amateur gardener

Condo Living, That's Life Comments Off on amateur gardener
May 062015

Tomato-5_7Those who have read my blog over the years know that I have a passion for gardening.

Nope, I don't pretend to have a green thumb or anything like that. And I generally have very little space – either in my Oak Park condominium or my Albuquerque apartment. But, I have learned that I can enjoy growing plants in pots and they generally do quite nicely.

Here is that tomato plant started in late March. It is doing quite nicely. I think I should have tomatoes by July and will be happy to share them with my friends when they ripen.

The smaller pot holds plants that are fun – even for children…two grapefruit "trees" and a potato plant share that small space. I expect I need to repot them in the next day or two. If you'd like to try this experiment with your children, just cut out the eyes of a potato plant or save out a seed or two from a grapefruit and pop them into some potting soil. Give them as much sunlight as you can. Then watch them grow.


Initiating A New Condo Board

Condo Living Comments Off on Initiating A New Condo Board
Feb 062012

The first meeting after election of condominium board officers can be harried. The transition can be very messy. Fortunately, most board members are elected to position on a staggered basis, so that at least two board members have had a year's worth of experience. That's assuming that those older members have not just served as board members in name only. 

At this meeting transfer of keys, documents and files is important. But there's more. Ideally, the board members have been voted into office by the unit owners. The board members then decide among themselves who will be president, treasurer, secretary and who will be responsible for specific aspects of the business. Every one should commit to specific tasks based on their skills and capabilities. No one should be allowed to be a member who just attends meetings when they feel like it.

If there is a property manager that works on behalf of the board, that manager should be present at this (and all) meeting. But, it should be made very clear the board is responsible by law for the well-being of the association.

The board members need to agree when and how often they will meet. Because they are typically volunteers they may not be willing to juggle schedules very much but with something like 300 possible hours to choose from, there should be no reason that five people can't come up with 2-3 hours that are acceptable to all. Each one much be ready and willing to shoulder a fair share of the responsibilities that lie ahead, understanding that when they don't others on the board will have to pick up the slack.They're committed to a team effort. It's a team effort all the way.

Ok so the new board is ready to rock 'n' roll….not so fast!

What about understanding of procedures, policies, priorities? Do they understand that they have undertaken a fiduciary responsibility to the association and all the unit owners? Say what?

That's right, for the next 2-3 years (whatever their term) the board members individually and as a whole have a fiduciary responsibility to the association and all the members. They are required to deliver the highest standard of care of the assets of the association, putting aside all personal agendas to work set aside their personal agendas to work on behalf of the whole.Put in every day language the board members are required to work diligently to: :

  • Avoid conflicts of interest
  • Act in the interest of the entire association rather than their own personal interests
  • Provide oversight to assure that all association business is transacted legally
  • Make decisions to protect the assets of the corporation on behalf of all unit owners

In this capacity, handling the association's business, it's up to those board members to follow and uphold the Illinois Not for Profit Corporation Law (if applicable), The Illinois Condominium Act, Condo Decs and ByLaws, Rules and Regulations, Policies and Procedures.

OK, so now they have a fair start. What's the responsibility of the unit owners? They don't run the business. While they're not responsible for making decisions, if they are good stewards of their investment they should be paying attention to how those board members perform their duties. They should actively support the efforts of the board and demand that the board function responsibly. They should stay informed so that when it comes time to elect new officers in a year, they can choose new officers responsibly – and, better yet, run for office, taking their turn at the helm. 

Monte, The Grapefruit, Brightens Chicago Condo in Winter

Condo Living, That's Life, Winter Comments Off on Monte, The Grapefruit, Brightens Chicago Condo in Winter
Jan 142012

Meet Monte.

My daughter planted Monte last year when working in a Chicago highrise office. She loves plants as much as I do. I suppose this passion for nature is embedded in our DNA. Anyway, one day she came across a seed while she was eating a grapefruit. She decided to plant it to see what would happen.

As it turns out, grapefruit plants are excellent indoor plants. They are proof positive that you can enjoy the best of all worlds living in a Chicago condominium. You just need to open your eyes.

It was her pride and joy and the envy of her co-workers.  But then she changed jobs and Monte needed a new home.  At first she tried moving Monte to her home. But her cats just wouldn't leave it alone.

So now Monte lives in my condo with me. While I've planted avocados and potato vines I had no idea just how striking grapefruit plants are. The plant's large deep green leaves offer a dramatic accent to any decor.

Grapefruit plants grow very nicely with a little water (over watering will turn the leaves yellow),  MiracleGro and a little fluffing of the soil from time to time especially when you put them in a sunny window. But, they're not entirely self sufficient. They do require a little extra TLC. Two of the biggest problems are

1. Some cats love to chew on the leaves – not all cats, mind you (My own cats, are singularly uninterested in Monte.

2. Grapefruit plants – even if grown indoors – are prone to insects. I have no idea where these pests come from. Insecticidal soap and horticulture oil will resolve this issue. The trick is you can't buy these in small quantities here in the big city; but, that's ok because you may need to apply these remedies several times. The good thing is that the horticultural oil gives the leaves a lovely shine as you can see here.

I took this picture of Monte after the first Chicago snow in January 2012 because it provided such a wonderful contrast. Monte is a very welcome companion to have around during Chicago's dreary winter days.

Chicago: Intelligent Gardening

Business - Not As Usual, Condo Living, That's Life Comments Off on Chicago: Intelligent Gardening
Oct 302011

Denver, New York and other parts of the country have already had their first brush with winter snow. We, in Chicago, on the other hand have had a pretty easy time this fall. Gardeners are not disappointed.

In Chicago we've been enjoying a delightful – though all too short –  fall. Trees and other seasonal plants have been resplendent in their Chicago Fall Colorsbeauty.  We're enjoying some spectacular displays this year – trees in our neighborhoods and flowers like of mums and other late blooming flowers are dazzling us with all their glory – a reminder that the bitter winter ahead is only temporary..Some of the summer flowers – like marigolds – are still delivering gorgeous splashes of color in our condominium's garden. 

If you're interested in taking advantage of nature's gifts, you'll want to remember to get out now and gather seeds from the plants that you enjoy most for planting next summer. Why wait and buy the same seeds and plants from year to year when nature has so much to offer – free?

Where will your plants grow best?

It's really easy. First it's important to recognize that city gardens  have all kinds of variances – mini ecological systems that delight a wide variety of plants. Some spots are shadier than others, some are naturally drier than others. Your plants will tell you where they like to grow. Just watch where they thrive. Within a year or two you will be able to plan intelligently to maximize your efforts.

When you're gathering think about where you want to grow the plant in your own landscape and look for plants that are now thriving in similar locations.

Throughout the growing season just pop off the dried seed pods left behind when the blooms die. It's called dead-heading and something you should be doing throughout the season to stimulate continued flowering.

With that in mind, fall is the best time to get busy if you want your garden to thrive next summer.


Some plants like marigolds reproduce by dropping seeds.  As each flower fades and dies Marigoldsoff it leads a pod of seeds hidden amidst their foliage. Throughout the year by pinching off these pods, a gardener can easily ensure an abundance of new flowers. This is called dead-heading.

My personal practice is to wait and watch until I see which plants I like the best and then as the pods start appearing, I pinch them off, open them and let the seeds dry thoroughly. I save them in an old cottage cheese container or baggie. In the spring I scatter them freely wherever I'd like new plants to grow. I personally prize the seeds this time of year because they have had a full season to develop to their fullest potential.  Marigold Seed

Here you see what a mature marigold seed pod looks like. Inside are easily 30-50 seeds. I picked it the same day I photographed the marigolds above it.

Beyond that, leaving the plants grow right into the winter and letting them drop the seeds themselves will ensure a new crop the next summer as well.


Plants that grow from bulbs are another matter. Plant them the first year and then let them do their thing. During the year those bulbs will generally expand and multiply giving you an ever more spectacular display from year to year.

CannaBut you do need to be careful. We have semi-topical Cannas that actually do very nicely in Chicago. The trick here is to watch where you plant them. They thrive in sunny spots and will disappoint if they are expected to grow where there's too much shade. Unlike hardier bulbs, they do not do well if left in the frozen ground through the winter here in Chicago.

Again, a little effort can save a ton of money from year to year. Let them grow right up to the first frost. And before the ground freezes. Dig up those bulbs – if you save the bulbs from the strongest plants you'll be amazed first because you'll have many more at the end of the year than you did when you first planted them and second by the quality of the plant next year. Just cut the bulbs from the stems and put those bulbs (they'll look pretty ugly – but don't worry) in a cool dry corner of your basement or garage and replant in the same spot and similar spots come spring..

Plants that take care of themselves

Don't forget when planning to include the shrubs that love to show off while requiring very burning bushlittle attention, like burning bushes. Many will withstand the harsh extremes of Chicago weather. Just make sure, when planting, to place them in the right corner of your yard and let them grow.  They'll delight you from year to year with very little effort on your part.

Follow Nature's Lead And Enjoy Spectacular City Gardens

Actually, gardeners know that if they pay attention to nature – and work with it – it's easy to ensure spectacular splashes of color from year to year. In fact, it almost becomes a matter of managing and controlling the garden. Once you find the plants that thrive in your garden, the biggest task, to my way of thinking, is removing the plantlets that spring up 

Do it on a dime

On of the best reasons for working with nature instead of doing annual shopping for plants at the beginning of each season is you will have plants that have proven themselves. They are plants that have shown that they adapt very well to Chicago's many quirks. Trying to work with hot-house plants from year to year requires a great deal more attention to make sure that they can make the transition from a controlled environment to your back yard effortlessly. If you're just getting started, never fear. in Chicago you can find garden exchanges and gardeners who really would like to share their abundance with others rather than discarding good viable plants.

Why fight it? Why spend tons of money on landscaping? And, why tolerate the drab concrete jungle when it takes so little effort to turn it into a paradise? Work with nature and enjoy success beyond your wildest expectations.

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