They were waiting, under the snow. In a flower bed tucked into the right angle where the brick wall of the attached garage meets the enclosed back porch. A favored spot in terms of sun, where the snow melts early.
I was wondering if the melting snow would reveal the green shoots of the Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis). But they had exceeded my expectations, with flower buds at the ready. And within a week or so those flowers will bloom.
There is still plenty of snow on the ground, especially on the north-facing front of the house. Still, it is melting everywhere. And the earliest flowering bulbs are ready – I also saw the tips of some Daffodil shoots in a clear spot.
The most recent issue of Fine Gardening magazine had an interesting article by Toronto gardener Mary Gore entitled “Continuous Color in the Shade.” There’s a lot to commend in this article, not least the marvelous photos, but among other things it got me thinking about color schemes for shade.
In most shady gardens, color in springtime is not too difficult. There are plenty of woodland flowers that will bloom before the leafy canopy fills in. The bigger challenge comes with summer.
Ms. Gore’s garden emphasized gold and chartreuse contrasting dramatically with many drifts and pops of red. Much of her red comes from an extensive collection of Japanese Maples. There are also quite a few Dahlias – I had no idea that Dahlias were shade-tolerant.
Actually, a number of plants have surprised me by coping, even thriving, in part shade. Much depends on the type of shade you’ve got. Our shade is more dappled, filtering through a high canopy of smallish deciduous leaves. What follows is an overview of blooms that have done well in our shady garden from June through August (I always think of summer as starting on June 1).
In our shade we like the dominant color (other than green, of course) to be white. White glows in the shade, and adds to the cooling effect of shade on a hot summer day. Here is an overview of the white flowers that bloom in shade for at least a part of summer.
The easiest, most long-lasting source of white flowers for shade is the annual Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana), which will keep blooming from May until frost. I like to have lots of white Impatiens crammed into numerous containers throughout the Back Garden. Now that we have blight-resistant Impatiens (Beacon Impatiens), we can plant the old beloved Busy Lizzies without fear.
I’ve found that some Alliums are surprisingly shade-tolerant. In early summer, there’s ‘Mt. Everest’ and ‘Purple Sensation.’
There’s also the low-growing Allium karataviense, whose blooms are nestled into unusually wide (for an Allium) foliage.
Blue Star (Amsonia sp. and cvs.) is another flower that straddles late spring into early summer. Some Blue Star species like A. hubrichtii demand full sun, but ‘Blue Ice’ is a compact cultivar that tolerates shade.
Most Clematis like full sun, but there are a few that prefer or tolerate shade. ‘Ice Blue’ (not to be confused with ‘Blue Ice’) has done reasonably well in our Back Garden.
A couple of related plants that both really like part shade are known as Goatsbeard, the exotic dwarf (Aruncus aethusifolius) and full-size North American native (A. dioicus). Both flower through June and into July in our garden.
Bowman’s Root (Porteranthus trifoliatus) has clouds of star-shaped white flowers, also in early summer.
White Corydalis (Corydalis ochroleuca) has tubular white flowers that last all summer. It spreads slowly, if at all, unlike its cousin Yellow Corydalis (C. lutea) – shown in an earlier photo. Yellow Corydalis is extremely aggressive, so don’t plant it unless you want it to spread all over the shady parts of your garden. On the plus side, it blooms cheerfully and profusely. I’ve tried growing Blue Corydalis, but without much luck.
Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) give a nice pop of yellow in June and July.
Purple-flowering Raspberry is happy in shade and has purple flowers in mid-summer. The fruit is nothing special, though.
I’ve written before about Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica). It emerges late and blooms in early to mid-summer, with some rebloom later in the season – especially if you snap off the stems once flowering is done. With their yellow stars atop red tubes, I find the flowers cheerful and perky.
In my dreams the accent color of our shade garden would be mostly blue. There are not many blue flowers for shade, however. Fortunately, in late summer and fall there is Great Blue Lobelia, which does well in our garden, in the soil and in containers.
Also, I’ve found that Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) can tolerate some shade, and looks good growing against the white walls of our house. A couple of years ago I transplanted some Bee Balm from the Sidewalk Border to this area by the back porch, and it seems to be settling in well.
This is a far from comprehensive list of summer-blooming plants for shade, just some of the plants that have done well in our Back Garden in recent years. I haven’t even touched on woody plants, or foliage plants, which are the primary source of color in the Mary Gore garden in Toronto referenced at the beginning of this post. (We don’t do a lot with colored foliage ourselves, other than our beloved Caladiums.)
So what about you – do you have any favorite summer blooms for the shade?
Over the last 2 days the Chicago area has gotten about 18″ of snow. And that was on top of a bunch of other snow, so that we’ve got a total of 44″ for the season, a 40-year record.
And it’s been cold as well as snowy. Daytime highs in the single digits, overnight lows creeping into below zero territory.
Luckily we don’t have to go anywhere.
Though a certain amount of snow shoveling is required for the mail carrier and also for taking out the trash, etc. Due to my illness I can’t shovel snow like I used to. Judy does some, and Daniel helps out when he visits. We also have a very obliging younger neighbor who has helped us out with heroic snow removal efforts. Judy reciprocates by baking chocolate chip cookies which I take over to his house.
Overall I’ve had two conflicting reactions to all this snow. The first is: Look! So beautiful! The second is: Help! We’re being buried alive! But that’s silly. All this snow will have to melt eventually. Right???
For the last in my series of posts on seed and plant orders, I’ll focus on plants bound for containers. We’ve got lots of containers – some in sun, some in shade.
Impatiens Beacon Paradise Hybrid Mix (Impatiens walleriana). We used to grow lots of impatiens in the containers in our shady back garden. The impatiens blight put an end to that, however. Recently, though, Ball Seeds developed Beacon Impatiens, which is blight-resistant. This is the first year that Beacon Impatiens can be purchased in large quantities. They are available from Burpee as seeds or plants. Unfortunately, they are only available in mixed colors. I’m hopeful that next year I’ll be able to order in all white, as I prefer mostly white flowers in the shade.
Zinnia ‘Forecast’ and Zahara Sunburst. I love Zinnias for containers in sun. Butterflies and Hummingbirds love them, too. Zinnias are good for containers also because they are so colorful and relatively drought tolerant. Sunburst is aptly named as its red streaks seem to explode on a yellow background. ‘Forecast’ is taller, about 36″, with single flowers in mixed colors.
Mignonette ‘Ameliorata’ (Reseda odorata). This one I’m trying for the first time. It seems similar to Sweet Alyssum, growing with tiny, fragrant white flowers about 6″ high. I want to see how it does as a filler for containers in sun.
Sweet Alyssum ‘Benthamii’, ‘Snow Crystals’ (Lobularia maritima). Sweet Alyssum are a long-time favorite of mine, though this year I’m trying a couple of varieties that are new to me. I just love the fragrance of the tiny white flower bouquets. Great for underplanting and edging. Last year I discovered that Sweet Alyssum will not bloom until early summer if direct sown. Started indoors, though, it can be planted out a couple weeks before the last frost date, which makes it a good underplanting for late spring bulbs.
Dwarf Morning Glory ‘Royal Ensign’ (Convolvulus tricolor). Another plant I’m trying for the first time. I’m always looking for container plants that can fill the filler or spiller role. Actually, there is no reason why your filler can’t also be your spiller. Also, in my opinion not every container needs a thriller plant, either. But I digress. Anyway, I like blue flowers to go along with all the yellow, red, and orange that will dominate my containers in sun. I found ‘Royal Ensign’ at Select Seeds, which has a really tempting assortment of unusual plants.
Marigold ‘Frances’ Choice’ (Tagetes patula). This is a red/yellow single marigold. I intend to use it mostly to fill in around the determinate tomato plants I’ll be growing in containers on the roof.
Nasturtium ‘Empress of India’ (Tropaeolum majus). Now and then I try Nasturtiums in our containers for sun. I love the red-orange color of ‘Empress of India’, which has a nice, mounded habit.
Caladium ‘Candidum Sr’ and ‘Summer Breeze’. Caladiums are the thrillers of my containers in shade. I order them as bulbs from Brent and Becky’s and start them on a heat mat indoors. ‘Candidum Sr’ are mostly white with green ribs, while ‘Summer Breeze’ has red ribs and some pinkish color. I plant twice as many of the white/green Caladiums as I do of the ones with red in the mix.
Most of my seeds have already arrived, the plants and bulbs will come later. I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer to put in my orders, lately when I look at seed company websites I see a lot of “out of stock” notices. Have you ordered all your seeds and plants for spring, or are you still looking?
I used to fill my borders with perennials only, but then I discovered Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia). And I realized: why wouldn’t you mix annuals with the perennials? They add so much color over such a long period.
This year I’m hoping to mix in more annuals than usual. Here are the species and varieties I’ve ordered.
(I’m thinking I’ll start a few of each inside and direct sow the rest of the seed once the snow has melted. We’ll see how it goes. It will be interesting to compare the performance of seed started indoors and those directly sown.)
Cleome (Cleome hassleriana). We ordered 2 varieties: ‘Violet Queen’ and ‘White Queen’. Cleomes are known to self-sow in climates a bit warmer than mine. I like Cleomes, but haven’t had great success with them. In past years I have bought a few mature plants on occasion and tucked them in among the perennials.
Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus). My history with Cosmos is pretty much like my experience with Cleome. They do not self-sow in our garden, though I’ve heard they will do so in warmer zones. This year I’ve ordered 3 interesting varieties – ‘Sensation Radiance’, ‘Apricot Lemonade’, and ‘Cupcakes White’. All have single blooms, which I much prefer to the doubles. Both Cosmos and Cleome are late season annuals.
Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus). After Mexican Sunflower, ‘Italian White’ Sunflowers are my favorite annuals. This is a branching sunflower with many smaller blooms. We’ll plant them again this year, and also try a second sunflower variety for the first time: ‘Lemon Queen’, which is another branching type with soft yellow flowers.
Amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus). ‘New Mexico’. Hypochondriacus? I tried unsuccessfully to find out the origins of this species name. Does this plant inspire imaginary diseases? I would like to know. In any case, this is the first time I am trying Amaranth. I think it will contrast nicely with the Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) in the sunny bed north of the ‘Donald Wyman’ Crabapple. Also, songbirds eat the seeds. Known by several common names, including Prince’s Feather and Love-Lies-Bleeding.
Mexican Sunflower ‘Torch’ (T. rotundifolia). As regular readers of this blog, know, Mexican Sunflower is my favorite annual by far. A butterfly magnet, and you can’t beat those intense orange flowers!
I should note that rabbits are fond of annual sunflower seedlings, and I’m guessing they like Amaranth as well, as the young leaves are edible and tasty (so I’m told). I’ll need to protect both with chicken wire. The rest of these annuals are rabbit-resistant, at least to some degree.
So shortly after the New Year I ordered some seeds, and a few plants. Actually, in preparing for this post I discovered that I ordered some seeds back in September. Those seeds, as best I can tell, were thrown out during our frenzied pre-holiday house cleaning. More than $40 worth of seeds! This is more than a little embarrassing.
How did we manage to do that? I’m still not sure. With luck, these new seeds will avoid the trash can.
In any case, I’m dividing this subject into three posts: edibles first, then cottage garden-style annuals for the border, then annuals for containers. These days I find long posts quite tiring to write.
We don’t do much with edibles in our garden, basically we grow herbs and a couple of tomato plants. So this will be a fairly boring post. Even so, what we do grow is essential to Judy’s efforts in the kitchen, especially as just-picked herbs are infinitely superior to anything at the store or even the farmers’ market.
So here’s what we got.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum). If we could only grow one herb, it would be this one. We ordered two varieties. ‘Emerald Tower’ is a new offering from Burpee that boasts of delayed bolting along with an upright habit. So maybe with this variety I won’t have to constantly pinch off the flowers. ‘Siam Queen’ is a type of Thai basil for when Judy wants to cook coconut chicken curry and such like.
Tomatoes are the only vegetables we grow. I ordered ‘Black Cherry’, which we grow almost every year. I’ll grow it on the same trellis that supports the Clematis Jackmanii. We’re also trying a new variety bred for containers, ‘Veranda Red Hybrid’. ‘Veranda Red’ is a determinate variety which means it will yield for a shorter period, but I hope its fruit is ready a week or so before ‘Black Cherry’. I hope to grow ‘Veranda Red’ in containers on the roof of the back porch.
‘Italian Dark Green’ Parsley (Petrosilum crispum). We grow parsley in the ground for the Black Swallowtail Caterpillars and in containers for the kitchen, though the caterpillars often ignore this arrangement. After basil, parsley is the most frequently used home-grown herb in Judy’s kitchen. Rabbits like parsley as much as we do, though, so sometimes I’ll protect it with chicken wire. Fortunately, the rabbits tend to give stronger-tasting herbs a pass.
Fernleaf Dill (Anethum graveolens). Another plant grown for both human and caterpillar consumption.
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum). I love cilantro, especially for fresh salsa. I don’t understand those people who can’t stand the flavor or fragrance. My only complaint about Cilantro is that it’s so quick to bolt. I always mean to keep planting new seeds to keep up a fresh supply, but usually forget to keep up.
Anyhow, that’s it for edibles. Not mentioned here are the perennial herbs that grow in our garden, like Mint, Fennel, Oregano, and Rue.
I have been walking, walking, walking through the past ten months (!) of Covid, and perhaps you have, too. Walking to get out of the house, walking to get exercise, to get out of the chairs we sit in all day, to deal with stress, with boredom, and to see something new or at least different. I’ve discovered some interesting places on my walks, mostly close to home. Some of them are new to me, some of them I have seen with fresh eyes.
The other day I took a walk in Lincoln Park, near Lake Michigan, about two miles north of the Loop (Downtown Chicago). I set out to investigate the erosion caused by very high lake levels this past year. The lagoons visible from Lake Shore Drive overflowed their banks, and I wanted to see up close what the damage was. I found so much more than I expected — a nature preserve tucked between the lake and the city.
Normally, it can be very difficult to park here, but due to cold weather and Covid, I pulled right up to the curb and parked for free. Here is the lovely nature preserve I found on my way to the lagoon.
Who knew! This is not a part of Chicago that I come to often — though I do sail by on the Drive headed to the Loop. Boardwalks surround a large pond which is no doubt full of life in other seasons. The preserve was opened in 2010, and was recently certified as a Level II Arboretum, under the auspices of the Lincoln Park Zoo, a wonderful free zoo just to the north.
Thanks to native perennial plantings, there was plenty of winter interest. I imagine that 25 years ago, this park would have been planted with neat rows of petunias and begonias.
I set off toward the statue of General Ulysses Grant and the lagoon along the lakeshore.
I’m not sure why Grant is here, since Grant Park is along the lakefront by the Loop, and this is Lincoln Park. But he’s been riding his horse along this piece of the lake since the 1890s.
A berm blocks the view of the lake, and the noise of the Drive, making this area feel out-of-the-way, even though it’s actually right in the middle of things. I admire how the landscape designers put this all together — it really feels like a refuge.
Of course, it helps to visit on a cold day in the midst of a pandemic, if you want to have the place to yourself.
Here’s the view from the top of the stairs — the mezzanine of the statue. The first pavement you see is zoo parking, the first water is the lagoon. Then there’s Lake Shore Drive — a beautiful drive along Lake Michigan, which is the final water that you see below the horizon.
Here’s what I came to see — the erosion of the edges of the lagoon. The water was up over the top of those concrete embankments for several months. I have lived in Chicago for over 40 years, and I’ve never seen that.
This lagoon is more than a mile long, and is used for rowing practice by local crew teams, including the first African-American high school rowing team. It is also popular with local fishermen — it’s connected to Lake Michigan, and apparently you can even catch salmon at the right season.
Back on the path in the nature preserve, I came to this fence, beyond which is the zoo. Fortunately for the animals, they are mostly not behind bars, but are in more naturalistic settings. This fence is aimed at keeping people out when the zoo is closed. Past the families and the low wooden railings you see here are habitats for llamas and camels.
Chicago sits along the Mississippi Flyway, and is a great place for seeing migratory birds. Here’s an earlier post by Jason about another bird sanctuary along the Chicago lakefront a little further north.
I had been walking east and north to this point. As I turned back south, I had a great view of the downtown Chicago skyline, not very far away.
It was a great walk, and I’m looking forward to going back when it’s blooming and full of life.
Our home garden is under a few inches of snow, but Jason just ordered seeds, and spring will come eventually.
Have you been walking during the pandemic, and what new places have you discovered?
New Year’s Day is past, but it’s not too late to wish all a happy Hippeastrum Day. Or Amaryllis Day, if you prefer, though what we generally call Amaryllis are really Hippeastrums, just as what we generally call Geraniums are really Pelargoniums. But honestly, who cares?
Currently we have two varieties of Hippeastrum in bloom. The first, ‘Naranja’, came into flower a couple of days after Christmas. I love orange flowers, especially in the middle of winter. So vibrant!
Within a few days the other 3 flowers on the first stalk of ‘Naranja’ also bloomed, and there is a second flower stalk getting ready to put on its own show.
The second Hippeastrum to bloom was ‘Picotee’. At least, I’m pretty sure it was ‘Picotee’. We are also growing a third variety called ‘Picasso’, which looks just like ‘Picotee’ but it’s supposed to be fragrant. ‘Picasso’ still has a few days to go, it seems.
Here’s another look at ‘Picotee’. Seems like the red edging is less pronounced, once the flower is open, than in prior years. Unless this is really ‘Picasso’ after all.
I do very little with indoor plants, in fact they seem to have a reduced life expectancy when I am around. But I make an exception for Hippeastrums. They are definitely a pick-me-up during the cold, dark days of winter.
Jason here. So Christmas has come and gone, and we had a good one.
There were 6 of us. David and Meridith drove down (after Covid tests!) from Minnesota on Christmas Eve and stayed with us through the weekend. Danny and Beckee came up each day from their Chicago apartment. Not a big crowd, but enough.
In addition to the humans, Danny and Beckee brought their 2 new kittens most days. Their names are Lucy and Olive. This is Olive checking out the Christmas tree. Combined with our Mollie and Walter, that made 4 cats in addition to the 6 humans.
The cats were very interested in the Christmas tree. The ornaments had to migrate upward to avoid getting knocked down, but none were eaten or destroyed.
We didn’t do major gifts, but we did our traditional customized homemade Christmas stockings, filled with peanuts-in-the-shell, chocolates, dried fruit, and the occasional pair of socks or coffee mug. We also had a nice fire going most days.
We cooked, ate lots of snacks, and played games, especially One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which I think has become a family favorite.
For Christmas dinner we had roast lamb, roasted root vegetables, and salad. We had eaten so much chocolate and so many cookies throughout the day that we didn’t really need dessert.
For myself, I was grateful to be able to spend a solid chunk of time with our kids and their partners. My appetite and energy level was much improved by a 3-week break from chemo.
It was a fun holiday, and as we kept things pretty simple, even a relaxing one. Though most of us were not quite as relaxed as Walter here.
I hope the holidays were good for all of you. Best wishes to all for a better New Year.
Now, if the previous post made you long for summer tomatoes, here is a recipe for the next best thing — a roasted tomato and bean appetizer to put on crusty bread, using winter cherry tomatoes (even ones that are past their prime).
12 ounces cherry tomatoes (fine if they are past their prime)
1/4 cup olive oil, plus a bit for sautéing the onions
2 tsp thyme
salt & pepper to taste
1 medium onion, sliced or diced
2 or 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chopped parsley
2 tsp lemon zest, or 1 T preserved lemon, minced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
Toss the cherry tomatoes with the olive oil, thyme, salt & pepper, and roast at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes – until they begin to caramelize and turn brown around the edges. While the tomatoes are roasting, sauté the onion with a bit of olive oil in a pan big enough to hold the whole dish (my pan is 10 inches). When the onion is soft, add the garlic cloves, and cook briefly. Add the cannellini beans, parsley and lemon, and heat through. When the tomatoes are done, scrap them and all their juices into the pan with the beans. Add the red pepper to taste.
Eat warm or cold, on crusty bread or on crackers. Or straight from the pan, with a spoon.
Think about summer. Repeat as needed.
I will admit here that this recipe is the result of a felicitous mistake. I set out to make Roasted Tomato and White Bean Stew, from the New York Times website, but somewhere along the way, I lost my train of thought. I was also baking some crusty bread, and I believe Daniel was making homemade bagels, and we have a very small kitchen, and too much was happening. I only had three-fourths of the tomatoes the original recipe called for, and I meant to reduce everything else proportionately, but I didn’t, except for the beans, where I cut the quantity in half. (My real goal for this exercise was to use up the slightly wilty cherry tomatoes, which had been sitting on the counter making me feel guilty for days.)
By the time I dumped the tomatoes into the beans and onions, and of course tasted the result, I had forgotten that I was aiming for stew. I dunno, I was admiring Daniel’s bagel-dipping technique, or something. Anyhow, the roasted-bean-and-tomato dip or spread or whatever it is (please feel free to tell me what you would call it in the comments!) was so delicious, all other thoughts were blown out of my mind, and it wasn’t until later that I remembered it was supposed to be a stew.