Early Garden.

April 6, 2014

Maybe earliest ever.  Mom always planted her early garden on Good Friday, but I won’t be around then and the weather has been so nice, so…what is the worst that can happen?

Thanks to raised beds (made out of the garage we tore down when we rebuilt the house -full dimensional lumber!) and thanks to home-grown compost….I have already planted peas, spinach, carrots, chard, beets, beets, spinach, peas, kale, cilantro, broccoli, cabbage, onions, onions, mesclun, lettuce, arugula.

Garlic planted last fall is already up and green!

Brambles looking ready to explode…strawberries green….

3 weeks to asparagus?

Okay, so guess what you could eat now…first pot herb, ready to eat right now?

Did you guess garlic mustard?



If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva or the surrounding area, give us a call at 262/248-7513.

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It snowed last night, and today the temperature is 18 degrees.


I still have about 900 bulbs to plant, so I hope we get a bit of a reprieve before the true Wisconsin winter begins.




Companion planting

April 29, 2013

Which plants look good together? Do you like this combination or is it too bold?


By the way, we are now beekeepers!


If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva or the surrounding area, give us a call at 262/248-7513.

Follow Obsessed Midwest Gardener  on Facebook.


A beautiful new house…with a few issues.  Here is the view of what we need to hide:

The view

This is what you see when you walk out of the main door. There is an ugly patio, but also a lovely view of the lake.  The hardscape (this one done by another landscape contractor) does not give us too much room to work in, and the shady, deer-trafficked location limits our choices even more.  Really, there is only one hedging choice for this spot:  An evergreen that deer don’t eat, that thrives in shade, and can (eventually) be sheared:


Ah, Tsuga canadensis!  Thank goodness we don’t live on the East coast, where this beauty has pest problems.

So here is my cheesy photo-rep of the spot:


Cheesy, because none of the images look like the actual plants, but useful because it gives a hint of what the finished project will look like.

The other plants:  a Rhododendron (the pink one, dark green later in summer),  and a Viburnum Carlessii (close to the house, where you can smell it.)  This viburnum also takes pruning and shearing like a champ, when the time comes.  When it is done flowering, the pretty foliage is semi-evergreen, so holds its leaves most of the winter.


The flowers smell like heaven


and it has terrific fall color.


Perennials for this location:




Scented Geranium


Japanese Hakone Grass


Japanese Iris.

Also included are hostas.  Hostas where deer come around, you ask?  This seems to be the most protected area, I’ll use Milorganite as a deer repellant, and we have found the local, Delavan deer to leave the larger, coarser-leaved hostas in peace.

Thanks for reading.


If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva or the surrounding area, give us a call at 262/248-7513.

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The best deer repellant we have found is Milorganite. It is marketed as a lawn fertilizer.  Deer must hate the smell!

Right now, this week, as your tulips bulbs are emerging, throw a handful of Milorganite on the tulip foliage.  It will do double duty as a fertilizer.

DO wear gloves. You know what that stuff is made of, don’t you?

An older post about tulips and deer.

If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva or the surrounding area, give us a call at 262/248-7513.

Follow Obsessed Midwest Gardener  on Facebook.



Continuing our survey of  shade garden plants, I present you with the genus Geranium:


Yes, that yellow one IS a tulip, but those pretty pale violet flowers are the subject of today’s blog.  The geranium in the above photo is Geranium maculatum, our native Wisconsin beauty, often called wild geranium.

Did you think that geraniums look like this?


Lots of people do.  The gardening world– many, many moons ago– decided to confound everybody by making the botanical name of the first plant and the common name of the second plant both “geranium.”  Confusing, huh?  Those red ones, along with all of their fellows, are actually in the Pelargonium  family.  They are annuals in Wisconsin, look like snot in the shade, and are not our topic today.

Geraniums for Shade Gardens

So yes, there are red “geraniums” but today we are looking at the perennial geraniums, sometimes called cranesbills.  All have beautiful foliage. Some bloom in the spring, some in the summer, some in the fall.  Some creep along the ground at 4 inches, while others flop over  after they reach heights of 30 inches or more.

Here is a Geranium hiding behind  Solomon’s seal.  A couple of wee crumb-bums are hiding back there, too


The common name, Cranesbill, comes from the long “bill” formed once the flowers are finished. The bills on most are interesting for a long time after the blooms have finished.

Dave's Garden

The picture above, from Dave’s Garden, shows both the blooms and the bills.

Geraniums come in many colors from dark carmine pink to purple to blue to white– and every tint in between.  They should, however, never be chosen by color, but rather by cultural requirements and bloom time.  Although there is a geranium for almost every spot in the Wisconsin garden, not every Geranium will work in every spot.

For example, we recently had to remove dozens of Geraniums from a lakeside garden in Lake Geneva.  The homeowners had wanted blue-toned Geraniums, and their original garden designer had sold them 5 flats of Geranium maculatum, a beautiful plant.  Unfortunately, it blooms in April and early May—and the homeowners never visit the house before the kids are out of school in June.

Geranium maculatum also tends to look bad when over-watered, and they had a watering system. Further, its foliage fries brown in full sun, which of course they were in.  We moved them to another location and planted geranium Jolly Bee, which will thrive under the conditions and bloom non-stop through July and August.

Some Geranium like more sun, some require more moisture, some require pruning to look good.


The scented geraniums, like the Geranium macrorrhizum above, make a perfect shady ground cover here in Wisconsin.


The foliage smells heavenly when you brush up against it or rub it between your fingers. It has a long bloom time, then an interesting time when it is covered in cranesbills.  Finally, it has excellent bright red fall color. Also called Bigroot Geranium, Geranium macrorrhizum  has magenta flowers. “Ingwersen’s variety” has soft, violet-pink flowers, and retains the great characteristics of the species.  A few white cultivars of  Geranium macrorrhizum are available, although none is particularly satisfying.  One (“Album”) looks kind of dirty, the other (“White Ness”) dies…stick with the pinks!  Tomorrow or the next day, I might write about some fine hybrids.


I love the way it turns orange on its way to scarlet, especially when all the colors are showing at the same time.  Parti-colored, they call that!

More on geraniums later this week.

An older entry about bloom rotation.

If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva or the surrounding area, give us a call at 262/248-7513.

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Have you seen HOUZZ?

March 26, 2013


It is a place to catalog house ideas.




But this photo was taken on April 18, 2011.


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On Beyond Hosta

March 14, 2013

So we find ourselves waiting for the snow to melt, thinking about gardens. Until the snow does melt, I am writing about plants that grow in the shade that are not hostas.

For some people, a shade garden means a hosta garden, and they love that.  Other people tell me they HATE hostas, which always makes me take them on a little tour of my shade gardens where they learn that the only hosta that they really hate is that one kind that mom had all over her yard.

I grow a few hundred varieties of hosta and will be showcasing them later this year, but right now I am blogging about hosta companions.  Here is a little fragment of a shade garden that doesn’t even have a hosta!


The blue flower is Brunnera macrophylla , the white are muscari, the yellow is Uvularia grandiflora, with the wonderful common name of merrybells.  Also in the picture, but not in bloom, is Jack- in-the-Pulpit, Virginia Waterleaf, and Dicentra eximia or Fringed Bleeding heart.

Brunnera is a terrific plant, with pretty heart-shaped leaves that add texture even when the plant is not in bloom.  It generally blooms in a cloud of bight blue flowers for most of May and June, then throws an occasionally bloom periodically all  summer.  You have to love that in a perennial.

There are variegated Brunneras too, Jack Frost being the most popular.  The biggest problem with this plant is that it can begin to look unsightly in late summer if it gets too much or too little water.  A tough plant, neither of these will kill it.  Neither will taking a sharp sheers and cutting off the unattractive bits, but a better way to deal with this problem is to put on a pair of sturdy gloves and run your hands through it, gently crumbling off the brown bits. Be sure to wear gloves, though, or you’ll find yourself trying to pull tiny little pieces of silica out of your hands, maybe with your teeth!

The little garden in the above picture was eventually expanded into a tree island.


Just  because your mother had hosta rings around her trees doesn’t mean that is the only way to go.

If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva or the surrounding area, give us a call at 262/248-7513.

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An older post about woodland gardens.



Yippy, more snow!

March 13, 2013

We need the precipitation, folks!  We really do!


1o Reasons why Heaven Scent Polemonium  is on my top10 list:

  1. It is semi-evergreen.  When the snow melts, it will be an inch or two tall.  It might need a little trim, but a week or two later, it will already look pretty. I give bonus points to all early-emergers.
  2. It has gorgeous red stems.  Only plant nuts get excited about red stems, but boy do we ever.
  3. It blooms and blooms and blooms and it is tough as tough.  I have transplanted it in a drought.
  4. Blue! True, cerulean blue flowers that look equally stunning in a border or in a vase.
  5. Smells like heaven–or purple candy.
  6. The foliage is beautiful even when it is not blooming. I’ve been told that some people think it looks weedy.  Some people are crazy. Unlike other early bloomers, the foliage stays nice. Even though the flowers are a similar gorgeous blue, you wouldn’t want Mertensia planted by the front walk because you’d have to endure months of ugly foliage until the plants went dormant.
  7. Best filler for early spring vases.  Both the blue flowers and the lacy foliage make all the other plants look better.   A little goes a long way toward making  few measly tulips or daffodils look like a gorgeous bouquet.
  8. Speaking of tulips and daffodils, it is a great companion plant for both.  Not only does the combination look stunning, but the polemonium foliage will eventfully hide the bulb foliage.
  9. Mine were a gift from the breeder, the talented plantsman Brent Horvath.
  10. As the supply has increased, the  price has come down enough that it can be used as a groundcover even over large areas.

Pictures posted in the last entry.

Happy gardening, everybody!

If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva or the surrounding area, give us a call at 262/248-7513.

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An older post about companion planting with bulbs.


March 12, 2013

Great Sculpture. 


Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium)


Polemonium Heaven Scent (the one I posted about yesterday) is an introduction by Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennial Gardens. 


In the photo above, the straight species (polemonium reptans, a Wisconsin native, and wonderful in its own right)  is blooming to the left, and Heaven Scent is in bud to the right.  (A pink tulip is photo-bombing.)

As you can see, Heaven Scent blooms later, but it is also bigger,  darker green, and has redder stems.  It also blooms longer–a lot longer.  In this location (mostly shade, Eastern exposure, dry) it blooms like crazy  for 8-10 weeks in the spring, then continues to bloom again periodically all summer.

Did you want to see the flowers close up?


Wow, huh?

They make terrific cut flowers and smell like grape candy.  We’ve even used them in corsages.


There are variegated polemoniums, too.  They are stunning even before they flower. This photo is a bit out of focus, but you get the idea.  The polemonium is the pinkish thing, in front of the emerging tulips.


In the summer, they look more like this:


I don’t have a suitable picture, but they really light up a shady corner.  The variation and contrast changes depending upon how much sun they get and over the season.  Talk about dynamic!

All the polemoniums are drought tolerant and thrive in almost full shade to almost full sun.  They need more water in full sun.

Until the snow melts, I will be blogging about plants to try in your shade garden this year. Check back!

If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva or the surrounding area, give us a call at 262/248-7513.

Follow Obsessed Midwest Gardener  on Facebook.

Check out an old post that Google loves: Tulip Sex.



The catalog says “lacy pinnate foliage emerges red and continues to hold red highlights until summer.

Grape scented blue flowers begin in May and can continue into June.

Plants top out at 18-23″ tall.

Drought tolerant clumps can grow in full sun to part shade.”

It sounds perfect, doesn’t it? It is.

Pictures to follow.


She made the cover…

July 27, 2012

She Magazine

The day the photographer came over to shoot the pictures,  I forgot to check the calendar before I started a ‘treatment” on my hair…when he arrived,  my head was covered in goo and  a plastic cap…..

More photos here.

Welcome She Magazine readers.


Abies koreana ‘Silberlocke’

Check out the new growth.  Pretty! The needles of this small, pyramidal tree are recurved, displaying the silver-white undersides. This characteristic gives a gleaming color and uncommonly beautiful textural effect. Formerly listed as ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’.


If you lived here, you’d be home now.


My grandpa had a sign next to his front door with that message on it. He drank quite a bit, so maybe it was simply a reminder to himself.  I don’t know.  I must have read the sign hundreds of times as a child, but I never thought to ask him what it meant to him.

He had hand painted the sign himself.  It had crooked, black letters and a crude drawing of the house.  My grandfather always had the confidence of a kindergartener:  He would sing, dance, paint, sculpt, write poetry, garden, all without ever asking himself if he was any good at what he was doing.  If he enjoyed it, he did it.

He and my grandmother lived in the “cutest house” my grandmother had ever seen, a sweet little White Victorian style cottage in Franklin,  Wisconsin.  Grandma and Grandpa are both long gone, but when I pull up to this house, I always think of grandpa and that sign and wonder where the thing ended up.  I wish I had it.

A mix of  dozens of trees and shrubs and  hundreds of perennials and annuals makes this well-loved summer cottage the very picture of  the Wisconsin Cottage Garden Style.

If you lived here, you’d be home now.

Need help with your landscape or garden?  Call us at 262/248-7513.

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How do you hide the window wells without blocking sunlight to the basement?  I like to do this by moving the shrubs forward, and planting semi-evergreen perennials that just barely cover the window wells. That way, you get all possible light into the basement, but you don’t have to look at the ugly stuff from the outside of the house.

Hide the Electric Service with Plants

Along the house, from bottom to top:  a Chamaecyparis  blocks the hose bib, and then a tuft of  Red Barrenwort  (Epimedium rubrum) covers the window well.  A spreading yew comes next to hide the electric service from the main viewing corridor, with a giant Hosta ‘Elegans’  directly in front of the electric service.

Beyond that is Stephanandra, an underused but incredibly useful spreading shrub for full shade.  After the Stephanandra, we can see a few Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and then boxwood.

In front, we see one the world’s loveliest perennials, Heaven Scent Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium Heaven Scent), then another Hosta, a Hellebore, and at the far edge, the intersectional peony sensation ‘Bartzella.’

All these plants thrive in almost full  shade on the east side of  the house, getting sun only in the early morning.  The Bartzella peony gets sun again in the afternoon.

If you don’t know Heaven Scent Polemonium, you should. It is a selection made by Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennial Gardens.  I’ll blog about it more later in the week.

Thanks for reading.

If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva, give us a call at 262/248-7513.

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Who says you can’t have color in the shade?

From left to right: Climbing hydrangea ( Hydrangea anomala petoliaris) Goats-beard (Aruncus dioicus) White Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis Alba) Oak Leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia).  Hostas in forefront including ‘Sum and Substance’ and ‘Emerald Tiara’.  Hidden but quite spectacular is a Lily of the Valley (Convallaria) with yellow stripes on the foliage.

All this thrives in dry full shade on the north side of a house.

The blooms on all of these plants last for months. All have spectacular foliage interest, and most have really excellent fall color, especially the Oakleaf hydrangea.  Its leaves will turn crimson red, and it holds its dried flowers through the entire winter.

Want this for your yard?  Call 262/248-7513.

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Tree Peony in Bud

June 9, 2012


Later the colors will change; the foliage will be green, the flower will be hot pink…. but it sure does look pretty like this, too.


Bloom rotation

March 23, 2012

Most perennials and bulbs bloom for 4 weeks or less.

A garden designer can help you plan for bloom rotation, so that you have something blooming all of the time.

A good designer can create a series of stunning combinations, so your garden has a different look every 4 weeks or so, and colors don’t ever clash, and you don’t have dead times in the garden when nothing is blooming.

A terrific designer can plan a garden that is at its peak during your annual summer party.

The very best designer is Mother Nature, and she gleefully trashed the work of  all of those delusional human designers by throwing out a spring like this one.


this spring we will have the earliest tulips ever….the daffodils are already blooming their wee heads off.

If your bulb foliage is up, and you have deer visit your property, you may want to spread a little Milorganite around.  It is the best deer repellent.



March 17, 2012

As a novice gardener, I was occasionally distressed by plants that did not look their finest.   I used to clean up my gardens carefully, getting rid of all last year’s debris.  The longer I garden, the more I enjoy every single change. This year, I am appreciating last year’s debris.  For example, normally I would have cut this grass back (or burned it) before the crocus bloomed. Look what I would have missed out on:

Up close, the crocus peeping out of the cliff green (Canbyi’s Paxistima) with the Japanese grass, all fluffy and dead:

Here’s what it looked like last fall:

Up close:

One true pleasure of the garden is constant change.



Cheesy Design Software

March 14, 2012

Drag and drop imaging software lets me show clients what the project might look like upon completion…


Why perennials?

March 13, 2012

Annuals offer far more color all season long. Flowering woody plants are so darn big and so showy that you cannot not notice them in bloom-that is why everybody knows Forsythia, Magnolia, and Lilac.

But perennials, because the melt away over the winter, and then reemerge, a little bigger and little bloomier–perennials teach us how to live.

I am grateful that they do so.


Sunshine on a Cloudy Day.

March 12, 2012

Acid yellow!  Spring does not have to be about pastels.

This spring we’ll all have to be careful about watering.  With such an odd winter, things might dry out fast, especially on windy sites.  Maybe, like today, Mother Nature will do all the work .

Don’t forget:   Stay out the garden if it is squishy!


Can you hear old blue eyes singing that song?  Spring has come to my Lake Geneva Wisconsin Garden and to our landscaping business.  It has been good to crank out a few designs and proposals, and then to go outside and see what has popped up.  Look at this dude:

He looks pretty happy to see the first crocus of 2012!


Anybody who gardens within one hundred miles of this place should check it out.

They sell beautiful plants from inspiring displays.

They have mature display gardens for inspiration.

Although it can be crazy busy on a weekend, you might have a weekday morning all to yourself.

And they have the most interesting garden and gift barn.

Northwind Website

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If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva or the surrounding area, give us a call at 262/248-7513.


Rain in the Garden

May 25, 2011

I love weather, but I love rain best of all.

Even on a day like today, my gardens thrill me.   So much to feast the eyes upon.  The colors.  The wind.  One of the hardest things about garden blogging is that I have so little to say except wow, I love plants.  Gardens are so good.  Why do people bother with grass?

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The photo from Week 9 was taken with my HTC phone.  These, with the Sony.  Big difference.



Zone Envy

May 24, 2011

I have been in Southeastern Pennsylvania for a week.  Waaah!  Such amazing chamaecyparis, enormous Japanese Maples, Golden Rain or Golden Chain tree (I can’t wait to figure out which) Rhododendron and Azalea as big as trees, Beech forests….Okay, I love it here, but oh!


Why do we garden?  As the cliche goes, it is as close as we get to heaven on earth.   Here is the latest photo from the series  The Capricious Garden.

In case you are new to this blog, once a week I post a photo of the same garden, so we can watch how it changes from week to week.  You can catch up here.

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May 15, 2011

Um, today is supposed to be the frost free date–time to  plant the frost-sensitive  annuals.  I wonder if that is still valid when temperatures have been so much below normal?   In case you were wondering, it has also been the third wettest spring in thirty years.


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Tulip Sex

May 12, 2011

A super early White Japanese Peony in front of late white tulips. Do you see the red tulip in the corner? Do you see the streak of red on the white tulip? Ha hem.

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Woodland Remnants

May 11, 2011

Spring in Wisconsin is glorious, but until you have seen a woodland remnant, you have no idea what we have lost.

A “remnant” in ecology is a word that means a site that has remained undisturbed or minimally disturbed since pre-European settlement.

How many species can you see in this small area?

An area can be developed and still have some remnant sites.  When I moved to Lake Geneva (again) 14 years ago, I lived in a small subdivision that had been developed in the forties and fifties.   Many lots in the heavily wooded subdivision were empty of structures, undisturbed.  The native stands of oaks and hickories lorded over a woodland floor that included claytonia virginica, geranium maculatum, and Mayapple.


Trillium recurvatum, which goes by the colorful common name of bloody butcher, carpeted the floor in spring.

Dutchman’s Breeches

While I lived there, sewer and water lines were put in, raising property values like mad.

Woodland Floor

Every vacant property sold, was cleared, and now contains a crappy new house and a weed free lawn.

The Bloody Butcher

I watched as garlic mustard, an invasive European biennial, swept through the subdivision to become the dominant species in the few remaining wooded areas.


One of my neighbors where I now live has a tiny little A-frame on an amazingly beautiful 5 acre remnant.


When I first saw it 5 years ago, it was nearly pristine.  All of the pictures in this essay were taken there.  Now it, too, is threatened by garlic mustard.  Woodlands are frustratingly hard to photograph well, even with a patient helper.

The Woodland

I am working on an article that will be all about how to identify and manage garlic mustard. I hope to post soon. My landscaping company can help you preserve or restore your own woodland remnant.  Help over the phone is  always free.

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Give us a call at 262/248-7513 if you need help with your landscape in the Lake Geneva area.



Gardening, writing, blogging, teaching, studying, running a business, raising a family, health scares, cooking, family politics, car issues, money, politics, friendships …. life can seem so overwhelming.

Then a phone call makes you wish everything could just go back to how it was just a minute ago.

Count all your blessing my friends.

But also, when somebody you care about is dealing with something truly horrible, DO NOT tell her just to keep a good attitude.  Attitude might help with all those hassles that we complain about, but some things, the only way through is to cry your eyes out.

Usually I clean up the old foliage from peonies, for aesthetics and disease protection.  Here you can see the new growth coming right out of the dead dry debris.  Gardening is a comfort, a metaphor, and a mystery.



I want one.

May 5, 2011

garden shed hall of fame: Stone outbuilding as a shed.

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Almost eighteen years ago our family stayed at the guest house at the Aloha Estate in Lake Geneva.  Our son Sam was two years old. Thousands of  tulips were in bloom, and sweet  Sam decided to pick me a Mother’s Day bouquet from the seven-acre gardens.  He picked about 150 tulips before  his father stopped him.

All with two inch stems. It’s kind of hard to arrange tulips on two inch stems.

One of the great joys of growing flowers is a fresh bouquet.  I picked this one, the first of  the year,  for my dear friend Courtney last night.  Everybody pray for Courtney, will ya?  Thank you.

I find that, except for my husband and sons,  most men think they should stay where they are, but most women think flowers are for picking.  What do you think?

In this bouquet:  Daffodil “Early Gold,”  Hyacinth “Blue Jacket,” Tulip “Pink Impression,” Spirea “Goldflame,” and Penstemon “Husker’s Red.”  It looks kind of incomplete to me.  In needs one big white lily or a star magnolia, don’t ya think?   Maybe next week.

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Live from planet Earth.  Plus, this blog needs a sound track.

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Tulips in Wisconsin

We are lucky that we live in a place that has winter four months a year.  They can’t grow tulips in warm climates.   Texas.

Because they do it at the mall, so many people think that tulips need to be replanted every year.  It simply isn’t true.  Most tulips will return year after year if  they get enough sunshine and a little fertilizer. They tare taken out because the foliage is awful after blooming unless you know the tricks.

At this site above, with this planting density, we remove them every year, too.  These below stay where they are.  The anemone canadensis foliage will disguise the tulip foliage.

My favorite tulips for returning, perennializing or naturalizing:  the Darwin Hybrids and the species tulips.  We’ll get to the species tulips another day. (They are not yet in bloom. You will love them.)

Darwins are a wonder of hybridizing:  The tough survivors of Tulipomania were bred with  a vigorous mountainside species to form a structural masterpiece  that stands two feet high on strong stems.  Dozens of colors, more every year.

More later, it is nice outside.  Happy gardening!

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Doesn’t it look like this hen is looking for a mate among the just-today-opened tulips?

By the way, that is tulipa “Pink Impression” and is one of my favorites.  I can usually tell who “did” a  garden designed by one of my local colleagues, just by the plants that that they tend to favor.  This tulip is probably how they can tell one of mine. (If I said such things, which I fervently hope I do not, I would call it one of my “signature plants.”  Ugh.  If you catch me talking like that, swat me, will ya?)

The pink color color is truly wonderful with every other color, hot, cool, or indifferent, and it changes color every day. It gets pinker and darker.  A lot of the Darwin hybrids do that,  they change color.  The blooms last a long time (if the weather cooperates) and they make great cut flowers.  Fabulous bouquets!   If that was not enough, they perennialize beautifully where they get enough sun, and the stems are the longest and sturdiest of them all.

Are there problems with this tulip?  You betcha!  Look at that fat, succulent foliage.  Gardener friends, how awful does that look July 1st?  We’ll talk some more about how to deal with that problem later.  In the mean time, enjoy the day.  I am going back outside FINALLY!

Woooohooo, sunshine!

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Seeing Gardens

April 26, 2011

One of the hardest things about looking at gardens with other people is how differently we all see.

Our first year in business, I once showed up to inspect a garden job site at the end of the work day.  I was immediately dismayed by what I saw. What had the crew been doing all day?

The problem was the one piece of furniture in the garden,  a bench.  To my mind, because it was the only man-made object in the courtyard, it was the focal point of the entire yard, yet it was placed in an unappealing way, not level, not framed.  It had leaf debris under it, and to my eye made the entire yard look trashy.

I could not “see” the perfectly pruned trees in bud, or the gentle curve, akin to the shape of woman, of the freshly mulched beds.  Even the expensive, expansive  view of Lake Geneva was ruined for me.  All  I could see was the bench.

It was a good lesson.

This happens all the time.  One of my favorite clients only “sees” a plant that is blooming.  When it is not blooming, it is invisible to her.  Non-gardeners in a garden center get all excited about the same boring old annuals that make a seasoned gardener cry in frustration.

What  do you see in this picture?


…and they make messes everywhere, but at least they eat ticks.

We keep hens for eggs and for bug control.   If a plant is  destroyed by bugs, it should be tolerated or removed.  It is probably in the wrong place, anyway.   I don’t believe in spraying for insect pests, especially in the ornamental garden.  Even in the vegetable garden, we don’t use insecticides, ever.  But we do have an army of hens at work every day.


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Easter Sunday

April 24, 2011

Bulbs and peonies, symbols of resurrection and eternal life.

(My daughters say the picture looks like fairy world.)

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Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder from Timber Press

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Many people are surprised to learn that some flowers that they see everywhere are not native to our area.  Anyone who followed the discussion about scilla now knows that it is not native. We do have some amazing naturalized native plants, but they are subtler than the squill and so much harder to photograph en masse.

Up close, you can see this is a beautiful flower, but even from six feet a away, a photo does not do  justice to the absolute breathtaking majesty of a valley full of them.  The pale pink fades into the color of the leaves.  Too bad.

The plant above is hepatica acutiloba and appears in remnant woodland stands in many area of the state.  It is easy to recognize, not from it’s flower, which can be confused with other members of the buttercup family, but by it’s leaves:

On sunny slopes, it has been out for a week, and you should be able to spot it in the woods into the middle of May.  Then, by July, it will disappear.  Foliage will emerge again late in the year.  Many woodland natives are like this:  They take advantage of the early spring sun to photosynthesize and reproduce, and as the deciduous leaves return to the trees, they fade away and disappear until next year.  Plants like this are called  ephemerals. Some notable garden plants, such as Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart, are kind of  like this, too.

Over the next few weeks, as they emerge, I will blog about more of our local treasures.

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If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva or the surrounding area, give us a call at 262/248-7513.


“My landscaper planted red-twigged dogwood in front of the window for ‘winter interest’ and now we can’t see out the window and the twigs are not even red!”

I have heard this more than a few times.

The problem is that only the new growth on red-twigged dogwoods is red. Over a few years, the color changes to gray, and these shrubs get huge! But it is nice to have the red stems in the winter, so here is what you can do:  Every spring, just cut out the old, faded wood, leaving only the reddest stems.  Over the spring and summer, you will get new, bright red growth for next winter.  This year, I did this just before the April blizzard.



In this ‘after’ picture, you can see the pile of removed stems behind the shrub.  Properly managed, dogwoods are a garden workhorse.   Beside the terrific red winter color, they have creamy white flowers in the late spring, white berries in the summer, and a beautiful maroon fall color. They are fast growing and make a good hedge.

I love the gold-leafed versions:

You might like the variegated one, but I don’t much care for them:

Another large local landscape company has specified a variegated dogwood in every single landscape they design, so at least around Lake Geneva, they are kind of overused.


Week 5 in the Capricious Garden: April 18.

The winter garden in spring:

Wisconsin.  We live here. Nuff  said.

If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva or the surrounding area, give us a call at 262/248-7513.


Naturalizing is when plants multiply with abandon, forming larger and larger colonies year after year.   Lake Geneva, which was first popular in the 1920s as a  summer retreat for barons of wealth escaping the heat of the Chicago summer, is an wonderful place to view hundred year old stands of naturalized bulbs, like these Siberian Squill.

Unbelievably, we get calls every spring from people who report that portions of the lawns at their hundred year old houses are covered with blue flowers.  “How can we get rid of them?”  It breaks my heart every time.

Few other plants rival the intense shade of blue.


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If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva or the surrounding area, give us a call at 262/248-7513.


These are the same crocus from a few days ago, from a new angle.  Notice how the color fades as the day go by.  The flowers are fully open, too, and starting to decline.  Moon man hangs from the tree.  Can you spot him in the next photo, too? It is a lot harder.

The crocus are in this garden, which has a mix of early and late crocus,  purple and yellow and white.  The shape and color of the crocus was  surely the inspiration for Easter eggs, don’t you agree?

Another detail from the garden:

This is Corylus avellana ‘Contorta Red Majestic’ or common name  Purple Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick.  It is grown for its twisted stems, and looks amazing in the winter garden with its leaves off.  This rarer variety also has a nice shot of burgundy color to the spring leaves, although they fade to green later in the summer.

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Defiant Gardens

April 8, 2011

Tending ‘Defiant Gardens’ During Wartime : NPR

The link above is to an old NPR story, one that I heard years ago that has always stayed with me.   I especially remember the story of two boys and their father, all confined to a prison camp for Japanese during World War II.

“Their memories of Minidoka are dominated by the image of their father lost in reverie, working and meditating in his rock garden. They say it was a great source of his strength, and a way in which he could control his world.”


Ah, Wisconsin!

April 7, 2011

I love the tiny stripes of white on crocus foliage. Are the darker purple throats sexy or what?


A sweet little factoid about daffodils, tulips, squill, and other bulbs:

Each flower bulb has within it a “natural intelligence” about its perfect planting depth.  As long as it doesn’t freeze over the winter and as long as it can photosynthesize, it will migrate to the proper depth over time.

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On a south facing wall, spring comes early.

Aren’t bulbs just so darn cheerful?  Just last week:


Conifers are the backbone of any winter garden.

My winter garden has more than a dozen dwarf conifers, but these  two larger evergreens make up (part of) the back drop.  They came through the winter with no sun or wind burn.

This is Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’ or Weeping White Pine. We call it “tiny monster” although a child can hide in it. Some day it will be a giant monster.

This is Picea likiangensis or Likiang Spruce.  Later in the season, it will have almost florescent glowing purple cones.



Capricious: Characterized by unpredictable change.

Synonyms: fickle, changeable, changeful, flickery, fluctuating, fluid, inconsistent, inconstant, mercurial, mutable, skittish, temperamental, uncertain, unpredictable, unsettled, unstable, unsteady, variable, volatile.

My answer: Yes.


Garden Labyrinth

April 3, 2011

We planted an ephemeral labyrinth last fall…it is “constructed”  of late crocus bulbs, and should be ready to walk come Easter, if it works.  Won’t that be cool?  And then, it will disappear until next year.

That one isn’t public, but this fall I hope to plant more.  They are  perfect for a church, park,  or larger  lawn.  They can be planted right into the grass and finish blooming before mowing season begins.

Find labyrinths to walk with this Labyrinth Locator.


First, do no harm.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard:  “It didn’t bloom.”  Or worse:  “It never blooms” and the problem turns out to be that somebody is pruning the shrubs at the wrong time of year, cutting off all of the flower buds

So what can you do in the garden?

Some shrubs are grown for foliage more than for flowers, and are usually pruned in early spring. The shrubs on this list can be pruned this month.  Just do it from frozen ground, or ground that has already dried out, or from a path.  In general, you can remove up to one third of the plant.  I like to do this with very sharp clippers and bypass pruners.

If  you are doing  a lot of them, it is nice to have separate clippers for dead and green wood, because dead wood tends to dull clippers.    Extra sharp blades for clean cuts on green wood is worth it..  A quick spray of bleach or alcohol between plants will help halt the spread of disease.

Alpine Currant: If you really want to keep it, remove dead wood, shape it, don’t worry about it.  It is too stingy to kill by accident.

Red-Twigged Dogwood: Grown for the red stems, which only occur on immature wood.  Cut out old, no-longer-red wood every spring, trim aggressively (if you must) to control size.  New growth will be a nice bright red for next winter.

Purpleleaf  Sandcherry: The great purple beasts.  These are very susceptible to pests and disease.  Prune to increase sunlight and open up air circulation.

Barberry: Increasing invasive in the Midwest.  Maybe it is time to stop using this one.

Smokebush: This can be cut back to the ground every year to great effect.

Ninebark: Prune to shape, but it does bloom on last year’s wood.

Staghorn Sumac: Staghorn can be cut to the ground, or just remove deadwood and try to control spread as desired.

Burning Bush: Fun to prune, because you can do anything to them, anything at all, but increasingly invasive.  Do not use where they can escape to natural areas.


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I love the red and pink edges on tulip foliage.

Here is a garden tip:

When they look like this, put a handful of Milorganite on them.  It never burns, it is a great time of year to fertilize, and best of all, the smell of Milorganite keeps the deer from munching on them (usually).

Milorganite Finder



Part of a once a week project, wherein I will post a photo of how this garden changes from week to week.  There were subtle changes, but it is hard to see them, so I am posting a picture from a chair in the garden, looking north.  This is also the view from the “other” dining room window, if you are following along.

The slope drops off rather steeply here.  This entire hillside used to be buckthorn and honeysuckle (when we bought the house, you could not see the view!)  We have removed the invasive species and planted it  up with bird-attracting natives, including elderberry and natives roses.  Both have beautiful blooms and tasty berries.  The roses smell like heaven from fifty feet away on a warm day with a light breeze.  Too bad blogs don’t come with a scratch and sniff.

Here is another view of the winter garden.  It shows the view out the dining room window to the east:

This one is a little closer.  The step leads down to a sunken garden (part of the winter garden).  Are there any conifer addicts out there?  Can you name any of the sweet conifers in the photos?  I’ll post closeups another time.

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I am also blogging a wee bit here…garden-share.   Just some tips and teasers.

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Easter Buddha

March 25, 2011

Buddha Nature

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The old guy must be eighty, and he pulls up on his bicycle to stop and chat, and to check out the thousands of tulips in bloom in a one acre garden.

“It sure is pretty,” he says.  “It looks just like Holland.”

I am about to ask him when he visited the Netherlands when he asks me:

“Have you ever been to Holland Michigan?”


Today begins a regular blog feature.  I will be taking a picture, once a week, of the same garden,  so we can watch it change through the seasons.

I call this the “Winter Garden” because it is the garden we see from the dining room window all winter long.    I put winter gardens in for clients, too.  Evergreens are a really important part of a winter garden.   From this vantage point, the front porch, you can see 10 different evergreens. Some are showing a little winter burn.  Most are conifers, but not all.  The one closest to the front, around the green speaker, is paxistima canbyi, a useful little sub-shrub that is not used nearly often enough.


Is it cheating to post old pictures in a garden blog?

Well, sort of.  But, in my defense, note that the title of the blog is Obsessed Midwest Gardener.

Obsessed: Fanatical, Possessed.   Midwest: Wisconsin, people.  It snows here 4 months a year! Gardener: Pertaining to plants, most of which are buried under snow (for 4 months a year.)  There is a reason we are obsessed:   Snow. Yes, 4 months a year of snow.

Note, too,  that I want the blog to explore garden dynamics.

I started this blog in the winter.  In Wisconsin.  The weather is certainly dynamic, but the gardens are not.  Here in Wisconsin, gardens do not change all  winter. That would make for a pretty boring blog, huh?

But now Spring is here, and the gardens will change every day! Woohoo!  So while I will continue to post my best pictures, I am rolling out two new features.

The first will be a weekly garden picture, taken from the same location, so we can watch how a single site changes over the seasons.  I’ll try to post this on Mondays.

The second will be an inventory of what  is happening in the garden right now.  Here is what is blooming today, the first day of Spring:

Eranthis hyemalis, Winter Aconite

Eranthis hyemalis, Winter Aconite

These cheerful babies are highlighter-vivid, astonishing in a large cluster, gaudy as all get-out.  You plant them in the fall, when they look like dried mouse turds.  They bloom in the Spring, before everything else,  providing bodacious sunshine even on a cloudy day.   Over the years, the clusters get  larger and larger.  The foliage dies away late Spring and is never a nuisance.  They are cheap.  Hardly anybody has them.  Why not?

Crocus chrysanthus

Crocus chrysanthus, Snow Crocus

The  snow crocus, smaller and earlier than their more famous cousins.  Here is a little tidbit:  The financial community sometimes refers to  economic sectors that rise early after an economic downturn as “crocuses” because they bloom so early.  I sure do hope that ecological landscaping is a crocus!

Hyacinth and daffodil

Hyacinth and daffodil

This picture was taken on campus at Mount Mary College.  Daff  foliage is up all over the place, put look at the those hyacinth ready to open!  You only see that this early on the south side of a building.


Here in southeastern Wisconsin, the biggest garden enemy is a mammal:  the white tailed deer.  It always cracks me up when people wax poetic about the first deer they see on their property.  A few months later (and may be a few hundred or thousand dollars later), they curse them like the rest of us saner folk.  So if my photos of tulips have just been bumming you out, here are some gardens that can honestly be called deer hell.  This is a full shade site with a herd of deer that travel through on a regular basis.  We have taken some (humane! I promise!) measures to discourage deer, which I will blog about later, but we still don’t plant their favorites.  Here is a tulip-free, early-spring garden, still blooming with color, in deer hell, in full shade:

Those daffodils are companion planted with thicker-leaved (thus more deer resistant) hosta.  As the hosta mature, the foliage hides the daffodil foliage.  Here is another from the same garden:

If you must have tulips, here is a strategy we have employed with some success.  Surround the tulips with daffodils:

Alchemilla Mollis (Lady’s Mantle) is companion planted and will cover the daffodil and tulip foliage later on.

If you want help with your gardens in Lake Geneva or the surrounding area, give us a call at 262/248-7513.


Those are real live plants wrapped around his gorgeous head.   We all wore togas and ate a Greek feast.

He used to  beg wine from the table to dump on the earth for Athena. We even visited the temple of Athena, in Memphis Tenn. , this same summer.  He’s grown out of the obsession, thank the gods. Back to topic:  Below is a late spring garden, taking advantage  the early sunshine.  It  boasts 3 kinds of tulips, daffodils, self-sowing Brunnera–what else can you spot?  Anybody?


If these crocus (the lighter purple) and iris reticulata were not blooming, there would be nothing in this bed except for dirt and mulch.  Yes, the curve of the garden wall is pretty, but after a long winter, our eyes crave color.  Perennials won’t come up yet for another month.

Here is a view from the other direction:

And here is what it looks like six weeks later:

These beds begin the season with crocus and iris, then daffodils and tulips dominate, then perennials take over.  By June 1, this same site has been the location of three different and lovely views.   One more picture:



They are not blooming yet, but on the south side of buildings and houses, the tulips are already 6 inches tall.

The best thing about bulbs:  you can plant them even in areas that are shady all summer, because they do most of their photosynthesizing in early Spring before the trees leaf out.

The worst thing about bulbs: their awful, ugly, melodramatic  death throes.  We put up with the awful yellow foliage so they will return again next year.

But we don’t have to look at it.

My solution: companion planting.  Here is my favorite Darwin Hybrid Tulip, Pink Impression, underplanted with Canadian Anemone.  After the tulips are finished blooming, the anemone will hide tulip foliage.

Here is the same tulip with pulmonaria.  Ivory Floradale  is the white tulip in the background.   I’ll post some more bulb/perennials companions in the next few days.


You know that “squish” that happens when you step onto wet earth?  That is your weight, pushing all the air out, compacting the soil.

The first warm days in Spring tempt us gardeners mightily.  We want to get a head start.  Don’t.

Plant roots don’t actually grow in  dirt:  Roots can only  grow in the gaps or spaces between soil particles.  If those spaces disappear, plants can’t grow.

Do what work you can from paths, but stay out of your garden beds until the wetness is out of the soil.  (Clean up to your heart’s content in beds that are still hard-frozen.)

It is a good idea to stay off the lawn, too, for the same reason. The easiest way to have a crappy lawn is to compact the soil.

More on what to do in the spring.

Need help?  Call 262/ 248-7513.


It snowed today.  We need a fix.


Winter Pruning Oaks

March 8, 2011

I once scared the bejesus out of a man with a chain saw in his hand.  It was May 1, and he was a utility company arborist, working his way down my street, cutting off limbs from trees that overhung the road.

He was just doing his  job when a mad woman in pajamas, with a baby on her hip, ran out of a house and screamed:  “Get away from that tree! Do you call yourself an arborist?  Haven’t  you ever heard of Oak Wilt?”  He backed away.

Oaks must been pruned before March 15th to prevent picnic beetles from visiting open wounds later in the Spring and infecting the trees with Oak Wilt.  Here is the tree I rescued:

More about Oak Wilt in Wisconsin.   Do not let your local utility or your landscape contractor prune oaks  after March 15.


I will be giving a presentation at the Burlington Garden Center on  Saturday March 12 at 10am.  Come and see me if you want to talk about perennials in the shady garden.


Amsonia Hubrechtii

March 3, 2011

 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year

It seems reasonable to make the first plant profile Amsonia Hubrechtii.  Not only is it the Perennial Plant Association Plant of the Year, it is also famously dynamic. Silver blue flowers are attractive when it blooms in spring, but it is planted for its ferny foliage and fall color.




Fall Color


Virgin of the Miscanthus

March 3, 2011

We haven’t seen the sun for days, but melting snow revealed the blue lady.

And on second viewing,  I realize that this post should be named Virgin of the Pennisetum, because that grass behind her is Pennisetum alopecuroides “Piglet” and I do intend to be a stickler about details!  Too bad.  It doesn’t have as nice a ring to it.   Maybe I will move the blue lady to a Miscanthus this spring.  Maybe I will make her a regular blog feature.

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Gardening fever begins in late winter when plant and seed catalogs start to fill up the mailbox. It ends in late fall, when garden chores are done. Before winter, beds must be weeded, trees and shrubs must be watered thoroughly, and perennial gardens must be mulched. After the first frost, it is over. The final garden chore is to clean up frosted debris. The season is finished until spring.  Or is it?

The Garden in Winter

  • FORM Plants that are little noticed during the growing season may become the focal point of the winter landscape.  Silhouettes stand out now. Branching habit is obscured by summer leaves, but who hasn’t admired the rugged strength of a solitary Burr Oak standing sentinel over a frozen field?  The native Pagoda dogwood’s beautiful tiered branching adds a touch of elegance to the otherwise barren woodland border.  Conifers provide endless interest and beauty while flowering plants sleep.  Some, like the unique Nootka Cypress, are never more breathtaking than when covered in ice and snow.  Even Spruce and Pine whisper and sway in winter winds, buffering our homes and defying the bitter cold.
  • COLOR Other trees, like the River Birch, Paperbark Maple, and Amur Chokecherry sport colorful, glistening, or exfoliating bark that stands out in bright winter sunlight.  Colors and textures that are lost in the busy excess of summer provide warmth and textural interest to a winter landscape.
  • FRUIT Many trees and shrubs carry persistent berries well into the winter, adding a splash of color and attracting hungry birds and wildlife. The ‘Prairiefire’ crab-apple and red chokeberry hold their fruits the longest, and are beautiful in bloom as well.
  • SEEDS Even some apparently dead perennials keep performing through long winter months, due to beautiful seed heads.  Many ornamental grasses are classified as “four-season perennials”, standing tall and dancing in winter winds, glowing golden when backlit with the low-slung winter sun.  Try clump-forming Miscanthus or the ever-popular ‘Karl Foerster’ Feather-Reed grass for four-season screens, hedges, and beauty.  With careful planning, the winter garden has a charm that rivals any season.
  • PERENNIALS If that were not enough, some perennials flower before meteorological winter ends, reminding us that spring will soon be here.  One such is hellebore (common name Lenten Rose), a genus of plants hardy in southern Wisconsin that offer evergreen foliage and late winter bloom.  Many new hybrids of hellebore are flooding the nurseries.  They are easy to grow and reliable bloomers.
  • BULBS Most gardeners include tulips, daffodils and crocus in their gardens for spring color, but many other, lesser-known, care-free bulbs light up even the late winter landscape.  For example, winter aconite is a self-sowing groundcover that blooms a bright cheery yellow as early as February, and disappears in the garden as summer approaches.  Snowdrops, English favorites that come in innumerable subtle shades and forms, are frequently seen pushing back later winter snows.

Lets get out the mail order catalogs.