If you have been following this blog at pardonmygarden.wordpress.com, this is the last posting.  My storage reached its maximum and I have started a new blog.  Please feel free to check it out at littlebackyardworld.wordpress.com.

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Male American Goldfinch makes a brief visit to the birdbath.

Thanks for visiting these past four and a half years.  I have learned a lot and enjoyed sharing!

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Prairie verbena flowers with foliage from geranium ‘rozanne’ and alchemilla mollis lady’s mantle.

The weather is cool again this week, going down into the 40s tonight.  The garden is very green, with the trees leafing out and the grass vibrant green.

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Lilac bushes on a sunny day.  The smaller common lilac in the front grew so quickly that the branches have been bent over after the heavy rains recently, since they have such heavy flower heads.  I need to prune off the flowers in a few weeks.

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Crabapple – malus profusion.  The crabapple was late in blooming, then once the blossoms were open the weather was hot, followed by strong storms, so the blossoms only lasted a few days.  I hope we have a good batch of crabapples for the birds later.

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Blossoms of the Duke blueberry bush.

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The two fothergilla bushes are blooming now with their funky flowers.  The green leaves, which are starting to emerge, are beautiful, too.

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I don’t pay much attention to hostas, but they caught my eye this week with their fresh green leaves.  The slugs usually enjoy nibbling on them, so they don’t stay good looking that long in my garden.  They are good ground covers, though, in the shade.

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Male goldfinch sipping water at the birdbath.  I finally left my camera by the kitchen window to try to capture a goldfinch before it flew away.  These birds are so quick.  The little brown bird is typical in that I can’t really tell all the little brown birds apart.  I assume it is some kind of female sparrow, though it looks different from the female house sparrow in the bird book.  It looks sort of like the female indigo bunting in the bird book, but it could be some kind of baby or immature bird, too.  Can anyone identify this brown bird?

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Male house finch at the birdbath.  These birds love to chew on the sedum seen in the background of this picture.

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This female northern cardinal took a nice bath and then flew up to the oak tree to fluff her feathers.  Then she flew back down to the bath and splashed around again!

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Handsome male northern cardinal hunts in the grass.  There are a lot of birds poking around in the grass these days.  Dan let the grass grow long before mowing it the first time and now it is growing quickly again with all the rain.  Such a pretty bird!

There is a lot going on in the garden now, but I thought I would take a little time to mention something that I find important.  Soil is not just dirt.  It is full of life and all the creatures in the soil make up the soil food web.  It is pretty common to rototill the garden to make the soil nice and fluffy to plant in.  However, that tiller is killing a lot of the life that lives in the soil, like worms, slugs, earwigs, centipedes, pill bugs, and even smaller critters.  Since these creatures eat other life forms and are food for other creatures the web of life is disrupted, and if this is done continually then the soil gradually dies.  Then you just need a lot of synthetic fertilizer to get your plants to grow.

I know there are different opinions on this, and a lot of great gardeners till their gardens each year.  I just think there is a healthier way that seems to work, though I admit I still have a lot to learn about soil.

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Collards planted a few weeks ago are growing strong.  I just dig a hole and amend the soil a little in the hole.  The soil is dark and has plenty of worms.

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I put up a lot of big tomato cages for my two little tomato plants.  Once some of these plants start growing they can get aggressive and will take as much room as you give them.  I should be able to eat from these red and green romaine lettuce plants in a few days.  Plants that will be in this area and a little beyond the picture are tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, cucumbers, turnips, eggplant, brussel sprouts, mint, and green beans.  A bunch of other vegetables are in other areas…  Once the seeds sprout and everything is growing I will put down some more mulch.

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This book, I checked out from the library, explains no-till gardening among other good garden practices.

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Pak choy flowers and a pollinator.

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I noticed the rhubarb was flowering again this week.  I cut back all the flower stalks.  The article I was reading said that if you keep cutting them back the plant will eventually go back to focusing on growing leaves instead of flowers.  I am hoping that is also true for my vegetables that made it through the winter but are flowering now.  Last summer the kale flowered all summer, but it also grew a lot of leaves that we ate until December.

I made my first batch of rhubarb sauce yesterday!

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I just finished listening to this audiobook, A County Year.  I did not want it to end.  It describes a bee keeper who lives in the Ozarks and what happens to her over the course of a year.

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We have a guard robin, instead of a guard dog!  Lots of bugs these days for this bird!

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One morning I threw part of a bucket of water on my strawberries and I saw the snake scurry off.  I don’t think snakes like strawberries, but they may keep my patch more free of pests like slugs.

It is almost berry time!

Yellow Show

May 7, 2014

It is 80 degrees fahrenheit today!  My tomato and pepper plants arrived in the mail and I put them in the ground.  There seems to be a number of yellow things in the garden that I thought I might group together.

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Mammoth yellow quill chrysanthemum.  I got three of these plants in the mail this spring and they are starting to bloom.  I wonder if they will bloom again in the fall.

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Dandelion.  I hate to admit that it was not hard to find one to photograph!

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There are a lot of strawberry blossoms now.  You can see the green strawberry starting to form in the center of the flower.

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American plum blossom.  This is not really yellow, but I had to point out that there is only one blossom on my two trees.  Last year there were about 10 blossoms.  I wonder why.

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We still have a number of yellow and white daffodils around the yard.  I think this one only gets partial sun, so it opened later.

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I put together a container over the weekend.  The big plant in the middle is a cornflower.  It was taking over the flower bed, so I took it out and stuck it in this planter.  I also put in some marigolds, purple petunias, and a little goldenrod. In the back left the wonderful agastache is starting to come back.

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Goldfinch.  I think this is a male goldfinch.  The picture is not so great, but he was singing his heart out when I zoomed in for this shot.

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Speaking of birds, we have a number of cow birds in the area.  Here is the male.  The female is harder to get a good picture of.  They lay their eggs in songbirds’ nest and the songbird ends up feeding the baby bird for them, often to the harm of her own chicks.

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I noticed the yellow on this bird’s throat, but I don’t know what kind of bird it is.  Can anyone identify this bird? Dan was shooting bird pictures from the kitchen.

I have trouble focusing on just one thing in the garden.  This is an important time to be planting early spring vegetables and thinking about producing food, but I am also keeping my eye on the beauty of the flowers and taking a little time to clean them up and weed around the beds.  I love seeing the trees and shrubs starting to leaf out and bloom.  Even the lawn must be attended to a little.  In all the activity I am always watching birds and even what is crawling in the compost pile.  Like I said, I have trouble focusing and specializing.  I just dabble in whatever interests me at the moment.

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Serviceberry amelanchier laevis.  This native serviceberry is blooming now with a promise of sweet berries in June.  It grew so much this past year that I am guessing it is eight feet tall now and is solidly established after a slow start.

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Another native shrub – spicebush lindera benzoin.  It looks like this shrub could use some pruning, but the tiny yellow flowers are just starting to bloom.  There are no berries here, but it is a host plant for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly.  Actually, I think I might get berries if I had a second spicebush for cross-pollination.  You can see the serviceberry bush in the background.

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I spent quite a while yesterday morning cleaning up four strawberry patches I have around the garden.  First I cleaned out dead leaves and pulled up runners.  I moved some of the smaller plants to new locations.  I put down compost between the plants and watered it in then laid down straw from my ornamental grasses between the plants.  That keeps the strawberries off the ground and there are less problems with pests and diseases.  Can’t wait!

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Time to eat these onions.  This weekend I planted more onion bulbs, red potatoes, and seeds for peas, kale, pak choi, turnips, and lettuce.  I am also trying spinach again, which I have never had much success with.  These plants all do well in cool weather.  There never seems to be enough room for all the vegetables I want to plant, so I mix them in with the flowers or pull up more grass to plant more food.

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A project for the weekend was putting in two poles for laundry.  Previously we only had one laundry line.  Thanks Dan!!  The green side of me likes to limit my use of the gas dryer whenever possible.  In the background you can see the red leaves of the crabapple.  In the foreground the common lilac is getting ready to bloom.  On the left are the strawberries.  The yellow daffodils are still looking good, but starting to wind down in some areas.

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This is one of the later daffodils with white petals and a yellow trumpet.

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Another late daffodil with a peach colored trumpet.  I am glad to see these flowers multiplying each year.

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I started to turn the compost pile yesterday, but realized that the shovel I was using was likely to slice a lot of worms in half and kill other critters in the pile, so I went and got this pitchfork.  It is called a 5-tine manure fork.  Now I really feel like a farmer!  I need to finish turning the pile.  Parts of the pile were steaming but other parts seemed a little slimy, so it needs some oxygen.  We have gotten a lot of leaves blowing in from the neighbor’s yards this year, while I appreciated and added to the pile.

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I disturbed a nice worm while cleaning up the oregano patch.  The worms improve the structure of the soil and eat organic material like bits of dead leaves, then poop out worm castings, which are great fertilizer.

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Wild violets are blooming in the lawn and here among the ground cover plants.  Such a delicate design!  I am not sure what I will do to improve the front lawn this year.  I would like a nice organic lawn service to make it look good!  The back lawn, which I do not worry much about, is full of creeping charlie, my least favorite plant.

Notice:  At some point this blog will run out of storage space.  At that point I am thinking of starting a new blog that will refer back to this blog.  I guess I will do this when I have to and I am not sure when that will be.  I don’t feel like paying for the additional storage space indefinitely.

From Snow To A Snake

April 20, 2014

Happy Easter everyone!  It is a beautiful day here in Northern Illinois!  A great day to kick back, get out the lawn chair and take a nap in the sun…

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The garden this time of year is bright yellow with daffodils and everything is starting to green up.  The dragon’s blood sedum is red this time of year and the red leaves of the ‘profusion’ crab apple are opening up.  The bumble bees and butterflies are visiting.

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But when we woke up last Tuesday morning, April 15th, this is what it looked like.  The snow did not last long though, and soon we were back to the green color.  I think I have put the plastic hoop away for good now…

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Yesterday was a beautiful day and I planted some collards, along with some other plants.  This robin kept track of me and followed me around looking in holes I dug.  It may be a little early to plant, but collards are pretty hardy and they were very cheap, so why not! The green onions are ready to eat.

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I divided my chives and put half under my American plum trees, which are just starting to leaf out.   I also planted a hellebore under these little trees.  Here is my theory.  Last year the plums were attacked by a lot of little bugs.  If I put some smelly plants and more variety below these shrubs and leave the lawn a little high while the trees are blossoming then the bugs will get more confused or have more places to explore.  The predators will also have more places to hide out.  Basically, biodiversity to solve the gardens problems.

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I got my daughter outside to enjoy the day and she snapped a picture of me planting some mums.  It was a hot day, but I was covered up, afraid of sunburn, since I was out many hours.  You can see that the hicksii yew shrubs got a little burnt over the winter.  Luckily it was not too bad.

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After trimming some old overgrown thyme I noticed a snake moving and went to get my camera.

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Here is a close up of the head.  My daughter and I guessed it was between 12 and 15 inches long.

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Here you can see the skin pattern a little.  Looking on Google I am guessing that this is a DeKay’s brown snake.  Any snake experts want to tell me if I am on track or not?  They apparently spend a lot of time underground and eat earthworms and slugs.  We have plenty of both of those.  I enjoyed seeing this little guy and glad he has a home in my yard.

Previous postings:  I noticed that when people first visit my blog they often open the link for “Purchase Pre-Planned Garden,” which I posted many years ago.  I wanted to say that only about half of the plants I ordered in that package garden lasted past the first year.  The lavender, sea holly, and the yellow butterfly weed did not survive.  I substituted with other plants.

Food – We are eating several cups of baby kale and greens every day from the plants that made it through the winter.

Spring Cleaning

April 13, 2014

Yesterday was a beautiful day and I finally got out to start some clean up in the garden.  With the long winter I have had extra time for reading and have enjoyed a number of inspirational books.

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Will Allen received a MacArthur genius grant and I was fascinated by reading The Good Food Revolution.  He encourages me to keep trying new things.  I have had the plastic off the hoop for a few weeks now.  The kale of is coming along well.  I have lettuce planted and it is slowly coming.  Yesterday I went to a horse stable and filled my trunk with six big buckets of composted horse manure.  I was excited that there seemed to be a lot of worms in it.  I spread most of it on the vegetable garden and strawberry patches and put a bucket of it directly into the compost file, to help that process.  It was free, so I might go get some more if I find the time….

Garden 04 13 14 015Praying mantis egg sac on spice bush.  While cleaning up yesterday I saw two of these egg sacs on shrubs and four more on the miscanthus grass I chopped down.  I just take the sacs that are in the ornamental grass and prop them up in the crook of some branches until they hatch.

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While cleaning up I got distracted and started pruning the serviceberry bush and the lilac bush, just where the branches were crossing unhelpfully.  I brought in some of the branches to cheer up the kitchen.  I was hoping the serviceberry blossoms would not completely open before the frost tomorrow.

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When I came home on Monday, April 7th, there was a box of mail order plants that had arrived.  I was really not in the mood, as it was still cold.  But I bought some soil and potted them up in the garage.  Later in the week I started to put them out to harden them up.  Maybe I will plant them next week.  The big pot in the middle is goldenrod ‘fireworks’ that I pulled out of the ground yesterday, as it had gotten too big for its space.  I kept it in case I find a place to put a little of it somewhere.

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This morning I moved the Gilbertson bluebird house to a new location.  The sparrows had been ignoring it previously, but were suddenly all very interested.  This house sparrow couple claimed the house right away and the male chased away other males.  I have heard that the hole is really kind of small for sparrows, so we will see if they abandon it soon.  I am not very hopeful about getting bluebirds, but still, I will give it another try.

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Female house sparrow in birdbath with daffodils.  These non-native birds are everywhere and seem to live in the neighbors’ evergreen trees.

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Robin in birdbath.  Dan has been taking bird pictures again.  He captured cardinals, doves, sparrows and robins.  I have not seen many migrating birds this year.  I saw a robin gathering nesting material this morning.  He seemed to be carrying it to the evergreen tree next door.  I think the robin might have benefited from a few of the worms in the manure yesterday!

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These hen and chicks are not real birds!  They made it through another winter under the snow.

Spring Bulbs

April 13, 2014

The crocuses were blooming a week ago and I am finally getting pictures posted to have a record of how late they were this year.  Spring is definitely here, though freezing weather and possibly some stray snow has been forecast for tomorrow, so it is a little early for planting.  The birds are building nests and things are greening up.

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One of my favorite flowers in the garden is this white daffodil, which opened yesterday.  It is ready for the first bees.  Yesterday I was cutting back ornamental grasses and a big bee surprised me by flying out of the center of the grass stalks.  Did I wake it up…?

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Another white flower is this white crocus.  This is one of the earlier snow crocuses, I think.

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By the time I wandered back into the garden this spring these tiny snow crocuses were pretty much finished blooming.

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This later purple crocus seems more substantial.  I love the design on the petals.

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Yellow crocuses come up through dragon’s blood sedum.

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From the kitchen I can see the mini daffodils that have opened this week, cheering up a drab landscape.  Soon the viburnum bushes will make that area very shady, but this time of year it gets full sun.

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Here is a close up of these cute little daffodils.

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The standard daffodils are opening up around the yard, too.

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Anemone.  Yesterday as I was cleaning up I noticed some leaves that I did not recognize.  Later I saw this cute flower above some of the same leaves and remembered that I planted some mixed color anemones last fall.  So far only the blue ones have bloomed. They are very tiny but a welcome addition to the garden.

Last week we took a short trip to Florida.  On a day that forecast some rain we headed with our umbrellas to the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples, Florida.  It is a little north of the Everglades and it was just a fascinating morning.  Everywhere we turned we saw a captivating bit of natural wonder.  In fact our admission fee was good for two days, so we returned the next morning and saw more birds.

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I believe this is a Prothonotary Warbler.  Dan took this picture of a migrating bird that the Audubon guide told us had just come to the swamp two days earlier.

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The first day a guide along the walkway stopped us to point out this barred owl.  We were also able to located two quite large babies in two nearby locations.  The mother was keeping track of them and maybe taking a few daytime naps, too.

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The next day we saw two different barred owl babies that were still way up in a bald cypress tree.  You can see the face of one and some feathers below of the second owl.

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Landmark Cypress 8.  There were 12 landmark cypress trees, each with a little story about their backgrounds printed nearby.  Many of these trees are 400 to 500 years old.  Think about that!  The vines surrounding the tree trunk are strangler figs.  The owls seemed to make nests high up in bald cypress trees.

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We saw this Anhinga on the same branch both days.  It apparently spreads its wings to dry them out.

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Great Egret.  These birds were almost killed to extinction for the plumes used to decorate women’s hats.  The Audubon Society was created to stop this slaughter.  These birds are still threatened by agriculture and development, which has been taking away their habitat.

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Lettuce Lake at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.  Birds, alligators, and turtles are among the residents of this pond in the bald cypress swamp.

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A little blue heron hunts on lettuce lake.  It was walking on top of this “lettuce.”

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We got many nice pictures of this little blue heron, but I like this one where you can see the plumes fluffed up.

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Nearby was an immature little blue heron, which still had its white coloring.  I was so thankful for the Audubon guide who quickly identified the pictures on my camera, or I would have been confused by this one.

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While a group of us had stopped to look at the Anhinga, an alligator emerged from the swamp and everyone became silent as they observed this creature we had all been hoping to see.

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Florida Redbelly Turtle at Lettuce Lake.

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Gray Catbird.  I had a distant picture of a catbird in the cypress trees, but after we finished our walk this bird came up to our table hoping for some crumbs.

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Red-shouldered Hawk.  On our second visit to corkscrew swamp sanctuary this hawk let us take several pictures while he kept an eye on us.

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Red-shouldered Hawk.

Other sightings included:  a blue-gray gnatcatcher, a great-crested flycatcher, a black-crowned night heron, many white ibis, black vultures, zebra longwing butterflies, and what appeared to be an eastern mud snake.

From the Ground Up

March 23, 2014

It was cold today with a few snow flakes that did not stick to the ground.  There are daffodils, crocuses, and irises coming up in the garden, but the ground is mushy with the thawing and freezing so I did not want to venture out.  It has been a good year for reading garden books inside!

From the Ground UpI heard that Jeanne Nolan was speaking at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, so I thought I would check to see if she had a book in the library.  Sure enough, she did and I checked it out.

Jeanne left home as a teenager to live on an organic farm which was a commune.  This community had some cult like tendencies, and so she eventually left and came back to Chicago.  The skills she learned on the farm helped her later to start her own business in organic gardening in an urban setting.

I also was part of a community in my younger years that had some cult like tendencies, which caused me to move on, although my experience was very different from hers.  It was interesting to read how she went through a time of healing and then found her place as a contributing member of society.

My job changes have not led me to gardening full-time, but I still enjoyed reading what she is doing in Chicagoland and had a yearning to be part of the movement to bring organic food gardening to the suburbs and the city in some small way. Plant food!!