What A Cool Spring!

Geese Family Welcomes Spring

Geese Family Welcomes Spring

What a cool spring! Weather now fascinates me. Did you ever see the Saturday Night Live skit She Turned Into Her Mother? Summary: In a horror movie spoof, a man (Tom Hanks) watches idly as his wife (Julia Sweeney) makes the full transformation into her mother. That’s now me. Here’s how it happened. I used to travel all the time, my mother would watch the weather channel alerting me to weather perils and appropriate garb to pack. And yes, she watched Murder She Wrote, with Angela Lansbury. One time when she was visiting me in Texas she was booked on a flight back to Chicago that had a connection on the eastern seaboard.

Gander | Goose | Spring Goslings
Gander | Goose | Spring Goslings
Mr. Gander protests as he chased me and gave me a good pinch as I walked away for getting too close to his family 😉

On the sound advice of the weather channel she said to me “the worst snow storm is predicted to hit the eastern seaboard today” and perhaps I should change my flight.” I scoffed and said, “Mother that’s absurd, no one changes their flight based on the weather channel.” We arrived at DFW and practically all the other carriers had cancelled flights heading into the east coast except her carrier and frankly the ticket agent seemed a little worried. I put her on the plane trusting the airlines to make the best decision about cancelling the flight. Later that day she was on the evening news. Her plane skidded off the runway due to icy conditions. She had to slide down the inflatable emergency exit! No one was able to find her for the entire week-end due to the fact that all communications were down for the entire week-end! Can you imagine the hilarity and her vindication of seeing that skit on SNL the first time?

Now it appears I have turned into my mother,

Tots Ready for A Storm
Tots Ready for A Storm


I watch the weather channel and call my kids and tell them to put helmets on the grand-babies and get in the inside room with no windows when there are tornado warnings in Texas. It seems I share a weather fascination with lots of folks. If you love to dig deep into weather charts, graphs and studies visit Jack Falker, The Minnesota Rose Gardener’s site. He talks about  all sorts of weather trends here.


Tot Tornado Preparedness
Tot Tornado Preparedness

It seems based on weather channel predictions my plant hardiness zone 6b will be a longer, cooler spring due to the polar vortex dipping and lingering lower within the Northern Hemisphere. The Doppler radar then showed a beautiful blue polar dip including my zone. So be it. Remember, my mother, the general’s proclamation upon leaving west Texas for Northern Illinois, “its easier to get warm than to cool off.”
After the last few droughts and a couple of summers that I lost count of days over 100 and without rain in Texas I discovered I just may be a natural born Yankee. There I’ve said it. I like cool weather better than hot weather. What a cool spring!



Bonica, Shrub | This is Bonica when I first planted it in my Texas rose garden outside the bay window.
Bonica, Shrub | This is Bonica when I first planted it in my Texas rose garden outside the bay window. That’s a Strawberry Marguerita I have in my hand for the Wine & Rose Tour of the day

Also I was reminded that the first rose that bloomed in Texas was on St. Patrick’s Day and it was always Bonica. Sometimes we might have to wait as late as Father’s Day for the first rose to bloom in Northern Illinois.  

Bonica, Shrub rose always the first to bloom in the spring
Bonica, Shrub rose always the first to bloom in the spring in my Texas rose garden

Rose Pruning Primer: A Guide To Pruning Roses

Floribunda Rose Garden
Floribunda Rose Garden
Gaga’s Floribunda Country Rose Garden

 Pruning post traumatic stress disorder (PPTSD) Remembered

Kids do say the darnedest things.” Traveling South on the N. Dallas Tollway,  5 year old Ella said, “Gaga, I’ve been thinking ’bout goin’ to church but my parents don’t even know what day it is.” “Gabi always knows what day it is because she’s as smart as a penguin learning to swim on their own, and you’re as smart as a flower learning to bloom Gaga and I love you that much, but my parents, they don’t ever even know what day it is!” The implication was now that I was visiting maybe we could figure out what day was Sunday and go to church.

Gaga and Ella
Kids Do Say The Darndest Things

Already ‘they,’ those pesky parents, had been outed, when she had dressed in her black velvet Christmas dress for bed to match my Ralph Lauren cotton sleep shirt. I told her she might get too warm sleeping in her black velvet Christmas dress even if we did match so she had stripped down and started to look for something else to wear.

Gabi is Smart: She Knows the Days of the Week
Gabi is Smart: She Knows the Days of the Week



As I looked for something cooler she said  “I am so sad, ’bout the laundry, my Mom …(said in a tone of absolution for Mom because of course she had a baby) she had a baby now my parents aren’t interested in doing the laundry and I told my Dad he has a job to do! But he isn’t interested.

Canadian Honker in Flight
Canadian Honker Flying North for the Summer and Other Signs of Spring Will Be Here Soon










Heritage Garden Viola Pyramids, Guest Post by Tom Soulsby, Senior Horticulturist Chicago Botanic Garden

Finished-Pansy-Pyramids by Tom Soulsbey


Chicago Botanic Gardens October 2, 2013
Chicago Botanic Gardens October 2, 2013

The Chicago Botanic Garden is a treasure along the the north shore of Lake Michigan. For my visit to talk with Senior Horticulturist, Tom Soulsby about the Krasberg Rose Garden the weather was a perfect 72 degrees and the sun had taken on the quality that you see only in the fall; longer shadows and winds beginning to whisper in the few leaves that have begun to meander their way to the forest bed. Upon entry to the garden one of the first flower displays you see is a pyramid of electrifying color. Within 5 minutes of talking with Tom he explained creating the Viola Pyramids and great designs like it are his first love. He also explained that he had written a post all about building the Viola Pyramid on his blog. I asked Tom if he would be willing to share the amazing story of how to create such a wonderment on this Web site.This is a re-post of how Tom Soulsby and his team at The Chicago Botanic Gardens built the Viola Pyramids. I want to thank Julie McCaffrey, publicist at The Chicago Botanic Gardens for all of her assistance as well. ~Susan Fox

A 500-hour behind-the-scenes look at the Viola Pyramid 2013 fall display
by Tom Soulsby

Pansy for Pyramids
Pansy for the Pyramid

My summer intern, Melanie Jensen (now a senior studying horticulture at Southern Illinois University), has always wondered how botanic gardens put together their impressive seasonal displays. In fact, she was so intrigued by them that she did her final presentation—a graduation requirement for the Garden’s horticulture internship program—on the complexities and challenges of preparing these displays.


To say the work is complex and challenging is almost an understatement. Sometimes our work here seems like magic. Overnight, the Garden can transform from spring to summer or summer to fall. Yesterday there were spring troughs, summer palm trees, or fall mum towers in the Garden. Today, there is something completely different. Yes, it does seem like it happens just like that, perhaps with the snap of a finger. But behind the scenes, for months or even years before most visitors get to see a display, a team is already hard at work making it happen.

Finished-Pansy-Pyramids by Tom Soulsbey
Finished-Pansy-Pyramids by Tom Soulsby

Melanie and more than 50 other staff and volunteers had a front row seat this summer to help me create this fall’s signature display in the Heritage Garden—the Viola pyramids, which are now on display. The pyramids themselves are really just a set of simple flowers presented in a very unique way. The story could end right there, but what I think makes this display fascinating to people like me and Melanie (and hopefully to you, too) is the astonishing amount of work it takes to get the pyramids from concept to finished product.

The Garden began working on this project more than a year ago, when outdoor floriculturist Tim Pollak and I were brainstorming on how we could use the pyramids in another display. Last used about five years ago, the pyramids have traditionally been used as a summer display component, planted with two cultivars of Alternanthera. Pressed to take a fresh approach to the pyramids, we settled on the idea that they would make a great fall display. We considered using mums (too fragile, and many growing challenges) and Verbena (not frost-tolerant enough for fall), and concluded that Viola were our best option. Others agreed.

Saying we are creating Viola pyramids is the easy part. Actually doing it is a completely different story, and it’s a testament to great project planning and teamwork at the Garden.

Here’s what it took:

1. Our production team grew 6,400 Viola plants, half orange and half purple, so they were ready for planting into the pyramid structure by early August. The pyramids are 9 feet wide at the base, and 10 feet tall at the apex. Panels lined with landscape fabric

Panels lined with landscape fabric

2. In the meantime, Melanie and I led the team to prepare the pyramid frames. Working in the nursery, our first step was to attach landscape fabric to the front face of the pyramids using hundreds of zip ties. Landscape fabric helps hold the soil and the plants in the frame. We had to be very careful that the fabric covered every nook and cranny of the frame. If not, soil would leak from the frame, and it would undermine the integrity of the entire planting space. Filling the panels with custom-blended planting media

Filling the panels with custon blended planting media

3. Next we custom-blended special planting media, using lightweight potting soil and perlite. The pyramids retain water differently at their tops versus their bottoms, so we changed the composition of the media throughout the frame to accommodate this variance. Near the top of the pyramid we used a heavier, more water-retentive blend of about 70 percent soil and 30 percent perlite. At the bottom, where there is a risk that the pyramid could become waterlogged, we created a lightweight mix that was about 30 percent soil and 70 percent perlite. You can see in the picture how the soil/perlite composition changes from top to bottom. Soaker hoses weave throughout the frame

panel with hose

4. Most of the time we will water the pyramids with a hose and water nozzle, but sometimes we need to give them a deeper soaking, especially on hot and sunny days. To help with that, we weaved soaker hoses throughout the frame so that we could water from the inside out.

Intern Melanie Jensen prepping the panels

Intern Melanie Jensen prepping the panels

5. To make the pyramids lighter (each individual panel weighs about 500 pounds—meaning each pyramid weighs 2,000 pounds), and to reduce the amount of soil and perlite needed, we stuffed sheets of foam insulation into the bottom of the frame. A mesh screen secured all of these materials inside the frame.

Deadheading the viola panels

Deadheading the Viola panels

6. Time to plant! We cut tiny holes into the landscape fabric and inserted a Viola plant. As we planted, we also pinched and deadheaded each and every Viola. During the critical first few weeks of growing in the pyramids, the Viola plants need to spend their energy developing roots and spreading foliage to cover the entire frame, rather than producing flowers. Removing all of the flowers is a hard thing to swallow, but it’s really for the best long-term interest of the display.

(Incidentally, the cut flowers were put to good use, donated to our Roadside Flower Sale team. Pressed flowers are sold at their annual sale, with proceeds supporting Garden initiatives, including generous funding for the horticulture department.)

PHOTO: Giant planted triangles of blooming violas in the nursery.

The Violas doing what they do best: blooming again

7. The original plan was to leave the Viola plants simply to grow as-is under the care of our great production team until they were display-ready in mid-September. However, Mother Nature had other plans. The weather caused the Viola to grow faster than expected, and by late August it became clear that we would need to do another round of deadheading. Staff and volunteers again converged in the nursery for two days of meticulous work removing every flower head and seedpod from the display. It was a lot of work, and a little disconcerting to again make a beautifully colorful pyramid all green and flowerless, but it was an important task so the Viola could flower prolifically later into the season.

PHOTO: A team of 12 people (and a forklift driver) place a panel in the Heritage Garden.

Lifting a panel into place in the Heritage Garden

8. Time to move to the Heritage Garden! It took 15 strong groundskeepers, some extra machinery and ropes, a lot of creative thinking, and 1½ days of hard work to move the pyramids from the Nursery to the Heritage Garden. Come by and take a look!

I often like to break down the numbers for a project, because it articulates the scope of work in a way that words cannot. So, here are some numbers for this project: Over one year of planning, more than 50 people involved, 6,400 plants used, and more than 500 hours of labor to get the job done. Yes, 500 hours!

It seems like a lot of work—and it is—but I hope that everyone who sees the display takes away something uniquely personal to them. Perhaps it sparks your creativity on how to use simple plants in unique ways. Maybe seeing something new and special triggers your passion for plants and horticulture, either as a hobby or as a career. Sometimes the display will draw your attention to a part of the Garden that you never explored before now. Or maybe you like it just because it looks pretty cool. It’s even O.K. if this display just isn’t your thing: artistic choices are very personal. Whatever your take-away is, however, my hope is that we can use this display and others like it to engage you in a conversation about plants and to help you connect to the Garden in an exciting new way. That makes 500 hours of work worth it for me.


Tom Soulsby, senior horticulturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden
Tom Soulsby, senior horticulturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Tom Soulsby is a senior horticulturist at the Chicago Botanic Garden and is directly responsible for the Krasberg Rose and Heritage Gardens, as well as the Linden Allee. He also supervises several other Garden areas. Tom also performs landscape and design work for private businesses and residences throughout the Chicago area. Prior to pursuing his lifelong passion and sharing his love for gardening with others, Tom was a successful business professional with nearly 20 years of corporate and small business experience. Tom holds a B.S. in Business Management and Administration from Bradley University. He is also a graduate of the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden, where he received his formal horticulture education.



Roses In The Summertime

Love Song, A Floribunda Rose in Gagas Garden Summertime 2013
Love Song, A Floribunda Rose in Gagas Garden Summertime 2013
Love Song, A Floribunda Rose in Gaga’s Garden Summertime 2013

Summertime and the livin’ is easy.

The Illinois skies filled with billowy ivory clouds against a crystalline blue rival the big skies of Texas that enthralled Georgia O’Keeffe and me.

Dragon Clouds Over Lake Shelbyville, Illinois
Dragon Cloud Over Lake Shelbyville, Illinois

I cannot remember a more beautiful summer. Temperatures during the day have been a perfect 72 degrees. All things being relative compared to last year’s drought we are at opposite ends of the spectrum for weather conditions.

Veggie Garden Harvest & Raccoon
Veggie Garden Harvest & Raccoon

The corn in the fields is tasseling and looks to be 10 feet tall. Y’all can rest easy; I read that an area the size of the entire State of California has been planted in corn in this nation. That is not an official report. That is your Consulting Rosarians report that lives in the middle of corn country planting rose gardens. And of course, one high yield vegetable garden.


Dick Clark, A Grandiflora Rose
Dick Clark, a Grandiflora Rose in Gaga’s Garden, Summertime 2013


Roses create a tapestry of color in the garden that changes everyday.

A single flower from bud form to a full-blown rose is its own palette of color. Each day a new painting is revealed in the rose garden. Cooler temperatures preserve the color of each rose bud and slow the unfurling of the flower. As the process of the opening of the flower slows, you are able to enjoy the shades as if in slow motion. Imagine this, your rose garden is a canvas in which the painter is sculpting and painting every moment.

 Summer Rose Garden Bistro

Splashes of color just mysteriously appear and disappear.

Some days, based on a mood of the invisible hand, hot and temperamental its as if the paint is washed over the garden. On a day that is cool and temperate the painter thoughtfully applies the paint meticulously leaving each detail a study of shades every minute of the day. A cool day in the garden is a study of color. Here are some pictures of summertime rose garden pictures when the livin’ is easy.