Lions and tigers and plants, oh my!

Plant and animal costumes topped most of the award categories at Saturday’s fourth annual Spooky Pooch Parade! More than 300 four-legged competitors and an uncounted number of two-leggers streamed into the Garden on a beautiful, sunny fall day to show off their creativity, parade around the grounds, and engage in some extremely friendly (lots of tail wagging) competition in five categories.

Best Overall went to Nanuk, a husky/German shepherd/yellow lab mix whose owner “dressed” him in tiger stripes using all-natural, non-toxic hair spray (made for dogs!). Nanuk’s look was simple, sophisticated, and show-stopping (he was great about posing for pictures).

Best Horticultural Interpretation was awarded to Enzo, who was dressed as a rainforest, a costume much-appreciated by the garden-friendly crowd. The 3-year-old Italian waterdog’s owner fashioned a handmade cocofiber shell, then stitched on orchids and epiphytes (air plants) that bounced around as Enzo walked the parade.

“The Pumpkin Patch” was named Best Puppy, meaning Nino, a 7-month-old puppy AND his family (dad and daughter), who all wore farmer/vine/pumpkin costumes. Nino drew much attention for his unusual breed: he’s a Lagotto Romagnolo, an Italian truffle-hunting dog.

A 13-year-old Yorkie won Best Senior for an interpretation of the Cowardly Lion: turns out that the grandmother in the family made the costumes for both Kiwi the dog and her own 11-month old granddaughter, who also attended, dressed as a brave little lion.

Finally, Jessie and her owner took home the award for Best Combination Dog & Owner, outfitted as sheriffs. The prize acknowledges the dog and owner who look most alike—how fun is that!

Visit the web site to view pictures of all of the winners.

We all noticed how many truly creative and wonderfully handmade costumes there were this year—we think it’s proof that people love Halloween almost as much as they love their dogs. Here’s a gallery of a few favorites.

Also, don’t miss this video of our favorite highlights from Saturday’s Spooky Pooch Parade — to share with the kids and anyone you know still looking for a great costume idea!

Pirate DogFang Girl


  • Dressed as a storm cloud, an English bulldog was followed by a corgi, dressed as a rainbow.
  • One of several hotdogs brought along his own human bottle of ketchup and human bottle of mustard.
  • One dog in a full-body shark costume and another as a sea turtle were trailed by their humans — dad in a full-body wet suit, goggles, and snorkel, and daughter as a squid.
  • Two dogs in suits: canine presidential contenders!

Tomato Bed Wisdom from a Master Gardener

Our volunteers are awesome. We recently sat down with 16-year volunteer (and 2008 Volunteer of the Year) Sam Darin, pictured above, is famous for both his tool-sharpening skills (stop by for summer tool talk in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden on Thursdays, May through October) and his tomato-growing expertise.

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Three heirloom tomato beds held 19 different varieties in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden this year. With harvest complete, the beds await their leaf mulch “blanket” for the winter.

We asked a timely question:  How does a Master Gardener (Sam was Illinois’ Master Gardener of the Year in 2010) put a vegetable garden to bed for the winter? His approach is so straightforward that even first-year gardeners can follow his lead:

1. After removing spent vegetables plants, pick up all leaves and fruit from the beds, clearing them of debris that might harbor diseases or pests.

2. AFTER the first hard frost, add a 4-6” layer of chopped leaf mulch to cover the beds for the winter. (Rake dry fall leaves and store them in a garbage can; use a mower or weed whacker to chop them.)

Mortgage Lifter
One of Sam Darin’s favorite tomato varieties, ‘Mortgage Lifter’ can weigh in at over a pound apiece.

3. Beyond the bed, continue to water shrubs and trees until frost. Late fall is usually quite dry, so it’s helpful to give larger plants a good drink before winter sets in.

As Sam says, “That’s about it.” Thanks, Sam, and see you at the Garden next spring!

An Autumn Surprise

Crocus in autumn? No, it’s colchicum, a fall-flowering corm that holds quite a few surprises.

Every garden should hold a few surprises.

In fall, the Landscape Gardens deliver a good one: bright lavender patches of Colchicum, commonly known as autumn crocus or, less commonly, meadow saffron. Popping up suddenly through the groundcover, the flowers can stop visitors—and bloggers—in their tracks. With the current streak of balmy weather, the colchicum seem to be lasting even longer this year, begging a deeper look into the surprises that this bulb (actually a corm) holds up its leaves.

Surprise #1: It’s not a crocus.

Short, goblet-shaped flowers and spring-like color cause the confusion between colchicum and crocus, but there’s an easy way to tell them apart: count the long stamens in the center of the flower. Six stamens? It’s a colchicum. Only three? It’s a crocus. Colchicum’s flowers are much larger, too, and its leaves are long and strappy, rather than short and grassy.

Surprise #2: Spring leaves, fall flowers.

Expectations run high in spring, as colchicum’s wide leaves emerge, flowerless, to do their work, pulling sunlight’s energy into the corm underground. Then the leaves retreat for the summer. Time passes…and then the surprise comes, as clumps of flowers, leafless, emerge from the same spot in fall, a pleasing reminder that gardening is powered by patience.

Surprise #3: It’s not the source of saffron.

Although colchicum’s common name is “meadow saffron,” it doesn’t produce the flavorful red stamens of kitchen/culinary fame—that distinction belongs to Crocus sativus, a true crocus that also blooms in fall (along with its leaves—you can see why it gets so confusing). Unlike that crocus, colchicum has less showy stamens that cannot be eaten because…

Surprise #4: It’s poisonous.

The whole plant is: flowers, leaves, stamens, everything. Site it accordingly in your yard.

This weekend, three beautiful colchicum varieties will be sold at the Fall Bulb Festival—‘Lilac Wonder,’ which you can see in the Home Landscape Garden now; ‘Waterlily,’ a well-named, ruffled variety; and ‘Album,’ the classic white colchicum. Like most bulbs, colchicum corms are planted in late fall so they can settle in before next year’s bloom.

In the meantime, we wonder: what surprises does your garden hold?

Tru Blooms Chicago Preview

A city with the motto “Urbs in Horto” (Latin for “City in a Garden”) deserves a signature fragrance: Tru Blooms Chicago debuts this fall as our fair city’s first-ever fine perfume. Today, the Chicago Botanic Garden held a preview of the fragrance and we personally enjoyed the lovely floral scent. Here’s why it’s a standout: it’s made with flowers grown in urban gardens throughout the Chicago area. Continue reading Tru Blooms Chicago Preview