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Marimo, Japanese Moss Ball

A year ago I came across a mention of Marimo somewhere on the net. I had forgotten about them until a couple of weeks ago I found myself in an aquarium store and saw some in a fish tank. Since this was a serious kind of aquarium shop they were labeled "Japanese moss balls" but I recognized it right away as a "Marimo." Being one of those suckers born every minute I had to have one if only for the plant geek points. Lately I've been sort of uninspired with collection of indoor plants and have had the strangest urge to grow mosses and ferns. Which is partly responsible for the lack of updates here. I don't know why but lately but plants that are little more than boring green mounds have seemed like something I want to grow.
marimo, Japanese moss ball growing in a jar of water


Jade Plant Ball Topiary

I spotted this topiary in the summer at a garden center here in Chicago that I visited for the first time. It is a simple sphere shape stuffed with moss and planted with jade plant cuttings. Crassula ovata is an evergreen succulent plant that is a very popular houseplant grown around the world. When given plenty of light the jade green leaves develop a red tint around the edge and with good care they flower small white or pink flowers. Most of the time it is grown as a tree or several stems are grown in a pot resulting in a shrub-like plant. Seeing this plant being grown in a ball topiary form was a bit of a surprise because I've only seen it grown as a tree or shrub and thought this was pretty ingenious.


Home Depot Houseplant Hearse

When is a shopping cart more than just a shopping cart? When said shopping cart is painted orange and it says The Home Depot on the side. I have to admit that I do feel a bit of guilt because I enable Home Depot when I buy Burpee seeds from them along with other plants including but not limited to my cacti & succulents. But I can't help it, their cheap prices allow the working class the luxury of participating in gardening and general plant growing. Not everyone can afford to be a lazy localvore and pay someone to plant their veggie garden and collect the bounty and place it on their back door once a week. But I digress...

I don't know about any of you but I tend to not use a shopping cart when I visit a Home Depot garden center or shop in the manly section of the store. It gives me the creeps to think about the possibility that the shopping cart I'm pushing once transported dead plants to their graves- er I mean- the trash compactor out behind a Home Depot.

dead houseplants at Home Depot(sorry about the picture quality, it was taken with my cell phone.)


Houseplant BINGO!

I'm sure I'm not the only person that notices houseplants when they aren't the subject of attention. I think all houseplant growers do this from time to time. You could be minding your own business watching your favorite television show and in a commercial tucked away in a corner is a houseplant that catches your attention. That is how it begins; Houseplant BINGO!

Then you notice the trailing ivy sitting on the desk of the quirky receptionist in your favorite situation comedy. Houseplant BINGO!


Parking lot Farm

Every once in a while I come across an unusual planting in Chicago and in most of those instances I never have a camera with me to document it. I always get a kick out of the weird places that people will grow a plant- be it edible or ornamental. Last summer I often would pass by a house where the home owner had converted his front stoop into a chili pepper farm of sorts. All ten steps were covered in old buckets growing many varieties of peppers. It was a sight to behold, if not a safety hazard. I never managed to take a picture no matter how many mental notes I made. I've been trying to do better at documenting these "extreme" instances of gardening this year. So far my record is not that great but here's one weird place for veggies that I noticed in Chicago.

parking lot farm, urban gardening urban farming


Daylily proliferation

If you've grown a daylily chances are that you've noticed a new plant forming along the scape (flower stem) of one of your plants. The other day I came across one growing on a browning stem of one of my Daylilies. Hemerocallis growers call these plantlets that sprout from the stems "proliferations." Sometimes a proliferation can grow enough during a growing season to actually flower, most of the time they'll grow just enough for them to be harvested and planted. Proliferations are exact clones of the plant they are growing from and they're a great source of free plants.

Daylily proliferation, Keiki, Plant propagation, plant growing on flower stem


Medicinal Plant Garden Walk

Besides the Independent Garden Center Show I tried to attend the Medicinal Garden Walk at the Dorothy Bradley Atkins Medicinal Plant Garden at UIC. As luck would have it I also was short on time that day and arrived late just as it had started to rain. This was not a good week for me to play citizen journalist but I took some more photos of the garden and made a small video consisting of still photos and video I captured with my digital camera on the second day of the garden walk.

What I regret most about not being able to attend the garden walk is that I missed hearing the speakers they had lined up because I was prepared with several questions that I had about the garden and the plants grown. There are over 140 medicinal plant species planted in the garden and I think on this blog I've only managed to document 23 of those plants. While not extensive I hope that the photos and information that I've recorded here can serve as a virtual garden walk of sorts. If plants and their medicinal uses interest you see my previous post Medicinal Plant Garden in Chicago and this post. I don't believe I repeat any of the plants or photos in these entries but if I do I apologize.


Independent Garden Center Show '08

Yesterday was the first day of the Second Annual Independent Garden Center Show at Navy Pier and I managed to leverage my garden blog to get access to the show. There were more than 850 booths of retailers and vendors from around the world, two dozen retail experts giving 35 sessions, keynotes, workshops and tours.

Unfortunately, I was pressed for time and arrived in the middle of the afternoon just a couple of hours before the show would end for the day and the and musical guest, Kansas, would perform.

This was the first time that I attended one of these events where I was not a visitor or employee of a vendor. It was an interesting experience from the moment I arrived. After some confusion I got my badge with a blue ribbon marked "Press" and walked the floor of the hall. A lot of emphasis on Independent is placed on this show and it being independent and clearly branded as "No Big Boxes" I was surprised to see big names like Monrovia, Bayer Advanced, Miracle Gro, Smith & Hawkin with prominent booths.

I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend and cover the garden show as a member of the "press" but I wonder if a show that segregates the gardening community doesn't create an unnecessary Us vs Them attitude. I say this because while walking around I got the distinct impression that I was viewed with some suspicion as I took photographs of the booths or products. I wonder if vendors and visitors didn't think I was a covert agent for the likes of Home Depot or Lowe's.

I suffer from no illusions of grandeur and don't expect anyone to know what a Mr. Brown Thumb is or even care, I'm just a hobby gardener in Chicago that blogs about my plants and things related to gardening that interest me. What I didn't and don't expect at an event like this is being either ignored or regarded with suspicion. You'd think that a show where Independent vendors and retailers get together there would be an embrace of independent media like say- bloggers?

One vendor who supplies orchids wouldn't allow (what he said was) a rare Lady's Slipper orchid to be photographed. I was so taken aback by the "I don't allow them to be photographed" that I forgot to make a note of the name of this too special to be photographed plant.

At the booth for the Livingston Seed company (see below) I had a nice conversation with an older gentlemen about their products followed up with an annoying conversation with one of his coworkers.
After checking with him if it was ok to take some photographs I proceeded to take the photos and then he walked away. After he walked over to talk to someone else I noticed two figures coming at me from the corner of my eye and before I could turn to them they were upon me. I was greeted with "What the hell are you doing?" To which I replied "I'm taking photographs." What I really wanted to say was; "Gee, 'expletive.' I dunno. What could someone with a camera and a name tag labeled "PRESS" be doing?" I must have had a really puzzled look on my face because the larger of the two said jokingly; "I'm not gonna clothesline you or anything I'm just curious. We saw you talking to the old guy and taking pictures and wondered what you were doing."

Not all my interactions were like that though. I had a great conversation with Phil Bull of Turf Revolution about their "all natural" line of horticultural products for lawns. The Canadian company is entering the American market with this line and I spent a good amount of time with Phil talking about sustainable agriculture, localvores, the 100 mile diet, and the recent trend, prompeted by the slow down in the American economy, of removing lawns and replacing them with Victory Gardens. I had such a good time speaking with Phil about these issues and the emotional connection to lawns that I forgot to take a photo of their products.

I had a similarly postive experience with a representative of Napa Home & Garden. A company that distributes higher end pots, planters, statues fountains for the garden. The representative explained to me that the pots by Guy Wolff & Co. that they distribute are hand crafted and replicas of pots from the 18th and 19th century. I'd seen them before but I didn't know the number on the face of the pot records the weight of the clay used in the creation of the pot. They had some really great products at their display my favorite was the head planter (see photo above) I've been looking for one for a while but haven't been able to find one that I really liked. The reps for Lechuza and Robert Larson (see below) were so personable that I didn't know how to react after some of my other experiences. Here are a couple of the vendors I managed to get to see in my limited time.

I nearly fainted when I came across the display for the Livingston Seed company. I've never seen this seed company before in a retail setting but according to their information they've been around since 1850. They have the second best product photography I've ever seen on a seed packet. Their impressive collection of seeds are broken down into categories: Climbers, Gourds, Perennials, Sunflowers, Veggies, Herbs and Annuals. Some of these seeds I've never come across in a garden center and unfortunately they weren't available for sale at the show. Pictured above from left to right; Cobaea Scandens, Glory Vine, Tresco Mix, Thunbergia white.

I've been growing the yellow/organge Black Eyed Susan vine for the past two years but I've never seen a white variety before. Another new one for me from this company is the Climbing Spinach that is supposed to be edible when the leaves are young.

Dracaena Mass Appeal
Good news for fans of Dracaenas. I spoke to a representative of Kraft Gardens about their new line of Dracaenas. The Dracaena plant pictured above is "Mass Appeal" and I'm told takes three time longer to grow their Dracaena Mass Cane set. For collectors of these plants who have had trouble finding Dracaena "Lisa" because it has been historically grown exclusively in Hawaii-there's good news. Kraft Gardens has been growing the plant in Florida and they'll soon be easier to find marketed under the name "Mona-Lisa." Unfortunately I got distracted with "Mass Appeal" and forgot to photograph "Mona-Lisa."

I think I missed my chance to meet a real life garden celebrity. I came across this booth after everyone had cleared out of the hall to go listen to Kansas. I have no idea who Garden Girl is, for a second I thought she was a past contestant on American Idol. After visiting her website I've learned that Garden Girl is the host of Farmer's Almanac TV & a web video diva who is teaching generations X & Y to live sustainably in an urban settings. I guess Garden Girl is the American Gayla Trail?

You've probably seen the Radius Garden NRG PRO garden tools before. They're been profiled everywhere from Oprah to the The Wall Street Journal. I'm a sucker for nice design and was immediately drawn to them but after looking at them... can't post much about them because the designer didn't seem to eager to speak to me. When you got Oprah who needs a little garden blogger.

Almost at the opposite end in a darkened section of the exhibit hall was the Robert Larson Company.The rep for Robert Larson was more than eager to speak to me about the tools he was carrying and explain the history of these tool and the craftsmanship that goes into making them. While not as pretty as the garden tools above these are forged by hand from a single piece of steel in England. See the Robert Larson website for a brief history of these tools and take a video tour of the factory where these are made.

I didn't manage to get any good shots of the Lechuza self-watering planters but I suspect that these are going to be a popular here in the states. Not only are these pots functional but they're beautiful and come in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes from small pots that fit on your window sill to pots big enough to grow trees in. Visit the Lechuza website for more(awesome photos) info.

The makers of the Ups A Daisy planter inserts that I've blogged about where there and this was going to be our first time to meet unfortunately I got to their booth after they had left.

Tomorrow is the last day of the show and unfortunately I don't have time to attend. If another opportunity like this ever arises I'll make sure to plan better for the event. In an ideal situation I would have attended all three days of the event and broken up my visits based on categories. One day to check out the pots and speak to the vendors about trends and changes, another day for plants and a separate day for garden art and accents.


Allium bulgaricum bulb

Two years ago I purchased a pack of Allium bulgaricum bulbs that I planted in the garden. On another blog of mine I wrote my thoughts on Allium bulgaricum, a couple of days later I was cleaning out my room and found a bulb that had apparently fallen behind a cabinet. For two years the bulb survived without water, soil and light and is now starting to sprout. I'm amazed at how resilent this little bulb is and how much it wants to grow. It almost makes me rethink my opinion of this bulb in my garden, almost.


Echinacea purpurea 'Double Decker'

Have you ever wanted a plant really bad and then were left feeling let down once you bought said plant for your garden? Echinacea purpurea 'Double Decker' also sold under 'Doppleganger' is a garden 'mutant' first discovered by German plant breeder Eugen Schleipfer. It is said that he found an unusal Purple Coneflower and spent many years selecting for the unusual flower we have now.

I purchased mine two years ago at a local Home Depot garden center and that should have been a big enough red flag. The Home Depot is good for a lot of things but specialty plants for the garden, IMO, is not one of them. After having seen many beautiful photos of the 'Double Decker' flower on the internet and plant catalogs I was eager to add this weird plant to my garden and when I found them for $5.00 I couldn't pass them up.

Echinacea 'Double Decker' purple coneflower


Obama on Plant Delights?

The recent outrage that The New Yorker created with their satirical look at the rumors that surround Barack and Michelle Obama got me wondering what the next Plant Delights nursery catalog cover will look like.

The covers for the popular plant catalog are illustrated by American cartoonist, Jack Pittman, and are always something that gets a good laugh from many gardeners.

The image on the right is the Spring 2008 cover of the catalog and it titled 'National Plant Care.' I wondered if Plant Delights Nursery would go there with the fall catalog cover so I e-mailed them and asked.

Today I got my answer;
Good morning Mr. Brown Thumb,

Tony asked me to pass along this little tid-bit of information regarding our upcoming fall catalog cover:

“Please tell Mr. Brown thumb that our catalog cover was designed a month ago and that it does include some Obama-esque satire.”

Oh dear! Here we go! J

Cordially,Dianne Austin
Manager, Customer Service & Shipping
Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.


I emailed Dianne back to thank her for the response and to say I was looking forward to the cover her reply;

"Tony’s catalog covers always make me VERY nervous even before I see them and I haven’t seen this one as of yet J

You have no idea the hate mail I had to wade through when he released Gardening Jihad. Sheez! I’m glad to hear that you are looking forward to it. That’s makes one of us! "
Here is the 'Gardening jihad' cover that Dianne is talking about.

Medicinal Plant Garden in Chicago

Recently I came across a small garden that I'd never noticed before at the University of Illinois Medical Center. It is the Dorothy Bradley Atkins Medicinal Plant Garden that is operated and maintained by the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy in the UIC College of Pharmacy for educational and research purposes. When I first came across the garden the plant names registered something in my brain but I couldn't figure out why they were standing out eventually it came to me.

Medicinal/herbal garden UIC Chicago


Tulip Black Parrot

I want to share a photo from my garden from last month. The picture is of tulip Black Parrot that I planted last fall. I purchased it a cool garden center here in Chicago called Sprout Home because the photo of the tulip on the package was stunning. The tulip bulbs were packaged by a garden wholesaler named VanBloem Gardens that sells plants and horticultural equipment across the U.S and Canada. While not as large and nuanced as the product pictured on the package makes the Black Parrot tulips look they are still pretty stunning. The ruffled petals start a wine-red and darken to an almost black and the petals open up semi- flat and horizontal to the stem and reach a height of about 20 inches. The Leaves of this bulb are a grayish-green color and look the same as any other tulip. In my garden I also have Flaming Parrot tulips and the flowers of Black Parrot are smaller and not as flamboyant by comparison.

black tulip, black plants black flowers

Container Garden Inserts

Over the winter I was e-mailed by Jeff Maniscalco the husband of a Kristy Maniscalco wondering if I'd explain what this whole garden blog thing was about. I get a lot of e-mails of people who want to do "partnerships" of one kind or another so I was a little hesitant to answer. Over the course of a few e-mails I tried to explain why people like us blog about our plants and gardens and explain how to use a blog. I set them up with an account and created a couple of entries for them in their blog showing how to use the container garden inserts that Kristy had designed.

After I was done Jeff asked if I'd be interested in trying out one of the Ups A Daisy container inserts. I said sure and when it came in the mail I set it aside and forgot about it when life took an interesting turn recently. The other day I was finally getting around to planting my spring bulbs and my Amaryllis bulbs that I had kept dormant all winter and I spotted the Ups A Daisy planters Jeff had mailed me. Needing to plant everything at once I chose to plant my bulbs up in a large container I grabbed the Ups A Daisy insert and took it outside to see if it would work.

The idea behind the Ups A Daisy is to eliminate the need to fill the bottom of your garden pot with packing peanuts, soil or empty water bottles. I didn't get a chance to save up any packing peanuts this winter for my large pots so the Ups A Daisy came in handy. You measure the inside of your pot with a measuring tape and the measurement dictates the size of the insert that you'll need. The Ups A Daisy insert is then slid in and sits halfway down your pot so you only use half of the amount of soil you would normally use.

The photos in this entry are not mine they're product shots from their website but I'm using them to give you an idea of how to use it. I'll post the pics of my pot when I get a chance to go through my photo album and edit the pictures and the plants are a little more filled out. While I used the sample to plant up some of my "indoor" bulbs I don't see why the Ups A Daisy can't be used to pot up ornamentals, veggies or even houseplants. It is a good product for frugal gardeners like myself who don't want to fill a whole pot with soil and since only half the pot is filled with soil it makes it easier to move your container garden around. One of the creative uses they found for the Ups A Daisy was using the planter insert to create a water fountain for a patio garden. If you're interested you can learn more about the Ups A Daisy inserts for your pots or container garden at the Ups A Daisy website or find a store that carries it near you.


Spring sprung without me


I know I haven't been around much but a series of events have lead me to neglect my gardening blog. First I'd like to thank everyone who has commented since I last made an update. I'd also like to sincerely thank everyone who has expressed concern over my well-being and has made an attempt to contact me through e-mail. I'll try to respond to each e-mail personally but if I don't get around to it I just want you to know that I've seen the e-mail and appreciate sentiment behind it and I'm doing good.

I'm not dead just dormant.


Homemade Seed Pots

Most gardeners have already been scouring seed catalogs for a few weeks and in the coming weeks and months gardeners will buy seeds from seed racks at garden centers. Every gardener has their preferred method of seed starting and what seed pots they use. Frugal gardeners have know for a long time that many items around the house can be converted into homemade seed pots. Everyday household items can be made into seed pots as long as they can hold soil and have some drainage. I did a post on making seed pots from rolling a sheet of newspaper, you can start seeds in a plastic sandwich bag or make a seed starter from a soda bottle. If you aren't familiar with those cheap ways of starting seeds take a moment to read those links and add that seed starting information to your gardening arsenal.


How To Get Free Garden Plants

The warm weather we've been experiencing in Chicago has got me thinking of spring and I've begun to think about the next growing season and changes I'd like to see in my garden. While I seem to be left out of the seed and garden catalog rounds this year it hasn't stopped my planning and desire for new plants in the garden.


Burpee Seeds At Home Depot

Over Christmas I noticed that Home Depot had received a shipment of seeds for spring. Today I took a look around their greenhouse and saw the seed racks had been put on display. All of the seeds that they had for sale were Burpee seeds. The selection from Burpee at Home Depot this year seems to be geared towards people who want to grow their own food but I noticed a couple of seed packs for ornamentals that I thought I'd point out.