Crabapple Tree

The crabapple tree outside the kitchen window has been catching my attention recently.

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It snowed on Halloween, but the next day the sun came out and I love the blue sky and fluffy clouds above the snow outlined crabapple tree.  On the left the chinquapin oak tree was showing its fall colors.

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Backing up, here is the view from the kitchen window.

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The dark-eyed juncos have arrived, and are winter residents in our neighborhood.

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Male house finch

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The crabapples probably get tastier after a freeze or two.  Though they probably are not terrific tasting since usually quite a few little apples persist on the branches over the winter.

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The crabapples are at various stages of ripeness.  The tree is full of crabapples this year and we hardly had any last year.

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Profusion crabapple tree this past spring.  The weather must have been just right to get the flowers pollinated and set into little apples.

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The squirrels have come a number of times for a snack.

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Golden-crowned kinglet migrating through Chicagoland.  It is always fun to look out the kitchen window and see what birds are stopping by.

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The bark of the tree does not look very healthy to me.  Does this mean the tree is dying?  The leaves get diseased and fall off early each year.  I have not diagnosed the problem yet.  We did have robins successfully nest in this tree early in the year though, when there were still leaves.

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As a side note, I saw a black swallowtail caterpillar in the fennel on November fifth, the week after the snow.  We are in cleanup mode these days and have started a big leaf and grass compost pile.  I am leaving more plants standing in place this year to provide habitat for wintering insects and other critters that are good bird food.  Insects are the foundation of the food chain, right?

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Dan and I had a fantastic walk in the woods this morning, starting at the Wolf Road Woods trail in the Palos Forest Preserve.

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At Tomahawk Slough we saw a very fluffed up great blue heron.  The temperature was below freezing last night and thin ice covered parts of the slough.

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This shot was from our walk last week at the Willow Springs Forest Preserve.  It is time to pull out the cozy jackets, wooly scarves and mittens, and warm boots and enjoy cold weather hiking.

Nasturtiums, Mums and More

As most plants die away some continue to bloom cheerily.  We have not had a real frost in the backyard yet, though I saw frost on our front lawn one day.  We have a little warmer, more protected microclimate in the backyard.

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Orange nasturtium

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Orange nasturtiums and alyssum along the fence.  These have variegated leaves.  I planted 3 packets of Jewel mix nasturtiums around the yard, if I remember correctly.

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More traditional looking leaves.  This giant group grew out onto the patio.  The squirrel jumped on them at one point but they grew back.

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Yellow nasturtiums have a touch of orange and red.

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Reddish orange nasturtium.  I did not get a picture of the dark red nasturtium.

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Coral mums.  This picture was taken about a week ago.

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Coral mums and pollinator

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Some of the pollinators prefer the flowers to be a bit more ripe.

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I looked for a bumblebee today and found one on the Agastache ‘blue boa.’

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On Saturday, 10/19, there were two black swallowtail caterpillars chomping on my curly parsley.  I did not see them today, so hope they got away somewhere.

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Virginia creeper

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Aronia melanocarpa, black chokeberry ‘Viking black.’  I planted these two bushes last year and they grew nicely, though I did not get any berries this year.  The garden around them this year was mostly fallow, though I grew some sunflowers between them after the daffodils.

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Our favorite vegetable this time of year is curly kale.  After we finish cooking our soup on the weekend we throw big bunches of chopped-up kale in, and it softens up in the hot soup pot.

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The squirrels have been tearing around the yard, digging holes in the lawn and everywhere else, planting their nuts for the winter.  We don’t have acorns in our oak tree this year, after a bumper crop last year.

Fall colors are just starting in the yard….

October Flowers and Spooky Spiders

When I started designing my garden, the first thing I worked on was autumn flowers.  I love them, and it is a wonderful time of year to have them begin to bloom after slowly growing over the summer.  My goal is to always have something blooming from March through November or the first frost. This helps the insects and pollinators and cheers me up, too!

I have only been posting about once a month this summer, so there are too many pictures to pick from!

The big attraction this week has been the asters.

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Can you see the green bee on these asters?

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I think this is some kind of sweat bee.  I see them each year on the asters.

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Hoverfly on aster

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Corn earworm moth on aster

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One day I saw a lot of fluttering on the asters from my office window.  I went out and found six to eight painted lady butterflies on the asters and they were also visiting the zinnias.

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A few monarch butterflies joined in.

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The goldenrod is mostly finished now, but it is so vibrant when it first opens.  Here with Russian sage.

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The flies love the goldenrod and seem to like it as the flowers fade.

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A few gaillardia still smiling

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Zinnias and alyssum

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Black swallowtail butterfly on marigolds

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In the foreground the red flowers of pineapple sage are starting to bloom, a favorite of the hummingbirds.  The two huge sunflowers in the garden are leaning over.  I cut off the spent flowers and new flowers keep appearing.

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Sunflowers keep blooming

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Hummingbird rests in crabapple tree.  We had almost no crabapples last year and a bumper crop this year, though the leaves fell early.

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The boltonia bloomed in mid-September.  A grasshopper enjoys the warm resting spot on the fence.

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Pink turtlehead flowers. This picture is from about a month ago, and they are just finishing up now.

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Garden spider lurking in the leaves of the pink turtlehead flowers

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The foggy morning accentuated the spider webs in the garden and this garden spider looks spooky in its web.  I did not need to buy any spooky merchandise to get this picture!

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The orb spiders have been very active on the patio.  One morning I came out to find 3 large orb spider webs near where I was going to hang laundry.

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I found a few common meadow crickets in our little “meadow.”  I still hear crickets at night.

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On a walk recently I saw this eastern shieldback katydid.  The phrase “on its last legs” came to mind.  That seems to be true of a lot of insect at this time of year, though it could just be that they are slow after a cold night.

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Dragonfly – not moving too quickly, but looking beautiful!

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It’s pepper season!  The brussel sprout and kale are great, though the last batch of tomatoes are taking their time ripening.  Organically grown food is the main focus of the garden, but I love the flowers, and all the variety keeps the garden pests under control.

Recent Reading:  Grandma Gatewood Walks

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Loved this book!

Small Creatures, Giant Sunflowers

Here are some of the pollinators and other critters that have been visiting the garden this summer.  Also, the giant sunflowers are crazy!!  I had no idea when I planted them how big they would get.

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Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on zinnia

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Black swallowtail butterfly on zinnia

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Black swallowtail caterpillar on curly parsley

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Red-spotted purple butterfly on sedum

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Red-spotted purple butterfly on sedum

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The sedum is starting to turn pink now and attracting a lot of pollinators.

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Hoverfly on phlox

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Common buckeye butterfly on cucumber plant

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Painted lady butterfly on Agastache hyssop

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Large bumblebee on Agastache hyssop

IMG_8096Unknown small creature on nasturtium leaf

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Nasturtium flower

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I think this is a silvery checkerspot butterfly on marigolds.  This butterfly has sunflower for its host plant, which makes sense.  Though it also looks like a pearl crescent butterfly.

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Posing by the sunflower on 8/7/19 when the first flower opened on the two tall sunflower plants.

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On 8/26/19 I took this picture of the crazy sunflower plants waving above the garden.

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When we got back to the garden after a short road trip one of the sunflowers had tipped over.  I cut off the heaviest flower heads and propped it up enough that I could walk underneath it.  The bird, bees and butterflies love these flowers!

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Sunny summer day…

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Add in the sound of cicadas…  This is one of several cicada shells I found; this one on a collard leaf.

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I am not sure if this is a grasshopper or katydid.

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When I was young I spent a lot of time getting dragonflies to sit on my finger.  I had fun doing that again.  This beautiful blue dragonfly was sitting on the clothes line and stepped onto my warm finger and rested for a while.

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We just took a short vacation and visited a lot of parks and nature preserves in Illinois and Missouri.  This dragonfly was spotted at the Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge yesterday.  They have an area called Sandy Hollow with wonderful hiking paths.  Just guessing, but this dragonfly might be a brown spotted yellow wing dragonfly.  It was resting in the prairie as the morning warmed up.

September has arrived, but I am holding on to summer a little longer!

Flowers of the Field

When I started seriously gardening over ten years ago, I was mostly interested in color schemes, height and placement of flowers, and having something blooming in all seasons.  That is still interesting to me, but since then my focus has moved to growing more food and planting as many native plants as I can.  So I still have non-natives in the yard, but I keep adding native plants, as they attract many more pollinators and provide habitat for a greater diversity of wildlife.  This time of year the abundance of flowers is really wonderful!

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Purple coneflowers, monarda – wild bergamot in the background, and Ratibida pinnata, sometimes called prairie coneflower, yellow coneflower or gray-headed coneflower.

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I bought this Ratibida – gray-headed coneflower – at the farmer’s market today and I hope it survives the heat these next few weeks, as I usually don’t plant anything this time of year.

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View from the kitchen window.

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For some reason I bought a lot of packets of sunflower seeds this year, so I planted them all over the backyard.

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Monarch on sunflower.  The goldfinches love to eat the seeds.

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Two tall varieties of sunflowers in the vegetable garden.  The two in the back are so tall that they have not even started to flower yet.  Can’t wait to see how big they get.

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Besides the sunflowers we have a lot of Echinacea purpurea – purple coneflowers. They seem to be multiplying and the goldfinches love them, too.

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Black swallowtail butterfly on purple coneflower – taken from the kitchen window.

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The monarda – wild bergamot – really took off this year, and it has been swarming with bumblebees and all kinds of pollinators.

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A hummingbird moth or clearwing moth of some sort has been visiting all the flowers.

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Liatris, blazing star.  I now have two nice clumps growing in the garden.

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Rudbeckia hirta, black-eyed susans.

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Gateway, Joe Pye weed.  I like the look of the flower as it gets ready to open.

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The pollinators like the Joe Pye weed when all the flowers are open and messy.  This is an ailanthus webworm moth.

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The fennel plant is now taller than I am and blooming, attracting a wasp and an ant to the nectar.

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The male house finch can be seen now and then snacking on the sedum, which has not started blooming yet.

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Did the robin enjoy the bath?  Sparrows never miss a chance to join the fun.

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But who is this visiting the garden at dawn?

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Is this stealthy, fat neighbor cat looking for a bird, a rabbit, a squirrel, or a chipmunk?  Salvia blue hill flowers in the background.

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I found two of these large bugs/beetles on the stalk of my new gray-headed coneflower after I planted it.  Do cats eat those kinds of bugs?  Or do birds eat them?

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Common buckeye butterfly we saw on a walk last week.  I see monarchs just about every day in the summer in my yard, but there are many butterfly species I rarely see because they like a variety of host plants that I probably don’t have in my garden.  It is just a reminder that wild habitats need protection.

Home And Away

Hot weather and thunderstorms are here.  Tomatoes are growing.  Summer is here and the garden is active!

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American goldfinch feasting on the first purple coneflowers.

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There is just one clump of gaillardias this summer.

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There is also one small group of Shasta daisies.

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The Miscanthus ‘morning light’ ornamental grass stretches over the back-eyed Susan flowers, which will bloom before long.

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Bee balm

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Jackmanii clematis

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Butterfly weed

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False sunflower

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The downy woodpecker spent time on the laundry pole pecking for something.

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There have been quite a few baby robins in the yard, though they are really “big” babies!

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Tomatoes are forming on one of three tomato plants.

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With the long, cool and wet spring we have had our best year of green peas.

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I pick a bowl of wax beans every day.  Cooking, freezing and giving to neighbors.  Not pictured here are the raspberries I have been loving!!!

At the end of May I sprained my ankle badly and so I spent a month sitting around watching the weeds grow.  On Sunday I started taking walks again and have been increasing the length of the walks each day.  It is wonderful to walk again, though I should have been doing more stretches this past month and I am trying to make up for it now.

Today, on the fourth of July, I took my lunch to the forest preserve at the Little Red Schoolhouse and took a wandering walk.

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Waterlily at the pond.  When I got this picture on the big screen I saw the tiny frog.  I could hear the bull frogs as I walked past the pond.

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I tried to take a picture of a dragonfly and saw I had a tiny frog in that picture, too.

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Prairie flowers

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I stood still by the slough and saw an indigo bunting feeding.

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The catbird was calling.

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This bird seems to look like a catbird, too, but the call was completely different, I think.

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A summer trail.  I am so thankful to be back on my feet!

April Blossoms and Greens

Once spring starts you can’t stop it, but today’s snow makes the gardener and garden be patient.  I think most plants should survive with no issues, though I wonder about the blossoms on the serviceberry, American plum tree and crabapple tree, and how that will affect fruiting.

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Blossoms on American plum tree.  The fragrance is wonderful and brings in little bees, red admiral butterflies, and probably lots of other tiny pollinators.  These beautiful flowers make me more forgiving of the suckers the tree throws up in the lawn far and wide.

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Pulling back to see the American plum tree.  There used to be two plums and we cut one back, then we cut off branches on this one, too.  It is a fast grower.

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This is to remind me that snow fell on April 27th!  We also had snow on April 13th.

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Looking at the snow from the kitchen window I can see all the blossoms that have not yet opened on the crabapple tree and hope they will survive.

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Not long ago the red crab apple leaves opened and they gradually turn bronze and green.

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Crabapple earlier this week.

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The kale, collard and lettuce made it fine through the snow on April 14th, so I am hoping that is the case this time.  I held off on planting tomatoes yet…  Notice how big the rhubarb is already!

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I planted 5 rows of various types of lettuce and spinach on April 3rd and they are coming along well.  I need to start thinning some of the lettuce.

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We have had a month or so of various types of daffodils, starting with the mini daffodils.

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Yesterday I was enjoying these white daffodils with the yellow trumpets.  I planted various kinds quite a few years ago and they just keep multiplying.

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Anemones are something I planted a while back that seem to be spreading a little too much.  They are very cheerful next to the daffodils, though.

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Fresh leaves on Viking black chokeberry bush

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We got rid of one of our dying lilacs last year and I replaced it with a fothergilla bush, which really does not provide privacy., though it will get somewhat bigger.  I put in some Miscanthus grass behind it which will provide some quick privacy this year.  Yesterday’s project was weeding and mulching this area, since there are not many plants to cover the ground here yet.

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Close up of fothergilla bush

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I don’t like to use herbicides so I get “weeds” like this pretty violet in the lawn.

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I have a lot of violets in the front lawn, that are pretty now, but I want to encourage the grass to grow, too.  This year I am trying not to think too much about weeds in the lawn, since I know they are good for the insects and bugs, which are the foundation of life on our planet.

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At the woods, at the end of the block, I found some cut-leaved toothwort blooming.  It is at edge of the lot where no mowing is happening.  Yay for spring wildflower diversity!

More Fall Color

It has been a cool month and we have been enjoying the fall colors this past week or so.

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I think this is the prettiest the chinquapin oak has been in the fall.  Usually the leaves are an orange brown color that is not too special, but this year the color was a little more pink/orange.  Of course, it is hard to capture in a photo.

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Carpinus caroliniana – American hornbeam.  The leaves are pinkest where they get the most sunlight.  There are lilacs on either side.  I like the lilacs, but I am tempted to get rid of the one on the right as this tree grows, to give it plenty of room.

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Zooming in from the upstairs window I was able to capture the orange/pink color a little better.

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We planted two hornbeams at the same time.  They are on either side of the lilac.  They came from Possibility Place, where we have gotten the majority of our native trees and shrubs.  I am beginning to wonder if the tree to the right of the green lilac is not really carpinus, but is ostrya, because the leaves never turn pink and always stay very yellow.  But I am not sure yet, and will need to keep researching.  The catkins and fruit do not appear to be the same on these two trees.

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Zooming in on the right side of the picture above, there is the yellow “hornbeam” on the left, the fothergilla turning bright colors in the front, and the very yellow spicebush on the right.

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The asters were some of the last flowers to bloom in the garden.

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I was surprised to see this moth still flying around in early November.  The coral mums are great places for the last pollinators.

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Saturday we took a walk on country lane in the Palos forest preserve.  The sun came out to brighten the orange leaves!

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Today we took another walk in the forest preserves.  The green leaves of the invasive bush honeysuckle really stand out, when most other leaves have fallen.  After all our years of hiking here we were amazed to walk for over an hour on a trail that was completely new to us in this area.  The thing is, some of these trails are too buggy in the heat of the summer, so this was a great day to hike here.  Part of the trail was very rugged, so it was good that it was not too muddy or too icy to go up and down the hills and through stream beds.

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A toad crossed the path in front of us.  The path was between a pond and the forest.  Where would the toad go this time of year?  It was facing away from the pond and moving slowly in the cold weather…

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Not sure of the name of this lake in the forest preserve, but I think it is the first time we have walked past it!  We did not see many waterfowl on this gray day.

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Back at home after our walk it was time to mulch up the fallen oak leaves and build up the compost pile, which you can see in the back right hand corner of the picture.  Last week we went and got some great dark colored composted manure from the nearby horse stables.  In the picture it looks like dark soil in the garden beds.  We are still eating the kale, collards and brussel sprouts from our garden.

Sandhill Cranes:  While working on the compost pile I could hear the sandhill cranes calling and looked up to see four v-shaped groups overhead flying toward those corn fields in Indiana.  Maybe there were 40 – 50.  Love it!

September Snapshots

It has been a really busy month for me.  This is the first time I am posting something for about 5 weeks, so I had a lot of pictures I took to choose from.  Here are a few pictures of what is happening now in the garden and has happened this past month.

IMG_3511Asters and goldenrod – Solidago rugosa ‘fireworks.’  I am not sure of the type of aster I have.  They are both great for late pollinators.

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This bumblebee was barely moving on the sedum on a cool morning.

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The painted lady butterfly was hanging around the giant zinnias yesterday and not too bothered by me.

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I enjoy looking at the zinnias from my office window during the day and watching the butterflies come to visit.

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This cucumber got away from me because if was hiding underneath the zinnias.  I picked a nice green, juicy cucumber last week, but not sure if I will get any more this year.  It will be hot tomorrow, so maybe!

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Here is a shot of part of the vegetable garden.  The cherry tomato quantities have been massive.  I have been getting about one zucchini per week recently.  But the peppers are really taking off now.  There are a lot of them hanging on the pepper plants.  Dan is working on the kale plants for his smoothies.  The collards are all chewed up by the cabbage worms, but still work well in soups.  I threw some swiss chard in the soup today along with oregano and parsley.

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Yesterday’s pick of cherry tomatoes.  These have been really sweet and tasty!  Great for my daily salads.

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‘Big Bertha Bell’ is the variety of pepper.  I guess it could turn red if it stays on the plant that long.


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The old raspberry canes have been cut down and the new ones tied to the fence to get ready for winter and next summer’s fruit.

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Earlier in the month it was acorn time on the chinquapin oak tree.  The squirrels, chipmunks and blue jays were so active.   Within a week or so there was not an acorn to be found on the tree or the ground.  I’m glad our yard feeds the wild creatures.

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Chipmunks are so fun to watch.

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American goldfinch on purple coneflower a few weeks ago, getting some lunch.  Just this week I was looking out the office window and saw a bright yellow goldfinch on a coneflower.  Such a cheery sight!

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The pineapple sage finally started blooming this week.  Will any hummingbirds find this late-blooming tubular flower?

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Pink turtlehead flower.  The bumblebees love to fly in and out of each individual flower.  Can you see the grasshopper on the right side of the picture? I am still looking for a praying mantis, but have not seen one this year.

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It has not been a good year for alyssum in my garden this year.  I was pleased to see a few little clumps get going.

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Dan and I took a wonderful short trip to Wisconsin and Northern Illinois before Labor Day.  This picture, taken at Illinois Beach State Park, reminds me of all the wonderful natural places we visited on sunny, warm days.  Cooler days are coming and they will have their own pleasures to offer.

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Recently, on a walk in the forest preserve, Dan took this picture of an eastern bluebird.  There are not so many around, so really fun to see.  It is migration time, so I am keeping my eyes open for different birds in the backyard and woods.