Monthly Archives: March 2015

Week Four: Winter Redux

No warm up in sight
This year, I am planting peas
Touching the earth helpswelcome
Late March in Chicago. On Friday, while resisting the lure of the thermostat’s up button, I invited friends to compose brrrkus about this soul chilling, mood numbing time of the year–see end of post.  I’ve also carried on with the gardening. Each seed planted is a down payment on greener, warmer days. Miguel direct sowed a riot of spinach and lettuce near the apple tree.
I set up a container of arugula and radishes on our porch, and planted peas along the fence for the first time.
Tested the viability of some old beet (below) and spinach seeds by laying them in a sunny spot, swaddled in  damp paper towels and a plastic bag.
Added ten more jugs of flower and vege seeds, inc the beets and spinach, to the “winter sowing” collection I started on January 23rd.

weekfour_stackMore brrrkus
Tantalizing sun,

Is it possibly warm out?
Nope, that snow’s still there.

First day of 40
Kids would not put on jackets
Now 40 feels cold


sunshine spills from sky
my breath steams in the cold air
cold toes, warm heart, smiles


Spring’s tease. Deep blue sky
Brown branch, tinge of green, but cold
A beautiful day.


In five short months,
We’ll yearn for sweater weather.
Trying for perspective.

Buds in the garden
Asparagus for dinner
Dammit it is spring


Week Three: Hard, Blank Slate

The good news: last week, contractors scooped up most of the gravel left over from the recent sewer work on Kimball Avenue. The bad news: they also scraped off the top layer of the parkway, leaving behind crusty, compacted soil and myriad plants in unknown condition.

I’ve been working the sunny corner of McLean and Kimball for a few years, planting mostly natives and spring bulbs, adding a layer of leaves each fall, and adding the little mulch my purse is willing to spare. Chicago’s notorious clay soil was slowly loosening up. Now I feel back to square one. Forget about tilling. This stuff needs a jackhammer!

2014-08-02 18.27.27

Tending public spaces can be a Sisyphean project. Last year, another section of parkway was dug up for water main work. The year before, the City planted a tree, thereby compromising my long term vision of a rustling spot of prairie.* And, it takes just a few greedy, meany fingers to pick or destroy the one and done blooms.**

The Penstemon was glorious last year. I see new new growth. Just needs a dusting off.

It’s not like I don’t have enough work to do in our own back yard, or even the parkway in front of our house. Nor should I spend as much time as I do gardening in general. But I love being outside and talking to appreciative neighbors and passersby who often express interest in learning about the benefits of native plants. The garden adds color and texture to a busy, high visibility corner in an area dominated by parking. It is a sign-post, guiding us down Kimball and around the corner to our home.

The four Prairie Smokes did not thrive last year. Might do some spot soil TLC.
The four Prairie Smokes did not thrive last year. Maybe I should at least do some spot soil TLC.

The good news: the deed was done before much was coming up. I was going to take out the tall asters anyway, because they don’t look good next to the tree. I planned to pry off the groundcover of strawberries, because construction debris and heavy traffic is probably not the best growing medium for edibles. The Mystery Grass and Sedum near the street were untouched. Plenty of tulips are drilling though the rubble. Coneflowers are easy to replace. I’ve been meaning to transplant the Baptisia that is cramped and hidden in my back yard. It deserves a larger stage and audience. I mostly mourn the Rattlesnake Master, but maybe it will come back.

the witness

But sorry to say, I am not going to drop big bucks for a thick layer of compost and mulch. Who knows what the City has in plan for the future. Well, maayyybe if we get a nice tax return. . . .just don’t tell my husband.

So many possibilities!

*I am embarrassed that I am mad about that tree, a Sweetgum apparently, and have even considered cutting it down. But I won’t. It is a gift that will persist if we move (not any time soon), or I lose energy for gardening near it.

**I am also a little embarrassed about how territorial I got about the flowers, especially the Allium. Some were picked by kids for their moms (at least that’s what they said :), some by squirrels. Some were probably stepped on. It is the *public* way after all. My solution was to plant a whole bunch of bulbs in our back yard so I don’t cling to what grows out front.

The day after I put up this sign, I found an upended tulip on the ground in front of it. There won;t be a sign this year, and I won't stress about what happens.
The day after I put up this sign, I found an upended tulip on the ground in front of it. There won’t be a sign this year, and I won’t stress about what happens.

Week 2: Breathing Room

wpid-imag1954.jpgEvery fall, I vow to borrow Karen’s leaf shredder to create fluffy, nutritious mulch for all my garden beds. Every fall, time speeds up. Before a late season rain, I end up frantically dumping out bags of leaves scavenged from the alley; everything needs to be tucked in tightly so the neighbors don’t complain about the leaves they just raked blowing back into their yards. This means that, every spring, I have to pry off slimy blankets to make it easier for little plants to emerge. I’m not sure if these annual rituals do any good, but they are pleasant bookends to the growing season.

First snowdrop! I’m excited about this addition to the early spring chorus.
The parkway is also buried by a bunch of construction debris. Not sure what to do about that yet. Current strategy is to ignore.
The tiny shoots from last week have bloomed.
This part of the front parkway is not the best showcase for tulips; I love the bright tips against this rock more than the flowers.
Urban mulch includes garbage.
Love a plant that emerges early and blooms late. Can’t believe I’m spacing its name.
Until next week. . . .

Week 1: Return of the Living Undead

first crocus sightingLast Thursday, friends started sharing links to giddy five day forecasts, crowding out the pictures of home thermometers registering single digits. “The thaw is coming, the thaw is coming!” Tom Skilling was Paul Revere; social media the horse. I was unmoved. Barring a true heatwave, the shellacked snow pack would melt slowly—a good thing for the soil, watershed, and sewers, but a bummer for those counting the days until the flowers return. And it’s hard for me to get excited about 40 degree weather.bug's tulipsThe arctic grip did loosen Friday afternoon, as promised, and I grudgingly admitted that a sunny 45 is indeed better than a windy 15. But I was still moping about the bulbs, couldn’t imagine anything green emerging from the long buried muck for at least a few days–and that was assuming the “warm up” would hold.

Less than 24 hours later, I was jumping up and down on the sunny corner of Kimball and McLean. “Miguel! Miguel!!!! Look!! Crocuses!!!” We had to bend and squint to see the pointy green fingernails clawing towards the sun.  I ran around, searching for more in the narrow sliver of earth now visible between the sidewalk’s edge and still formidable pile of snow. Nothing, but no matter. A day later, I spied the orange tulips that honor (and draw nutrients from) Bug, Miguel’s beloved goldfish.  The earth has opened, I am giddy, and the show has just begun. tulipsneartreegoalpostswaitingforsnowdrops

I planted snowdrops for the first time last fall, excited for something to bloom before the crocuses. Do I remove the snow to see what is below, or wait it out?