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Yes Paw Paw does exist. It is on an old Chicago - Galena stage line. We’ve only lived here since 2002 starting out in Chicago (west Rogers Park) in the early 70’s, then west to Glen Ellyn where husband Dan and I bought our first home and raised son and daughter, Natalie and Bill. Having grown up in a rural area of upstate New York with a cacophony of animals and 4H activities, wild and natural places – and farm life – have always called me. Those interests morphed into many years of backpacking in Colorado, canoeing in Wisconsin and biking the Prairie Path as well as a long career in the landscaping field. I continue my passion for plants and beautiful outdoor spaces through my business and website Nearlywild.net. I have two amazing and accomplished adult children that I am immensely proud of and visit regularly – Chicago and San Francisco. We share many family interests – good food, biking, outdoor activities and adventure. My goal with this blog is to share our experiences and keep us all connected. Welcome! And please feel free to contribute! Pat

Llama Shearing Day

Llamas and Alpacas originated in the Andes of South America and are adapted to cold weather but, unfortunately, not to our hot summers. To keep them comfortable in the Midwest you need to give them an annual haircut.


I admit that the first year we owned them we attempted this ourselves, inviting all our friends to “help” us!


Ruffian sniffs Katy

We bought our llamas in Pinedale, Wyoming. With an elevation of 7,000 ft. summer heat was not an issue. When we first sheared them it was the first time for them – not that they like it any more ten years later!

Ruffian and Jenny3

I really enjoyed looking at these old photos including this one of my daughter, Natalie:

Christine, me, and Ruffian

Then I discovered Floyd Zopfi, a Wisconsin Llama aficionado who comes each year hauling this contraption behind his truck.


Floyd has been a godsend to us as well as to the many farms and zoos that employ him throughout the Midwest. And what an interesting fellow he is!


Floyd set the Guinness Book of World Record for using 56 llamas harnessed to a single cart, a fact that he displays proudly on this truck. He and his llamas are quite a spectacle at the Labor Day parade each year in Janesville, Wisconsin.

The huge hitch stretches 140 ft. when it’s all hooked up. Floyd positions three out-riders on each side of the hitch, equipped with walkie talkies so they can communicate with each other. “They look for any problems with the animals such as tangled harness, and keep kids and other bystanders away from the llamas during parades.”


Sorry to not provide a better photo of this amazing sight, but here are some others of llamas in harness:



Did I mention how much llamas HATE to be poked, pricked and prodded?


I opted for the complete cut this year as Lefty managed to get himself entangled in burdock, yet again, leaving him looking pretty silly indeed!

Another way llamas cool off:



I end up with several bags of fiber which I gladly give away. Any takers?

Two colors only!


And one more of Lefty lusting over those daylilies:


Wednesday Vignette – Wine Cups


This week’s garden vignette is a dreadfully disorganized scramble that was slated for revamping – one of these days.

If ever.

Then it kept raining, raining and raining and everything grew into a heap of lush green foliage with flowers on top of the mess.

DSC_1554 There are two scramblers here – Wine Cups (Callirhoe involucrata) and Clematis ‘Rooguchi’. Most of the plants in this bed had been moved from my old gardens in Glen Ellyn years ago, so the area has functioned more as a holding area than a garden.

So THAT’S my excuse!

DSC_1544There is an Astrantia, a Galium called ‘Victor Jones’, a daylily I picked up on sale and underneath the mess, there HAD BEEN an Oakleaf Hydrangea.

I dare you to find it!


Another little garden is taking shape in the distance where a decrepit farm gate is getting replaced with a new one constructed of old barn wood.


I am rather fond of scramblers like Wine Cups for their ability to weave into their neighbors sometimes creating arresting combinations – or sometimes just confusing combinations as you never know what flower belongs to which leaf.

In the prairie it threads its way into Northern Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) which, by the way, is NOT a Honeysuckle, nor is it invasive. I have also let it scramble through Wine and Roses Weigela.


Wine Cups, also called Poppy Mallow, is a member of the mallow family (Hollyhock, and Hibiscus among others) easily recognized by the distinctive flowers.

Wine Cups is drought-tolerant, develops a significant taproot and produces bright magenta flowers all summer long. The color is always clear, never muddy as is common with magenta colored flowers. Native range includes Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas with scattered populations in Illinois.


Hey, I think I can spot the Hydrangea in this shot!

Flowering can be prolonged by removing old flowers before they set seed. Mine have never seeded. If yours have, please comment!


Hurry up – time to get this posted!

Whew – what a workout! I think I’ll take a nap now.


Wednesday Vignette — Pale Indian Plaintain

Set featured imageDSC_1543

Pale Indian Plantain (Cacalia atriplicifolia) is not something you are going to run across at your local garden center. It is a Midwestern native found in rocky woodlands, thickets and wet meadows throughout Illlinois, “conspicuous but uncommon” according to Swink and Wilhelm. I obtained a few from my friend Victor and scattered them about just to see what they would do, this being the only one to bloom this year.


What a lovely thing it has turned out to be, conspicuous to be sure, and not just in flower. Leaves and stems are thick and leathery. Leaves are blue-gray in color while the stems and petioles display a purple cast. Creamy white flowers exude an aroma like vanilla.


Forgive the blur — I haven’t quite mastered the macro feature of my camera.

A couple years back I rolled a hollow log into this bed that consists of nothing more than a jumble of Bittersweet clambering up an electric pole. There is an old gate and chair hiding in the jumble, along with Kitty.


Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) and Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) are nearby companions. Alas, the snowplow almost demolished the old log last winter.


It appears that deadheading will extend the bloom. Right now I am content to watch the show.

Wednesday Vignette – Bottlebrush Times Two


Appropriately named Bottlebrush Grass sports long floral spikes that resemble a bottlebrush. I rarely see it used ornamentally except by native plant enthusiasts like myself. It is perfect for woodlands or to add textural interest to the summer shade garden. It is quite lovely backlit, as most grasses are, and the light color makes them stand out. Plants often form small colonies and I suspect they may seed about. Paired spikelets become straw colored when mature.


Bottlebrush Grass was assigned to a different genus in the past and referred to as Hystrix patula. Because this grass forms a naturally occurring hybrid with Virginia Wild Rye (Elymus virginicus), it was reassigned to the Elymus genus and is now known as Elymus hystrix.

Repetition of flower form with Bottlebrush Buckeye in the background was quite accidental but is much enjoyed.


Yes, I KNOW it’s Thursday! Alas, I traveled to Wisconsin but I still wanted to keep up the momentum of this “meme”.

Wednesday Vignette — Ozark Coneflower


I am charmed by the randomness of Clematis which attaches itself to anything within reach. This year – quite by accident—its companions are Echinacea paradoxa (Ozark Coneflower) and Aesculus parviflora (Bottlebrush Buckeye). The rose, on which it was supposed to consort with, does not want to cooperate.


Echinacea paradoxa is a rare native wildflower found in the Ozark region of Arkansas and Missouri. The paradox of this species is that it’s a yellow flowered member of the purple coneflower family. According to Prairie Moon Nursery, Echinaceas easily cross-pollinate. E. paradoxa is one of the parents used in hybridizing Coneflowers resulting in the bizarre colored cultivars that are so popular in the market these days. E. paradoxa is deer resistant, fragrant, and is not prone the Aster Yellows that plague E. purpurea.

This is my first post for Wednesday Vignette which was initiated by a fellow blogger flutterandhum.wordpress.com who describes it as follows:

This meme celebrates combinations. The inspiration of the week can be foliage and flowers, but it can also consist of surrounding materials, colors and textures, or a combination of it all – anything that creates an arresting display in the world around us.

I plan on featuring plants that are native to the Midwest. Sounds easy, no? Let’s see if I can keep this up!

Lily Loving Llamas


Blame it all on this endless rain.


The ground is like butter when you put a shovel in it, making weeding, edging and digging holes a breeze.

Sort of.

No mosquitoes, few flies, temperatures in the 70’s. Am I really in Illinois? So instead of cleaning the bathroom I go outside and play.


My Burr Road client:


Coming home from a landscape job with a big honking clump of daylily had me wandering around looking for a place to dig another hole. Without a weedwacker, fences and corners can quickly get out of control. It didn’t take long to find a weedy mess that needed some taming.

I dragged an old piece of plywood out of the barn and made a hillbilly patio that I can easily mow over. The big chunk of daylily went into the corner with a Heptacodium branch that I dragged out of the burn pile.



All done – except of course for Dusty and Lefty who were watching all this activity with great interest.



Farewell Daylilies!

Dusty and Lefty are my two remaining llamas from our backpacking days. Each carried up to 60 lbs of food, tent, beer and other essentials into the wilds of Colorado and Wyoming in years gone by. The gear remains in the barn and Dusty and Lefty remain as resident pasture poodles.

1810 Pilot Knob

They have a good life.


The following day they came back for seconds – as if there was anything left! Some chicken wire next year may inhibit them from stretching their long necks through the fence. But this year I just have to shake my head and chuckle.


Now, readers, it’s your turn!

I’m getting more response from posting a picture of a skunk on Facebook than I do from this blog. Should I continue to post? Here are some topics I was thinking of writing about:

A recap of one of our old llama adventures:

1777 The top at last

Comparing different Echinaceas or Coneflowers for Illinois gardens:


Traveling to the southwest with my sister, Karen:


DSC_1410Flowers, flowers and more flowers:

DSC_1446So, what shall it be?

Should I continue posting?


An update to my original post. A month later and I’ve made some improvements — after scraping and four coats of paint an old window from our house in Glen Ellyn gets hung on the barn wall. The branch leaning in the corner is a dead Heptacodium that I dragged out of the burn pile. Chicken wire stapled to the fence keeps Lefty from reaching the Daylilies. Everything here is re-purposed junk and giveaways.

Thanks to all who encouraged me to continue this blog!

Driftless in Wisconsin

P1120914Wisconsin has always been close to my heart. My family is fortunate to own property in the Driftless Region, a 4 hour drive from the Chicago burbs.

So what exactly is “driftless”?

driftless-glacial-smallThe Driftless Area is sometimes referred to as the Paleozoic Plateau. The area was by-passed by the glaciers as they advanced and retreated during the last ice age, thereby avoiding glacial drift.

This has resulted in a steep, rugged landscape, high quality springs – good for trout I’m told – and many interesting features and creatures.

Heron on the Kickapoo:

Kickapoo_heronMorel mushroom harvest:

P1140032Sneaky little devils:

P1140021For all my friends who follow this blog, or have expressed interest in visiting – Jose and Odile, Bernie, Chicago Bob, Mary, Linda – the house sits on the ridge top. You can see Shaw Road snaking it’s way through the hollow below. We own no road frontage but have an easement that allows access. My late husband thought it was remote enough to be a command post for NORAD until the Fire Dept came along and added a flag.

DSC_0926There is something about the inaccessibility that makes it even more desirable, almost as if it has even more value. How can that be?

My latest obsession has been to make the property “horse friendly” and I have to thank my dear friends Karen and Esther, and neighbors Chris and David for helping me make that happen.

DSC_0810This past week Karen and I hauled our two trusty steeds up – Molly and Chappy. Chris allows us to drop the horse trailer at his hunting camp in the valley. We are accompanied by the “music” of a fresh water spring as we unload the horses. We give them a good drink in the creek before we ride up. My neighbor even has an outhouse there.

Esther thanks you, Chris!

Here, Esther rides while leading – or ponying Chappy – while I drive the truck with all our groceries and gear. A braver person with a bigger truck might be willing to attempt to haul the horse trailer up, but no thanks, I’ll take the easy way out.

DSC_0783 Neighbor’s dog, Ozzie, has adopted our horses.

DSC_0798This year I have added interlocking horse panels that can be arranged to make adjoining outdoor stalls or a corral. Prior to that we used a tie line.

Next? Pasture fencing for grazing I think.


This area is well known for canoeing, biking, hunting and trail riding. LaRiviere Horse Park is in Prairie du Chien. Wildcat Mountain, and Kickapoo Valley Reserve are about 40-50 minutes away and I’m eager to explore them all. My riding neighbors Tim and Leanne recommended Duck Egg for a day ride.

IMG_3664Duck Egg is a 707 acre property that was acquired by Vernon County as part of the installation of a large flood control dam. While the dam was completed in 1990, equestrian and hiking trails were opened just a couple years ago.

IMG_3881The park is small but it is exceptionally well developed with both horseman and the fisherman in mind. I REALLY want to know why it’s called Duck Egg!


IMG_3861The Chaseburg Saddle Club was instrumental in developing much of the trail and oh what a difference that has made! Periodically we would come across well crafted mounting blocks, picnic tables and hitching posts – all with amazing views. Bridges criss-cross the creek allowing hikers and fishermen to keep their feet dry.

IMG_3665An Amish buggy pulled in behind us when we stopped for gas in Viroqua on the way home.

IMG_3902 The following day Karen headed off to Minneapolis to visit her daughter and, alas, chilly rain moved in.

DSC_1047 Horse corrals turned into a mud pit and leaves began to drip rain too.

DSC_1034Mist began to rise from the valley and this is where I needed to snuggle up with a good Steven King novel, says Bob.

DSC_0913 With Karen gone I drove around hopelessly trying to pick up cell phone service, finally ending up at a café in Boscobel with WIFI. I visited neighbors Tim and Leanne and lusted over the 4-Star trailer with living quarters they had for sale.

DSC_0930 Sun broke through and I stopped to admire the local herbivores.

And nearly caused a stampede!

DSC_0931When Karen returned from her visit we next headed to Kickapoo Valley Reserve near La Farge. This is an enormous park – 8,600 acres – with the Kickapoo River meandering through the middle of it.

DSC_0960Kickapoo is an Algonquian word meaning “one who goes here, then there,” a fitting name as the river is very crooked, frequently doubling back on itself as it flows through the Wisconsin landscape. In the 1970’s a dam was proposed at LaFarge as a means to control flooding in the region. Ultimately 140 farms were purchased mostly from unwillingly local property owners.

BottomlandHardwood1From the beginning the dam was controversial and plagued with problems. Conflict between dam opponents and proponents, coupled with property owners who did not want to sell their property—but were forced to—set the stage for a controversy that would last for almost 20 years. There were the inevitable cost overruns and environmental studies that spelled doom for over 400 archeological sites, rare plant and animal species and, of course, the dangerously lovely Kickapoo. The dam project came to a halt in 1975 but not before they had spent nearly $18 million, transferred out a third of the High School and disrupted the economy of the town. The community was left embittered and divided.

1370_5It took a long time for the community to pick up the pieces of this debacle, but in 1993 citizens proposed to keep the land, which had remained fallow for many years, public, and develop it for low impact ecotourism. Out of citizen initiatives, grew the beginnings of The Kickapoo Valley Reserve, now owned by the State of Wisconsin and the Bureau of Indian Affairs on behalf of the Winnebago tribe. What’s important is that these initiatives immerged from desires of the local community and not from outsiders, as well intentioned or as profit seeking as they may have been.

This place is certainly impressive.

Karen and I stopped by the Visitor Center to pick up our trail passes — $4 for a day pass – and would have stayed longer if we were not so eager to saddle up. Armed with maps and good advice, we parked on a broad meadow that allowed for easy maneuvering, saddled our ponies and set off. The trail led us down to the Kickapoo River and old Highway 131. It’s hard to imagine that this road was ever a state highway. Now it serves as a multi-use trail – bikes on the asphalt and riders alongside the mowed edge.

DSC_1009They even provided horse mats for crossing the asphalt – first time I had ever seen that!

DSC_1011Both horses thought those mats – same ones they stand on inside the trailer – were just frightful things and stepped AROUND them!

We left the old highway trail at Bridge #16 and began to climb up into Hemlock, Pine and Birch, Witchhazel in bloom everywhere. So lovely!


DSC_0992We stopped for lunch along Hanson Rock Trail where there was a handy tie-line set up and a beautiful view to enjoy. Although we had been warned that this place is huge and you can easily get lost, we found the trails well marked. We only encountered one other person – a solitary hiker.

DSC_1002We watched illusive warblers flitting about Hackberry and Elderberry brush at this trail junction.

DSC_09967180111018_cd49476cc3_zThursday Karen returned to her job in Naperville.

Friday Natalie and Bill arrived.

DSC_1053 Daughter Natalie is on the last leg of her summer journey from Tuscany, where she manages the kitchen for a Vineyard and B&B called Castello di Potentino, to her home in San Francisco. While there she was able to travel to Istanbul and stay with her friend Clare, an artist and textile designer. We shared pictures and adventures via our iPhones!


DSC_1064The following day son Bill lent his expertise on the troublesome tractor. I had been texting him in the previous days while he was sitting in his class at UIC. Name of class was “Internal Combustion Engines” – HAH!

He has one more semester of grad school.

DSC_1049 That evening Bill made Beef Wellington. Natalie assisted with the crust, while Judy Garland snored in front of a rip-roaring fire.

IMG_3914I do love autumn!

DSC_1055 My adventuresome children,

DSC_0907and The Driftless.


Ella Who Disappeared

What do you do when your companion – yes, a CAT – just goes off and disappears one day?

Yes, CATS. They are – you know – expendable.


But I miss Ella.

She was our very first Critter at our country home. She just appeared one day in the barn, lonely, hungry, and very, very shy.


I had to coach her out from some dark corner. Eventually we became friends. A trip to the vet confirmed that she was a spayed female. Could she have been released by someone who no longer wanted to care for her? Yes, people do that. We never did find out her origin but we did get to know all her peculiarities as cats are wont to have.

She never liked using the new kitty door.


But the dog and the chickens thought it was swell.


Ella – Ella Fitzgerald – preferred the barn but loved to just “hang out” with me whenever I meandered the premises, weeded, or tended. She had an unusually thick coat of hair, a very soft purr along with a sweet, shy nature.


She would “meow” with no discernable sound.

Always predictable, whenever I walked out the back door, she would tag along with me as I did my chores. She never disappeared for days as Baseball, the male cat, sometime does.

Coyotes howl at night, fox prowl the fields, enormous farm implements crawl slowly over the crops.


I miss my companion and just wish I knew . . .

Weeding at Nachusa

Echinacea pallida

As if I didn’t have enough weeding to do, last week I volunteered at Nachusa Grasslands near Franklin Grove, IL, owned by The Nature Conservancy. They emailed a request to volunteers that read in part:

“This week yellow sweet clover is blooming. We have lots of plantings that could use a person to sweep them for weeds BIRDS SINGING, FLOWERS BLOOMING. The joys of summer are yours. I can assign you a planting. Let me know. ”

Now . . . how can you refuse an offer like THAT?

I am quite enamored of this area, not only because of my interest in native plant communities but also because of the equestrian trails at nearby Franklin Creek.


My riding buddies enjoy many hours here each summer. With 198 acres and 12 miles of trails (is that ALL?), we still manage to get lost.

Nachusa sign

Nachusa Grasslands, just north of the equestrian area, consists of 3,100 acres of prairie remnants, restorations, and reconstructions and is home to over 700 native prairie plant species.


I believe this is Common St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

I doubt if I have as much as 70 species in my own prairie garden.
And I thought I had a lot!


The “enemy” – Yellow Sweet Clover.

The steward for this area had mowed the top of the knob to control seeding from this pest.


Bill Kleiman provided me an amazing tool that I had seen touted – and sold – by Wild Ones. It is a adapted spade, very light in weight with the handle conveniently rotated – perfect for slicing tap rooted plants like Wild Parsnip, Burdock, Thistle or Queen Anne’s Lace.


This is how it works: The sharp end slices through the soil at the base of the plant like butter. By slicing, not prying, below the plants crown, the “Parsnip Predator” effectively severs crown buds, resulting in root death and no soil disturbance.


When the “carrot” is severed, the plant dies.

Wild Parsnip is a plant that has invaded my pastures and is common along the roadsides where I live, so I was much interested in how to best combat it.


It’s a nasty thing. The juice of Wild Parsnip in contact with skin in the presence of sunlight can cause a rash and blistering that makes poison ivy look like a walk in the park. My friend Janet admits she still has visible scares from encounters from many years ago.

I swiped this photo from A Prairie Haven, a marvelous blog with wonderful butterfly and moth photos. “I wish they would eat it all”, they write. Check out their “parsnip pulling outfit” – LOL!


Since I was not equipped with gloves, long sleeves, and a bag over my head, I concentrated on the Yellow Sweet Clover. Nachusa’s strategy was to go after 2-year plants that can reach 8 ft in height. I found smaller plants that had been bent but not cut in the mowed debris. Tedious to be sure!


In my wanderings I came across deer beds, Leadplant, and graceful Panic Grass.



and a few I managed to ID when I returned home:


Dianthus armeria or Deptford Pink.

I much prefer the botanical name for this one.


Growing on noon, I gathered the weed piles and returned to headquarters throwing my weed harvest on a burn pile along with all the others – a tiny contribution.

I now have been “promoted,” having the password to the tool shed I can come and go as I please. WOW! I thought of my many friends who love the birds and wild places just as I do.

Paw Paw Edith? Glen Ellyn Mary? Chicago Bob? Roberta? Karen? Misha?

Even though I continue my own battle of weeds at home, there is something about a morning at Nachusa that nourishes the soul.


Controlled Chaos in the Prairie

Controlled chaos is what I call my native prairie – emphasis on chaos.


Echinacea pallida (Pale Purple Coneflower) was drop dead gorgeous in it’s second season.


The following winter I discovered voles or 13-lined ground squirrels, comfortably nested under the snow, having a banquet on the corms. Goodbye Flowers. After that, the weeds moved in – Bindweed, Quackgrass, Black Medic, Sow Thistle – I got ‘em all.

So I just began digging.

And digging . . .

And digging . . .

Then pitching the entire mess into the dumpster. Hey – would YOU want Bindweed in YOUR mulch pile?


Support staff is “ready and able”.

When you have GIANT HOLES to fill, adversity can be an opportunity for improvement.

This season’s additions include Cacalia plantaginea (Prairie Indian Plantain), a sweet thing I first saw at Hitt’s Siding, a prairie remnant courtesy of the Burlington Northern RR (below):

Cacalia plantaginea -Prairie Plantain

Melanthium virginicum (Bunch Flower) is touted by Prairie Moon Nursery. When bare root plants were offered on sale this spring, I bit.


Silene regia (Royal Catchfly) – can’t get enough of this exceptional plant. This is what it looked like last year, blooming concurrently with Ratibida pinnata (Yellow Coneflower). I have a sinking feeling this gorgeous specimen ended up in my dumpster.


Anemone canadensis (Meadow Anemone) is known to grow in gravel along roadway edges. Might it keep the Chickweed and Clover at bay?

Don’t let me down, Meadow Anemone. Grow . . . please grow!

Last year’s Anemone in the Ditch Garden:


So, there’s hope. (I hope.)

Solidago graminifolia (Grass-leaved Goldenrod) is both rhizomatous, aggressive, and downright scary when let loose in the garden. I’ll include a picture from Wildflowers.org as mine are pretty darn puny.

Desperate conditions require desperate measures.


Callirhoe involucrata (Wine Cups) — I really don’t understand why I keep killing this thing. It has this charming habit of threading itself amidst its companions with vivid cup shaped flowers reaching for sunlight. Lovely with Diervilla lonicera and, well, just about anything!


Now to figure out how to mark these things so I do not destroy them with my pick and shovel next year in a weeding frenzy.


There will be no more weeding my weeds!




Peonies now spent, roses beginning to open and the prairie is filled with shapes and textures that are so lovely to look at.


This time of year is so exciting to me, like the moment you feel at a horse race when the gate is about to open.


Echinacea purpurea (Pale Purple Coneflower) below:


Tradescantia ohiensis (Spiderwort)


Baptisia leucantha (White Wild Indigo)


In a few short weeks a cacophony of color will follow.


Join me for a stroll?