Archives For autumn

Are your summer container gardens in need of a fall makeover? Good news! There are many fall-flavored plants that will provide you with texture, form, and long-lasting colors in both flowers and foliage.

I love the combination of purple or blue asters (Symphyotrichum) with ornamental kale as the colors play off each other nicely for a long-lasting fall container. Using other lesser-known plants, such as some of the fall-blooming Salvias or sage can add height and lend to very interesting combinations in your container gardens. Try using cold-hardy vegetables and adding herbs to create interest and texture to any combination. I like using Swiss chard, broccoli, Asian greens, parsley, and onions (Allium) for interesting and colorful effects.

Fall Containers

Here are a few tips for planning your fall containers:

  1. To achieve a fuller effect, use more plants than you would in the spring or summer. As the days begin to get shorter and the nights get cooler, plant growth is slowing down or ceasing. By planting a fuller container, you will see immediate results that can last for the remainder of the fall season.
  2. Try to plant by early September to give your plants a chance to kick in with some growth before the cooler temperatures and shorter days slow things down. Remember, many plants available for fall container gardens can take temperatures in the 20s Fahrenheit without being damaged, while many plants actually begin to show better foliage colors with cooler temperatures. These include ornamental kale and cabbage, Heuchera, and many ornamental grasses as well.
  3. Select plants that have a variety of tones that contrast and set off each other. Think about using colorful cultivars of Heuchera for their many foliage colors, and colorful grasses or grass-like plants, such as Pennisetum, Carex, Juncus, or the black foliage of Ophiopogon. See the list below of other fall plants to consider for your containers.
  4. Remember, a pot of mums looks fresh for three to four weeks at most, and then the show is over. Showy foliage from grasses or kale and cabbage will carry the display much longer.
  5. The fall foliage on evergreen succulents (Sempervivum ‘Hens and chicks’), and many of the stonecrop (Sedum) cultivars changes and develops more dramatic color once the temperatures stay cool.
  6. If you must have flower power, consider long- and late-blooming Salvia, Cuphea, or fall pansies or violas.
  7. When nighttime temperatures drop below freezing, have light blankets, large pots, or even an empty trash barrel handy to cover your container and protect the plantings from frost.
  8. As November passes, the time will come to disassemble your planter. Carefully place your hardy plants in a nursery bed or empty space in your vegetable garden plot to hold them over until next spring, when you can plant them in a permanent home to enjoy for another season.

 

Here are a few fall plants and items that can be added to your fall container gardens:

Brassica varieties - ornamental cabbage

Annuals:

  • Calibrachoa varieties
  • Capsicum, ornamental peppers
  • Dianthus cultivars, ‘Sweet William’ and other Pinks
  • Brassica varieties, ornamental kale and cabbage
  • Tagetes, marigolds
  • Pansies and violas
  • Helianthus, sunflowers
  • Plectranthus
  • Salvia, sages

Chrysanthemums

Perennials, trees, shrubs:

  • Anemone hybrids
  • Aster cultivars
  • Chrysanthemum, hardy fall mums
  • Helianthus and Helianthoides, perennial sunflowers
  • Rudbeckia, black-eyed-Susan
  • Boltonia
  • Sedum and Sempervivum, and other succulents
  • Fall foliage color with trees and shrubs; maples, cornus, viburnum, spirea, and others

Ornamental grasses

Ornamental grasses:

  • Miscanthus cultivars
  • Panicum cultivars
  • Pennisetum cultivars, including ornamental millet
  • Muhlenbergia, Muhly grass
  • Stipa tenuissima, Mexican feather grass
  • Schizachyrium scoparium, little bluestem

Pumpkins

Other fall items:

  • Pumpkins
  • Gourds and squash
  • Corn stalks
  • Straw
  • Branches
  • Fall decorative items; scarecrows, Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations

©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Pumpkin Seed Math Games

Kathy J. —  October 20, 2014 — Leave a comment

If you carve a pumpkin for Halloween or make pumpkin pie from scratch, you’re going to have a lot of pumpkin seeds. You can put them to good use by turning them into “dice” and playing math games this fall.

First, you’ll need to remove, clean, and dry the seeds. After scooping the pulp from your pumpkin, place it in a bowl of water and gently rub the stringy pulp off the seeds. Rinse them in a colander and let them drain. Prepare a baking sheet with a layer of parchment paper. Do not add any oil. Spread seeds in a single layer on the paper. Bake in an oven preheated to 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-40 minutes to dry them. Store them in a plastic bag or airtight container.

PHOTO: Pumpkin seeds on baking tray.

These seeds were baked for just over 30 minutes at 300 degrees. After they have cooled, they will be ready to become instruments of learning.

The kind of dice you make will depend on the game you want to play, but for all games the basic idea is the same. Players will toss the seeds and the side that lands face up is the number they will work with. You’ll want to select seeds that are more flat than rounded. Remove any transparent skin that remains on the seeds, so it won’t dissolve in the marker ink and make a mess. Use a regular fine Sharpie or other permanent marker. I find that the extra fine markers tend to dry out while writing on the seed. You can use any color, but for some games the color matters. You’ll also want to establish a top and bottom of the seed. I write all the numbers with the point of the seed on the bottom so 6s and 9s don’t get confused. 

Here are some games you can make:

PHOTO: Pumpkin seeds painted like dominoes.

To make a game of “Count the Dots,” draw dots on one side of each seed as shown.

Count the Dots

This works well for young children learning to count. Take six pumpkin seeds. On one side of each seed draw dots like those on a die. Leave the other side blank. To play, toss the seeds and let them land. Count all the dots facing up. The person with the most dots wins!

Add the Numbers

Older children who are learning to add can play with numbers instead of dots. You can vary this depending on the skills of the children. For early learners, make two each of 1, 2, and 3. For children practicing higher number adding, make a range from 1 to 9. To practice adding higher numbers, make a set with all 6s, 7s, 8s, and 9s. Those are scary numbers to add until you get the hang of it, which is the whole point of this game.

To play, toss the seeds, then move the blanks out of the way. Line up the numbers so they are easier to see and add up.

Addition and Subtraction

Working on subtraction? Write the number on one side of the seed in black and write the same number on the opposite side in a different color such as red. Now when you toss the seeds, add all the black numbers and subtract the red numbers. The result could be a negative number!

PHOTO: Numbered pumpkin seeds.

Playing with addition-subtraction rules where black numbers are added and red numbers are subtracted, this toss would be 1 – 7 – 2 + 4 + 8 – 6 – 9 + 3 + 5 = -3.

Evens/odds

This game works with dots or numbers, but requires a set with writing on one side only. Players take turns predicting the outcome of the toss adding up to an odd or even number. The first player calls “odds” or “evens,” tosses, checks the results. S/he gets a point if s/he is right, a point goes to his or her opponent if s/he guessed wrong. 

Numbers and Symbols

You can have more than numbers on your dice. Make a set of seeds that include numbers and function symbols: + , -, Ă—, and Ă·. Each player should have her own identical set of seed dice. All players toss at the same time and the person who can make the number sequence with the highest answer wins. In this game, players are allowed to combine numbers to make a larger number. For example, a 1 and a 2 can become 21, as long as all the exposed numbers and symbols are used. The simplest rules for this game will be to take the order of operations from left to right, but players who want to stick to the “PEMDAS” order of operations (parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction), can certainly work that into the game. 

PHOTO: Numbered pumpkin seeds and some with math symbols.

Working with numbers and symbols gives a score of 413 for this toss.

Matching Equations

To make the game more cooperative, play the same game above, only this time the two players try to make their two number statements equal each other, or get as close as possible. This is more difficult to accomplish. so it’s all right to be a little flexible with the rules, since the players are not competing and you won’t have to settle disputes.

Players can make up their own games. They can also work in more complicated operations like exponents, or they can arrange the placement seeds above and below a line to represent division (this may require paper and pencil). Chances are, if they have reached this level of sophistication with mathematical operations, they would prefer eating the seeds to playing with them, but it’s still a fun challenge.

Whatever their level, when players have exhausted their interest in the seeds, be sure to take a break and enjoy some pumpkin “pi.” Sorry, I had to include that, because let’s face it, if you’re playing math games for fun, you’re a person who appreciates this humor!

PHOTO: Pumpkin with carved numbers for facial features.

“Pascal Pumpkinhead” gave the seedy contents of its head for mathematics.


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

This Bark is Rough: Hackberry

Kathy J. —  November 15, 2012 — 3 Comments

PHOTO: A tall hackberry stands at the south entrance of a wooden bridge that crosses a seasonal stream in McDonald Woods. All the trees in the wood are leafless.

PHOTO: This shows a close up of the bumpy, scraggly bark of a hackberry tree.

Hackberry bark, south view

Now that most of the trees have dropped their leaves, the scenery appears brown and boring UNLESS you know what to look for. I’m talking about tree bark. Learning to identify trees by their bark can be a fun winter challenge.

For starters, I’d like to share one of my favorites: the hackberry, Celtis occidentalis. Hackberry may not be in the top ten trees you think of, but maybe it should be.

Take a look at the interesting texture of this bark. If you use your imagination, it’s like a miniature Grand Canyon on its side, with layers of material exposed on the edges of steep plateaus.

I find the texture on this north-facing side of the trunk to look like bicycle chains. What do you see?

PHOTO: The bark on the north side is also bumpy and scraggly, but the texture is more like a bike chain.

Hackberry bark, north side

Hackberry trees are related to elms and they grow all over North America. We have a few of them on the east side of Parking Lot 4. Scroll back up—do you recognize the large picture above? This was taken in McDonald Woods, along the trail near Parking Lot 4. The large tree to the left of the bridge is a hackberry.

One reason for the popularity of this tree is that the fruits—hackberries—feed birds, squirrels, and other woodland creatures. In the summer, caterpillars of mourning cloak, question mark, and hackberry emperor butterflies feed on the leaves. If you came to see Butterflies & Blooms in late summer, you may have seen the many mourning cloaks fluttering around the Learning Campus thanks to our hackberry trees.

PHOTO: Hackberry emperor butterfly shown with its characteristic pattern of black and white stripes against brownish orange background.

Hackberry emperor butterfly, shown with its characteristic pattern of black and white stripes against brownish orange background.

Open your eyes to tree bark this winter. You’ll find a range of interesting patterns and textures and maybe even learn something new about the trees around you.


©2012 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Autumn Trailblazing

Kathy J. —  November 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

Did you know that “blazing a trail” is the act of painting white marks, or “blazes,” on trees to guide others through the woods? People who make these paths are called “trailblazers” but the term has also come to mean “pioneer.”

PHOTO: This sign tells visitors which way to drive to get to parking lots, visitor center, or learning campus.Instead of using white paint on trees, the Chicago Botanic Garden uses a system of white arrows on brown signs. In this sign, which is located just past the Gatehouse, the arrow pointing up in this sign tells you to go straight forward to get to the Visitor Center, while arrows pointing left and right direct you to turn in order to reach the parking lot or Learning Campus.

You can be a trailblazer in the original sense of the word. You don’t need brown signs or white paint to be a trailblazer. Autumn is a great time to find natural objects such as sticks, acorn caps, and other things fallen from the trees, to make trail markers on the ground.

PHOTO: Pictured here are four diffent ways to make arrows using stones, sticks, and red berries.The picture here shows you four different ways to direct a person to the right. 1. Line up small stones in the shape of an arrow. 2. Use larger stones to make a traditional trail marker by placing a small stone on top of a larger stone and adding a third stone next the pile in the direction you want to send your hikers. 3. Bright red serviceberries contrast against the green grass and make a colorful marker. 4. Arrange sticks in an arrow to point the way.

 

PHOTO: four sticks are arranged to form a square with eight stones inside the square; three sticks form an arrow over the square to tell what direction the hiker should take.Want to get fancy? Try this: form a square with sticks and tell the hiker how many steps to take by placing that number of stones in the middle. Make an arrow with small sticks to indicate direction. The trail marker in the picture tells us to take eight steps to get to the next marker. (This marker idea comes from an old Girl Scout Handbook.)

 

IM000504Mark the end of your trail with an X or a circle of rocks to let people know they’ve reached the intended destination. You can even place a treasure at the end of the path to reward your trail followers.

So don’t be put off by the cool fall weather—get outside and show your pioneering spirit by blazing a trail for your family and friends to follow around your home.


©2012 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Thursday, November 1, Garden education staff watched a large red-tailed hawk hunting small animals on the Learning Campus.

PHOTO: A red-tailed hawk is perched at the top of the young oak tree in teh Learning Campus Circle.

PHOTO: A large red-tailed hawk is perched on a pine tree branch scanning the landscape for prey.This is a perfect place for these raptors. They can soar over the open lawn searching for small mammals, and when they catch a vole, rabbit, or other creature, they can safely retreat to a high branch of a nearby trees to devour their prey.

We watched it catch two small animals – probably mice or voles – within about ten minutes. It ate one of these unfortunate animals while perched in the pine tree pictured at the left and the second in the oak limb, pictured below.

You may see more hawks now and through winter than you do in spring and summer. According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, there is a population of red-tailed hawks that live in our area year-round, but in late fall other hawks from far north fly into the area and join them during the winter. We must have more of the animals they like to eat.

PHOTO: the red-tailed hawk is perched on a large oak tree limb after eating its second rodent.

Come to the Garden this month to see our fall gardens, but remember to look up in the sky, because it’s likely that you’ll also see a hawk!