A blog for visitors to the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Updated: 13 min 21 sec ago
Sat, 03/16/2013 - 8:56am
Spring is here and the birds are returning from their winter homes. Some birds fly through the Chicago area to their nesting habitats up north, while others return and stay in the area.
Spring is the season for laying eggs, because it gives the juvenile birds all summer to mature and become strong before they need to migrate in the fall. Also, as spring turns to summer, the growing chicks require more food. The trees grow leaves, insects hatch, fruits ripen, and other food sources become more plentiful. The birds’ habits are perfectly synchronized with the seasons.
At this time of year, recently returned birds will be looking for material to build a nest and lay eggs. You can provide some bling for a lucky bird family with a few things you have around your home.
You will need items including these:
- A plastic netting or mesh bag, like the kind oranges and apples are sold in
- Scraps of yarn or strips of fabric cut 1/4 inch wide and at least 6 inches long (longer is fine)
- Optional — dryer lint, metallic thread, any other attractive loose materials
Put all of the scrap materials into the mesh bag. Tease out the ends of the material through the holes in the netting all around the bag so it looks like a bundle of loose stuff. Tie the top of the bag. Hang the bag securely on a tree branch where a bird can perch and pluck pieces of material from the bag.
Now you will be ready for International Migratory Bird Day, which is Saturday, May 11, this year. Watch the bag for signs that a bird is using the material. Look around your neighborhood for nests to see if any bird used the materials to build its nest. And have a happy bird day!
Thu, 03/14/2013 - 9:25am
Recently, I helped kick off an exhibition of artwork focusing on wildflowers and other plants found in midwestern woodlands and prairies. This amazing show, at Ryerson Woods in Riverwoods, Illinois, features works by members of the Reed-Turner Artists’ Circle, some of whom teach in the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden. This exhibition and activities related to it provide a terrific example of what a “citizen artist” program can accomplish, helping to protect our native plants and the benefits they provide humankind by documenting their beauty and engaging the public.
The Artists’ Circle works to further the interests of botanical art, conservation science, botany, and horticulture at the local level. To highlight the beauty and importance of plants in our lives, the Artists’ Circle promotes and exhibits members’ work in collaboration with local and regional institutions.
In my opening remarks, I spoke briefly about how all life depends on plants, which is one of the basic tenets of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Plants provide us with food, shelter, oxygen, and medicine; they also provide vital services such as climate regulation, air and water quality improvement, and flood control. Yet we are in the midst of a well-documented plant biodiversity crisis, and some experts estimate that up to one-third of the world’s plant species may become extinct within the next 50 years. Unfortunately, far too little is being done to address this crisis. In fact, much of society suffers from “plant blindness”—an inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment.
Members of the Artists’ Circle, thankfully, are acutely tuned in to the environment, viewing plants and their role in the world with a unique clarity of vision. Not only are they producing beautiful works of art, they are thinking about developing a “citizen artist” program, and some members have been brainstorming about this idea with me. This program would parallel and enhance the important work that citizen scientists are performing throughout the region and beyond, through Garden involvement in such programs as Project BudBurst and Plants of Concern.
The Drawn to Nature II exhibition, which runs through April 30, highlights the important contributions of botanical artists. It is impossible to be unimpressed by the beauty and complexity of plants when viewing the outstanding drawings and paintings here, created by members of the Artists’ Circle. The subtlety of the art prompts the viewer to see these objects of nature in a new light, eliciting a powerful, emotional response. By provoking such a visceral response, botanical art becomes an effective tool in fighting plant blindness.
Wed, 03/13/2013 - 11:03am
Looking for a reason to be glad for the cold weather in winter’s stretch? Consider the needs of fruit trees. Fruit trees need to spend a certain amount of time during their dormant winter period at cool temperatures in order to satisfy their chill requirement.
Simply defined, the accumulation of chill units (CU) is a cumulative measure of the number of hours trees spend between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Liken this process to a reset of the tree’s biological clock. This clock counts down the time needed to change the nutrients stored in the roots into a form that can flow up the trunk as the weather warms and support flowering and growth. Time spent at winter temperatures above 60 degrees and below 32 degrees counts against the number of accumulated chill units.
Getting enough optimum chill time ensures the tree will successfully break dormancy, flower, and set fruit. The wild weather fluctuations of 2012 brought the warmest March on record (there were 9 days above 80 degrees), which signaled to the trees that it was time to start growing. April’s subsequent sharp drops to freezing temperatures caused tissue injury and poor flowering, leading to a significant loss of 2012’s fruit crop.
Trees are able to withstand cold temperatures when they are dormant as they are now. Chill requirements vary between different pome fruits. Apple, pear, and quince varieties each have their own climate-specific needs. Low-chill apples, while productive in California, won’t produce well in our colder northern climate because they bloom too early.
The Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden’s 34 apple varieties have chill requirements ranging from 600 to 1200 CUs. Chicago’s weather historically can meet those requirements, barring extreme fluctuation like last year. Our current cool weather is right on track and looking positive for growers.
Knowing a fruit tree’s chill requirement is a tool for choosing the right plants for your garden. Come to the garden for a quiet early spring walk through the orchards, perhaps finding inspiration to plant fruit trees in your own garden this spring. In the meantime, please be reassured that the trees and fruit growers are happy with this consistent wintry weather.
The Garden’s Plant Information Service can help you select the right fruit trees for this area. Contact them today!
Tue, 03/12/2013 - 10:32am
Recently, I enjoyed a lecture at the Garden by Debra Prinzing, the author of Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow, and Farm.
While Debra helped us discover how to use the best locally grown cut flowers all year long, I’ve been on a “slow flower” journey of my own this winter, taking Botanical Drawing with Colored Pencil with instructor Derek Norman and 13 other Garden members in the Design Studio at our Regenstein Center. Slow processes (cooking, springtime, gardening, travel, motherhood) always demand patience, and constantly toe the line between joy and frustration. Drawing is no exception!
Derek brought in fresh flowers or leaves weekly and led us in studying their forms and showing us how to render them—in our own ways—on different kinds of paper with colored pencils, which we got to know by number, not color name.
During some class sessions, when I could work without self-consciousness and distraction, I felt freedom and joy—a pure relaxation I rarely experience. And I was proud of my work:
Some sessions proved challenging and exhausting, especially those that followed my visit to the wonderful Picasso exhibition at the Art Institute or a weekend examining the exquisite botanical drawings by Ellsworth Kelly. I was full of doubt and frustration, and the drawing experience and images suffered.
I am not an experienced artist. (The last time I took a drawing course was as a student at Wellesley.) And since I’ve been working at the Garden I have seen (and been intimidated by) so many remarkable botanical illustrations, like those produced by the members of the American Society of Botanical Artists or shown at the Garden’s Annual Student Botanical Arts Exhibition.
But last summer, my sister-in-law, nephew, and I spent an afternoon in Wisconsin drawing pansies and wild geranium. What alternating feelings of joy and frustration! I’d make progress on my petals only to look up and see that my sketch looked nothing like the plant on the picnic table before me. But my 7-year-old nephew gave me the encouragement I needed. He told me enthusiastically, “Just go for it, add some watercolor, don’t worry!” His sweet voice cut through my filters of, “I can’t, I won’t, I’m scared,” and I added some purple paint…and eventually felt inspired to sign up for the Garden class.
I am glad I did. I learned new skills, used new tools, and got to know myself—and the Garden—better. I made new friends, whose works of art I so admire. I’ll be back—sketching at the Garden and signing up for another class (maybe even watercolors!) as soon as possible.
Sat, 03/09/2013 - 8:56am
“When’s the best time to prune?”
It doesn’t matter what season you’re in because there’s always something that can be pruned. You just have to know the plant, its growth characteristics, its best time for pruning, and what your intentions are for that plant as it plays into the whole of your garden design.
“Well, I don’t have a design. I just plant stuff. If it lives, great. If not, then what?”
It all starts with your vision for your garden. You’ve likely seen countless photographs of gardens, viewed television programs, and taken garden tours of your own. And each time you did that, something stuck with you and you want your garden to “look like that.” Maybe it was a particular plant, a color combination, or just realizing that, “Hey! This stuff actually grows in the shade!” These elements get stored in your mind — adding up to what you would want your garden to look like or feel like.
Maybe it’s a garden that provides a shady respite from the summer heat. Or an open garden theater that celebrates the hot, sunny days of summer. It can be loose and informal, or very tightly clipped into a classic formal garden. Whatever your style, the plants need to grow within the parameters of that design, and after the initial design and build phases, pruning is the most important tool that will keep your garden spot-on with what you envisioned.The Basic Rules of Common Sense Planting
It’s important to remember that gardening happens in four dimensions — height, width, depth, and time. Plan for what the plants will be doing over time, like growing larger, taller, and deeper. Then, don’t plant something that will grow to 60-feet tall under a power line that’s 30-feet up. Do the math. And if the tag on the plant — assuming, of course, that it’s the correct tag — says that this tree will grow to 15 feet in diameter, don’t plant it 5 feet from something — like your house or driveway. Really. Yes, it looks nice and cute sitting there fresh out of the pot, and you take a picture of your toddler standing taller than the plant. Come back in ten years when the toddler is a kid and the plant is a real tree. Avoid the disappointment and frustration at the beginning — I’m talking about the tree. You’re on your own with the kid.
One overarching word of advice for your pruning technique is not to leave stubs or flush-cut. Most branches have a visible collar of folded bark at their base where the branch grows out from the supporting structure — a trunk, limb, or branch. This collar is all that needs to remain when the cut is complete. Leaving more than that, a bit of the branch for example, is a stub. You have a stub if you can hang your hat or your jacket from it. The plant will waste energy shedding this (plant’s version of a hangnail), and as it unevenly sloughs off over time, the site becomes an entry point for rot, disease, and pests. You don’t want that. And by flush-cutting this material, you make it even more challenging for the plant to close the wound. That’s what that little collar of material is — the plant’s built-in bandage. No need for petroleum products to close the cuts — these plants were created with their own internal first-aid system. Let them do their own thing. Just give them a good start and leave them alone.Coppicing
So now it’s winter — dormant time. This is the best season of the year to perform the most radical cuts of all, short of cutting the thing down. But then again, you may want to do just that!
There comes a time in the life of some plants when cutting them down is exactly the right thing to do!
Coppicing is the horticultural practice of whacking down younger trees, virtually to the ground, leaving short stubs sticking out of the soil (it’s not dirt — you wash dirt off of your car or your dog or your kids). No need for them to be any longer than your finger. And be sure to use clean, sharp saws and pruners. Ragged cuts and tears only invite pests and disease by offering an easy port of entry. Life is tough enough — you don’t want that.
Primarily, coppicing is a technique used on trees to alter their growth habits from single-stem trees into multi-stemmed ornamentals, or more shrublike plants. Willows lend themselves handily to this practice, wherein a healthy, established young willow (Salix alba ‘Britzensis’) regrows over successive seasons into a more shrublike plant resembling a red twig dogwood. It works well when you want that look in an environment that’s too harsh for dogwoods, but in which willows can survive, such as winter salt spray from a road, or drying, frigid winter wind.Rejuvenation
We can coppice shrubs, too. Take, for instance, the red twig dogwood, an old favorite. Over the years, the red becomes gray, the stems become overgrown and brittle, and trimming with shears or hedge trimmers over successive seasons creates a dense thicket of twigs on top with leggy, open stems at the bottom. It looks like an umbrella with extra handles and nothing like those pictures in the gardening magazines. There is good news — you can have a shrub that looks like it came straight out of a gardening magazine by midsummer this year! If it’s properly sited (sufficient sun, water, and drainage), and the roots are established and healthy, then this is the winter to coppice the shrub when it’s the most dormant. My general rule is to cut between Super Bowl Sunday and St. Patrick’s Day (yes, you can do this later, even after buds break — just not too long after). The healthy new stems will all grow back straight, shiny, and colorful — an exciting and welcome bright spot for next winter, which is the primary reason for planting red twig dogwoods — winter interest!
When you opt for this process of going medieval on the plant, it actually spurs the complete, new regeneration of the entire plant above ground. Yes, at first it will just sit there, apparently doing nothing, and looking like a goner. But give it time. What you don’t see is the plant figuring out that it needs to develop new shoots, which will bud right out of the stubs you left behind. Just leave them alone and water the shrub if rainfall drops below 2 inches per week. And it’s always best to give it a couple of good, deep waterings per week rather than spotty, shallow daily passes with the hose or sprinkler.
You want the water to penetrate down into the root zone. If you had x-ray vision, you’d see the dense, rounded mass of roots extending beneath and around the shrub, and each root fiber poking around in the soil looking for water, nutrients, and oxygen. The spaces within the soil allow for the passage of these elements to the roots. Seeing the water percolating through the soil and into this zone may help you to better understand how plants grow, and enable you to more successfully address the plant’s watering requirements — especially now that you’ve cut it down! Forget what the neighbors might think, because you can rest assured that by the end of summer they’ll be envious of the new; perfectly shaped red twig dogwoods in your garden.
Stay tuned for more Frugal Gardening Tips on pruning next week.
Fri, 03/08/2013 - 1:04pm
Blog followers will remember that in the first “How to Train Your Plant” post, we demonstrated how plants respond to the gravitational pull of the earth. Geotropism is difficult to overcome, but that didn’t stop me from trying to make a plant grow sideways through a maze. You can try this activity at home.
You will need these items:
- a shoebox (or any kind of box)
- cardboard to make dividers
- duct tape (or any opaque tape)
- soaked bean seeds—I used different beans from a soup mix
- a container with soil
Stand the box on its side. Then cut two pieces of cardboard to fit in the box and make divisions. You’ll want these to fit as snugly as possible inside the box, but they don’t have to be perfect. The tape will fix that. Cut a large window in each divider. Cut a window on one end of the box. Tape the dividers in place as shown in the picture.
Plant the seeds in the soil and put the container on the side opposite of the hole you cut. Just for fun, I used several different seeds from a bean soup mix to see if one kind would get through the maze better than the others. It was like a bean-seed “race.” You can try whatever you like.
Make sure the holes in the divisions are big enough to allow lots of light in from the side, and don’t vary the height too much. Remember, we are fighting the plant’s tendency to grow up—if it’s too challenging, it won’t work. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.
When the maze is complete, give your beans a last bit of water, and maybe a kiss, and then close the box. Apply tape along the top edge, to secure it and reduce light. Then put it next to a window and wait.
It’s going to take a few weeks. Remember, horticulturists are very patient. Open the box every few days or so to be sure it has not dried out. Add a little water, but only enough to moisten the soil if it is very dry.
When you see the bean plant emerging through the open window in the box, open it and take a look. How long this will take will depend on the kind of beans you use, how far the plant has to grow, and how warm the room is.
It took my beans about five weeks to grow through the second window.
The winning sprouts, which I believe were lentils, did not actually make it through to the last window when I took this picture, and I’m not sure it has enough “umph” to do it. Still, notice how all of the plants leaned toward the light and most of them grew through the first window. That is a positive result!What is going on here?
This activity demonstrates phototropism. Photo is the Latin word for “light,” and you will remember that a tropism refers to an organism’s response to stimulus, so that phototropism means plants grow toward the light.
It makes sense for plants to reach for the light because they need light to make sugars, their source of energy. Normally, growing up against the pull of gravity is also growing toward the light. In this activity, we changed that condition, forcing the beans to deviate from their normal course to get the light they needed.
The sprouts that grew the farthest and were closest to completing the maze had leggy stems that would not support growth upward to the last window. If I leave them a few more weeks, they could possibly grow along the bottom and then up the side of the box. I’ll have to wait and see.
Thu, 03/07/2013 - 11:44am
One of my signature projects at the Chicago Botanic Garden is designing and building the hypertufa troughs for the Heritage Garden spring display. While our greenhouse staff spends their winters growing the unique and beautiful plants that we feature in the troughs, another team is hard at work making the troughs.
Hypertufa is a simulated stone container that is durable in all weather conditions, but lighter-weight than solid stone or concrete. Our trough style, which is rectangular with a distressed finish, is designed to look like vintage livestock feeders that you might imagine aging for generations in the English countryside.
Making troughs is a heavy and dusty job, but the result is a unique and lasting piece of garden artistry. Here is how we make them at the Garden:Step 1
Create a wooden frame with an open top and bottom. We build it so we can easily take it apart in Step 6. Line the interior of the frame with heavy-duty plastic sheeting so the concrete does not stick to the frame.Step 2
Mix 1 part Portland cement, 1/3 part peat moss, and 1/4 part coarse perlite. We add water until the wet concrete slowly falls off our shovel.Step 3
We pour about 2 inches of concrete into the bottom of the frame.Step 4
Place another large sheet of plastic on the inside of the frame. Add a 4-inch layer of sand on top of this sheet of plastic.Step 5
Between the two sheets of plastic, start pouring in more concrete to form the side walls. We try to make the walls about 2 inches thick, making sure they are as even as possible and have no air pockets. As the walls get taller, we keep adding sand on top of the second sheet of plastic. The sand supports the walls until the concrete hardens. Fill concrete to the top of the frame, making sure the support sand is also at the same height.Step 6
After the concrete sets but is not completely dry (6-18 hours, depending on its consistency in Step 2), we remove the wooden frame and plastic.Step 7
We then distress the trough to give it a weathered appearance. We use a variety of tools to do this, including hammers, chisels, and wire brushes. This year we even used a power washer. Once the trough is distressed, we drill drain holes and let the concrete completely cure for several weeks. Once cured, it is ready for our spring display!
You can buy pre-made hypertufa containers, but this is definitely a project you can do at home for a lot less money and in a design style that is uniquely your own. Be creative. Add pebbles, shells, or beads to give your trough a little extra flair. Pigment in the mix can give it a color that better matches your décor. Adding more perlite or peat moss will make your trough lighter and give it a slightly different texture (but also makes them a little more fragile, in our experience). Leave the exterior of the trough smooth, rather than distressed, for a more formal or modern look. Lining the mold or frame with leaves (especially those with prominent veins or patterns) is another fun look for the troughs.
When we have a little bit of hypertufa mix left over at the end of our projects, we also like to make unique containers from simple molds that we find around the workshop. An upside down garbage can lid makes a nice birdbath mold. An old plastic bowl can be the perfect shape for a windowsill herb garden. I have even used an old box to make a hypertufa boot tray—who doesn’t need one of those?! Silly or serious, there is no limit to your hypertufa container options.
Making Your Own “Stone” Containers: Tom Soulsby
Chicago Flower & Garden Show
The Gardening Live Stage. Demonstration is free, but admission fees apply to the show.
March 12, 2013 at 12 p.m.
Making Your Own “Stone” Containers: Heather Sherwood
Chicago Flower & Garden Show
The Gardening Live Stage. Demonstration is free, but admission fees apply to the show.
March 15, 2013 at 2 p.m.
English Trough Workshop with Heather Sherwood
Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden
March 20, 2013 at 6:30 p.m.
Registration fee applies.
Wed, 03/06/2013 - 10:16am
While checking the perimeter fence around McDonald Woods to see if there was any damage to the fence after a windy day, I discovered a large red oak that had lost its foothold in the frozen soil and had toppled over against a white oak. Since the tree was threatening to push the other oak over into the fence, I decided to cut the red oak down to save the white oak and the fence.
When trying to remove a leaning tree, you have to start at the base and work your way to the top as each section falls away. The base of the tree was good and solid, sending a shower of sour-smelling oak shavings flying from the chainsaw. When I got about halfway up the trunk, the saw began spewing dark brown flakes of rotting wood, and the sawing became easier. After a few more cuts, the trunk became mostly hollow and the top of the tree crashed to the ground.
Looking back at one of the middle sections of trunk, where the center was a rich dark brown from the rotting wood, I noticed a thick, white object shaped like the letter “C”.
A closer look showed the object to be a large grub from a beetle. These grubs are similar to the white grubs of Junebugs and Japanese beetles that you find in your gardens and lawns, but much larger. Although the rotten wood was frozen, I was able to split open the log, revealing a whole colony of 30 to 40 beetle grubs about 2 inches long and about a half inch in diameter. Each grub was cradled in a smooth-surfaced cell in the rotted wood. Even at temperatures well bellow freezing, the grubs were able to move enough to show they were alive.
As it turned out, these grubs were the larvae of one of our largest woodland beetles, known as the stag beetle or stag-horn beetle. These beetles are one of the myriad invertebrates active year-round, doing the important work of reducing fallen trees to rich organic soil that will help other trees grow and support the next generation of plants.
These beetles are members of the Coleoptera (beetles) and get their name from the large antlerlike mandibles (jaws) found on the front of the head of the males. The females also have mandibles, but they not as impressive as those of the males. The large mandibles are used for territorial defense and also to protect the beetles from any birds or other animals that might try to eat them. The impressive “antlers” can look threatening to people when they first encounter them; however, they are not a serious threat to people and will only give you a pinch if you handle them roughly. It is not uncommon to find the large brown stag beetles around buildings near woodlands at night, when they are sometimes attracted to the lights.
These critters are fascinating, not only because they are social in the larval stage and can take several years to mature, but they can also produce an assortment of sounds that are thought to help with communication between the grubs. The grubs have a striated structure on the leg that allows them to produce sound (called stridulation), kind of like rubbing a spoon on a washboard. If you notice the dark-colored segment that looks distended on the end of the grub, it is the digestive chamber, where the wood the grub consumes is digested with the aid of microorganisms. If you give one of these guys a gentle squeeze, you will notice a stream of liquified, dark brown wood coming from the tail-end of the critter.
One last item of interest about these wood-grubbing dynamos is that they often carry a large population of mites around, clinging to their bodies. When I took a closer look at the grubs, I found dozens of whitish-colored tiny mites attached to each of their legs.
This observation lead me to recall the verse by the Victorian mathematician, Augustus De Morgan:
- Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ‘em,
- And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
- And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on,
- While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.
These mites do neither the beetles nor the grubs any harm; they are just along for the ride and probably snacking on any choice fecal pellets deposited by the beetles. If you find yourself sitting on a log out in the woods, you just might be perched above a nest of developing stag beetles.
Mon, 03/04/2013 - 11:33am
As dusk fell over Illinois State Beach Park, Jeremie Fant, Ph.D., perched silently beside the rare downy Indian paintbrush. He watched as the white-blooming Castilleja plant opened its tubular flower and emitted a sweet scent. The clock ticked past 6 p.m. Cautiously, a moth appeared out of the night sky, and fluttered over to sip the plant’s nectar. Bingo.
That moment, and subsequent research in Illinois and Colorado, led Dr. Fant, a molecular ecologist with the Chicago Botanic Garden, to become the first to document the moth as a pollinator of Castilleja with Krissa Skogen, Ph.D., his research partner and a conservation scientist at the Garden.
Fant studies the importance of how flowers are designed to attract specific pollinators, and what a plant’s pollinator means for its survival as a species. “I am fascinated by the way these events can lead to permanent impacts on a plant population,” he said.
He recently explained the intricacies of the process to me, and why the palette of colors we see in the Garden and elsewhere is not only beautiful, but also functional.
The Palette of Pollinators
Pollinators — such as bees, birds, flies, and moths, offer specific benefits to plants, according to Fant. Birds travel expansive geographic areas, and can spread the pollen of a single plant over a large area. Bees, on the other hand, are more localized in their foraging, covering more plants in a condensed area. Where moths fall in this spectrum is not known — they may diversify the genes in a plant population by carrying pollen further than bees, but they may not travel as far as birds.
“The imprint left behind from genealogy is stamped on the landscape and it’s my job to figure out how that pattern got there,” said Dr. Fant.
Plants Spin the Color Wheel
A flowering plant puts a lot of energy into producing a flower. Why? The purpose of flowers is to attract pollinators who will spread the plant’s genes — promoting the continuation of the species, said Fant. When a plant is red, it attracts birds as pollinators, but if it is yellow, it attracts bees. White flowers are particularly appealing to moths — especially those that bloom after sunset when moths are out and about. The color, combined with the scent, allows a plant to lure in a specific pollinator.
Connecting the Dots
This information led to a hunch when Fant considered the white flowers on the downy Indian paintbrush in Colorado and at Illinois State Beach Park, where he conducts much of his fieldwork. Most species of Castilleja plants produce red flowers and are known to be pollinated by birds. But here in Illinois, in the furthest east population of such plants, they chose a different color, and as he confirmed, a different pollinator. It is the question of why, and what that choice means for the plant, that Fant is now preparing to study when he returns to his field research this spring.
Ultimately, Fant tracks how genes move within plant populations, which largely hinges on how they are carried by pollinators. He examines plant DNA to determine if they share one or more genes, and are therefore related. Then, he maps the location of related plants, tracking the movement of specific genes and inferring how and why they got there. “There’s always some reason for the movement,” he said.
This spring and summer, look for red flowers on the gravel hill in the Dixon Prairie, where Dr. Fant is growing unique bird-pollinated plants such as the royal catchfly, with the goal of increasing the plants’ genetic diversity.
Fant noted that moths are often overlooked as pollinators, and along with Dr. Skogen he is especially interested in studying their relationship with many kinds of plants. In addition to the Castilleja, he also studies rare species of the gravel hill in the Garden’s Dixon Prairie.
At the end of our conversation, Fant, dressed in a bright-yellow sweater, jumped up from his desk and flew toward his lab in the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center where he is always moving forward to catch up with the past.
Sun, 03/03/2013 - 9:27am
March is finally here! Although it may not look like it, spring is on its way, which means it’s time to start prepping for the anticipated spring planting season. This is a great time of year for horticultural therapy contracts. Everyone is itching to start planning and prepping for a successful horticultural therapy outdoor garden program, and our excitement level is right there with them.
I am frequently asked, “what kinds of activities do you do in the early spring to engage participants in horticultural therapy?” I turn to garden prep activities for both engaging and therapeutic plant-based sessions this time of year. The possibilities are endless with the added perk of being very affordable and therapeutically significant.
When gearing up for gardening season, I focus my horticultural therapy activities on three topics: seed plantings, propagation, and transplanting. All three topics not only have a wonderful educational component, but also serve as meaningful therapeutic activities.
Seed planting, or seed germination, activities serve an educational and therapeutic purpose. For the educational component, focus on the life cycle of a seed with the group of participants. Visuals, such as a seed germination chart, help participants understand the process of seed germination. It never ceases to amaze at least one participant (especially young students) that plants, even those as great as sunflowers, start out as tiny seeds.
Seed germination activities allow horticultural therapists to connect the importance of seed germination and plant care to the care of oneself or others. In health care facilities or special education programs, many individuals are taken care of around-the-clock due to an inability to solely provide for themselves. Something as tiny as a seed carries great significance because it allows anyone the opportunity to care for a living thing. Participants are educated on appropriate sun exposure (typically on a light cart or windowsill) and watering techniques to guarantee the plant’s health and success. Each participant receives a variety of seedlings to tend to as we approach the planting season. The intent is to enable each individual to care for their own plant so that, when the time comes, it can be combined with other plants to create a beautiful, outdoor therapy garden.
Plant propagation is another great activity for a group of any size or ability. All that is needed are containers, soil, a mother plant and some snips. Some of my favorite plants for plant propagation also add a wonderful sensory component to the activity. Coleus are great plants for propagation and they come in a variety of beautiful colors; succulents propagate easily and create fun talking points pertaining to desert plants; lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus radicans) adds a tropical element as well as the excitement of a potential beautiful red bloom.
Plant propagation activities can be used to teach valuable lessons in a health care setting. They teach a lesson about taking something old or overgrown to start something fresh and new. This activity can also be paired with a pruning activity to add to its therapeutic benefits. The concept of taking away or lessening a load in order to become more healthy is a theme that resonates with many horticultural therapy participants.
When the time comes to begin planting in the garden, a lesson on transplanting can greatly enhance the garden’s immediate beauty while increasing the feeling of ownership among the participants. Ideally, the seedlings and cuttings that were previously done have developed into mature, healthy plants that are ready to transplant into garden beds/containers. Each participant has the opportunity to place their plant(s) in an area of the garden to continue to watch it flourish throughout the growing season.
The feeling of ownership or pride over a space greatly enhances the success of a garden and horticultural therapy program. When participants get the opportunity to place their own plants within a shared space, their individual ownership and care over the space is heightened. They feel a sense of responsibility, not only for their plant, but for the entire garden. On numerous occasions, I have seen participants pull family members or friends out to “their” garden to show what they’ve planted.
While we all continue to stay busy, start thinking of all the different activities and ways in which to engage enthusiastic gardeners with easy, horticultural therapy activities. If Punxsutawney Phil thinks spring is just around the corner then we better be ready! Until then, get those seeds going, stay warm, and dream of snow drops, crocuses, and early spring showers.
Sat, 03/02/2013 - 8:25am
Early last summer I noticed a small row of books, bracketed by nice-looking bookends, on a shelf behind the front desk at the Lenhardt Library. “Those are our dedication books,” explained Leora Siegel, library director. “If visitors or members would like to pay tribute to someone special or mark a special occasion, they can dedicate a book in the library in the same way that they might dedicate a tree or a bench in other Garden areas.”
Later that summer, my mom passed away. As my thoughts eventually turned to a memorial or tribute, I remembered Leora’s words, and asked her to walk me through the process of book dedication. Turns out there are three “levels” to consider for dedication. Here’s how they work:
Level 1: General Book Dedication
Each year, approximately 100 newly-purchased books are set aside specifically for the tribute program—that’s the bookended group you’ll find on the shelf. Topics are garden-related, of course, but very diverse—and if you don’t see the topic you’re looking for, the staff will work with you to find the right book.
- Ask a librarian to share the list of current selections, and page through the books you’re interested in.
- Choose a title, then fill out a book dedication form, including copy for the bookplate.
- After the bookplate is printed and mounted, you’ll be notified that it has taken its place on the library shelves.
- The fee ($50 to $150, depending on the book) helps to fund the tribute program.
Your dedication remains there for the life of the book on our library shelves.
Level 2: Conservation Book Dedication
By dedicating a book in need of conservation—the TLC that mends, rebuilds, and stabilizes it—you not only pay special personal tribute, but also save a badly damaged book for future generations to enjoy. Quite a tribute, indeed.
- Review the library’s list of books in need of conservation—a truly interesting, unusual, and long list (lots of books need TLC).
- Make an appointment to view your choice in the Rare Book Room at the library.
- Discuss the conservation required and appropriate fee (generally $500 to $1,000).
- Provide text for the special conservation tribute bookplate.
Naturally, every conservation book requires a labor of love—a typical restoration time frame is three months. After conservation work is completed, you’re invited to view the restored volume before it takes its place in the Rare Book area.
Level 3: Rare Book Dedication
When I decided to look into book dedication, I had two ideas in mind: first, that a book from 1933 would be a good choice, as that was the year of my mother’s birth; and, second, that a book about orchids would also work, as orchids were my mother’s favorite flowers.
Leora searched the rare book lists and, incredibly, came up with a volume that fit both ideas: Native British Orchidaceae, a beautifully-illustrated monograph on orchids that was published in 1933 (at right). The book was originally in the Chicago Horticultural Society library–that’s our parent organization.
The process for a rare book dedication is akin to a conservation book (although without the repair/wait time). Naturally, the fee for a rare book dedication is greater, depending on the rarity of the book (fees available upon discussion and request).
Ultimately, I chose to honor my mother with a dedication in this orchid book, knowing that she would have loved it, and that my donation would go toward other restorations and rare book purchases.
And I’ve come to realize that a library is so much more than a place of communal knowledge—it is also a place of communal memory. Now, every time that I open a library book, I peek at the endpages first to see if there’s a bookplate. Who will this book be dedicated to? Perhaps it’s from a group that wants to honor a leader or friend. Or it’s to celebrate a memorable trip, or a fantastic garden, or a new baby born into the family. Or maybe it’s to a mom who loved orchids.
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 2:32pm
Whenever I tell anyone that I work for the Chicago Botanic Garden, the first response I get is “Wow, you must have the best job ever!” (well, yes, in fact I do) followed quickly by “So, what do you do in the winter?” In response to this question, I have spent the last month or so keeping a photo journal of some winter days at Green Youth Farm.So what is it we do in the winter?
Even though everything looks like it is frozen solid, under hoophouses and low tunnels, tucked beneath coldframes and cozy in greenhouses, food continues to grow! Spinach, lettuce mix, and swiss chard will be harvested all winter long, while carrots, onions, and kale await warmer weather and contribute to an earlier spring harvest. Last year alone, Green Youth Farm and Windy City Harvest grew more than 80,000 pounds of produce—all on less than four acres of land. This number would not be possible without maximizing our short Chicago growing season with low-tech season extension.
In addition to growing produce we keep beehives, and last year we harvested more than 70 pounds of honey with our students (many of whom were scared silly of bees when they started the program). Over the winter, we need to check the bees to make sure they have enough food and are staying warm. We are happy to report these hives at our Washington Park location are buzzing!
Confession time: just like the home gardener, we professional gardeners face winter frustrations, too. I’m not proud to admit that we left a couple of hoses out in the garden, now full of frozen water. So yes, some of our wintertime is spent making up for summertime haste.
P.S. It was 14 degrees F. this day and the lock to the gate was frozen solid— so to add insult to injury, I had to scale the fence, get the hose, schlep the hose back over the fence…
P.P.S. Word to the wise: put the hose away in October, not February.WE TEACH
Every year, Community Gardening staff go out to corporations, schools, and garden clubs, as well as conferences and meetings (American Community Gardening Association, Good Food Fest, American Public Garden Association, etc.) spreading the gardening gospel. Last year alone, we reached more than 500 people outside the Chicago Botanic Garden. Our favorite event of the year is our own Facilitator Training program, where we teach folks interested in replicating the Green Youth Farm model more about what we do and how we do it. This year participants came all the way from Springfield!
The Green Youth Farm will hire 13 staff and more than 90 student participants. This year, we more than 50 applications for the three coordinator positions alone. In addition, each year the Green Youth Farm receives more than 250 applications from students from 15 different Chicago, North Chicago, and Waukegan high schools. It’s always fun reconnecting with former students during high-school recruiting visits.WE MEET
Between Windy City Harvest and The Green Youth Farm, the Community Gardening Department has more than 50 community partners who enable us to do the work we do outside the Chicago Botanic Garden, providing us space to grow on and work in, and program enhancements like art and access to Women, Infant and Children (WIC) clinics and coupons (we distributed almost 1,000 boxes of produce to the clinics last season). The winter is a great time to reconnect with all of these partners to debrief how last season went and think about how we can constantly improve on our work together.
While everyone’s job here at the Chicago Botanic Garden is a little different, each one of us is just like those bees in the hive—while the Garden might look peaceful from the outside, on the inside, we are all flapping our wings like crazy to stay warm and productive until spring shines her light on us once again. So until then, stay warm and think spring!!
Tue, 02/26/2013 - 11:29am
Brrrr, it’s cold outside!
OK, it’s winter. It’s cold. No flowers are blooming. So…is it time to take a break from photography? Heck no! It’s time to get out the warm clothes and get shots that you can get ONLY in winter.
First let’s talk about gear. With nature photography, one spends a lot of time standing still, so you can’t depend on moving around to keep you warm. To get those rare, really special shots, you have to take a LOT of shots…and that takes time. So, it’s important to be comfortable for many hours in the cold.
Let’s start at the top and work our way down. Some of these are obvious, some are not, but I’m surprised at how often I see nature photographers who are so anxious to get out of the cold that they miss many good shots.
Head: I like to wear a hat and cover my ears. On a really cold day, I’ll put my hood up as well. A scarf around my neck really helps keep the draft out.
Body: I make sure to have several thin layers. Thin layers work better to keep me warm and also allow for easier movement than one thick, heavy coat. Typically I’ll wear a t-shirt or long underwear, a turtleneck shirt with elastic cuffs, a fleece pullover, a vest, and a windproof coat.
Legs: I wear thick running tights and winter pants. When it’s really cold, I’ll pull out the snow pants to wear over these, too.
Feet: I wear thick wool socks and winter boots. I make sure my boots are loose enough to allow circulation, but not so loose that walking becomes a chore.
And finally…hands: Sadly, this is where I often get cold first. I like to have gloves that allow for easy maneuverability and control of my camera settings, but that are still warm enough for comfort. I wear glove liners and medium-weight gloves with wind blocking. I also put chemical-based, shake-and-heat hand-warmers into my gloves. This works for me for about an hour in sub-20 degree weather, and longer at warmer temperatures. I’ve talked to some photographers who say they like the mittens that flip open. Sometimes I will choose to sacrifice dexterity for warmth and put on thicker gloves. On those days, I may opt to have my camera on autofocus instead of on manual focus, which I prefer. There are some choices and compromises that you will have to make for comfort.
One of the most important things you can do to keep warm is to be vigilant about having as little skin exposed as possible by closing all the gaps. Make sure your socks cover the gap to your pants, and that your coat sleeves cover your wrists. I have a coat that has adjustable wrist openings so I can cinch them tight to my gloves.
Now, you are suited up and ready to go. So, now what? One amazing thing to photograph is early-morning frost. When freezing nights are cloudless and wind-free, you can often find beautiful frost gracing trees and grass the next morning. These formations are magical, and are only around for a short time until the sun melts them. Also, when the streams or lakes freeze up, often you can find leaves and bubbles suspended in the ice, creating lovely frozen compositions.
Another treat is seeing the rare birds that come to the Garden only in winter. One fun winter visitor that has invaded the Garden this year is the cute, red-breasted nuthatch. They are bold little birds, and you can sometimes see them by the feeders in the Enabling Garden.
You can fight winter, or you can embrace the season, and photograph those rare moments only seen on the coldest of days…made all the more rewarding for the bit of extra effort it takes to get them.
Mon, 02/25/2013 - 9:43am
These seeds may not look like much right now, but the story they tell is full of adventure and promise. This week we are simulating summer in the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center to get them to reveal some of their secrets.
My research takes me to the Colorado Plateau (you may know it as the “four corners” region), which is one of the most starkly beautiful places in the United States. I work with many Garden scientists, graduate students, and public land management agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to carry out research that helps make native plant restoration and management on public lands throughout the Colorado Plateau as efficient and effective as possible. We are particularly focused on understanding how to help native plants cope with encroaching invasive species, changing land use, and shifting climates.
So these seeds come from a gorgeous place. But more importantly, they were produced by some pretty impressive native plants that were tough enough to not only survive last year’s crazy weather, but to also flower and produce seeds in some pretty harsh sites. Like Chicago, the Colorado Plateau experienced one of the hottest, driest summers it has seen in a long time. Most of the plants in the Colorado Plateau sat out the flowering season last year — they conserved their resources for a better year. We are interested in the plants that braved really bad conditions to produce seeds, because we think they will be especially useful when restoring habitat that has been badly damaged by wildfire or invasive species. We call these plants native winners.Click to view slideshow.
Unfortunately, very little is known about what makes these native winners tick. Our research is helping to uncover some of their secrets. Alicia Foxx (a student in our joint graduate program with Northwestern University) and I have just set up an experiment that will reveal the specific seed germination requirements for these native winners. We are using incubators that allow us create spring- and summer-like conditions that will tell us when and why seeds of these species are able to germinate and grow. Knowing this information is just a first step in our research that will help us improve the outcome of restoration practices.
Wed, 02/20/2013 - 7:10am
Shannon Still and Nick Jensen work on a project studying the impact of climate change on the distribution of rare plants in the western United States. The grant, funded through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), examines the changes in projected species distributions between now and 2080. The goal of the research is to help BLM to make informed management decisions regarding rare plants. The research takes them to many exciting destinations as they search for rare plants in the west.
The silverleaf sunray (Enceliopsis argophylla), is a photogenic species in the Asteraceae, or sunflower, family. This rare plant grows in basal clumps of silver-colored, hairy leaves with flowers extended on long stalks, and the entire plant may reach 2 feet tall. The flowers nod with maturity.
The large yellow daisy flowers are 3 to 4 inches across when open. They are quite a sight and stand in stark contrast to the habitat. Due to the extreme habitat, silverleaf sunray offers one of the more striking photo opportunities as the plants grow from a barren landscape.
These gems are found in Clark County, Nevada, east of Las Vegas in the Lake Mead area. They are also found in Mohave County, Arizona, close to Lake Mead.
The habitat for the silverleaf sunray has been encroached by Lake Mead and is threatened by off-highway vehicle use to a minor extent. The habitat in which the sunray grows is easily damaged due to the fragile soil environment (see photos to left) in which the species lives. Much like the dwarf bear-poppy (Arctomecon humilis), the silverleaf sunray grows in a gypsum-rich soil that typically has a healthy soil crust. Damage to this crust can allow invasive plants to grow more easily.
The Bureau of Land Management lists the silverleaf sunray as a sensitive species in Nevada and the species was considered, but rejected, for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Around Lake Mead the silverleaf sunray grows with the golden bear-claw poppy or Las Vegas bear-poppy (Arctomecon californica), a federally listed species. So while the species is not federally listed, the habitat is often protected due to the proximity of other federally listed rare plants.
Silverleaf sunray is a striking plant that grows in close proximity to urban and recreation areas. If you are ever in the Las Vegas area, it is worth traveling the short distance to see these plants.
Tue, 02/19/2013 - 1:22pm
One of the advantages to working as an editor here is being among the first to read about new classes offered by the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Last summer, after proofing a description of a prairie plant wall tile class led by artist Janet Austin, I immediately registered for it, as did my web-design colleague Christina. I was a bit dubious, having last taken an art class in sixth grade, but this workshop sounded too intriguing to pass up.
When that Sunday rolled around, Christina and I joined a group of other adults eager to make art using plants. After we had gathered in our Garden classroom, Janet introduced herself and explained that we would be choosing among the prairie flowers and grasses collected in several vases and pressing them into clay. After that, we were to use tiny dried pasta letters to spell out the plants’ names—or anything else we wanted to “write.“ The pasta would be incinerated in the kiln, leaving only the imprinted letters. Clever!
We both chose bold purple coneflower. I thought it had a shape that would translate readily onto clay, unlike (I thought) the spindly looking Queen Anne’s lace next to it. I resumed my seat and looked down at my slab of clay, fighting a kidlike impulse to begin squishing it around madly. My mature adult nature asserting itself, I carefully pressed my coneflower into the slab, then lifted it up and took a look. Hmm. Not much there. I pressed harder. This time, I could see the contours of the leaf, the stem, and an array of pinprick dots left by the stiff cone.
Next came the letters. I shook the box of alphabet pasta over my desk, then began searching for the correct letters to spell out “purple coneflower” while Christina used the plant’s Latin name, Echinacea purpurea. Then we students wandered around, admiring what the others were doing. Best of all was picking up our tiles a few weeks later, after Janet had applied verdigris glaze and fired the pieces. Amazing! Beautiful! Artistic! I made that?!
I gave my tile away as a holiday gift, but Christina still has hers, pictured here. As it turned out, one of the most beautiful tiles of all featured Queen Anne’s lace. Who knew its delicate beauty would translate to clay so well? The grasses were gorgeous, too.
Janet is offering another wonderful prairie plant tile class on Thursday, March 14 — the Garden Marker Tile Workshop — creating the same style of tile, but in a set of hanging row markers for your garden’s bounty. Don’t miss out on the fun!
Fri, 02/15/2013 - 9:56am
It’s snowy outdoors at the Chicago Botanic Garden. But serious gardening is underway indoors, where master gardener training has begun.
The Garden’s Plant Information Service help desk typically recruits 20 new master gardener interns from each biannual training session. Master gardeners answer your questions!
Every two years, the Garden becomes a teaching site for the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program. This year, the ten-week course, which started January 16, saw a record number of students enroll in on-site (93) and online (31 — triple the number of screen users as last session) classrooms.
What are those 124 folks up to so far? They’ve finished sessions in topics including botany, soils & fertilizers, and woody plants. (Herbaceous plants, vegetables, fruits, turf, plant pathology, insects, and IPM/pesticide safety are up next.) They’re learning skills which are key to the program, including how to be a volunteer community educator — the true definition of a master gardener.
Lessons learned along the way include:
1. You don’t have to know everything. Yes, master gardener training is a crash course with lots of information coming at you fast. And, yes, there’s a test after every week’s session (it’s open-book, and you can take it at home). The real skill is to learn about the resources with the answers to the questions you’ll be fielding as a volunteer. As one instructor puts it, “there are two kinds of knowledge: what you already know, and what you know you can find the answer to.” The master gardener program teaches both.
2. The educators bring some interesting stuff to class. While class is lecture-based, there are plenty of PowerPoint visuals to help you picture what you’ll encounter out in the Garden. In the Soils & Fertilizers class on January 23, instructor Ellen Phillips brought soil samples, and explained soil porosity with the aid of…sponges!
3. You learn from everyone in class. Most classes have a Q & A session, and that’s when things can really get interesting. The real-life questions that fellow master gardener trainees bring up in class are the same questions you’ll be asked by the public. Many an “after-school” conversation, and many a gardening friendship, have begun from a question asked in class.
4. You identify your real interests. Are you a natural teacher? A community organizer at heart? Or a home gardener with decades of skills to share? After successfully finishing the course, master gardener trainees head out to master gardener internships, with lots of opportunities to find a volunteer situation that truly fits their interests.
5. You realize that this is a special program. Started in Illinois back in 1975, the master gardener program began as an aid to agricultural extension officers who needed to be out in the field helping farmers, but also needed volunteers to run the office and answer day-to-day questions from the community. (It still functions that way in some rural counties.) Today, the program is a shining example of public education at work, as university/research-based knowledge gets passed on from master gardener instructors to master gardener trainees to the public, in communities all over the state.
Although the next on-site master gardener session won’t start at the Garden until 2015, we offer the course every year online! There are also different University of Illinois county extension offices that offer the program each year. Think about your schedule, talk to our Plant Information Service volunteer master gardeners, and do some research about the program on our website. See you at the next master gardener training!
Thu, 02/14/2013 - 4:50pm
From ancient China to Greece, Europe, and finally the New World, the tradition of sending messages as a gift of flowers has flourished over the centuries. Popularized in the Victorian era, when public display of emotion was frowned upon, great effort and detail went into the choice of flowers presented in a bouquet. Each flower chosen had its own well-known meaning concealed in its size, shape, color, and even the way it was presented — by hand, singularly, or in a group. Even the number of blooms was important.
While much of the secret language of flowers is lost in modern times, the traditional gift of roses on Valentine’s Day still expresses unmistakable true love. And while many celebrate Valentine’s Day later in the year, we midwesterners appreciate giving blooms in February, when our hearts and senses most long for the color and smell of the garden in bloom.
From the hearts of everyone at the Garden, we wish you a happy Valentine’s Day with a virtual bouquet, and hope that if you were lucky enough to get some flowers of your own today, you enjoy them at least until the snowdrops pop up to welcome us to spring. It can’t be long now!
Keep your home bouquet longer with these quick tips from Nancy Clifton, horticultural program specialist:
- Use floral preservatives that come with flowers!
- When you are ready to put your flowers in a vase, give each stem a fresh cut. Cutting at an angle opens more area for the flower to take up water. If you can, cut the stem ends in water to prevent the cut from sealing quickly.
- Make sure that the water you used is room temperature (or slightly warmer) to help your flowers absorb it quickly and easily.
- Make sure your vase is clean. Dust can hinder water uptake in your bouquet.
- Keep your arrangement away from direct heat and cold drafts.
- Pull off bruised petals to keep your flowers looking their freshest.
Thu, 02/14/2013 - 12:07pm
Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, recently taught a fun class, a glass jar terrarium workshop, with the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden. I went down to the production greenhouse that morning to learn how to plant a terrarium so I could share some tips with you. Follow the steps below to make your own! Need a little more direction? In the video below, we build a terrarium and give a few extra tips for success.
First, select a container such as a glass bottle, glass vase or bowl, miniature glass greenhouse, fish bowl, or something similar. Use a tightly closed, clear glass or plastic container to retain the most humidity. Open containers also work, but will require more frequent watering.
Let’s build the layers (from the bottom up):
1. Start with a layer of coarse sand or pebbles, usually no more than 2 inches deep.
2. Cut a sheet of landscape fabric or weed barrier to fit over the pebbles.
3. Add 1/4- to 1/2-inch activated charcoal (available at an aquarium store) to help filter the air and water and keep the terrarium fresh, especially if it’s a closed terrarium.
4. Use a clean, well-drained growing medium that is high in organic matter. A blend of peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite is a good choice. Soil should be slightly moistened prior to planting. If planting a desert garden, use the proper type of soil. Add about 2 inches of soil.
5. Select small plants that are suited to your light conditions. Add a mixture of plants with small or large leaves, short and tall in height, and other variations. Add color, either with foliage color and interest, or with flowering plants.
6. Add accents and ornaments to complete the look you are trying to create. Create a miniature landscape or theme.
Caring for your terrarium
Watering: Water until moistened after planting, being careful not to let water pool in the bottom where it cannot be removed. Leave the closed terrarium uncovered until the foliage has dried. A closed terrarium may not need to be watered for 4 to 6 months — look for condensation to form on the inside of the container to check the moisture level. Open terrariums need watering occasionally but not as frequently as other houseplants. Watering should be light to avoid standing water.
Light: Keep out of direct sunlight as the terrarium could heat up too much and you could injure the plants. Most plants suitable for terrariums prefer medium to low light. Bright, indirect sun is preferred. If you need to supplement light with an artificial light, a 100-watt bulb placed close to the terrarium or fluorescent lights placed directly over the terrarium will be helpful. Supplemental lighting should be provided 14 to16 hours per day.
Fertilizer: Generally, plants in a terrarium should not grow rapidly and should seldom need fertilizer. Do not fertilize more than one to two times per year. Use a slow-release pellet fertilizer at 14-14-14.
Temperature: Keep terrariums in a warm location (65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit). Avoid cold drafts as much as possible. Certain plants, such as desert plants and succulents, may prefer warmer temperatures.
Pruning: Many plants in a terrarium will gradually outgrow their limited space. Pruning will keep them in their space and often promote side-shoot growth that will help fill out the plants. Be sure to remove all trimmed vegetation from the terrarium when complete. As the plants mature, it may become necessary to remove certain plants or add others.
Mark your calendar for Saturday, March 30, when Nancy Clifton, horticultural program specialist, will give demonstrations on terrariums in the Garden Shop. Visit the Shop online to see the selection of terrariums available for purchase as well!
Tue, 02/12/2013 - 3:07pm
For gardeners, February is an exciting month: it’s seed-starting time! That’s why we’ve made Sunday, February 24, a day dedicated entirely to seeds.
The morning kicks off with classes led by our friends from Seed Savers Exchange (they’re coming in from Decorah, Iowa). Shannon Carmody takes you step by step through a “Seed-Saving Primer” from 9-10 a.m., then digs a little deeper for “Planning Your Garden for Seed Saving” from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
After you take a lunch break in the Garden Cafe, settle in at the Alsdorf Auditorium at 2 p.m. for a lovely hour of “Seed Letters,” a free lecture by SSE’s seed historian Sarah Straate. Sarah charmed the audience with a version of this presentation at the Seed Savers Exchange Annual Conference last year (the photographs she shows are terrific!).
At 3 p.m., it’s time for Seed Swap! Bring seeds you harvested from your own garden, or seed packets that you never got around to finishing. (I’m bringing French marigolds that I harvested from my community garden plot last year, love-in-a-mist seedheads from my front yard garden, and a few packets of never-did-grow-those veggie seeds). Make sure your seed is clearly labeled and include as much info as you can to help out your fellow swappers.
Also on hand: staff and volunteer experts (including master gardeners from our Plant Information Service desk) who can answer all your questions about seed starting, germination, seed saving, and everyone’s favorite topic: growing tomatoes.
This is our second annual Seed Swap—the first swap was so much fun that we can’t wait to see some of the same faces there again—hopefully bringing seeds harvested from last year’s seed-swapped crops!
Saving seeds can be fun and easy—to get you started, here are five vegetables with easy-to-save seeds to harvest for next year’s swap:
- Peas. Just train them up a trellis, fence, or tuteur, let them grow, then let dry on the vine—instant pea seeds for next year’s planting. Every gardener (even kids!) can do this, and it’s fun to pop the dried peas out of their shells mid-summer.
- Beans. Incredibly beautiful seeds dry right on the bush, vine, or pole. Harvest when pods are dry but before they crack open and scatter their contents. Do a little reading beforehand, as there are many different types and varieties of beans.
- Lettuce. All lettuce likes it cool outside. Once summer’s heat kicks in, lettuce bolts, then sets hundreds and hundreds of seeds per plant. Harvesting is easy, though: slip a bag over the seedhead and tie it in place. Once seed has set and dried, just clip the stalk, invert the bag, and shake seed loose. Instant storage, too!
- Tomatoes. As everyone who’s ever bitten into a fresh tomato knows, there’s goo around the seeds in the center. How best to separate out the seeds? Talk to our tomato experts at the Seed Swap, and check out this blog post.
- Parsley. Like lettuce, parsley eventually bolts and sets seeds that are easy to collect in a bag. Unlike lettuce, the process takes two years, which can seem…challenging. It’s actually quite simple: Let your parsley plant grow (try not to harvest TOO much from it) straight through ‘til fall. The leaves will yellow and wilt. As winter arrives, mulch the plant lightly with straw or leaves. The following spring, the plant will re-energize, sending up flower shoots that set many tiny, poppy seed-sized seeds. Harvest as above for lettuce.
- enjoy your visit
- at the garden
- your garden
- support us