wildflowers from the field to your garden

We used to see wildflowers in vacant lots, which we used to call Prairies as kids. Now they're easy to grow garden favorites.

You can have the same glorious color and sweet little visitors in your own gardens as our public gardens and Prairies.

Wildflowers have made themselves at home in all sorts of gardens over the years, moving from the vacant lots of my youth, to carefully public gardens, and now our own yards. Our front yard growing up had big lumbering evergreen bushes. The backyard had roses, bridal wreath Viburnums, and lawn. This was the case for most yards, city and suburban. Living near Chicago we would visit the tidy, well manicured rose garden at Grant Park. The wildflowers were not welcomed, because, well they’re wild. Just not pretty enough or well mannered.

From the Field . . .

Eventually Prairie Restoration projects brought native wildflowers back to public gardens and we decided we loved because they are beautiful and we really, we all like a little wild in our life. With a well planned garden, the wild becomes a natural flowing space filled with color. Lurie Garden in Chicago, created in Millennium Park, not far at all from Grant Park, is a beautiful example of a Naturalistic style garden design. Check out their website for design details along with photos of every blooming thing at the garden. https://www.luriegarden.org

. . . To Your Garden

When choosing what wildflowers to add to your garden, consider a couple of important items first-

  • A Site check list – How much sun does the area get and for how long? Is it a dry area or water logged? Assessing your site will help you figure out what wildflower would be happiest there, making your job much easier. Pick the right plant for the site, and you won’t have to weed, water or feed much, if at all. Once established the wildflowers won’t need your help at all actually. They will fill the space you’ve created, crowding out weeds. If you’ve chosen the right plants for your site, and I know you will, they will not need any fertilizer at all. It will adapt to the site and actually improve the soil in it’s new home.
  • Size matters – Wildflowers can be tall or short, bushy or leggy. Whether you’re adding to a new bed or an existing one, you want the taller plants in the back, medium size in front of the taller, and then shorter plants in the front. If you’re planning a circular bed, put the larger plants in the middle and then surround them with medium sized plants, and border the bed with the smaller plants.

Choosing Your Plants

You’ve done your homework and now you’re ready to pick your plants. Here are a few options. All are low-maintenance and drought tolerant, are best suited for sun but will tolerate some shade, and range in size. A few you’ll see in nearly every garden, but I’ve added a few that are just as reliable but will make your garden uniquely beautiful as they are not often found in the home garden.

Purple Coneflowers, Echinacea purpurea

These Echinacea, Purple Coneflowers are between two flowering bushes in my front yard garden bed. It’s long lasting blooms appear mid summer to fall, needs no special care and is drought tolerant. Coneflowers grow up to 3ft tall. For a fuller, rather than taller, plant, cut the buds back in early summer. 2 to 3ft tall means this is a middle or back of the bed plant. Leave the flower heads on their stems after the bloom is spent to feed the birds. Mix Purple Coneflowers with Yellow Black-Eyed Susans for stunning color contrasts.

White Indigo (Baptisia)

This graceful beauty is a White Wild Indigo, Baptisia Alba, from the wildflower fields at The Little Red Schoolhouse, Cook County Forest Preserve. They are showy plants with upright spikes of bright white flowers above the foliage, blooming in May through July. Leave their brown seed pods on the plant for winter interest in your garden. The plant grows 2 to 5 ft tall and 2 to 3 ft wide, and is best in full sun, although the white flowered type does better in part shade. Surround White Indigo with purple Coneflower and blue Bellflowers for a striking color combination.

Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)

The Black Eyed Susan, a very popular wildflower, fills fields and gardens from June to October. The “black eye” is named for their dark, brown-purple centers of the daisy-like flowers. Members of the hardy aster family, Asteraceae, they can grow to over 3ft tall, with leaves of 6 inches, stalks over 8 inches long, and flowers with a diameter of 2 to 3 inches. The original yellow is the most common color but new hybrids range from lemon yellow to rust-brown and also come in a range of sizes .

Purple Salvia, S. x superba

There are oh so many different kinds of Salvias, both annual and perennial. Whatever your zone, you will find a hybrid. The Salvia in this photo is from the pollinator beds which I designed for our community garden. It blooms from late spring to early summer. It is mid-size, 12 to 18 inches tall and 8 to 10 inches wide, which makes it a good front of the bed border plant. Cut the spent blooms off to get a second bloom from this hardy drought tolerant plant.

Coreopsis Verticullata

This perky perennial is a Threadleaf Coreopsis with delicate, dark green feathery leaves and a profusion of yellow blooms. Ranging in height from 8 inches to 18 inches, plant this beauty in or near the front of your garden bed. There are more than 80 species of coreopsis. Most have yellow flowers, but some have red or rust colors in the center, and there are some smaller Threadleaf varieties that have pink or red flowers. Many more are the Grandiflora variety with larger flowers and leaves. Part of the Aster family, they are reliably long bloomers. Shearing the plants back by about two-thirds once the initial blooming is finished will refresh the plant and set new buds for more blooms.

Butterfly Milkweed

Everyone loves butterflies and loves them even more in our yards. The Milkweed was a perennial that filled bare spaces in urban areas and fields everywhere else, but was rarely planted on purpose in our gardens. Today it’s popular in gardens because we understand that this bright beauty is a favorite of butterflies, and especially the Monarch butterfly. It has an unusual flower structure with a long lasting bloom. 2 to 3ft tall and 1 to 2ft wide, plant it among other mid-sized perennials. It takes a couple of years before it blooms, but once established it will last for years. It is prone to aphids; you can leave them for ladybugs to eat or spray the insects and foliage with soapy water.

Bleeding Heart Dicentra Spectabilis

This Bleeding heart is under our spring blooming Red Bud tree. It too is a spring bloomer, with pink or white flowers blooming May to late June. They like moist well-drained soil in shade or part-shade. The plant typically grows to 18 inches to 3 ft tall with either large leaf or fringe leafed bushy plants. They have tiny heart shaped “locket” blossoms, with up to 20 on each arching stem. By mid-summer, as the heat sets in, the foliage dies back, going dormant until the next Spring. Plant them in combination with other plants, such as Astilbe, that can fill in the space once the Bleeding Heart fades. It is an old fashioned plant that has been over looked by the contemporary gardener. Adding these beauties to your garden bed will give you unique fabulous spring color while other gardens are still waking up.

Geranium Brookside

There are hundreds of perennial Geranium cultivars. This one is my favorite, planted in the front of our front yard garden bed. It has a well mounded, compact growth habit at 2ft tall x 2ft wide, on large, deeply cut, rich green leaves. Prolific blue flowers grow on long stems with many blooms to a stem. They will fade slightly as they mature. Once the blooms are spent, cut the stems all the way back to the leaves, a good hard cut. This will leave a green mound of interesting, textured leaves which will turn a gorgeous burgundy red in the fall. There are larger and much smaller cultivars in shades of pink, purple, blue and white, that grow in sun and part-shade. They are all very easy to grow.

A Little Wild Goes a Long Way

Planting just a few wild flowers adds more than color to your garden. Wildflowers do not require fertilizer or pest control. Once established, usually after just a few months, they do not need extra watering. They adapt quickly, growing deep roots fast, which improves your soil quality by attracting beneficial bugs and microrhizomes, and they prevent soil erosion. They attract all kinds of pollinators, from bees to birds to butterflies. Create a bed just for your wildflowers or add one to a bed that needs that something extra you can’t put your finger on. You won’t regret it. If you need any more convincing, here’s a few more photos. I have taken every one of these photos from our gardens or gardens I have designed and installed, with a few of the “out of the ordinary” wild flowers photos taken by me at the spectacular prairie fields at the Little Red Schoolhouse in the Cook County Forest Preserves the past June. From the prairie to your yard, they really are that easy to grow and they will be just as beautiful in your own yard, front or back.


A Walk In The Woods

This past December and early January my family met at the Morton Arboretum for a Covid safe hike. We met in Mother Nature’s family room where we didn’t have to worry about how many of us could hangout without adding air purifiers. It was a peaceful blessedly happy respite for all of us, three generations from 3 different parts of our family.

The Spruce Plot

We hiked the path through The Spruce Plot each time we met. Hiking the woods in the middle of winter has it’s own unique pleasures, and hiking The Spruce Plot brings it all home. The stillness you experience walking through the majestic trees is broken occasionally by the creaking sound the trees make as they sway in the wind. It sounds to me like they’re talking to each other, maybe to us as well, welcoming us as guests in their home. The sound inside is softened, the air still. You’re protected from the wind in the winter and the heat in the summer. You are surrounded by the trunks as the green needles grow mainly up top, reaching for the sun, creating a picture of familial strength, with the tree trunks standing tall right next to each other.

The Morton Arboretum has so many different gardens to explore. You can drive through naturalized groves or park and hike the paths through them. The Spruce Plot, where I took these photos, is spectacular. Morton Arboretum’s website describes it as The quiet mystery of the spruce plot at The Morton Arboretum will make you feel as if you were hiking in the forests of Norway and Romania. Do you feel a temperature difference as you enter? The spruce plot creates a cool, dark environment unlike anything else at the Arboretum. Look towards the sky to see the impressive height of these trees.”

LITTLE TREASURES ALONG THE PATH

In early December, when my hubby and I went on a day date, we saw a bride and groom with their photographer. Later, as we walked down the Spruce path, we found ornaments in the branches and lovely words spelled out with pine cones on the stone benches along the path. It was really cool. I thought maybe it had been decorated for the wedding. When we went back, they were still there, and more had been added. I loved it! Someone took the time to find the pine cones, shape the sticks, and even decorate them with green branch bits.  It seemed like there were more ornaments each time we went.

AND  . . . 


Front Yard Garden Design

I did the design for this new front yard garden and installed it last year at this time, when it was still pretty cold and wet.

The front yard was a soggy mess with a slope spilling mud and water on the law and the walk to the side door. With Sun on one side and Shade on the other, the homeowner was at a loss, and frankly frustrated.  Once we got started planning the garden, her inner designer came out and she actually started to get excited about gardening. Good garden design planning makes all the difference in the success of your garden, and your confidence as a gardener.

Solving the soggy slope issue was a two step process.  First we graded the slope by moving some of the soil from the center of the bed to both ends of the bed. We added a dry stack wall at each end and some in the middle to keep the soil in place. The roots of the plants will do that over time as well.  We then added flexible drain pipe to the downspouts. The end of the new drain pipes come up through the new sod added to the front of the design

Yes, I know they need to water that sod.

The curvealinear design was a natural for this spot. All that was left were the plants.

Talking to my client about design I learned she likes a clean minimalist look with a small color palate. She likes green and pink, so first we choose boxwoods, which will grow in sun or part shade and contrast beautifully with the white brick.  She also likes pink and we needed some height, so we put in a Weeping Cherry which blooms in the spring. We edged the plant and highlighted the curvy design with spring blooming creeping phlox that also matched and therefore highlighted the color of the Weeping Cherry blooms.  The opposite end of the new garden gets the most sun. We chose Dappled Willow bushes, which have pink and white leaves. We added three Lambs Ear perennials, which have a silvery soft green color and bloom a soft lavender in the heat of the summer, and will fill in fast.

These photos are from early spring, 2019, so they really don’t show the beauty of the plants.  For now, you’ll just have to use your imagination.  And – check back to see this garden grow!!

The importance of a well defined curvilear bed, is definitely highlighted when your plants have no leaves on them.

It also helps to have really nice hardscape (the natural stone wall).

This design started out with the homeowners shopping last fall for plants. The original design had all the plants that were available in mid September. They didn’t really know what they liked, and we garden designers tend to want to fill the space with four season color.  Although they weren’t sure what they liked, they knew for sure what they didn’t like and it was lots of flowering color.  By this Spring they knew what they wanted and we just ran with it. The lesson here is that taking the time to do a little recon so you know what you like, helps you to like your garden a whole lot more. These homeowners will be adding plants to this new garden over the couple of years and that’s because they feel like it’s their own and not someone else’s plan for their garden.

HAPPY PLANTING. 🙂

 


Roasted Orange Tomato Soup with Thai Basil

This recipe is a roasted tomato soup with a twist, or two. I grew orange Roma Tomatoes for my sister who likes a less acidic tomato, and the Thai Basil just because it is pretty. The flowers are purple, the bees love them, and they add a burst of rich color in a bed of green veggies. Both plants gave us more than we could eat or give away, so I made soup.

The orange Roma Tomatoes are just as meaty as the red. Their flavor is milder than reds, less tart more sweet. Thai Basil is sturdier and has a licorice flavor, a stronger flavor than the more commonly used sweet Basil (like Genovese Basil, which is used in pesto and spaghetti sauces). The two different flavors balance each other perfectly in this soup. The sweet enhances the spicy, like any good partnership 🙂

Garden to Table Step By Step Recipe for Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTIONS WITH PHOTOS or Jump to Recipe with this link

**~*~**Jump to Recipe**~*~**

INGREDIENT LIST : 4 pounds of Orange Roma(paste) tomatoes. Enough to fill 2 cookie sheets, or sheet pans, when cut in half.

  • 4 pounds of Orange Roma (paste) tomatoes. Enough to fill 2 cookie sheets (sheet pans) when cut in half.
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 Tbs of extra virgin olive oil (EVO)
  • 4 – 6 cloves of diced garlic. If you have small cloves, use 6, if you have medium to large, use 4 cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups of finely diced onions. I used one sweet white and one red onion. A combination of different onions creates a richer, savory flavor.
  • 1 cup of chopped fresh Purple Thai Basil, flowers and leaves.
  • 1 Tbs of fresh Thyme (if don’t have fresh use 1/2 tsp of dried Thyme)
  • 1 Tbs of Salt
  • 1 tsp White Pepper
  • 2 quarts (8 cups) of Chicken Bone Broth or Chicken Broth (or 1 quart of each). 1 quart is usually one box. Use organic if you can. Bone broth has deeper, richer flavor that simple Chicken Broth. You can see and smell the difference in the broth. If bone broth is too strong a flavor for you, try 1 quart of bone and one quart of regular broth.
  • 2 Tbs red wine vinegar

The bulk of your work will be in removing the stems and slicing your tomatoes for roasting. The rest is basic prep work for assembling your soup. It’s easier if you have a food processor and/or a good blender, but don’t worry about it if you don’t. You really only need a good knife, baking sheet pan(s), and a good soup pot.

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, 375 if you are using a convection oven.
  • Slice the tomatoes in half length wise, and cut out the stems
  • Coat each pan with a scant 1 tsp of EVO from the 1/3 cup of EVO or you can line the pan(s) with parchment paper instead of coating the pan(s).
  • Place the tomatoes cut side up and drizzle them with the rest of the 1/3 cup of EVO
  • Place your tomatoes in the oven and let them roast for 20 to 25 Minutes, until they darken, like in the photos. You can certainly roast them longer, but the flavor will be different. They will be more tart with a sharper bite to them.
  • While your tomatoes are roasting, finely dice your onions and garlic. Let them sit for at least ten minutes.
  • Coat the bottom of your soup pot with the reserved 2 Tbs of Evo. Heat on Medium
  • Add your finely chopped onions. Let them sweat for 5-8 minutes – until they’re translucent.
  • Add your tomatoes fresh out of the oven to the pot. Stir them in the oil and onions, coating them.
  • Let the tomatoes and onions cook together for 5 minutes.
  • Add the Garlic
  • Add the Broth
  • Add the salt and Pepper. Let the ingredients cook together for 10 minutes
  • Add the Basil and Thyme. Let everything cook together for another 10 minutes.
  • Blend the soup in batches, using either a standing blender or immersion blender, returning the blended soup to the pot
  • Add the red wine vinegar and let the pot cook for anther 10 minutes and Voila -you’re done!
  • Enjoy your soup right away with some crusty bread or freeze it in batches for a taste of the summer in the middle or the winter. You can store it in the refrigerator for up to a week. Our soup doesn’t last the week once our boys know we’ve made a batch.

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup with Orange Plum Tomatoes and Purple Thai Basil

Laurine Byrne
Sweet and Savory easy to make soup. The most work you'll will be in prepping the tomatoes. The resti is just chop, heat and assemble.
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 50 mins
Course Soup

Equipment

  • You'll need a soup or stock pot that will hold 8 cups, 2 sheet pans, and a blender (immersion or standing).

Ingredients
  

  • 4 lbs Orange Roma Tomatoes enough tomatoes halves to cover two baking sheets
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 1/2 Cup Onions, white and red Can substitute with Leeks or Shallots
  • 1 Cup Finely diced Purple Thai Basil
  • 1 Tbs Fresh Thyme can substitute with 1/4 tsp dried Thyme
  • 6 Cloves Finely chopped Garlic
  • 1 Tbs Salt
  • 1 tsp White Pepper
  • 2 Quarts Chicken Bone Broth Use organic if possible for a richer flavor
  • 2 Tbs Red Wine Vinegar

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees, 375 if you are using a convection oven
  • Prep your baking sheets (sheet pans) by either brushing them lightly with olive oil or lining the pans with parchment paper. Both will keep the tomato skins from sticking to your pans. The paper will make for quicker cleanup.
  • Cut the stems off the tomatoes and slice them in half. See the photos for how your tomatoes should look with the stems removed. Place the tomatoes skin side down on the pans and use the 1/3 cup olive oil to brush or drizzle the olive oil on the tomatoes.
  • Roast the Tomatoes for 20 minutes if you are using a convection oven and 28 minutes if using a regular oven, or until they have darkened and softened. You can refer to the photos for how they should look coming out of the oven.
  • While the tomatoes are roasting, prep the rest of your ingredients. Let your chopped onions and garlic sit for a good 10 minutes before adding them to the hot oil. This will enhance and preserve their flavor and health benefits.
  • Coat the bottom of your pan with the remaining 2 Tbs of olive oil. Heating your pan on medium, add your onions, sweating them until they are translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the roasted tomatoes, garlic, herbs, salt, pepper and broth, cooking for 20 minutes.
  • Blend the soup mixture using an immersion blender, standing blender, or food processor. Whatever you have handy.
  • Return the soup to the pot. Add the Red Wine Vinegar and heat for 10 more minutes.
    Soups Done! Grab some crusty bread and dig in.
Keyword healthy

Gardening with Herbs

Herbs in the garden are magical to me. They certainly give more than they take because they’re so very easy to grow. They attract pollinators, which increases the bounty in your veggie garden. Their aromas and oils attract beneficial bugs to the garden, repel the damaging insects, and can even add flavor to vegetables that are planted next to them, like basil to tomatoes.  Here are just two – Chamomile and Lavender 

Chamomile

German Chamomile Flowers

Many of us know Camomile (Chamomile) as an herbal tea sold in abundance nearly everywhere but actually coming from some imagined far away place. It’s so ridiculously easy to grow the far away place can be just a few steps out your door.

There are two types of camomile, both members of the daisy family, but the German, or wild, camomile, (Matricaria chamomilla) is stems ahead of the Roman (C. nobile). It is sweeter in taste and scent. It can grow anywhere, from 6 to 24 inches tall, with soft little feathery leaves and bright little flowers. The Roman looks similar but is shorter, is bitter and less soothing to your body. Chamomile has been grown for its medicinal properties for centuries, mentioned as far back 1652 in Culpepers’ English Physician. It is used to soothe any number of aches and pains, including stomach aches and cramps. Chamomile tea can help ease you into sweet slumber. For a bit more info on what Chamomile tea can do for your body, I recommend visiting https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, where you can see what modern 3research has found that Chamomile can do for your body.

In the Garden

Chamomile likes light sandy loam with good drainage. It grows very quickly by seed, making it a very affordable quick reward for your labor. These perky dairylike flowers enjoy a crowded space and it easily self-sows everywhere. Which explains why it pops up in every crack in the patio, the driveway, between stepping stones, and every open space in the garden. It likes a party and if it can’t find one it will start one. Start it from seed in the early spring, in a pot or in a garden bed. It grows taller faster in cooler temps. The heat can stunt it’s growth. It does not require fertilization, nor does it need a lot of water.

Chamomile is an excellent companion plant to cabbages and onions, contributing to their flavor and growth. Ours decided every plant was a worthy companion. You can see in these photos that our Chamomile grew in and along every bed, getting particularly up close and personal with the zucchini. It also tried to make friends with the pots of flowers by our front door, growing in the smallest of cracks. The flowers are beautiful and they are one of the first to bloom in Spring. I let these beauties roam around until I need the space for something else.

Harvest your Chamomile in the peak of their bloom, every 7-10 days. I recommend harvesting early in the day when it is cooler as the blooms will degrade quickly piled on top of each other in the heat. Just like us, plants generally do not like to be messed with in the heat. The various methods for drying your freshly harvested herbs are the same for all of them, so I have dedicated the last paragraph of this post for the instructions.

Lavender

I grow Lavender for it’s beautiful color and scent. It adds structure to my flower garden with the added benefit of a flower I can harvest for my kitchen. I use it for tea and bakery. It adds a lovely subtle flavor to cakes. It’s sold in sachets to use under your pillow for sweet slumber or to add scent to your closet. Lavender steeped as a tea has a very calming effect. Chamomile soothes your muscles, and Lavender soothes your mind, creating a mellow mood. Its medicinal uses too have been widely known for centuries, also mentioned in Culpepers’ English Physician.

In the Garden

Lavender grows in nearly every climate, from the hot dry Mediterranean to cold damp British Isles and even colder Norway. The key is of course to grow the right type of Lavender for your climate. Here in Zone 5 in USA, we grow a hybrid of the hearty Lavadula angustifolia which can withstand frost. I find that my Lavender will come back in a pot as well as long as it is protected from the wind. The English Lavender variety is hearty in cold temps and does much better than the other varieties in a pot. English Lavender varieties that do well in our zone include Munstead and Hidcote. Growing Lavender by seed is certainly possible, but it will take a few seasons for it to grow to a small to medium bush. If you have the patience, go for it. Otherwise you can by a one quart size for immediate, but affordable, gratification.

The plant itself looks like a small 2×2 softly rounded bush with blue-green leaves/stems. Lavender is an excellent size for a pot in a sunny spot and for a perennial garden. If you like harmony in your color scheme, plant Lavender with pinks for soft relaxing vibe. If you like contrast, plant it with yellows for eye catching boldness.

Harvest your Lavender early in it’s bloom cycle. Pick a bouquet first thing in the morning, if possible. Later in the day the heat will dissipate some of the oils and fragrance with it. Harvesting your Lavender early in it’s bloom cycle encourages the plant to produce more shoots and then more flowers. To dry your Lavender, tie the stems together and hang it upside down in a cool dry area.

Plant these herbs and you will be rewarded with a beautiful view and scent.



A Walk in the Woods

This past December and early January my family met at the Morton Arboretum for a Covid safe hike. We met in Mother Nature’s family room where we didn’t have to worry about how many of us could hangout without adding air purifiers. It was a peaceful blessedly happy respite for all of us, three generations from 3 different parts of our family.

The Spruce Plot

We hiked the path through The Spruce Plot each time we met.

The Morton Arboretum has so many different gardens to explore. You can drive through naturalized groves or park and hike the paths through them. The Spruce Plot, where I took these photos, is spectacular. Morton Arboretum’s website describes it as “The quiet mystery of the spruce plot at The Morton Arboretum will make you feel as if you were hiking in the forests of Norway and Romania. Do you feel a temperature difference as you enter? The spruce plot creates a cool, dark environment unlike anything else at the Arboretum. Look towards the sky to see the impressive height of these trees.”

Here is the view from our car

Hiking the woods in the middle of winter has it’s own unique pleasures, and hiking The Spruce Plot brings it all home. The stillness you experience walking through the majestic trees is broken occasionally by the creaking sound the trees make as they sway in the wind. It sounds to me like they’re talking to each other, maybe to us as well, welcoming us as guests in their home. The sound inside is softened, the air still. You’re protected from the wind in the winter and the heat in the summer. You are surrounded by the trunks as the green needles grow mainly up top, reaching for the sun, creating a picture of familial strength, with the tree trunks standing tall right next to each other.

Every view at the Arboretum is beautiful, but the winter brings with it a serenity. The stillness creates a different experience. The colors are subdued, and there are no flowers competing for your attention. The quiet beauty creates space for a mindful experience. You may notice the structure of the trees, like a cool gnarled or peeling trunk, artfully twisted branches, or the odd leaf still clinging to a branch. A grey winter day can be more colorful if you can spend it with the trees.

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