A green space for urban gardeners

New year, new garden: flowers, tomatoes and a free prairie seed are all part of the mix

With Chicago under threat of a foot of snow, visions of colorful blossoms standing tall against the sun are but a faraway dream. Oh, by the way — Happy New Year!

Of course gloomy days like this are the perfect time for daydreaming, and like other gardening aficionados I’m already planning what I’ll do with my 5×12-foot space come spring. And luckily, I’m getting a little help…

When I returned from Christmas holiday I was greeted with catalogs from both Burpee and Tomato Growers, where I order most of the plants and seeds to use in my urban balcony garden. I haven’t exactly decided on a color scheme yet, but a few things have caught my eye already:

  • Cherries Jubilee Tomato: How can I resist the promise a whopping 500 juicy gems over the course of the season? (Burpee)
  • Lemon Cherry: Anything with lemon in the name works for me, but the promise of just 58 days to this tomato’s maturity pushes it over the top. (Tomato Growers)
  • Fancy Dress Petunia: With bicolor yellow and mauve blossoms it’s quite irresistible, plus petunias have proven to last way into fall in my garden. (Burpee)
  • Purple Jalapeno: I’ve tried green and yellow, so can’t wait to sample the purple. (Tomato Growers)
  • Showtime: A knockout dahlia with big orange petals and an inner flourish of yellow. (Burpee)
  • Red Robin: A new small-fruit tomato variety that only becomes about a foot tall, so perfect for small spaces. (Tomato Growers)

The tomatoes will likely stick, but I still have to factor in returning favorites. The pepper, I think, is a sure thing. Once I’ve decided on the colors that will make up this season’s garden I’ll be able to be definitive on my flower selections.

I must admit, though, that I am itching to grow the seeds I collected from last year’s garden, so that may impact the colorscape. (The Yellow Bells shown above produced the long pods pictured, from which I harvested flat, delicate-looking seeds.)


Another seed that will likely play a part in my color scheme is the freebie I’ll receive from One Seed Chicago, a project that supports local community gardeners and asks Chicago area residents to choose their favorite seed from three prairie varieties. Gardeners who participate in the voting process will receive samples of the winning seed for use in their gardens.

The seeds up for consideration are Purple Coneflower, Bee Balm and Nodding Onion. I’ve already voted, and can’t wait to see how my selection fares. For Chicago gardeners interested in bringing a bit of our natural prairie to their own spaces, it’s a great opportunity.

And though viewers from outside the Chicago area can’t participate in the voting, you should still visit the site for a bit more info about these remarkable plants. You can also get a quick primer on prairies by visiting Wikipedia, which even mentions how prairie plants can have a positive impact on global warming.

Hmmm. Maybe I should consider a prairie theme…Cheers for 2010!!!

[What new plants are you introducing this season? Can’t wait to hear about them!]


  Pam’s English Garden wrote @

I wonder which prairie plant you voted for. I would vote for purple cone flower, because it attracts the butterflies in the summer and the goldfinches in the fall. I haven’t decided what I am planting yet. I enjoyed this post very much. Happy New Year and stay warm. x

  City Diggity wrote @

Hi Pam,
I think I’ll wait till they announce the winner before I reveal which one I voted for. I will say I also like echinacea. I had a red one last year that I left outside in its pot to see if it might survive the winter in a container and come back. We’ll see… Happy 2010!

  vrtlaricaana wrote @

I’m sticking to veggies that I eat mostly. Don’t do much experimenting – ok, one or two new plants each year. But my vegetable garden should cover my annual needs for certain veggies.
I’m looking forward to pictures of all those different tomatoes.

  mygreenfinder wrote @

Happy New Year Avis! Your balcony is all covered with snow? Must have been so cold. But it is something that I see only from pictures like yours 😉 Oh, since it is so cold out there, shopping from catalogue does make sense. Also, I am sure prairie theme would be fun for you. Then you can include many native flowers right? Happy planning!

  Jo wrote @

Happy new year, Avis. It’s so exciting at this time of year planning for the growing season ahead. Like you, I am also going to be growing some new (to me) varieties of tomato. I’ve got a couple of heritage varieties which I will be sowing this year.

  Fly Girl wrote @

Purple jalapeno? Lemon tomato? Umm, I’m waiting for a late Spring brunch invitation for tomato salad and jalapeno quiche. I like the purple cone flower/echinacea, really any purple flower.

  Wendy wrote @

These varieties seem great! I’ve grown a purple jalapeno. How about eggplant in your mix? Maybe a thai eggplant – small and green?

I’m trying beans this year. Dried beans – black eyed peas, black beans, bolita beans, and also chanterais melons. I’m even so bold as to try watermelon this year.

  City Diggity wrote @

I looked through the catalog in hopes of finding a small purple eggplant to try this year, but they were all too big. I grew the Thai eggplant last year and really liked it, so I think I will include it again this year. I’m going to write a post about it with a recipe soon.
I saw two lovely watermelons in the Burpee catalog that you should check out: one is orange and seedless – Orange Sunshine Hybrid, the other is an heirloom – Moon and Stars. You’re lucky to have space to grow melons!

  MrBrownthumb @Chicago Garden wrote @

Thanks for blogging about One Seed Chicago!

  Lesley wrote @

I am ex head gardener of 15 years standing, now happy to be garden designing and not garden growing professionally. However, your enthusiasm is refreshing. I am just glad that someone else is doing it all.
Love the cat!

Best wishes
Robert Webber
The Hegarty Webber Partnership

  Lynne Jordan wrote @

Yes, your enthusiasm is inspiring! I can’ wait to see you plant those seeds you collected. It’s very exciting. How do you store them?

  Wendy wrote @

Thanks for the ideas Avis – the moon and stars looks great! My husband insisted on seeds, so not sure about the orange seedless…I doubt I truly have room to grow watermelon, but it being winter and all, and I being new and full of naivety…gonna try it anyway – no doubt I’ll be posting my failings about…July or so! 🙂

  Wendy wrote @

oh, we first had thai eggplant in a tom yum soup at a restaurant during the college years. We had no idea what they were and called them “little pumpkins”. It was delicious. Looking forward to seeing how you’ve been enjoying them!

  lynnejordan wrote @

Will you be doing any winter/indoor gardening for us?

  City Diggity wrote @

Perhaps… I may try something indoors. Cheers!

  linda wrote @

Hi Avis, can’t wait to see your balcony garden growing and blooming again! The thing I love most about winter is seed and plant catalogs, and looking forward to spring!

Eggplant is a favorite veggie of mine, but I didn’t grow any last season. With the small space I have I concentrated on more productive veggies. But they are such pretty veggies, maybe I’ll find a sunny spot in the front landscape to tuck in a couple of eggplants.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: