Monday, March 21, 2011

Beauty defined by age and weathering

When I travel with my husband, we usually have a long list of must-see places to go to. Our first day on the ground we like to walk around and serendipitously stumble on things that we've read about while getting our bearings. Paris has been no different.

We headed out of our apartment that overlooks a corner of the Louvre and is above the Louis Vuitton design studios. Walking immediately out of our door is the only time I feel like I am complete fashion dolt. The people who work there look like they walked right out of a magazine. They are all ages and look stunning. They look like they could persevere through anything on looks along. Incredible.

In wandering beyond our door we found the Flower Markets by Notre Dame fascinating. The air was filled with the fresh fragrances of hyacinth, lilac and magnolias, and the brilliant colors of forsythia, primerose, irises, and hydrangeas. The store owners were nice and patient and happy to let me photograph their wares. One of the store owners had an Olive tree in a container that had to be over 20 years old, but well pruned to be within reach.

By the time we reached Notre Dame, the crowds were so heavy that we decided to keep walking and look for nice vistas of the beautiful rose window from the outside.

This adventure led us to the Square René Viviani. This small city garden overlooks the church from across the river and holds one of the most oldest and durable trees in all of Paris. Planted in 1602, this tree has managed to survive numerous wars, the revolution, religious upheavals, protests, and city life. The tree is a Robinia pseudoacacia or False aralia. This is a hardy tree in any planting, but sometime in this plants' life the trunk has hollowed and was filled with cement, a relatively common practice in the past. It is propped with sturdy cement columns and is now covered in two types of climbing ivy (or perhaps it is only Hedera helix in its mature and immature stages next to each other) that are vigorous.

Robinia pseudoacacia or False aralia.

Robinia pseudoacacia or False aralia with Notre Dame in the background.

It is still surviving with the obvious help of people and despite the more obvious weathering of time. I feel lucky to have seen this tree and think about everything it has witnessed through the last 409 years. Growing in sight of the grand Notre Dame Cathedral this tree is just a baby, but perhaps our lady can help protect it a little longer.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

2011 Chicago Flower and Garden Show

If you haven’t had a chance to see the Chicago Flower and Garden Show take the time, it’s worth it. The theme this year is “The Sport of Gardening.” The outdoor living spaces incorporated massive dry-fit masonry construction to demo how kitchens, or other outdoor entertainment spaces could be created. The vendors were all very friendly and the trend on growing green themes were found in everything from green roofs and vertical walls, to backyard chicken coops. The chicken coop idea was interesting, since Urbana and other residential areas do allow chickens. Closer to our downtown area, from time-to-time, you will find a brazen rooster strutting his stuff down the street.

“A Curious Croquet-Ground” by the Illinois Orchid Society

For me the show began with “A Curious Croquet-Ground” by the Illinois Orchid Society where you’ll see three large spheres of all white orchids (Phalenopsis) each about 5 feet in diameter. This display was set up as a giant croquet set with the mallets magically hanging in mid-swing. It was very playful and interesting. I did find that if you take a photo at just the right angle it looks like the mallets are popping the people on the head, like a good game of whack-a-mole.

The 'water feature' from “One Goal, One Garden” designed by Tony Butterworth, Christy Webber Landscapes

 Are you Chicago Hawks hockey fan? Then the “One Goal, One Garden” is the place for you. Designed by Tony Butterworth, Christy Webber Landscapes, this garden had a water feature like none-other. The bottom was painted to resemble a hockey rink, but with a little trickery, people can walk right out onto the “ice” without getting too wet. This high-end contemporary design used many active components from the hockey team. From the picket fence made of hockey sticks, to the flooring that comes from a training rink. Don’t get too excited by the Stanley Cup trophy, it is a replica, though a pretty nice one.

Tulips Joe van der Vlugt of Doornbosch Bros.

Gardeners and landscapers tend to be passionate about what they do. The garden "Off to the Races" was designed and planted by a bulb grower whose family has been in the Holland bulb industry for over 4 generations. Joe van der Vlugt of Doornbosch Bros. was gracious enough to give a personal walk through of his tulip display. He placed every bulb in this display and made sure the heights were all spot on for each type. There were over 40 different varieties of bulbs on display. Every variety labeled so that the viewers could walk over to the their booth on the trade show floor and buy every bulb they could need for the season. If are you are looking for a different fundraising program and are tired of popcorn and candy, give Doornbosch Bros. a consideration.

“The Great Outdoors” display. Designed by Miguel Sotelo, of Orion Land Water Snow.

Another passionate builder is at “The Great Outdoors” display. Designed by Miguel Sotelo, of Orion Land Water Snow. This company is the first Hispanic owned company to be invited to the Chicago Flower and Garden Show and it is easy to see why. This garden really had a wonderful outdoor feel. Miguel designed there to be a good view from every angle, and he succeeded. Truckloads of sand were brought in to create a lake fed by a spring. Though there was very woodsy feeling to the display, Miguel designed in plants and features that could easily be incorporated into the average home garden. One of my favorite components to his design was the way he broke up a 150’ stretch of stonework wall by installing nooks at regular intervals and varying the height. This was simply, a great demonstration garden with an obviously talented company.

To see a list of all the gardens at the show, collaborators, designers, and details, go to the Chicago Flower and Garden Show website.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thanks for making it easier:
Fun at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show

If you haven’t had a chance to see the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, take the time. It’s worth it. The theme was “The Sport of Gardening” this year. The vendors and builders were all very friendly and the trend of growing green themes were found in everything from green roofs and vertical walls, to backyard chicken coups. The chicken coup idea was interesting, since I do live in a residential neighborhood that allows chickens. Closer to our downtown area, from time-to-time, you will find a brazen rooster strutting his stuff down the street.

The tulip display designed and installed by Joe Vandenvlugt of Doornbosch Brothers (Booth no. 548)
Conferences and door prizes are great fun, but at the end of the day, I'm still far more fascinated by functionality than flirtation. I joined the group of Garden Writer's Association at the 2011 Chicago Flower and Garden Show to get a preview of the gardens, network, and learn about what's being done in the garden industry that is new and exciting. The garden vignettes were all fantastic. There were many inspiring ideas that were applicable in the home garden.

Events like these are places where vendors can really show off their stuff too. It pleases some. It irritates others. I really like to take a close hard look at new products. When I see a new product, I often wonder if this is something that should have been pushed on late night TV. Should it have been lost before the public had a chance to view it? I'm looking for well thought out things that I can use.  Products that make life easier, or inventive ways of doing something else are the products that catch my eye.

The door prizes from the sponsors of the GWA regional meeting were great. One of the prizes I walked away with was a set of PowerGear® Bypass Pruners from Fiskars. In my mind, Fiskars reinvented themselves when they introduced gears to their line of loppers and pruners. Coming from a long line of farmers and DIYers, our hands have had a pretty tough life. Tools like these really make a difference.

Smith and Hawken gave away gift boxes filled with durable work gloves and a gift card. Gurney's Seed and Nursery Co. gave Carmine Jewel dwarf bush cherry plants to everybody--adorable, and The Seed Keeper Company added "What did I plant" labels to the goody bags. These are all things that are nice additions to my gardening needs.

The SimplySalad display and dinner in my kitchen.

The last parting gift was a table center piece containing the City Garden Mixture of the SimplySalad program by PanAmerican Seed. These are easy to grow, and packed in pre-mixed pellets. This presentation certainly does makes a great festive center piece. A pleasant surprise, but I honestly questioned the value of it. I was afraid that these would fade or look miserable as the Central Illinois weather heats up, but realized that it is eat it, and replant when it is cool again, just like you would in other areas of your garden. I think it'll be a success.

So I say thank you to the GWA and CFGS for a conference well done, the vendors who are making an honest effort to change the way we work in our gardens, and thanks to Ball Horticulture for my dinner.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hey, I can see your stamens

My husband won't select a pack of berries unless they actually smell like strawberries. He stands there, digging through numerous cartons until he finds that perfect one. I make fun of him. He says that if they don't have that sweet fragrance, then they aren't sweet. He's never been wrong on this account. I don't hold it against him.

Digging in the fridge for a snack tonight, I stumbled on a fresh batch of strawberries. These already curiously large berries had the largest leaf cap (calyx) I've seen on picked fruit. I've also never seen petals and stamens still clinging tightly to a fully developed strawberry. These are anomalies that I'm not sure I can explain, but I oddities that I notice on a day-to-day basis.

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