sunroom. I love the combination of the iris, the bright green Irish moss and the wrought iron pieces that I got for a steal at a gardening center that was closing. The little frog tile from Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery likes this area too. Although I’d like things to fill in more so the plants touch and there isn’t so much mulch to see. This garden is in its second  year now, and I’m bravely planting it under shallow-rooted trees, so filling in will take time.

That Irish moss is pretty but everything gets stuck in it. It’s almost like a carpet you have to vacuum!

Outside our sunroom door, which is off the kitchen, is a hanging basket with newly-planted herbs. Although seeing how much shade they get here, they may need to move. We’re always snipping basil to throw on margherita pizza, cilantro to add to burritos, tomatillos to make green salsa, and jalapenos to put on everything. OK that jalapeno part is my husband, not me. Our neighborhood has no street lights so it gets dark here at night. Last year I had to download a flashlight app on my iPhone so I could snip herbs and veggies at night (because of course you can’t find a real flashlight when you need it). This year I’m keeping stuff I need to snip while we’re cooking dinner closer to the house.

This hanging basket was also a major score at a local gardening shop’s going-out-of-business sale. These wrought iron pieces are from A Rustic Garden in Sterling, Illinois, and I’ll collect more as finances allow. Top on my list is a candle chandelier to suspend from a tree branch over an Adirondack chair seating area. A perfect spot for some wine at night, after working hard all day.

And of course every gardener needs a garden-themed doorknocker.

It makes a heckuva racket, but whenever I accidentally lock myself out, does anyone ever hear it? Of course not!

This is all very pretty, but working out there isn’t very pretty. Lately I’ve spent many sweaty, grimy hard hours preparing a vegetable garden and transferring plants out there. We started plants in the basement and there’s no way two people need 50 San Marzano tomato plants, 75 eggplant plants or 100 red and orange bell pepper plants. So people who know me will soon be gifted with vegetable plants. Watch out!

I love to garden and watch the plants and the composition of them together grow and change through the seasons. And yes our India apartment has a garden too, mostly belonging to my in-laws, but they’ve been taking care of a few plants that we couldn’t stop ourselves from buying last December. See some glimpses of gardens in Chennai posted last December.

I also pin garden-related images on a Pinterest Garden Board — visit to see!

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Pin Up Girl Friday: Garden

March is a tough month. There’s enough warm days to ignite Spring Fever and make me want to dig my hands in the dirt. But living in Chicago in Zone 5, it’s nowhere near time to plant new things yet. How to get relief? Dream about the gardens to come with this Pinterest Garden Board:

Here’s a sneak preview of the 300+ garden images pinned there …

From Martha Stewart:

Once my flowers bloom, I like to cut them for casual flower arrangements, like this photographed by Tara Donne:

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Chennai: Garden Glimpses

When the construction dust got to be too much, I sought escape in gardens and plant shops. Perhaps I was subconsciously seeking fresh oxygen. 

Here I stand on top of our apartment, enjoying the rooftop views of the coconut trees:

A few coconut trees shade our balconies below.

Bamboo lines the compound walls. Here bamboo seems to be reaching for me, pulling me into the back with leafy green fingers … (don’t be fooled, there’s only mosquitoes back there):

There are banana trees beyond the walls:

We have banana trees too. For special occasions the huge leaves are cut to use for serving meals.

The sun was just right to cast the coolest shadows:

This may be the only moment I appreciate the neighbor’s blue corrugated metal fence:

Beyond the gate are more trees in the street. But if you open the gate, beware … our construction debris is right there. Yes at this point I’m composing and cropping carefully:

A cool combo of pots that our neighbor’s little boy painted:

For weeks we kept passing a beautiful garden shop. Of course I had to go in, and cannot leave empty-handed. This is my orange plant, left behind in the care of others:

After this wild orange plant, something got into me. We got chartreuse and purple plants at another T Nagar plant shop, to pair together. Yep, those bright ones, right there:

And a bunch of those little purple ones there please, to go under the chartreuse leaves:

Our apartment is only a few blocks away so we crammed 10 pots of chartreuse and purple leaves and our 2 butts into an autorickshaw and off we went:

And now, for the grand garden finale. Our current patch of scratchy dirt in Chennai cannot possibly compare to the gardens at Amethyst. But I hope. Someday. Behold, the gardens at Amethyst:

There is a lovely cafe on a veranda overlooking the gardens, and a shop with clothing and jewelry and some home decor items upstairs. If you’re in Chennai, take a break here, it’s beautiful.

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