When asked about their favorite things, some people may begin their lists with things like raindrops on roses, or maybe whiskers on kittens. The culinarily inclined may mention bright copper kettles, and knitters might include warm woolen mittens. While these are all nice things, I think that any list of favorites is never complete without a plant or two (or ten).

 

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Nothing says autumn like apple picking, apple cider, caramel apples, bobbing for apples; apple pie…the list is as endless as the varieties.

A note from the author: This is the first part of a series of blog posts discussing pollinators. Check back weekly to read the latest entry.

Before you read any further, please indulge me for a moment. Close your eyes and take a few seconds to picture your favorite garden produce. Imagine the shape, color, and even fragrance of your chosen fruit or vegetable… Done?

Gardeners are avid learners who love to try their hand at anything new and exciting. On Tuesday, May 18 Vermilion County Master Gardener, Charlie Collom, presented a Make-it and Take-It Succulent program for the Champaign Master Gardener's regularly monthly program. Members from the community were invited to create their own succulent garden.

After much anticipation, tomato season is finally here but something has been devouring the leaves on your tomato plant and even taken bites out of the green tomatoes. Looking for the culprit you see an enormous alien-looking green caterpillar with white stripes and red dots down its back. Tomato hornworms and their equally hungry cousins the tobacco hornworm can do lots of damage in a depressingly short amount of time. They are voracious eaters and blend in with the foliage so well you don’t know they are there until you see bare stems.

While it's true that I find any gardening/plant-related /horticultural topic fascinating, there's nothing quite like sight of an old, majestic tree to really feel a sense of awe for the plant kingdom. I think it's really interesting to sit beneath a hundred-year-old tree and imagine the path it took from a tiny seed to become the impressive specimen it is today. While I will always find trees interesting, they may benefit us more than we realize.

Warning: this is not a story about prince charming, a fancy ball, or dazzling glass slippers. But, it does include a big, beautiful pumpkin.

In early June, a big, fuzzy, vine popped up alongside our cornfield. My husband was courteous to mow around it so we could get a better look. After much banter, we narrowed it down to 2 things: a pumpkin or watermelon vine. Reviewing the facts, it had to be a pumpkin.

While we associate many plants with the winter holidays – think of the mistletoe carefully hung in the doorway, or the tree festooned with lights and ornaments – no holiday season is complete without my favorite, the bright and festive poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima).

Around April I begin obsessively checking the Hummingbird Migration website. Bird lovers across the state report the first hummingbird seen in their garden. Those sightings are compiled on a map by date and location. It is a great way to predict when they will appear in your yard. This year, I heard the first ruby-throated hummingbird whiz past me on April 20; based on the migration website he was right on schedule.

Are you searching for a unique gift? Do you know someone who would rather be outside in their garden than anywhere else? The University of Illinois Extension Office in Vermilion County will be holding Master Gardener Training Classes starting in January 2016. Master Gardeners are volunteers who have a love of gardening and a passion to share it with others, but despite the title, they don't claim to know everything about gardening. The program focuses on learning for the love of learning.

I think as gardeners we go through phases.  Heirloom vegetables, variegated foliage, miniature hostas, climbing roses, peony trees, ornamental grasses, and so forth; I have certainly had my share of plant phases. Right now I have returned to a phase from my younger gardening days. Zinnias were one of the first flowers I ever planted. They are so easy to grow, come in all shapes and sizes and add lots of color to the garden. I had not planted them for several years but last summer, I grew Benary Zinnias next to my vegetable garden.

While words like phalaenophily and psychophily might sound like terms only found in a medical dictionary, pollinator syndromes are actually used to assign certain characterisitics to different flowers.

According to the Pollinator Partnership, pollinator syndromes "describe flower characteristics, or traits, that may appeal to a particular type of pollinator. Such characteristics can be used to predict the type of pollinator that will aid the flower in successful reproduction."

Let's take a look at some of these fascinating pollination syndromes:

Did you miss part one? Click here to read the first entry in this series.

As a refresher: A pollinator is any animal that fertilizes a plant by moving the pollen (or male p

On Saturday, June 20 the endless onslaught of rain ceased and the skies brightened up for the 23rd annual Champaign County Master Gardener Garden Walk. An estimated 1400 people were inspired by the 6 homeowner gardens, University of Illinois Pollinatarium and the Master Gardener Idea Garden's.

July is the time of the year where plants show their wear. Here are the common problems occurring in homeowner landscapes:

1) Vulnerable Vegetables

For those of us who mentally X out each day as January passes and proclaim the best thing about February is that it isn’t January read on... With temperatures falling, schools closing and car batteries dying you may be wondering, “Is winter really necessary?” Being a warm weather person, I would say NO, except for one little thing… without winter there are some plants that would just not perform the way we want come spring. There is a reason why Florida is not known as the apple state.

On Friday, April 17, 44 people celebrated graduation from the 2015 Master Gardener training. Master Gardener training began in late January. Training was held in three offices: Champaign (Champaign County), Danville (Vermilion County), and Onarga (Ford-Iroquois Counties). Over the course of 12 weeks, trainees learned everything from botany, vegetables, and fruits to organic gardening, compost, houseplants, and woody ornamentals.

Each county gained several volunteers:

A new class of students began Master Gardener training this month. The first class in the program is always Botany; the scientific study of plants. At first many trainees probably wonder why is this class necessary and when will we get to the good stuff like tomato diseases. Perhaps the beauty of the Master Gardener program is that volunteers from all walks of life are willing to step outside their comfort zone and push themselves to learn something new about plants.