November 14, 2017

I Am a Trailtessa

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Occasionally, I stray from the plant-specific tagline of this blog to share an experience that ties closely with that theme. Earlier this autumn, on a late-September day that felt more like high summer, a friend and I participated in a hiking event with Wisconsin women of all ages--from young children to seniors.

As defined by the Ice Age Trail Alliance (IATA), we were/are all "Trailtessas."

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A Trailtessa is: "a woman or a girl who gets out on the Ice Age National Scenic Trail to experience adventure, freedom, and a new way to be." The IATA has put together a creative, impressive collection of opportunities for Trailtessas in the months ahead.

For those unfamiliar with the Ice Age Trail, it's a thousand-mile footpath winding through some of Wisconsin's most beautiful natural areas. The trail follows the outline of unique landscape features left behind as the last major glacier retreated from this area, more than 12,000 years ago. The trail is entirely within Wisconsin, and is one of 11 U.S. National Scenic Trails. I've been an IATA member for several years now: It's a worthy cause and a national treasure!

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At the September event, the IATA offered information, resources, and even a few "freebies" as part of our minimal registration fee. We had to "work" for our reward, though. The event offered three trail options--from a short loop to a 2.9-mile hike. Most of us chose the latter. It was a hot day with temperatures in the 90s, and the trail looped up and down some moderate hills. But we persevered.

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The reward: a lovely farm-to-table meal prepared by an excellent, local sous chef and her team. The outdoor venue was lovely, complete with 360-degree views of restored prairie and Oak savanna landscapes.

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Our sponsors were generous!

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Our chef was Jamie Hoang, of Sujeo restaurant in Madison. Yum, the food was excellent!

It was such a positive experience--to hike, dine, converse, and experience with other Trailtessas such a beautiful segment of the Ice Age Trail. And as the event wound down, we witnessed the colorful glow of a stunning sunset on the landscapes all around us.

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I look forward to participating in more Trailtessa events in the months ahead.

November 06, 2017

The Last Vases of the Season

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The growing season is done here in Southern Wisconsin. This will be the last "vase" post of 2017 with flowers from my own garden. Not bad, I must admit, for November in this climate.

I'm actually surprised I found any blooms after several frosts and freezes. But I grabbed some colored bud vases, and filled them with single stems of Sedum (S. spectabile 'Autumn Joy'), Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), Marigold (Tagetes erecta), and Fuchsia 'Marinka.'

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Certainly not perfection, but a simple ode to the last flowers of the growing season.

Thanks to Cathy for hosting "In a Vase on Monday." Head on over to her blog, Rambling in the Garden, for more vase ideas.

October 30, 2017

Three Reasons to Celebrate

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It's Halloween time, and this blog is seven years old this month!

Cathy at Rambling in the Garden hosts the meme, In a Vase on Monday, so ... three reasons to celebrate!

My "vase" is a hollowed-out pumpkin filled with floral foam. In the arrangement:

  • Hydrangea foliage (H. macrophylla 'Nikko Blue');
  • Northern Sea Oats stems and seeds (Chasmanthium latifolium);
  • Tropical Milkweed tall stems, buds, and blooms (Asclepias curassavica); and
  • Zinnia blooms (Z. elegans 'Zowie! Yellow Flame' and 'State Fair Mix').

Thanks for hosting, Cathy! Thanks to all of you for your continued support and camaraderie during the past seven years!

And Happy Halloween! (Be safe out there!)

October 24, 2017

Hiking the Lower Yahara River Trail

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There's a new trail in town and I like it. It includes the longest inland boardwalk bridge constructed solely for non-motorized transportation in North America!

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The Lower Yahara River Trail links my community, McFarland, with a trail system that links and loops around the greater Madison area, in a series of other trails.

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I've highlighted the newest sections of the trail in green on this map. As you can see, it transverses a narrow strip of land between Upper Mud Lake and Lake Waubesa. In the past, we'd need to travel much farther, and through heavy traffic, to get to the parks across the lake. This new trail provides an easy, pleasant hike and access to the prairies and parks on the other side.

It's also open to bikers, joggers, and skaters. I realized later that I should have included more pictures of people in this post, because the trail was busy both times I've hiked it. The photos shown here were taken on two dates--during a dry, hot day in September and a recent warm, lush day in October.

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Some trees had already lost their leaves in September because of a mini-drought with several days in the 90sF/30sC.

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It was still pleasant on the dry, hot day, in spite of the difficult growing conditions.

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But much more pleasant and peaceful after sufficient rain.

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The trail parallels a long-established stretch of railroad.

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Sections along the way provide bike racks and plenty of room for people to pause, park, and enjoy the scenery.

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The clouds, the lake, and the shadows are mesmerizing.

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Looking across to the railroad bridge, this is the point along the trail where Upper Mud Lake connects with Lake Waubesa. It's a popular fishing and boating spot.

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Beyond the boardwalk, the trail connects with a particular area of Lake Farm County Park I'd never seen before--an area I'm planning to explore more fully next spring and summer. It's a beautiful loop of trails through prairie and woodland-opening habitat.

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During my October hike, I saw several Common Buckeye butterflies.

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Most of the forbs and grasses were dried up because of the September drought, but the framing of the colorful fall foliage made for pretty contrasts.

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A few Brown-Eyed Susans (R. triloba) and Thistles (Cirsium spp.) were among the scant plants still blooming in October.

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After exploring the prairie and the woodland for a bit, I headed back to the boardwalk, with similar lovely views on the return trip.

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A few people were fishing.

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Others were kiteboarding/surfing on the lake.

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A beautiful red-tailed hawk swooped down over the lake, across the boardwalk, and into a tree in my sight line. It paused long enough for me to capture a few candids. Such a regal bird!

It's wonderful to have a new trail to explore so close to home. This new area is within easy walking/biking distance of home, and it opens up new paths of discovery. Enjoy this video, showing aerial and surface views of the trail:

October 15, 2017

New Blooms in October

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I'm sneaking in with this post for October's Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Many of the plants that were blooming in September continue now, since we haven't had a frost yet.

Since time is short, however, I'm sharing only a few flowering plants--six that are new to my garden this year. The purple Allium (A. thunbergii) 'Ozawa' shown in the first photo above is blooming under the dappled shade of the old Oaks.

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Borage (Borago officinalis) is yielding more pretty periwinkle flowers now than it did earlier in the season.

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They make pretty toppers for our salads.

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Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias currassavica), grown from seed, continues to put out buds and blooms. I doubt the seedheads will have enough time to mature before the first freeze, although it could be a couple of weeks yet.

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The Dahlia 'Figaro Yellow Shades' I planted in several pots are still vibrant. I'm contemplating whether to dig out the tubers to save for next year.

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The combination of Petunia 'Vista Bubblegum' paired with Sedum 'Lemon Coral' in a hanging basket makes me smile every time I see it. These were gifts from Proven Winners at the August Garden Writers Conference in Buffalo, N.Y.

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Zinnia (Z. elegans) 'Zahara Sunburst' is a short (about 12 inches) beauty in the front border of the potager. I'll probably harvest some of the seeds for next year's garden, along with seeds from other Zinnia cultivars.

That's all for now. For more October blooms, head on over to Carol's May Dream Gardens for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

October 13, 2017

Horticultural Highlights in Chicago

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Back in August, a group of Midwest bloggers and gardeners met in the Windy City to tour several gardening and nature sites. The event was hosted by Jason and Judy, bloggers at Garden in a City.

Our first stop was the incredible Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. Wow, I knew it would be impressive, but words and photos are inadequate! After all our family trips to Chicago and the suburbs, I'm embarrassed it took this long to see Lurie Garden.

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It was a joy to see such a rich tapestry of colorful forbs, including many native plants, framing the architecture of Chicago's skyline.

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The light was fabulous, and many native wildflowers, like Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), were still in bloom.

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Lurie, designed by a team of notable horticulturists and landscapers, including plantsman Piet Oudolf, is all about waves of plants. Here: Autumn Moor Grass (Sesleria autumnalis) partnered with Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum) and Threadleaf Bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii).

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I enjoyed this eye-catching pairing of Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) with Purple Love Grass (Eragrostis spectabilis).

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Layers of grasses and forbs--with Fountain Grass (Pennisetum) the focal point at the time--illustrated how Lurie Garden was designed for visual interest in all seasons.

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After lunch, we headed to the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary. In late summer, the plants and pollinators were in full swing, including this bumble bee on Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana).

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Other pollinators, including this swallowtail, were enjoying the nectar of Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) and other native forbs.

It was fun to see wild native plants in the middle of the city, including:

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Hardy Hibiscus (H. moscheutos) flanked by Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) and others

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More Monarda among a field of yellow composites

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Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)

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Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum), with Chicago skyline

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Our next destination was the Bahá'í Temple in Wilmette.

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Swaths of blooming annuals and perennials framed fountains and walkways around the temple.

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As always, Verbena (V. bonariensis) was a favorite with the pollinators.

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This beautiful yellow rose captured my eye, but I didn't see a plant label.

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Plentiful Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) welcomed Monarch butterflies and caterpillars, along with other pollinators like this nonaggressive great black wasp.

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A little photography fun with Rose of Prairie Rose's Garden, and friend and fellow gardener, Becky.

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Our last stop was the incredible Evanston garden of our hosts, Jason and Judy, bloggers at Garden in a City. Wow, look at that floral welcome along their walkway!

I took too many photos throughout the day to include them all here, but here are a few favorites from Jason and Judy's garden:

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Honey bee on Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

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Bumble covered in pollen on Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia)

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Great Blue Lobelia (L. siphilitica)

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Damselfly beyond Woodland Pinkroot (Spigelia marilandica)

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Tiny black swallowtail caterpillar on Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

It was a great day--perfect weather, fabulous gardens, and great company! Thanks to Jason and Judy for hosting!