This year I was so hopeful. My yard has been cultivated, or perhaps a better term is 'uncultivated,' in hopes of creating an oasis of beneficial insects. I neglected to reapply mulch, leaving a bare patch of soil in my planting bed. It soon became a delight to my kids to watch songbirds taking dust baths. I let the violets have their way, and they rewarded us with an outstanding flower show this spring and an excellent groundcover up until mid-summer when the heat and sun forced remaining violets into the shade.

As gardeners, we seek to connect with the world and ourselves through the cultivation of plants. Gardening is an act of emphasizing nature's beauty and bounty within our landscapes. In the past century, our quality of interactions with the outdoors has diminished.

Introducing the Contemporary American Landscape

Packed schedules gave rise to the demand for low-maintenance landscapes where foundation plantings of daylilies, boxwood, and yews surrounded by bark mulch dominate communities from Maine to California.

It seems fitting to post my photo of an icy morning taken earlier this year at the start of January. Presently in late February, we seem to be in a prolonged stretch of warm weather. Perhaps next week I'll post emerging daffodils or my lilac with leaves bursting through their buds. Today, let's remain in winter for a moment and remember what typically is our current state in February.

There is something about a butterfly that makes most smile. As I travel from speaking location to meeting to my garden in Central Illinois, I smile each time I see a monarch butterfly flit by in the distance. However, I also cringe at the handful of times a monarch butterfly strikes my car window. Mother Nature has designed for so much, but she could not have foreseen the implications of the automobile.

One of my favorite times of year to garden is in the fall. Growing vegetables during autumn in Illinois as the weather cools and daylight dwindles, can be a bit of a challenge, but the reward is quite sweet.

The winter has been unusually warm these past several weeks (even months). While it has been nice to go for walks in short-sleeves and even grill outside, I truly long for winter weather. Winter without snow is terribly bleak. Snow gives residents of the Midwest something visually stimulating in an otherwise dull, dormant landscape.

Finally, we're seeing a bit of colder weather as we enter March, despite that many of our gardens are beginning to come out of dormancy.

Here are a few photos of what is popping in my backyard.
Hooray! Winter has returned. While sane people stayed inside, horticulture educators like myself headed outside to take pictures. Many homeowners and gardeners may be feeling a panic rising in their chest seeing their emerging plants and spring blooming bulbs covered in snow. Oddly, I find it a great time to examine how plants respond to this kind of environmental stress. I'm also the neighbor who grows a weed to see what the flower looks like.

Year three of growing cascade hops and I finally invested time to install poles for the bines to properly train. Lacking money, to buy actual poles, the overgrown wooded area behind the McDonough County Extension office yielded several dead snags. Ideally, when harvesting poles for hops, select trees that are naturally rot resistant such as Eastern red cedar, black locust, or larch. Because my venture into hops is purely experimental, I used mostly dead oak snags for poles (and they were closer).

Observation is part of the fun of gardening. Waking up in the morning, I let out my dog Murphy, and walk through my yard studying the intricacies and habits of the plants in my landscape. A morning dew is helpful to spot spider webbing or allow the tiny hairs on a flower petal to shine in the rising sun.

Walking through the garden in the early morning is just as good as drinking a cup coffee, although coffee certainly makes the experience better. If a neighbor were to peek over the fence, they would see both dog and human with our faces buried deep in plants.

Last Sunday night we arrived home in Macomb, tired from a short trip visiting family in Quincy. Moreover, hauling around an infant and two young boys full of boundless energy tend to produce weary parents. Upon opening the door into the house, we were greeted as usual by our dog Murphy. Excited as a puppy to see us though his years now approach eleven.