the urban gardeness

a novice gardener's adventures in chicago gardening

Container gardening tips from a pro

canna lily

At the Chicago Flower & Garden Show this weekend, I attended a wonderful seminar by William Moss, a Chicago gardener and greening expert for the CBS’s The Early Show.

Moss spoke about container gardening in small spaces, discussing gardening basics and offering useful tips especially for Chicago gardeners—as well as suggestions for new gardening products. Here are some of my favorite tips.

Container gardening tips:

  • Choose plants that are hardy and/or native (less maintenance)
  • For flowers/herbs, suggested pot size is: 12″
  • For vegetables, suggested pot size is: 18″
  • Use container inserts to reduce weight and promote root growth (Moss suggested Better than Rocks)
  • Start with a sterile potting soil (Moss suggested Organic Mechanics, sold locally at Whole Foods)
  • Add mulch to containers to retain soil moisture, moderate soil temperature and inhibit weeds (Super Mulch was recommended)– rocks/stones can also be used
  • Choose vegetables with early ripening qualities
  • Use OMRI-listed (Organic Materials Review Institute) slow release organic fertilizers and fungicides
  • Combine vegetables with herbs in containers (herbs can help repel pests)
  • Don’t over-fertilize your plants
  • When shopping for perennials, choose those that are hardy in Zone 3/4

Though it may still look like winter outside, it was nice to be reminded of gardening and warmer days.

Urban gardeners: share your container gardening tips in the comments!


Garden events in Chicago this weekend

Dreaming of summer hibiscus...

It’s cold and flurries are in the air, but the anticipation of those first spring plantings can help get through the long winter. Here are a few gardening events in Chicago this weekend:

Gardening Exchange

Sat, March 5,  1–4 pm

Jumpstart your spring at Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse’s first Gardening Exchange. Come for an afternoon to exchange gardening tips, tools, and trades. During this afternoon event, you will have the opportunity to take basic organic gardening classes, purchase compost and early spring seedlings, and find gardening and cooking tools at bargain prices. All proceeds will support our family and children’s programs that connect kids to nature and healthy foods. Kilbourn Park Organic Greenhouse, 3501 N. Kilbourn Ave. Chicago. FREE

Chicago Flower & Garden Show

Sat, March 5–Sun, March 13

30+ gardens on display, gardening marketplace, educational seminars, cooking demonstrations, kids activities, solutions for yards, patios, balconies & more.Navy Pier, Chicago. Ticket prices vary.

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Know of any other gardening events coming up in Chicago? Leave a comment!

Where to see blooms during Chicago winters

Garfield Park Conservatory

Chicago winters can be a dreary time for urban gardeners. Our flowerbeds are hidden by snow, our potted plants and veggies dried up long ago. What’s a gardener seeking floral inspiration to do? Visit a local conservatory!

Here are a few wonderful places in Chicagoland offering blooming flowers and tropical plants to bring us out of the winter doldrums.

Lincoln Park Conservatory (Chicago)

Right now, the Lincoln Park Conservatory is featuring the Chicago Park District Spring Flower Show. See a a changing selection of spring blooming plants including Azaleas, spring flowering annuals and spring flowering perennials. Runs through May 8. 2391 N. Stockton Dr., Chicago IL.

Garfield Park Conservatory (Chicago)

The Garfield Park Conservatory is also featuring the Chicago Park District Spring Flower Show starting Saturday (runs through May 8). Azaleas in stunning spring colors will be featured during the first half of the show. 300 N Central ark Ave., Chicago IL.

Chicago Botanic Garden Greenhouses (Glencoe)

Winter is a great time to visit the Garden’s Arid, Tropical and Semi-Tropical Greenhouses. Breathe in the humid fragrant air and you’ll (almost) forget it’s only 25 degrees outside. Blooming right now are aloe and orchids, among many others. 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL.

Questions about caring for your indoor houseplants? Check out the Chicago Botanic Gardens’ Lenhardt Library featuring books to cover any gardening topic.

Anyone else have suggestions for surviving cold Chicago winters? Leave a comment!

The spiritual laws of gardening

Koi Pond at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

As I stare at my snow-covered garden, I’ve started reflecting on my first balcony gardening experience and realized that gardening can be a spiritual experience.

One of my favorite books is The Seven Spiritual Laws Of Success (A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams) by Deepak Chopra. This little book is chock-full of inspiration and enlightenment. This morning, I had a realization: I’ve actually been applying some of his spiritual laws to gardening.

Living in an urban city environment, my balcony garden offers some much-needed peace in my day. Though I may be surrounded by noise and activity, tending to my garden allows me to stop and be in the moment.

Here are a few of Chopra’s spiritual laws that I have (unknowingly) been applying to gardening):

Applying the spiritual laws to gardening

The Law of Detachment: “In our willingness to step into the unknown, the field of all possibilities, we surrender ourselves to the creative mind that orchestrates the dance of the Universe.”

  • Don’t let yourself get too attached to a planting. Accept the ebb and flow of the garden and unique lifecycle of each plant. I definitely feel a sense of creative energy when I’m working in my garden.

The Law of Karma or Cause and Effect: “Every action generates a force of energy that returns to us in like kind…what we sow is what we reap.”

  • This can be taken quite literally: caring for and feeding your garden results in a beautiful, fruitful garden that brings happiness and joy.

The Law of Least Effort: “This moment is as it should be, because the whole Universe is as it should be.”

  • Live in the moment: enjoy the beauty of your garden on that particular day, because tomorrow it may not look the same. This one is tricky for me, as I have a tendency to get attached to a beautiful blooming plant. However, living in the Midwest, I have to enjoy my garden “in the moment” because tomorrow we may have frost or snow!

Does anyone else have any “spiritual” gardening experiences?

Highlights from the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Orchids in the Selby Gardens Conservatory


On a recent trip to Florida, I finally made it to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, a gem in the heart of downtown Sarasota and a must-see for any gardener.

The Gardens feature several different gardens and groves, however the highlight for me was the Conservatory: a lush rainforest filled with orchids, bromleaids and other epiphytes.

See highlights from the trip to Selby Gardens on my flickr page.

Gardening goals for 2011

Essie makes the most of the snowy weather!

I’m staring out the window at a cold, snow-covered balcony…but I’m already dreaming of my spring garden.

Getting through long Chicago winters is always a challenge, but looking forward to gardening outdoors in the spring can make the time pass faster. That, and spending time in a snowy park with a dog who loves snow!

Gardening goals for 2011

  • Learn more about growing hibiscus in the Midwest
  • Attempt to revive my ailing Chinese Juniper bonsai tree
  • Plant more vegetables (had great success with peppers this summer)
  • Try growing herbs indoors over the winter
  • Plant a few small evergreen trees in the winter balcony garden
  • Take more trips to the Lenhardt Library at the Chicago Botanic Garden
  • Make a photo book of this year’s garden
  • Create more garden-inspired watercolor paintings

Fellow urban gardeners: what are your goals for your garden in 2011?

End of summer update: balcony garden

It’s a beautiful late September in Chicago, the perfect time to write my end of summer balcony garden update.

It’s been an exciting summer of gardening in my new home: lots of experimenting with new plants, learning what works and what doesn’t work on a sunny, windy city balcony. There have been hits and misses, surprises and disappointments—but most of all, it’s been fun!


  • Pink hibiscus: an impulse bargain buy. Consistently produced beautiful pink blooms all summer.
  • Canna lilies: several rounds of nice blooms
  • White iceberg roses: after figuring out the watering schedule, they’ve been blooming all summer (with most of the blooms coming late summer)
  • Hot and sweet peppers: another impulse bargain buy. Both plants have consistently produced peppers, with the small hot pepper plant produced almost 15 peppers!
  • Geraniums: not much blooming throughout the summer, however there are more blooms now that weather is cooler


  • Celosia: started out well, slowly became infested with aphids.
  • Zinnias: bloomed fairly well all summer, but the bottom parts of the leaves and stems have slowly been drying up
  • Tomatoes: major disappointment: all the leaves and stems dried up early in the summer, possibly a bout of blight