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Tales from a Plant Addict

Fun (& a few serious) facts, tips and tricks for every gardener, new and old.

Seven Sons Tree—Heptacodium miconioides

When I met my husband Chris, his thumbs were not even the slightest shade of green. He started to show some interest in topics related to gardening as time went on, but his budding interest really blossomed when we bought our home, and a year later bought the lot next door. The agreement when we purchased the lot next door was that the landscaping there would be his project, with my ter...

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This time of year I am on the lookout for plants that still look good in the garden. Most plants look pretty tired and haggard by the time August rolls around. Adding in some plants that are starting to bloom or still blooming by late summer breathes some life into a tired landscape. If you're looking for a real workhorse of a plant for your perennial garden, consider Coreopsis...

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It seems like whenever I travel outside of our Zone 5 climate, I get a case of what some people call "zone envy". There's always a plant or two at my destination that would look perfect in my garden back home, and further research usually reveals the disappointing news that the plants I'm admiring will only survive winters much warmer than central Illinois. While on our honeymoon years...

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Night Gardening

Those first few spring days in the garden are deceiving-- we happily work all day in the garden, grateful for the warmth of the sun after a long cold winter. Fast forward a few months, and the thought of working in the sun all day in August seems like cruel and unusual punishment. That's where the idea of night, or moonlight gardening comes in. During the dog days of summer, many of us...

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A plant that has grown on me due to its outstanding performance in my garden is Calibrachoa , also called Million Bells, or sold under the brand name Superbells®. Up until a few years ago, I didn't really use this plant in my annual beds and containers. But the more I use it, the more I love it. Calibrachoa , like Petunia, is a genus in the Solanaceae...

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Growing up I thought that all iris were purple with yellow fuzzy "beards". I also knew that my mom hated them. I spent a lot of time alongside my mom as a girl helping her dig up the persistent rhizomes. When she and my dad bought their house, the flower bed on the south side of the house plus a few oddball places around the yard were overflowing with the exceedingly tall purple bearded iris. W...

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Calla Lilies

Most of us are familiar with calla lilies as cut flowers, but did you know they are a great summer bulb to plant in your garden or even in a container? What is a summer bulb? Summer bulbs are summer-blooming plants that have some type of underground storage structure. Though called 'bulbs', they may or may not be a true bulb. In central Illinois, most summer bulbs are not cold hardy and...

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Oriental Poppies

In search of orange-flowered perennials for my orange and blue Illini garden, Oriental Poppies ( Papaver orientale ) were a natural choice. The plants I used in my Illini garden were divided off a large clump that I planted years ago at my parents' home. I don't know the name of the cultivar, but their glowing orange petals are striking this time of year. As the name suggests, Or...

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Wild Violets

As a young girl I had a different sense of what constituted a "weed". I would make gardens by transplanting various volunteer plants I found sprouting up in the garden or the yard. This got me into plenty of trouble! Most of the time what I cultivated was a carefully manicured garden of weeds, or occasionally flowers grown from seed. One of the plants I routinely transplanted from our y...

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One of the most common questions I'm asked each fall is "What kind of mum should I plant that will definitely survive the winter?" While it is definitely more challenging to find mums for sale this time of year, planting mums in the spring is one way to increase the odds that they will survive the winter, since they will be thoroughly rooted and established before winter winds blow. The...

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Hydrangeas are one of those plants that both enamor and frustrate gardeners. As much as we love them, when they don't live up to either how they looked when we purchased them, or they don't look like the catalog picture, we wonder what we're doing wrong. I planted my first hydrangea as a new homeowner eleven years ago, and for the first two years hoped no one noticed that the local horticulture...

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Easter Lily-- Lilium longiflorum

This Easter, many people will buy an Easter lily or two. What do Bermuda, World Wars I and II, and Japan have to do with Easter lilies? As it turns out, they have quite a lot to do with the lilies we associate with Easter. Historically, lilies have appeared in art, mythology, and literature, particularly the Bible, as a symbol of purity, hope, and life. Traditionally, Christian churches...

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Passion Flower

My first encounter with a passion flower plant was back in high school when I succumbed to a display at my local garden center. The display promised beautiful passion flower plants easily grown from seed, and prominently featured was a gorgeous picture of a passion flower. I remember the seeds were packaged in yellow plastic eggs, and the package showed a cartoon of a very happy gardener and a...

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Florigraphy (the meaning of flowers)

When sending flowers for Valentine's Day, most people automatically think of roses. In the language of florigraphy, or meanings attached to specific flowers, the rose symbolizes love and passion. Different colors and numbers of roses have slightly different meanings. But maybe you want to do something new and different this year. Or maybe an often-expensive rose arrangement just doesn't fit you...

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Resurrection Plant or Fern

Nearly ten years ago, a sign advertising a "miracle fern" caught my eye at a garden center. The plant being advertised, Selaginella lepidophylla , doesn't look like much, just a little cluster of brown, dead looking leaves. But place it in a shallow dish of water, and overnight, like magic, the leaves unfurl, and become green. Take it out of the water, and as it dries it reverts to the...

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The scent of hyacinth in bloom is definitely a sign of spring to me. While I prefer to look at hyacinths in my garden and smell their sweet scent drifting in my windows, this time of year a pot of blooming hyacinths indoors is a welcome sight after a long dreary winter. Hyacinths are members of the genus Hyacinthus , which are bulbs formerly placed in the lily family Liliace...

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Rex Begonias

This time of year I find myself craving color around my house. After all the holiday decorations come down, everything is a little dull when surrounded by the winter dreariness outside. Many stores will have great specials on indoor plants this time of year. A little greenery certainly is a pick-me-up, but what about more color? You may immediately think of flowering plants, but they ca...

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Holly-- A Legendary Plant

As is with many Christmas traditions, the use of holly during this season has its roots in pagan customs dating back thousands of years. Many scholars believe ancient Druids revered holly because it was the plant that "sun never forgot", since it remained green throughout the winter in the otherwise leafless forest. Ancient Romans believed the plant represented good will, and often gave...

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Growing Holly

Probably the only question anyone ever asks me about holly is why theirs doesn't have berries on it. Everyone seems to plant holly because they want berries. I can see why—in an otherwise dreary winter landscape, a little splash of red is a welcome sight. The trick to producing the highly sought after red berries is realizing that holly is another one of those plants that is dioecious,...

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American Chestnut

We've all heard the familiar holiday tune that begins " Chestnuts roasting on an open fire ….", but here in central Illinois chestnuts are not a familiar site among native stands of trees. The American Chestnut, Castanea dentata , was at one point one of the most important forest trees in the...

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Sage (Salvia)

The holidays would not be the same without sage. Many people use the herb sage, Salvia officinalis as a seasoning for poultry, a common dish on holiday tables. But there is a lot more to sage than the culinary herb. The name sage encompasses a large group of ornamental and medicinal plants in the mint family. There are three different genera all considered to be types of sages:...

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Black Walnut

Plants have evolved some pretty interesting ways of insuring their own existence in the world. One tactic that fascinates me is allelopathy, which means that one plant harms another with chemicals it produces. A common example, and one that plagues homeowners is the black walnut, Juglans nigra , a tree native to eastern North America, including Illinois. All parts of black walnu...

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American Bittersweet

A plant to consider for a colorful fall display is American Bittersweet. But like a lot of plants, there are pluses and minuses to its use in the landscape. American Bittersweet, Celastrus scandens , is native to North America. It is a vigorously growing woody vine that may reach a height and width of twenty feet or more. All parts of this plant are considered poisonous, but it...

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This fall, many of us will add decorations to our homes which often include colorful gourds. While we may look at them only as decorations, many cultures throughout history found that gourds could be dried and used as useful items such as storage containers, dippers, spoons, and bowls. Some even used gourds to fashion musical instruments. Although it was far more common to dry mature go...

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Fall Gardening To-Do List

Fall is a great time of year to evaluate the space needs of plants in your garden. If you are at all like me, each spring I think I have a lot more space than I actually have. I end up overcrowding my beds and sooner or later something has to be removed or relocated Take some pictures of your garden this fall. You will be glad you did in January when the first spring garden catalogs fil...

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