Today is Tuesday the 6th of December, 2016.

Taking my cue from Mother Nature, my Personal Garden service, Garden Gems has closed up shop for the winter. Work tools, garden gloves and props are washed, sanitized and stored. Snow boots and winter costumes are pulled out of storage. My body soon to be 50 years young is ready for the annual blackout that takes place at this time of year, also known as winter. Semi-hibernation is about to begin.

Maintenance or “maintenDANCE” is the main show of Garden Gems. Due to unseasonable warm weather here in Chicagoland, an extended growing season brought about an amazing show of growth throughout November, as well as a longer work season. Trees held onto their brilliantly colored leaves longer than the norm and stories of spring Clematis and Iris blooming lingered on social media. Roses continued to bloom in and around my neighborhood. In my yard parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme continued growing harmoniously alongside oregano and lavender. Simon and Garfunkle would be proud.

The grand finale for the show took place Sunday, 6″ of snow fell, officially bringing down the growing season and work to an end.

A handful of ensemble plants in my garden keep their foliage through all four seasons. Broad-leafed evergreens like Rhododendron, Azalea, and Hellebore(also known as Lenten Rose) keep thick waxy green leaves during the winter. Mugo pines and arborvitae continue to show their needles throughout the winter. Paired with red twig dog woods naked red stems, this winter setting is a place to attract nature.

During the growing months of the year, planting foliage in the right spot may take the spotlight away from the flowers of the garden, but the ad lib will create a lush fine greenery that will continue to bring you pleasure for years.

Here is some foliage from my garden in Chicagoland that put a twinkle in my eye this past growing season.


Nasturtium, is a true gem to any garden. A vine or mound,this hardy plant prefers full sun and I have found in Illinois it likes its roots more on the dry side. It tends to do better when you forget about it. Nasturtium foliage is a rock star in my garden. It truly loves rock gardens. Flowers and leaves are edible.


Solomon’s Seal

Solomon’s Seal Polygonatum ‘variegatum’, is a spring woodland beauty that thrives in moist shade conditions. Small yellow bell shaped flowers decorate the under story of this plant in the early spring, growing in strait lines lines. It’s foliage sticks around all through the growing season, turning golden yellow in the fall.  This variegated variety, will lightens up any deep shaded area.

Painter’s palette

Another plant costumed in bold variegated foliage is Persicaria virginiana, ‘Painters Palette’ .An eye catcher in the shade. Leaves look marbled with white, green and a touch of pink. It’s delicate tiny red spiky flower shows up in late summer, but the real show stopper is the foliage, every leaf is unique. A tough plant that I look forward to seeing more of.


Ferns, salvia and Black- eyed- susan

Who can go wrong with ferns? The texture of ferns in contrast with most plants leave me feeling prehistoric. This year I rejuvenated a forsythia and a lilac. I cut back about two-thirds of the plant, bringing them down in size to about two feet. This created a brand new full sun micro climate in the landscape. Ferns that were in complete shade for years grew large among the Black Eyed Susan and Salvia in full sun. The shrubs seem to be enjoying their cutbacks and are thriving.

Eastern Red bud leaf.

Eastern red bud, cercis canadensis has a memorable leaf shape, a heart. A native woodland shrub, this spring bloomer catches my heart well after the profusion of violet blooms take over in early spring. Heart shaped leaves make it easy to identify this Red bud.

The last foliage picture I want to share is found in my “oxymoron garden”.  An oxymoron having to do with contradiction or opposites. I can never get enough of literature and gardening.

Cacti and Lamb’s ear

Yep,I have an “oxymoron garden” here in Chicagoland. It’s an area next to the house that is full sun and has great drainage. This micro climate is perfect for growing Lambs ear, Stachys byzantina and Eastern Prickly pear cactus, Opuntia humifusa. In regards to texture they are complete opposite. Lambs ear soft as, well  a lamb I suppose. People do like to pet this plant and roll they’re eyes back and announce how soft it is. Prickly pear, a cactus whose leaves are spines, not so much. Well it’s a true cacti that people can’t believe is actually native to Illinois(southern)  These cacti become more evergreen like in the winter. Both need full sun and like their roots dry, so living together in perfect harmony in my oxymoron garden is a possibility.

Foliage on the garden stage is usually the chorus, but I’m here to tell you it can also be the star of the show. When contrasting leaf textures are planted in your garden, a dash of this feathery leaf, teamed up with a dash of tall spikes, mixed with a variegated leaf, will bring the curtain up for years worth of curtain calls.

Happy winter and may all you days be garden days.