May 26, 2004


KJ Productions is taking a holiday break. Back next week!

In local news, here's what the gardeners at Gaper's Block have to say.

Posted at 06:47 PM | az

Minty Fresh

A friend gave me a start of some lemon mint, and already it is making a spectacle of itself.

Whatever shall I do with it all? There are few recipes specific to this kind of plant, but there are a number that call for lemon-mint combinations:

lemon mint turkey kebabs;
for carb-craving days, lemon mint risotto;
for entertaining those vegetarian friends, green beans;
beverage-wise, there's lemon mint iced tea;
and for minimalists, ice cubes.

Posted at 06:43 PM | az

May 24, 2004

Happy/Not Happy

Post-weekend update: Moved containers around to variously flank the three entrances to our building. Already, things look better.

Much rain here, so things look good, if a little battered.

A carton of caladium bulbs has arrived from my dad, so we will need to figure out where to put them. Dad is also fond of elephant ears and has sent me a coconut-sized bulb, much to E.'s dismay.

Happy: to see my cranesbill returning.

A start from a friend, this little plant has done well in the (largely ignored) back yard ivy bed, which is threatened this year by porch reconstruction. Perhaps I'll move it, or just cross fingers and hope for the best.

Unhappy: to find a gnawed-upon dead squirrel in the front yard.

Why god why?

Luckily, E. dispatched the casualty promptly.

He was much calmer than I would be. I like the outdoors, but the bared fangs of nature make me queasy.

Posted at 07:24 PM | az

May 22, 2004

Garden Life

KJ Gardens is visiting the southern annex this weekend, located in lovely SouthCentral Indiana.

This region is undergoing a dramatic visit from numerous and noisy cicadas, the famous "Brood X."

A sampling of the sounds is in this brief QuickTime movie:

Cicada Tree

This sound forms a constant background out here, a SteveReichian undertone to all the daytime events.

Posted at 02:44 PM | Eric

May 18, 2004

Rainy-day Diversions

Chicago in May: One lovely day yesterday, and then back to cold, damp, and rain. I am not of the temperament that enjoys working outside in the cold, so it's no wonder my hands-on gardening experience is, well, limited.

But there are other ways to learn, and in a city where winter lasts far longer than the calendar seasons, it's a good thing there are books. Here are a couple of interesting garden book reviews:

The (UK) Telegraph takes the long view examining books about the history of gardening (Jane Brown's Tales of the Rose Tree, David Stuart's Dangerous Garden, and Benjamin Woolley's The Herbalist):

The first great garden historian, Alicia Amherst, was a woman. Is that merely a coincidence?" Amherst's History of Gardening in England was published in 1895; half a century earlier Jane Loudon, the wife of the horticultural expert JC Loudon, was attending to practical matters in her Lady's Magazine of Gardening and many books addressed specifically to women gardeners.

Closer to home, the Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader reviews Andrew Wilson's Influential Gardeners: The Designers Who Shaped 20th-Century Garden Style:

Color, planting, concept, form, structure, texture and materials are all basic to the art and craft of garden style. As book chapters, they sort out the strengths of 56 great garden designers and landscape architects from the past century.

Posted at 08:56 PM | az

May 16, 2004

Garden Walks

Clearly, reading the Internet and magazines is only going to get me so far on the learning curve. So this summer I'll be hitting the garden walk circuit with a vengeance.

Even as a kid, I enjoyed going to this kind of event and getting a glimpse of how other people live. These days, when I'm in search of urban garden inspiration, there's nothing better than wandering around tony neighborhoods on a hot afternoon with digital camera and notebook, turning pale green with envy over other peoples' gardens, then retiring for a milkshake somewhere. I'd better tell E. to break in his sight-seeing boots!

Here's what I've found so far:

Old Town Garden Walks--self guided tours, June 12-13

Sheffield Garden Walks--July 17-18

Dearborn Garden Walk--July 18; Gold Coast living with a Gold Coast price
tag of $30-35

Wicker Park Garden Walk, June 27; 25 gardens for $10. See how the hipsters grow!

And closer to home: Ravenswood Manor Garden Walk--June 27

More local info: Garden Clubs of Illinois

Posted at 10:40 AM | az

May 13, 2004

Incessant Rain

Between storms, we have run out to check on the new plants. Aforementioned unidentified purple flowers are not doing well, but everything else seems to be thinking about surviving, or is at least taking the idea under advisement.

Have already begun thinking about a replacement for at least one of the purple things. Perhaps nasturniums? Apparently, they're edible, and hardy:

One of the oft-repeated maxims about nasturtiums is that they prefer poor soil. There is even a saying that goes: "Be nasty to nasturtiums." I'd call that a slight exaggeration. It is true that a very rich soil, high in nitrogen, can make them go to leaf, with few blossoms. But a soil that is truly impoverished, heavily compacted or badly drained will produce puny plants. Nasturtiums bloom best in full sun but will usually do fine in part shade as well, especially in hot weather, which is not to their liking.

Posted at 07:03 PM | az

May 10, 2004

Every Passing Dot

The Blog Generation Takes Up Its Trowels

This article appeared last week and has garnered some comment for its unfortunate use of the term "blog generation." I am not nearly as troubled by this as I am by the implication that urban gardens exist only in New York and LA, but that's the NYT.

I did like what the article had to say, even if it's more about gardening than blogging.

Ms. Smith and her boyfriend, Derek Fagerstrom, 28, the editorial production director at Esquire magazine, have mapped out a border of annuals around the campground and recently planted a cherry tree in the yard. The appeal of gardening, Ms. Smith said, "is that your concerns are:`How will I stake my tomato plant? `How can I get these bugs to stop eating?' It's a total escape. You don't think about your e-mail or your job."

Many young gardeners say they are cultivating patience along with plants. "It's such an obvious antidote to multitasking, to sitting in front of a computer, to the complicatedness of our lives," said Amy Talkington, 32, a filmmaker who has planted a Japanese maple, lantana, verbena and jasmine outside the bungalow she rents in the Little Armenia section of Hollywood.

(Digression: In all honesty, I am not sure I would be part of the so-called "blog generation." I might be too old. For example, I can't believe no one has come up with this parody yet: I belong to the blog generation/I can post or delete it each time...Everybody sing!)

Posted at 07:54 PM | az

May 09, 2004

Bed Head

The containers are fun. The three beds in front of the building are more of a challenge. There's a tree in front of the building which gives each bed a different light/shade exposure. Their one element in common is terrible soil, which regularly yields broken glass, various rocks, and other effluvia unearthed by the building's rehab five years ago.

I spent the morning digging up this kind of effluvia, dead-heading our remaining sad tulips (note to self: study bulbs) and tying up our past-their-prime daffodils. I also tilled in a lot of mushroom compost in an attempt to correct the soil. It was a nuisance to work around all the bulb plants, but at least I could see where they all are.

The west bed gets the most sun and plants usually do well here. The hostas shown are doing alarmingly well, in fact. (Note to self: learn how to divide these before they demand condo voting rights.) I tried to balance out the hostas with some purple meadow sage and, of course, begonias.

The center bed gets a mix of sun and shade, so I tried a mix of things. My neighbors really liked the two plants with lavender-colored balloon-shaped flowers. The garden center didn't put tags in these, however, so I don't know what they are. The magenta flowers are linaria , which are a kind of snapdragon, and we also have some violas and some wild violets that were growing there at random. Oh, and begonias!

The east bed is the strangest and saddest of all, because we've had such poor luck here in previous years. It gets almost no sun and is damp and sort of undergrowthy. I found large quantities of a brown, mossy root-like substance in the soil here, which may be why everything dies. But some brave hostas are coming up and so I opted for some shade-loving plants. We'll root for the pulmonaria, some shade-friendly phlox, and an interesting-looking silver dragon.

Posted at 06:10 PM | az | Comments (1)

A Container Story

Here in the heart of Chicago, KJ Productions, like many urban gardeners, has limited space for gardening. We have a concrete-ridden back yard and a narrow rectangular front yard with a few narrow beds. To expand our options, a few years ago we started gardening in containers in the back yard. With massive porch reconstruction set for this summer, the containers will be moved to flank the three front doorways of our building.

We'd gotten an early start with a few things (lamb's ear, primroses, pulmonaria, and strawberry plants) donated from a friend in the friendlier climate of southern Indiana. But weather and schedules conspired to keep us from starting the containers until this weekend (which is still pretty early for us).

Friday featured a hectic and somewhat rushed shopping trip to my favorite garden center on a cold, somewhat damp day. (We'll have to head back there when it gets a bit nicer.) Saturday was planting day. I wanted to tie everything together with something white and grabbed, impulsively, an entire flat of white begonias.

My method, as always, is to plant, water, and hope for the best. We'll keep track of what does well, and what was a terrible idea, through the summer.

Anything with funky grass, like this fountain grass, is going to be one of my favorites. The little purple flowers are torenias.

I've never tried to grow alstroemeria before, but it was so friendly and bright, I couldn't resist.

We also took a chance on fuschias, another plant I've never tried to grow before.

We've had good luck with silver licorice, a vine-like plant, before, and that should spice up these rather snoozy begonias.

Ideally, these strawberry plants will produce actual berries this year, if the squirrels and other neighborhood varmints don't get to them first.

I'm also very fond of the "Lilac Ice" Viola, shown here with the lamb's ear from Indiana. Fun fact: the viola is the state flower of New Jersey.

And finally: I had only planned for six containers. But there were still so many begonias, I had to make a contingency plan. I never wanted to be one of those women who doted on tiny, cute flowers (verbena, lobelia, etc.). But here we are, cuter than ever.

Posted at 05:25 PM | az

Cat in the Dirt

KJ Gardens, a limited subsidiary of KittyJoyce Productions, is a site for the KJ principals to document our gardening activities. It's a place to share and a place to learn. Since we haven't been at this very long, the operative words will be "just learning" for the forseeable future. We also make lots of mistakes, which should be entertaining.

Please share good links, stories, and advice on what to do with this crazy moss/root system stuff I found in the soil this weekend.

'Cheval' and shrub: E. takes his favorite coffee mug outside for watering duty.

Posted at 05:09 PM | az | Comments (1)