Category Archives: General

My Raspberry and Strawberry Plants are Here!

My mom grows the best raspberries in her garden.  There is nothing better than going out in her yard and picking a handful of just the most delicious ripe berries or having some of her homemade raspberry jam.  So I decided it was time to try and grow some myself.  I ordered them earlier this winter from Burpee and they just arrived, ready to plant.  Of course, while I was ordering them I was tempted by the strawberries as well and ordered some of them too.

Now I don’t have nearly the space she does, so I hope I’m not creating a monster by planting plants that like to spread like berry plants do.  But, it’s worth a try to get those fresh berries in my own yard.

The plants arrived as bare-root stock, which mostly means they look dead.  I’ve had plants before come this way, so I’m not worried.


Much to my surprise, my new plants came from my old stomping grounds, Erie County NY!


Because I was indecisive, I order 2 different everbearing varieties:  Heritage and Caroline.  Everbearing varieties will produce two crops, one in July and the other in the fall.  Both of these varieties seem to work well in my area so we’ll see if one is better than the other.

I spread them out in a couple of different garden areas that get a fair amount of sun.  Right now, they look like dead sticks, but in the next few weeks they should start to grow.


While I was shopping for the raspberries, the strawberry ads caught my eye.  I had grown a couple of plants last year that put out a few tasty strawberries, so I thought more would be better.

garden strawberry

After a little research, I added 25 Evie-2 plants to my order.  I probably don’t need so many plants, but that’s how they came.  Unfortunately, before they came Burpee sent me a note that their vendor had a production problem and they wouldn’t be able to send them to me so they were issuing a refund.  But, for my inconvenience they were sending complimentary Seascape Strawberry plants which I very much appreciated.

Both Evie-2 and Seascape are day-neutral strawberries that produce flowers and fruit all season, as long as the temperatures are between 40°F and 85°F, regardless of day length.  Unlike everbearing varieties that produce 2 or 3 distinct crops per season, day-neutral produce continuously.  A summer full of strawberries sounds good to me.

The plants come as bare-root stock and are sent at the right time for my planting area.   Once they arrive they need to be planted as soon as possible.

Seascape Strawberries

Before planting, it’s recommended that they be soaked for two hours.


Once good and soaked they are ready to plant.  I don’t really have a great place for them, so I decided to plant them in a bit of a no-man’s land garden area that I’ve been putting some iris’s (that never seem to bloom but just take up space) and extra grasses in.


I dug a small hole for each and spread out the roots in the hole.  Cover with soil and water them in.


A couple of days later, we had an unusually late freeze so I covered the tender new plants with a sheet to protect them from the very cold overnight temperatures.  We got down to 29°F, which hopefully hasn’t done any damage to any of my emerging plants.


The plants look just fine the next morning.  Can’t wait for those berries!


But, while the strawberries looked great, I had bought a basil plant at a local store  a few days before.  I knew it was too early to plant and moved it into the screen porch that night.  But alas, still too cold and it is now a very sorry looking basil plant 🙁  I will try to give it some TLC in the house before taking it back out to plant.  


Have you grown berries successfully?  Did they overgrow everything or was it ok? Peggy says the trick is to just mow over any stray raspberry shoots.

Hopefully the cold spring isn’t hurting your gardens this spring.

A Cheerful Spring Trip to the Grocery Store

Since winter seems to be dragging on just a little too long, my mom Peggy decided a trip to the Meijer’s floral department was in order! This certainly added cheer to my day since nothing is blooming yet in the garden

Stephi Gardens: Photos by Peggy


Stephi Gardens: Photos by Peggy


Stephi Gardens: Photos by Peggy


Stephi Gardens: Photos by Peggy


Stephi Gardens: Photos by Peggy


Stephi Gardens: Photos by Peggy


Stephi Gardens: Photos by Peggy


Stephi Gardens: Photos by Peggy


Stephi Gardens: Photos by Peggy


Stephi Gardens: Photos by Peggy

Enough of February 2015

February is finally done and it was quite a month for much of the country. It finished here in Chicago as tied with 1875 for the coldest February ever, with an average temperature of 14.6°F, and the third snowiest with just under 27 inches. The Chicago NWS has some great graphics on all the record breaking winter data here. I hope March will not be anywhere near as record breaking.

I took the last day of the month to go around with Daisy and see how things were looking. Snowy would be the best description.


I have no idea how the plants are faring this year. I’ll have to just be patient and wait and see.

This is what I call the “sparrow corner”. The sparrows love having their own feeder filled with inexpensive food, and have spent all winter flitting back and forth from the viburnum to the feeder. Keeps them occupied and away from the other feeders.



Like most winters, the arborvitae and yews took the worst beating. The “privacy fence” of  arborvitae are actually beginning to look better than they did earlier this month, so maybe it’ll last another year.


The yews still show winter burn and snow damage from last year, and I’m expecting that they’ll look worse this year. They’ve been crushed by all the snow once again. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. and they’ll bounce back. Or it’ll give me chance to start over again 🙂



The vegetable gardens in the back and side yards are well insulated and just waiting for spring, which can’t come fast enough. The sticks mark the overwintering garlic.



This birdhouse doesn’t look very inviting. Last year I put them out too late, so no one made it their home. Hopefully this spring.


My feeders on the feeder pole have been a hit (This Birthday Was For The Birds)! Cardinals, red-breasted nuthatches, white-breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, chickadees, goldfinches, purple finches and house finches are daily visitors. Juncoes happily scavenge anything that spills on the ground.


At least it’s been a lot sunnier lately and my solar snowman finally cheerfully lights up the night.

IMG_4674 (1)

How are your plants faring? Are you worried?

Superbowl Snowstorm

Much of the country has been having their share of big winter snowstorms and we here in Chicago got ours this past weekend. The snow started Saturday late afternoon, and didn’t end until the lake effect finale finally moved on around 6 am Monday morning.  All total, this end up the as the 5th biggest single snowfall. At my house, I measured 19.75 in of snow.

Stephi Gardens

The plows had a lot of trouble keeping up.   But I have to admit, it was one of those really pretty snows, at least until the wind picked up and the bushes started collapsing under the weight of the snow.

Stephi Gardens

Stephi Gardens

The birds were really thankful for the feeders, even if they were covered in snow! The goldfinches, chickadees, cardinals, juncoes, red-breasted and white-breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, purple finches, and house sparrows all ventured out in the snow to visit the feeders.

No squirrels around all weekend, they must be hunkered down in their nests.

Stephi Gardens

The snow in the NoNo sunflower ball didn’t bother the chickadees and goldfinches.  They were visiting all day, except of course, when I was out there shooting the picture.

Stephi Gardens

This tube feeder is my “sparrow’ feeder.

Stephi Gardens

The heated birdbath kept the water thawed pretty well during the storm.  This is the first winter I’ve had one out.  I was lucky enough to get it as a hand-me-down when my mom got a new one.  They’re not here now, but in the winter the birds like a place to get an easy drink.

Stephi Gardens

The arborvitaes are not faring very well with all this snow.  Hopefully they literally bounce back once the snow melts.

winter arborvitae

Daisy and I are not going out there!

Stephi Gardens

So instead we made a path for Daisy to get around.  Those little legs are not made for deep snow!   I also have to thank my boys for shoveling paths to all the bird feeders when they were snowblowing and shoveling on their snow day off of school.   This snow was too deep for me as well.  This is much better!


But, my snowman  didn’t mind at all!

Stephi Gardens

When the sun came out after the storm was done, the sky was a beautiful sapphire blue.

Stephi Gardens


Happy New Year!

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2015!  As many of you have noticed, I had to take a little break this fall.  Sometimes, life just gets busy and something needs to give.  I’ve been taking lots of pictures and notes, so I’m looking forward to catching up over the next few weeks.  In the meantime, here’s a look back at some of my most popular posts of 2014!

Painted Rock Garden Labels

1.  Painting Garden Rock Garden Markers:  A fun project to jazz up the garden.



Biltmore Estate

2. Girls Weekend in Asheville:  A wonderful weekend away in a great city!



IMG_5288 (1)3.  Angel Wings in the Snow:  Fascinating tracks in the snow.



Creeping Thyme4.  Creeping Thyme Problems:  Trying to salvage a mess in the garden.



snowflakes5.  Peggy’s Snowflakes:  Every snowflake is truly different.



stephi gardens6.  Gardening:  All in the Family:  From grandparents to great-granchildren, gardening is a family tradition.



Homemade Suet Cakes7.  Homemade Suet Cakes:  Giving homemade suet a try.  The birds loved it!



glass pumpkin8.  Visiting the Glass Pumpkin Patch 2014:  I love seeing all the different creations the artists bring every year.  



Yarn wrapped bottles9.  Yarn Wrapped Bottles:  A fun and easy craft project to decorate for the holidays, a party, a wedding, or for whatever you have that needs some color.



Raised vegetable bed10.  My New Raised Bed: Construction:  I needed more garden space so we built two new raised bed gardens.



Visiting the Pumpkin Patch 2014

A couple of weeks ago, it was time to visit the Glass Pumpkin Patch at the Morton Arboretum again.

glass pumpkin

This has become one of my favorite fall things to do.  The weather wasn’t great, but at least on the day I went it wasn’t raining.  I also had the chance to make my own glass pumpkin paperweight in a class earlier in the week.  I’ll describe that super fun experience in the next post.  But as a teaser, here’s the pumpkins my friend and I made, along with everyone’s in the class.  Mine is the green one, hers is the orange.

So many different pumpkins!  We each got to pick our own colors, and each turned out beautiful and unique.

glass pumpkin


glass pumpkin

As always, there are so many to choose from in the patch.  Each artist has their own style and unique methods of making the pumpkins their own.  After taking the class and learning some basic techniques, it was fun to talk to the artists about how they make theirs.  Some of the artists are local, but many travel from the Girl Glass Studios run by Shannon Jane Morgan in Sacramento.  They travel from California with their pumpkins, and a furnace, kiln and all their equipment to run classes and glass blowing demonstrations.

glass pumpkin


glass pumpkin


glass pumpkin

There was even a “vegetable garden” this year.

glass pumpkin


glass pumpkin

Of course, I added to my collection. This year I chose a pumpkin by  Matthew Urban of Furnace Urbini that can be lit up and glows a beautiful golden bronze.  I love the twisting of the spines and spiderweb appearance of this pumpkin.

glass pumpkin

Here’s my collection…

glass pumpkin

Seniors, School Boards and Sunflowers

Well that title certainly should catch your attention.  What could they possibly have to do with one another?  Nothing much except the first two has been needing my attention a lot lately, keeping me out of the garden.

The “seniors” refer to my twin boys who are seniors in high school this year.  With that comes the college adventure; trips, research and then applications.  We’ve been all around looking at schools for them this summer and fall.

Georgia Tech Walking to the Sky

UW Madison University Maryland College Park







Read everything under the sun to hopefully find just the right matches, and now it’s time to buckle down and get those applications out.

“School Board” refers to what happens when you get a low turn out for a local election during a teacher contract year.  Long story short, there was a lot of friction between the board and teachers, leading to a potential teacher strike threatening to derail my kids’ senior year, college application process and XC running season.  Needless to say, I have spent a lot of time writing emails and attending school board meetings.  Looks like we have a solution, still crossing my fingers unit the contracts are signed.

Sunflowers, well, they just make me happy and they’ve been a fun addition to my garden this year.

I thought I was going to be able to save some heads for some winter bird treats after the bees and butterflies were done with them.



Tiger Swallowtail


Tiger Swallowtail

But a couple of weeks ago, the seed-heavy heads just started disappearing.


In only a few days they were all gone.  Cleanly cut as though they’d been harvested with shears.  I would love to know where they went, since earlier in the summer if one was taken down, whatever the critter was tended to set it next to the garden and shred it to pieces.  These were hauled away for winter storage no doubt.

So, after looking at the headless stalks for far too long (see reasons above), I figured I’d better cut them down.  I hadn’t realized how thick giant sunflower stems are.  I needed to head to the shed to get some bigger clippers.


And a bigger shovel.


The sunflowers are done for the year.  I’m looking forward to them again next year.  Are you starting to remove things from the garden yet?



Painted Rocks as Plant Labels–In the Garden

Last fall, I had great fun painting rocks to use as plant labels  (Painting Rock Garden Markers).  They look great in the garden and add a bright splash of color!  But, now that I know what I’ve actually planted, I need to get my paints out and make some more to complete the set. Painted Rock Garden Labels   Painted Rock Garden Labels   Painted Rock Garden Labels   Painted Rock Garden Labels   Painted Rock Garden Labels   Painted Rock Garden Labels   Painted Rock Garden Labels

Gardening: All in the Family

For as long as I can remember my mom had vegetable and flower gardens, sometimes big, sometimes small.  So did my grandparents.  All this interest in growing things rubbed off on me and hopefully I’ll pass it on to my kids.  With that in mind, I had my mom and daughter take us on a tour of their June gardens.  First my mom, Peggy, in northern Michigan.

So lucky to have the space of all these raised beds (check out all the raspberries in the back!).

photos by peggy

 Petunia garden protected from the rabbits

photos by peggy/stephi gardens


photos by peggy/stephi gardens

Hummingbirds are enjoying the flowers right now.  Soon they’ll be looking for some extra food.

photos by peggy/stephi gardens

A more natural garden.

photos by peggy/stephi gardens


photos by peggy/stephi gardens

A lovely visitor–Tiger Swallowtail

photos by peggy/stephi gardens

Salad in a bag!

photos by peggy/stephi gardens

 Succulents!  This is a creative work in progress. I can’t wait to see what she does with this.  I know she’s got some great ideas.

photos by peggy/stephi gardens


photos by peggy/stephi gardens


photos by peggy/stephi gardens

My daughter Emily lives in an apartment with some friends downtown.  When we were talking earlier in the spring, she was complaining about the price of tomatoes.  Soon after that, I happened to see a great looking potted patio tomato plant that would fit on her porch.

stephi gardens

She couldn’t have been more excited and has taken lovingly care of this plant.  It gets a hello and a glass of water from the mason jar every morning.  Recently I got a text that read “Mom!  2 of my tomatoes hatched!”  I hope they grow big, red and juicy for her.  I think she’ll be hooked then.

Do you have someone who inspired you, or have you inspired anyone else to garden? 

A View of the June Garden-Front yard

Yesterday, the backyard, now on to the front yard…

This is the area of biggest change.  In preparation for new construction, all the trees next door were taken down in early April.  We knew this was likely at some point (see Problem Areas) and had tried to plan ahead.  This garden contains arborvitae, annabelle hydrangeas, hostas and some annuals.  It went from almost full shade to full sun.  So far so good.  

Stephi Gardens

Under an Autumn Blaze Maple, we have some burning bushes, hostas, and daylilies.   

Stephi Gardens

Also some Columbines that have travelled from the backyard.

Stephi Gardens

This was another problem area where nothing seemed to grow under a mature maple.  I was happy to see the hostas I planted last year came back nicely.  When I split some more, I’ll add them to continue to fill in the space.  We are a little worried about the health of this parkway maple. It’s pretty old and showing a lot of signs of being unhealthy.  But it’s still standing, for now.

Stephi Gardens

On the other side of the driveway, a few years ago a rather large maple fell down in a wind storm.  We replaced it with this Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor) that has finally seemed to take off after it’s brush with cicadas its second year.   Underneath are more densi yews, Russian Sage, daylilies and a burning bush.

Stephi Gardens

Back up to the house, there’s an awful lot of green since the Korean Lilac and Judd Viburnum have finished blooming.  The yews are a bit overgrown and the Rhododendron in the corner a bit spindly.  This may become the next area to fix up.

Stephi Gardens

The yews took a bit of a beating this winter and will look fine after a trim.  The boxwoods and hostas are new last year and make a nice addition to the area (although the one hosta looks a little big for the space).  A little sprucing up and mulch and this area will be good to go.
Stephi Gardens

That’s most of the garden spaces that I write about and toil in.  Hopefully this summer will bring perfect garden weather.