Saturday, March 27, 2010

Macy's Gets It Right With 2010 Flower Show

Yesterday morning I attended a media preview for the Macy's Flower Show which opens this Sunday, March 28th 2010.  Their theme this year, Spring is in the Air.

Entering Macy's flagship State Street store on the Randolph side, a giant colorful hot air balloon with plants spilling out of its basket and sitting atop a beautiful garden, welcomes shoppers to the show.   In addition to the balloon, there were airplanes, giant bees and kites suspended in the air throughout the store.  Besides tulips and daffodils, nothing says spring better than kites.  The spectacular mobile hanging in the Tifany room was my favorite non-plant display. (see slideshow for pictures)

This year the Macy's Flower Show felt different to me than last year's.  It is obvious that they are making a real effort to connect with the customers instead of just seducing us with pure flower beauty.   Macy's repeated these 3 central points throughout the tour:
  1. We used recycled stuff
  2. We made stuff especially for you to touch.
  3. You can do this yourself
Throughout the tour we were directed to ornaments in the garden that were either props used previously in Macy's displays like the giant birdhouse in the Walnut Room, or props made of recycled material, like the beautiful blue fountain water feature, which we were encouraged to touch.   

Throughout the store there are living walls planted with beautiful succulents including one leaned against the wall in the shoppers' reach. Normally in a department store, the only thing you ought to be touching are the products you're considering buying, but by allowing us to touch the water feature and fondle the succulents on that awesome living wall, Macy's is appealing to the customer on a whole new sensory level.  I love that.
In the China Room, we were reminded over and over "this is something you can do yourself."  One table used in a display was the table from the Macy's employee break room.  Another table snatched from their conference room.  Making the point that, with new table linens or dishes, any ole table can look beautiful.   One of my favorite display tables was not featured in the Flower Show tour but I loved it because Macy's paired "old fashion grandma" dishes with sleek modern ones for a very cool look.  How many of us have old grandma dishes at home that we wish we could use without our tables looking like old grandma tables?  The China Room was my favorite of the show.  I am always so alarmed by the big gaudy tablescapes at the Chicagoland Flower and Garden Show that I find the Macy's ones, in all their subtle beauty, refreshing.
Like last year, I was fascinated to hear the Macy's folks talk about their ongoing struggle to keep the temperature in the store right enough for the plants.  You can tell that they stress over it by the emotion with which the speak about it.  They've already got the air on and have told their staff to dress warm for work.  That they are able to keep these flowers looking beautiful for two weeks while keeping the temperature suitable for shopping and working is pretty impressive.
One thing I missed at the show were manequins used in the display gardens.  When I think department store I think manequin.  And I don't ever want to miss an opportunity to see a beautifully dressed manequin sporting a plant wig.  Hey Macy's, manequins with plant wigs! Every year!  It never gets old.

To usher in the Chicago spring this year, Macy's also donated 24 Purple Prince Crabapple trees, each weighing 450 pounds, to Chicago Department of Environment, NeighborSpace and Greencorps Chicago.  Mayor Daily was on hand to accept them.

Macy's Flower Show runs March 28-April 11 with guided tours by University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners Thursdays through Sundays at 11am, 1pm and 2pm except Easter.  

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

On Influence

I read this story a long time ago in a book called Awareness by Anthony de Mello.  I think there is a lesson here for all of us.

photo by Doug Lloyd

A man found an eagle's egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them.

All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.

Years passed and the eagle grew very old. One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat of its strong golden wings.

The old eagle looked up in awe. "Who's that?" he asked.

"That's the eagle, the king of the birds," said his neighbor. "He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth-- we're chickens." So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that's what he thought he was.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

My Name is Gina. My Garden is a Mess.

This week there has practically been a civil war amongst garden bloggers over a post written on Garden Rant.  I was disturbed by the post when I read it.  And I hated the way it made me feel about the author and the commenters who supported her view that our ugly gardens are giving "respectable vegetable gardeners" a bad name.  I say "our" because I'm one of the ugly garden people, too.  Just look at the picture of my kitchen garden down in the lower left column of my blog page.  That straw and that bag of weeds has been there since last summer. *gasp*  The picture on the left is my 2009 garden in full production.
When I started my garden back in the summer of 2007, I did so in the exact manner that the Garden Ranter warned against.  I thought about it for about 5 minutes.  Then I rushed out to Home Depot and bought a bunch of plants I knew nothing about growing.  I planted cantaloupe and watermelon in the same space as my tomatoes and herbs.  And I spent the entire summer trying to keep the cantaloupe and watermelon from strangling the other plants.  But guess what?  I had fun!  And I grew the best cantaloupe I've ever tasted in my life.  Did you notice the vine that looked like cantaloupe that had escaped through the fence in the picture on the Garden Rant article?  I know how that happens because the same thing happened to me.  It doesn't mean I'm stupid or sloppy or lazy.  And I doubt that the person whose ugly garden was used for that photo will ever make that mistake again.  
I'm not a designer.  I probably don't look at my garden through an artful eye.  It's not that I set out to have an ugly garden, it's just that I'm not that good at designing.  The ugly garden post made it seem like we are completely unconcerned with the way our garden looks, when in reality, we place plants the best way we know how.  Maybe we focus more on companion planting instead of planting pretty.  Maybe those ugly gardens are the best we can do. 

I don't have a lot of money to hire a professional garden designer or to buy big fancy tomato cages.  Last year I had 18 tomato plants.  If I'd bought the Texas Tomato Cages I really wanted, it would have cost me $300.  I couldn't afford that.  Does that mean I should have reduced the number of tomato plants I grew to, say, 3, so that I could afford the big fancy tomato cages?  Hell no!  I tied them up with wood stakes the best I could.  And they fell down.  And my garden was a hot mess.  And I still canned nearly 30 jars of marinara sauce, salsa and pizza sauce.  And my family loved it because I grew all the ingredients, and because it tasted fabulous.  I also kept several people in my tomato giving circle stocked with organic cherry and slicing tomatoes all summer.  That felt really good.  
I think of all the comments in the Garden Rant post, the one about the "cheap Walmart tomato cages" stung the most.  Because we gardeners know that it is difficult to find good sturdy tomato cages that don't break the bank.  If the author was trying to help, like she sort of insinuated, a better tactic might have been to suggest where we could buy better tomato cages on our modest salaries.  That's information that would have been useful to me.
If you are new to gardening and you're overly concerned with your vegetable garden being pretty enough, your'e not going to learn.  Those weeds?  Those misplaced plants?  They are all lessons.  In a comment posted later by the author of the Garden Rant post, she said that we'd all missed her whole point.  That she was really referring to vegetable gardens that get planted, then never touched again.  Do you know any of those gardens?  I don't.  What I do know about are gardens that improve year after year.  Like mine.  My first vegetable garden was 8 feet wide, in rows.  And yes I couldn't walk through it and it sucked.  But I learned a lot about garden design and plant spacing that year.  All painful but valuable lessons that I needed to be able to manage my vegetable garden.
What I don't understand is why garden bloggers feel the need to make these polarizing types of blog posts and statements.  I am assuming it is for the page views or whatever other thing the publicity might bring.  I hope it's worth it.  But it my opinion, that's not very "respectable."  And I believe these types of things are giving garden bloggers a bad name.  
There are many of us vegetable gardeners who believe in gardening the best you can.  If your garden happens to be beautiful, too, that's great.  But take it from me, even if it's just a big ole mess, you will still love it and you will still be proud of it.  And the food you grow will still taste amazing! 

If you are a garden blogger, I encourage you to show off your so called ugly gardens like Colleen did over at In The Garden Online.  I was so inspired by her post that I decided to write my own.

More Ugly Gardens
Jessica's ugly garden
Julia's ugly garden 
Carri's ugly garden
Jodi's ugly garden
Tina's ugly garden
Kat's ugly garden
Fern's ugly balcony garden

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ted's Greenshouse: Cactus and Succulents

One of the main reasons I was looking forward to the 2010 Chicagoland Flower and Garden Show was access to Ted's Greenhouse, the mother of all cheap awesome Cactus and Succulents in the Chicago area. 

This past Sunday, it seemed like MrBrownThumbDiane and I spent more time on our first go round at Ted's than we did at most of the display gardens. Then, after we made completed our purchase at Ted's and made our way around the rest of the marketplace, we seemed to keep drifting back there over and over again for another look.

I bought $18 worth of plants.  The smaller ones were $2.00 and the slightly larger ones were $3.00.  Bargain!

If you're visiting the Chicagoland Flower and Garden show this week, be sure to stop by Ted's.  They are friendly, helpful and cheap!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Signs of Spring 2010

It was so nice in Chicago today that I decided to venture out to the garden. Here's some proof that Spring is here!

Tulips (above)

Cornflower (above)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Planned Garden Adventures for 2010

I usually start thinking about giant garden projects fairly far in advance. Truthfully, I have a long list of gardening crap I want to do and the crap I don't finish just gets moved to next year's list. And even though these projects usually cause a lot of stress and anxiety for me, when they're done, I always love it. Nearly every day on my walk from my garage to my back door, I look around and think Wow! I can't believe I did all this! I can't believe how this place looked 3 years ago. Besides improving my garden, these projects also give me something to write about. And I hope they help people, even if only as an example of how not to do something.

Here's a list of projects I have planned for this summer.
  1. Make a wide, curvy path from my patio to the garage door. Currently, the only walkway is right by the fence, and frankly I'm tired of being scared to death by the squirrels that hang out there. (the link is an old picture which does not depict the current state of my backyard, but it does show the current walkway.)
  2. Paint my two rain barrels and install them in the front garden. This is one of those projects that was supposed to be done last year. Not doing this probably cost me one of the azaleas I have planted in the side front garden. I have no spigot in the front.
  3. Move the peach tree, either to a different place in the backyard or completely off the property. I planted it too close to the house and I don't think it gets enough sun there. Plus, it's too big.
  4. Have the air conditioner unit moved down to where the peach tree is currently planted to make space to expand a portion of the patio for the barbecue grill.
  5. Stain the pergola.
It may not seem like a long list but I could agonize over that wide curvy path the entire summer! You know how I am.