I think this is going to be a garden season in which we will need the annuals to carry us through. My roses were in full bloom by the third week of May, the peonies and iris have come and gone, the purple coneflowers are already setting buds, and if June brings heat and drought, the Asiatic lilies will be a three-day wonder. God bless petunias, verbena and angelonia.
The 6-foot wonder in my front yard this May has been the common sage (Salvia officinalis), blooming its big blue head off as though there’s no tomorrow. Every year I cut this plant back after it flowers, and I thought I had really given it a haircut last year, but the early spring must have inspired it into growing back with a vengeance.
This is truly a superior plant that deserves more use in our gardens. It’s hardy, drought-tolerant and keeps its leaves well into November — just go out and pick some for your turkey stuffing. The leaves turn gray but persist through the winter. Then, for a harbinger of spring that’s even earlier than the crocus, all I have to do is check those leaves for hints of pale green. For a glimpse of what my garden usually looks like in June, see "Planting by Design" from our November/December 2011 issue. The story compares my garden with that of my landscape architect neighbor. Both houses were built in 1887, but the gardens are significantly different.
Time for the Walking Shoes
With such a bizarre weather year (“curiouser and curiouser,” said Alice), I am especially looking forward to this year’s crop of garden walks. There are several Garden Conservancy tours on June 23 and 24 that look exciting.
I am also planning to take in the North Shore Garden Walk on June 20. Held every other year, this year’s walk includes a renovated Jens Jensen landscape, a restoration of a sunken garden by Rose Standish Nichols, Craig Bergmann’s garden at a historic David Adler gate house and more.
Train buffs will be especially interested in seeing Elaine Silets’ renowned railroad garden and museum in North Barrington (June 23, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Proceeds from the walk, which attracted more than 1000 visitors last year, will help to support scholarships to the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan.
At the other end of town, in Chicago’s historic Pullman neighborhood, the charming 19th century row houses are the setting for “Art in Bloom,” the 18th Annual Pullman Garden Walk on June 16. Private gardens, plein art painters, a raffle, a plant sale and some surprises are promised as well.
For more information about garden activities throughout the region, see the Calendar of Events in our current issue. A special section in the upcoming July/August issue will highlight garden walk.
Free (but not really)
While most garden walks charge a modest fee, you can walk through the 5-acre Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park for no money at all. Renowned for its naturalistic style, incorporation of native plants and its sustainability, the Lurie Garden is a revelation — something that was brought home to me when I visited one August day with a friend from Glasgow, Scotland. There really is nothing like it on the other side of the pond.
So the Lurie Garden is free, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost something to keep it in good nick. If you’d like to help to support its educational programs, there’s now a new membership program that began last month. There are several membership levels, starting at $50. Chicagoland Gardening is a sponsor at Lurie's $150 membership level, which comes with a bonus discounted subscription to the magazine. Click here for general information about the garden.
What to Do in the Garden
Deadhead roses to keep the shrubs looking tidy and to encourage repeat bloom. Cut stems back to the first leaflet of 5 leaves.
Thin out a third to half of the stems of Phlox paniculata to increase air circulation and discourage powdery mildew. It seems drastic at the time, but the remaining stems will bloom abundantly.
Monitor a consistent level of moisture around your tomatoes to reduce blossom end rot. Mulching with chopped leaves, grass clippings or other organic matter will help to retain soil moisture and reduce weed growth.
Short on space? Eggplants, peppers and potatoes grow well in containers.
Plant beans. If you have space and plenty of sun, plant cantaloupes. They grow fast.
On hot days, keep an eye on Hydrangea macrophylla and its cultivars. They wilt quickly and need a lot of water. The arborescens and paniculata types are somewhat less needy.
If watering with a sprinkler, use it early in the day in order to give plants a chance to dry off before evening. If using a hose, direct the water at the base of the plants rather than the leaves. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are recommended since they keep leaves from getting wet.
If you have a problem with snails or slugs eating your hostas, apply diatomaceous earth around the base of the plants. This “powder,” actually the fossilzed remains of plankton, is sharp and unpleasant to the soft underbellies of these pesky mollusks.
Click here to dowload a PDF with additional summer gardening tips from Melinda Myers, gardening expert, TV/radio host, author and Wisconsin Gardening columnist.