Early Summer Blooms


ROSA jude the obscure PAPAVER NUDICAULE champagne bubbles, meadow pastels


Too much goodness in this photos. A new favorite is the little white forget me not flowers, they’re OMPHALODES LINIFOLIA venus’s navelwort <3


ANEMONE CORONARIA with some frilly snapdragons in the background


ROSA brother cadfael, a little crispy with the warm spring/early summer we’ve had this year. Still smells amazing


sweet peas, icelandic poppies, bupleurum, candytuft, venus’s navelwort, feverfew



LATHYRUS ODORATUS either cupani or matucana


GODETIA salmon princess


NIGELLA african bride


ANEMONE CORONARIA tried to plant ranunculus also, they are too finicky for this climate I think. The anemones were robust depite a hot/dry spring and early summer




Spring Blooms

Spring is the best


Peach Blossom



TULIPA SYLVESTRIS this is an extremely fragrant, delicate, and naturalizing beauty. Fingers crossed for buckets of them next season!


FRITILLARIA MELEAGRIS I was so afraid these would be finicky in my Midwestern climate but they did well in all the nooks and crannies I snuck them into. Can’t wait to add more of these from Van Engelen!




The frits planted with tons of tulips =)




Propagating Succulents, Ted’s Greenhouse is Tinley Park is an amazing resource for these beauties and the staff is extremely knowledgeable! They helped me choose succulents that would be easy to propagate for a beginner, such cool peeps


AQUILEGIA VULGARIS (?) Lost the tag for this beauty, not sure of the exact variety. I’m guessing a white Nora Barlow? Anyway, beautiful and carefree. I’m starting some seeds now (in Early Summer) fingers crossed for buckets full of these beauties in spring 2017!



PAPAVER NUDICAULE the first of the poppies 0_0


HELLEBORUS HYBRID Stage to harvest for optimal vase life, not sure I’ll ever have buckets full of these beauties but I sure wish I did! They’re $$$



NARCISSUS not sure of the variety, but it was a beautiful peachy pink.



Late Fall Blooms


Skipping to the good stuff here — skipping spring poppies, summer sweet peas and getting straight into the high summer/autumn beauties!

My BESTIE is getting married October 8th this year so I need to focus. She’s enlisted me to do her flowers and I couldn’t be more excited!

Autumn is when the bounty rolls in. Last year October was the month I felt like I hit my stride. The dahlias, zinnias and foliage were amazing!


The dahlias!


I love the idea of breaking floral elements into three categories – the brides, bridesmaids and “uglies”.


The bride is that cafe au lait dahlia – demanding attention. The most perfect element.


The bridesmaids could be the bolder dahlias above. Their color brings contrast that helps the bride pop. Her beauty and form still hold the spotlight.

Or they can be as simple and unassuming as the neutral zinnias below. Echoing the subtle color of the bride while still allowing her to shine


The “uglies” are the foliage. To me they are lush, verdant and help everyone else pop. On their own they’re not much to look at. They have a vital role as filler, it’d take a LOT more flowers without them!




They’re the official flower of the great city of Chicago! They’re also amazingly long lasting cut flowers, easy to propagate and come in all kinds of beautiful =D


I really enjoyed growing them last season. I ordered mine from Minnesota. Most flower farmers rave about Kings Mums but I don’t have experience with them. My understanding is those require careful overwintering and I’m not into that.


Let’s start with what these are not.  These are not “exhibition” type mums. They’re not the Seaton’s J’dore variety you see all over Instagram.


These “Mums from Minnesota” at fgimn.com are bred for brutal winters. Not exactly what I’m into but it’s what I’m stuck with. I’ll be sure to report on their hardiness as soon as the ground isn’t frozen solid =P



A novelty quill flowered variety



These mums are beautiful!!! There are all different types available. My absolute favorite variety is above and below, name is “Homecoming”. I was expecting “Pat Lehman” to be my favorite from the photos online but “Homecoming” was a pleasant surprise.



Hold up — Is that a dead ringer for Pantone’s “Rose Quartz”??!?!



So if you’re convinced and have to grow some mums now, here was my process

  1. The first year, I bought whatever looked promising in the catalog and just planted one. I know, JUST ONE?! How are you going to plant just one of anything?! I don’t know, good luck. I did plant 2 of one variety.
  2. The second year, cross your fingers that your faves survived winter. Then propagate like crazy. Mums root readily from cuttings so that part should be easy. If you don’t know what I’m talking about just google it. If you still can’t figure it out request a tutorial in the comments. Stop rooting by July 1st. Harvest all your other beautiful flowers all season and watch the mums grow lush, green and beautiful with a little water and weeding. By late September be pleasantly surprised with a new and inspirational harvest! Let’s be honest, we’re all a little bored with Dahlias come October. Mums are the perfect distraction
  3. Enjoy and share with your flowery friends =D



Sweet Peas

So the sweet peas have been looking bad for a while now, just got around to pulling them this week. I suppose that means I owe the blog a post on my experience this year.


The secret for me to be able to grow sweet peas semi-successfully in Chicago is variety selection. I say semi because my little patch is much better than last year’s lonely stem, but not as luscious as those I see in the Pacific Northwest, New England or England. For Chicago I’ll take them.

Sweet Peas know when to flower based on how long the days are. A spencer variety, Mollie Rilestone or April in Paris for instance, have the BEST stem length, largest flowers, fragrant. But those are the varieties I’m lucky to get a stem or two out of. It’s just too hot by the time the plants allow flowers to form. Sweet Pea varieties that have been bred to flower sooner help us in Chicago.

Spring Sunshine was the variety I used, from selectseeds.com. Winter Elegance is another variety that can flower even earlier, but I didn’t see any compelling evidence that the stem length would be usable. Spring Sunshine is better if you’re interested in producing cut flowers.

These were sown in either root trainers or reused 1 gallon perennial type pots. You’ll need something with around 6″ growing depth for their early root development. A typical jiffy seed starting “greenhouse” system will not have sufficient depth for root development.  I did notice substantial root development in the root trainers compared to the reused perennial pots at transplant time. Fun to try out but ultimately I didn’t notice any difference in flower production.

Pinch the central growing stem to promote basal branching and MORE FLOWERS!!

One thing that surprised me was the Spring Sunshine series have differences between colors. I figured since they were all in a “series” together they would have the same characteristics. Nope. Cerise, the bright pink in the photo above is what I lusted after. Color was dead on but unfortunately paled in comparison to the light blue/mauve variety with respect to stem length and fragrance.

All in all completely worth growing. The fragrance is worth the hassle of finding specific seed varieties to be successful in this climate.




What to Plant When

I spent a lot of time planning my garden this winter. I really need to get some other winter hobbies!

The file below is my plan for when to sow seeds for my garden this winter. It’s separated into three categories, Start Indoors, IN GROUND (either transplant seedlings from inside or direct sow in the ground) and Fall Harvest. In my mind it is better for me to just put it out there for you and you figure it out rather than spend any more time explaining it —

2015 Garden Plan, 5B

Please do leave any questions in the comments section and I’ll be happy to clarify

A New Year, A New Challenge

Fragrance is my primary goal in the garden this year. Last year I’d show someone a flower and they would always try to smell it. With zinnias and dahlias, there is no scent. Unfortunately scent has been bred out of many flowers over the years. Plant breeders have decided the ability to ship long distances and last weeks in a vase are more important than scent.  I disagree. Local, slow flowers allow for fragrance AND freshness. Not being shipped long distances mean we’ll still get a decent vase life.

My goal this year is to have at least one type of flower with noticeable scent blooming throughout the season.


  • Tulips and Daffodils: I spent a good deal of time seeking out varieties that mentioned fragrance in their description. A few pots are in windows in my living room. This morning I saw two buds! I started them in the pots around Halloween and kept them in our attic which has been between 40-50F. Many many others are outside buried under 3-4″ of snow at the moment. Source: JohnScheepers.com, Big Box Stores on Sale
  • Dianthus ‘Inchmery’: Usually called carnations at the florist, also known as pinks with gardeners. I have a rare one ordered that says it is their most fragrant antique pink. Blooms into summer. Source: SelectSeeds.com
  • Mignonette ‘Machet’: Flowers don’t look gorgeous but are supposed to smell amazing. Good thing I’m selecting for scent. I know I will be able to mix them with other flowers that won’t have a scent to make a perfect arrangement. Blooms into summer. Source: SelectSeeds.com
  • Icelandic Poppy ‘Champagne bubbles’: Bought a start last year from a local nursery and it was beautiful — don’t recall a scent. Going to try again. Source: HazzardsGreenhouse.com
  • Sweet Pea ‘Mollie Rilestone’ and ‘Spring Sunshine’: Attempted this last year but started them too late. Going to give it one last shot. The few that bloomed last year smelled fantastic. Blooms into summer. Source: SelectSeeds.com


  • Heliotrope ‘Sweet Heaven’: I’m not sure how this will hold up in our hot Chicago summers. Selected this variety because of the comment on SelectSeeds.com that it held up well over a hot summer. Source: SelectSeeds.com
  • Nasturtium ‘Golden Gleam’: Hope to use this as a foliage more than a cut flower. This variety said it had a pleasant scent.
  • Red Swallowwort: One word – vanilla. If this one smells like vanilla then the room it takes in the garden will be well worth it. Supposed to be a big plant at 4′ height x 3′ width. Great for butterflies! Source: SelectSeeds.com
  • Tobacco ‘Cranberry Isles’: This one says it is scented at night. If I cut it at night will it retain its fragrance? Not sure but willing to find out. Source: SelectSeeds.com

2014, Assorted Flowers


Zinnias, yellow Stamens – Or as I like to think of them flowers within the flower


Zinnias, Looks and feels just like velvet!


Peony Bud

Peony bloom




2014, Benary Salmon Zinnia


My passion for gardening started with a wild idea that I could grow flowers for my wedding. Zinnias were a mainstay of this fantasy. I love that they were cheap to start from seed, would be blooming when I needed them and sounded fairly easy.

The Benary Salmon Zinnia pictured above was the one I fell in love with online. I loved the soft salmon rose color. The touch of coral.

Benary Salmon Zinnia

Benary Salmon Zinnia

I sowed seed a little late, mid May. They were just starting by my wedding date of August 1st. There weren’t a ton, maybe a dozen from my 10 plants. I had already known I would need to supplement so it wasn’t a huge disappointment. They kept going into November. Their show was amazing, I particularly loved the little yellow stamens that would peak out from the center, you can see what I’m talking about in the photo above. The ones I left to produce seed for next year developed beautiful variation in their petals.


Benary Salmon Zinnia left to go to seed

For reference, I don’t know how to edit photos. This is a raw image taken with a fancy borrowed camera (thanks Mom!).

Mixed Benary Salmon and Liliput White Zinnias

Mixed Benary Salmon and Liliput White Zinnias

In the photo above you can see some BRIGHT orange zinnias peaking out. All of the seed for this area came out of the same packet. These were the first ones to flower. So imagine me, checking the flowers every morning, poking around for buds. Waiting for that first bloom and BAM — orange. Halloween orange. At the time it was not at all funny. I gave up on thinking I could ever use my flowers for the big day.


When I was planning my garden and first started looking at zinnias, the dahlia types with a multitude of tightly packed petals were what appealed most to me. Some of the ones I loved the most didn’t look like that one bit. The one above would never end up on a seed suppliers website trying to sell you Benary zinnia seeds. But here it is — light, airy with a certain carefree quality to it. Perhaps even more beautiful than the “perfect” ones I had envisioned as I was sowing seed in the spring.

Dahlia Tubers

My garden is done for the 2014 season. I dug up the dahlias that I loved this year, and photos of them in bloom and the tubers produced are below.

The first two photos are of a purple dahlia that was grown from seed. These were grown in an area that was amended with sand and compost in my heavy clay garden. They bloomed profusely, but did not bud until a few weeks after the dahlias grown from purchased tubers. Big, fluffy cloud like booms. I’m curious to know what dahlia form these are considered. Are they similar to any named varieties?

dahlia purple

Purple dahlia from Seed

dahlia purple(2)

Same purple Dahlia from Seed



Yellow dahlia from seed


Tubers from the yellow dahlia grown from seed


Comparison of the yellow and purple dahlias grown from seed

These were interesting in that the purple was a typical dahlia clump, while the yellow had distinct stems with different clumps that were already divided — score!

I was hesitant to grow dahlias from seed because I was unsure of the blooms that would result, but I am so happy I did! The pompon dahlias were some of the earliest to start budding and blooming. The larger cloud like purple and yellow plants started blooming later, I still had blooms into November!

After their leaves browned I dug the roots of the yellow and purple variety to save them. I was very impressed with the tuber quality that resulted from these seed grown dahlias and I’m excited to have more known tubers for next year.

The smaller dahlias I left in the ground to overwinter. I doubt they will come back in my zone 5b Chicago garden and I kind of hope they don’t. I’m excited to start another row from seed next year! Hopefully I’ll be in for a few more nice surprises.

Up next is the only purchased tuber I planted — Wittem. I chose this variety to use for my wedding. I’m sure I’ll have a much more in depth post in the future.


Wittem white dahlia from purchased tuber

I started with 6 clumps in the spring and I’m not sure how many I have for next year, but wow did they multiply! I’m going to clean them up best I can and store them in a cool spot in the basement. Will divide in the spring and report back.


Wittem monster clump grown in heavy clay soil


Comparison photo of Wittem bulbs grown in amended soil (compost and sand) and unamended clay


These tubers were fat! Surprised they did so well in the heavy clay, monster clump not pictured


Not sure I’ll put dahlias I intend to dig up in they clay again as it was a chore to dig them out. Very nice tubers for next year.



It was a great first year of growing dahlias and I’ll continue, but I don’t think they’ll get as large of a chunk in my garden in the future.  I will give away a few of the clumps to friends and family. I do hope to invest in a lotus flowering variety for next year and perhaps some consistent bedding varieties.  My number one priority next year is fragrance, which dahlia’s unfortunately are completely void of. Their foliage has a distinctive scent I don’t dislike, but it’s not floral.


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