At Lurie Garden it’s bulb planting season. We do our best to keep this labor intensive task as simple as possible. While working out in the garden, we hear just about every theory there is on how to plant bulbs. Since each year we add large quantities of bulbs (10,000 this fall) in an established garden, we have our own way of doing things, but our method may work for you as well. We typically use a hori hori knife to plant each bulb individually. Since we are planting bulbs among perennials in a garden that has been around for ten years now, there is not enough room to dig out large holes and add multiple bulbs that way. Corer-style bulb planters waste time trying to get the cored soil out of them. English style trowels, which have a wide triangle shaped blade, work ok, but are difficult to use in tight spaces and take a bit longer than our preferred hori hori knife, soil knife, or pro-gardener digging tool (similar to the others, but the blade is ergonomically off-set from the handle). Electric drills are noisy and not necessarily faster than a brisk stab with a good quality horticultural knife.
If this weekend’s Great Chicago Fire Festival sparked an enthusiasm for pyrotechnics, then this method of weed control may be for you. At Lurie Garden we use a handheld torch to eliminate weeds in our paths. Our beautiful, reclaimed granite walkways get pesky weeds growing in the spaces between the pavers. Since we are a chemical-free garden, we do not use herbicide. Vinegar, an organic weed control method, tends to kill the weeds, but you are stuck with the dying foliage hanging around. Torching weeds eliminates them entirely. Weeds not larger than three inches can be completely incinerated without leaving behind residue. Wood sorrel (Oxalis sp.), the most prolific weed in our garden and in North America, is the quickest weed to eliminate using this method, taking only a few seconds to disappear.
The most common visitor question in the garden right now is "What's that blue plant over there?" On this beautiful first day of the fall equinox, bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii), is bringing vibrant color to the autumn garden. This oddly shaped flower never opens, hence its moniker. This native flower co-evolved with pollinators that have wings that beat quickly enough to create vibration.
Monday, we harvested honey from our two bee hives with the Chicago Honey Co-op. We waited until the bees started their morning foraging out in the garden, this way fewer bees were in the hives when we opened them. We did this on a non-rainy day as we don’t want to get the inside of the hives wet. Then we filled our smoker with dried bayberry leaves and broken-up honey locust branches. This makes a nice thick, but cool smoke which has a calming effect on the bees.