Bouquet Inspiration: The Forest Floor

By e.sparks, April 16th, 2014, Chicago, flowers

At Sprout Home, we feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with all types of  floral clients. It is truly a pleasure to create arrangements with a specific person in mind, and to help couples bring to life the unique visions they have for their wedding. Inspiration comes from everywhere you can think of. I have wired plastic dinosaurs into a “Lisa Frank” inspired bouquet, and have designed wedding flowers for a couple who described their wedding as “Casa Blanca meets Mad Max…” (Lots of black, white, driftwood and skeletal branches). We do get our fair share of traditional, white bouquet orders – but, more often than not, people come to us because they’re looking for something a bit different.

Wrap Text around ImageA couple of years ago, a bride came in looking for a non-floral bouquet. She spent much of her childhood wandering around the woods on her family’s property and, now that she was getting married, she wanted the bouquet she carried down the aisle to reflect her favorite memories. Thus, her inspiration was “the forest floor.”  Ummm, rad much? I just found the photos we snapped before delivering the bouquet, and I wanted to share.  I was really happy with the end result, and so was the bride. Hopefully this will inspire some of you to think beyond the traditional.

In order to mimic the look of a forest Wrap Text around Imagefloor, I used a variety of ferns, woody eucalyptus pods, beech twigs, dianthus and delicate bupleurum for the base of this bouquet. Then I wired in various succulents along with moss, lichen, dried fungus and dried zebra pods. The bride was also very fond of bleeding hearts (Dicentra) but they were unavailable at the time, so I substituted a couple stems of lily of the valley to get the same effect.


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Bring Spring Indoors by Forcing Branches

By e.sparks, March 26th, 2014, Chicago, flowers

Winter is finally over! (Sort of…) Even if the cold hasn’t quite let up, we’re beginning to see signs of spring in the form of leaf and flower buds. Early spring is the best time to prune your fruiting trees and shrubs to ready them for the growing season. This year, instead of throwing out (or composting, please) your cut branches, why not bring them inside to enjoy longer?

When flowering branches are cut at budding stages, blooms may open early indoors and last for quite a while. As long as the plant has had a proper cooling period and dormancy (through winter) the warm temperatures of the indoors will force flower buds to open earlier than they normally would outside on the plant. After the flowers drop, many branches will continue to grow leaves for quite a while (see the leafing almond branches pictured below). Some branches, such as willow, might even grow roots and may be planted in the ground after forcing inside.

Good examples of branches to force inside include: Apple, Cherry, Almond, Plum, Dogwood, Curly Willow, Fantail Willow, Forsythia, Pear, Quince, Magnolia

Almond branches growing leaves two weeks after flowers have dropped.

In order to prepare branches for forcing:

- Choose fresh branches which show signs of budding.

- Cut a couple of inches off the ends and shave off a bit of bark with a knife. You may also cut up into the end of each branch to allow for better water uptake , but be careful!

- Place branches in a vase full of lukewarm water.

- Place the vase near a window where the branches will receive at least some diffused, natural light.

- Re-cut branches, and refresh the water every couple of days (UNLESS the branches are rooting in the water. In this case, you will not want to cut off the roots, but simply refresh the old water).

Give it a try this season, and let us know how it goes!


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By sommersprout, March 13th, 2014, Chicago, outdoor planters, soil testing, veggies

Soil testing

When deciding on where to start a vegetable garden, it’s always best to have the soil tested for heavy metals. No, not the bands Guar or Beast, but lead, cadmium and arsenic. What are these things? They are bad, and you don’t want to eat herbs or vegetables that have been grown in them. Children are even more vulnerable to the effects of lead. In high concentration, it can effect academic performance and behavior.

There are a few clues you can look for when questioning your soil like a regular Nancy Drew. Do you live in a city with an industrial past or present? Do you notice building materials and debris when digging in your soil? If you’re nodding your head yes, you should have your soil tested for lead contamination.

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If you are fairly certain your urban garden is contaminated, go ahead and start planning your raised bed garden now. Start by selecting an area furthest from parking lots and busy streets. This isn’t all doom and gloom, make sure the area is sunny. Veggies love the sun like a spring-breaking teen! Plan the dimensions of your raised beds and find a source for untreated wood. It would be silly to build a raised bed to guard yourself from soil contaminates, only to have treated wood leach chemicals into your new soil. If you don’t have access to wood working tools, raised beds are also sold as a kit that you can put together yourself. A vegetable and herb garden should have a depth of about 1-2 feet depending on what you will be growing. Cover the area with landscaping fabric along the bottom and the sides. You don’t want the roots to break through into the contaminated soil. Measure the inside of the raised bed to determine how much soil you will need. Bagged potting soil can be used, or you can mix your own potting soil using, perlite, vermiculite, hummus, and organic top soil. To find local soil testing facilities in your town, contact the closest university extension office. Below is a list of places that offer soil testing near Chicago.

There is also a detailed soil analysis at a United States Department of Agriculture website.They’ve mapped the country, analyzed soils and made the data available to all in a free detailed report.

  • A&L Great Lakes Agricultural
    3505 Conestoga Drive
    Fort Wayne, IN 46808-4413
    Phone: (260) 483-4759
  • AgriEnergy
    21417 1950 E Street
    Princeton, IL 61356
    Phone: (815) 872-1190
  • GMS Laboratories
    23877 E. 00 North Road, PO Box 61
    Cropsey, IL 61731
    Phone: (309) 377-2851
  • Ingram’s Soil Testing Center
    13343 Fitschen Rd.
    Athens, IL 62613
    Phone: (217) 636-7500
  • Mississippi Valley Soil Testing Lab
    Hamilton, IL 62341
    Phone: (217) 847-3539/1-800-768-8305
  • SGS Toulon
    117 E. Main Street
    Toulon, IL 61483
    Phone: (309) 286-2761
  • Southern Illinois Soil Lab
    375 N. Old US Rt. 66, PO Box 448
    Hamel , IL 62046
    Phone: (618) 633-1811
  • Spectrum Analytic, Inc.
    1087 Jamison Rd.
    Washington C.H., OH 43160
    Phone: 740-335-1562
  • ASM Inc.
    2106 County Road 1000 East
    P.O. Box 3655
    Champaign, IL 61826
    Phone: (217) 356-5756
  • Brookside Laboratories, Inc.
    308 S Main St.
    New Knoxville, OH 45871
    Phone: 419-753-2448
  • Key Agricultural Services, Inc.
    114 Shady Lane
    Macomb, IL 61455
    Phone: (309) 833-1313
  • KSI Laboratories
    202 S. Dacey, Box 497
    Shelbyville , IL 62565-0497
    Phone: (217) 774-2421
  • SGS Belleville
    1511 E. Main Street, PO Box 175
    Belleville, IL 62222
    Phone: (618) 233-0445
  • Soiltech, Inc.
    22256 3375 East Street
    Arlington, IL 61312
    Phone: (815) 638-2522
  • Sparks Soil Testing Service
    1200 N. Kickapoo, Box 841
    Lincoln , IL 62656
    Phone: (217) 735-4233
  • United Soils, Inc.
    (Must request interpretation of results )
    111 S. Crystal Lane
    Fairbury, IL 61739
    Phone: (815) 692-2626

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Don’t Leaf Out The Pruners

By jeff.norberg, March 11th, 2014, Chicago, Plant Season, Pruning, Sprout Home, tree pruners

Though the snow has yet to melt here in Chicago, we at Sprout are getting our gardening tools ready for the coming thaw. Winter has been long and we are more eager than ever to get our hands dirty! Bare as it may be, this is the perfect time of year to peruse your garden and make plans for the coming season. Even if your garden is an opulent Eden of flowers and foliage in the summer, your garden will still need some tender-lovin’ care to keep it looking its best.

Many summer and fall flowering trees and shrubs will really benefit from an early spring pruning. This time of year is ideal for pruning because many of the harmful insects and fungi that would normally attack your plants just aren’t present in cold temperatures. Wrap Text around ImageWhen you remove portions of a plant, for ornamental or health reasons, the plant will put more energy into its remaining limbs and branches. The result is more vigorous flowering and growth in desired directions. In late winter or early spring, without their leafy covering, trees and shrubs open themselves to the critical gardener’s eye. Dead and diseased branches are easily spotted and removed, as are wayward or crossing branches. But you must be careful. Early spring is not the time to prune all trees and shrubs. Typically those that flower in spring or early summer should only be pruned shortly after flowering. Many of the early flowering plants begin to develop next year’s flower buds during the growing season so you’ll lose future blooms if you prune those budded branches now. If you’re not sure about a plant wait until the plant flowers or leafs out and send us some pictures. We’d be happy to help you identify your plants!

The process of pruning a branch begins with looking at the overall structure of the plant. Depending on the habit of the plant, whether it grows in a vase-shaped, weeping, or rounded, etc. manner, you will generally want to maintain the shape in which it naturally grows. As described above, certain branches make great candidates for pruning. Wrap Text around Image Let’s say you have a branch growing from one side of the trunk that, instead of growing out and away from the trunk, turns back towards the opposite side of the plant. To remove, take a look at the base of the branch where it meets the trunk. Look closely and you will notice a series of rings that wrap around the branch. This is the branch collar and it contains plant cells that will heal over the wound you are about to make. You will want to make your cut just above the branch collar. Generally your cut should be made at the same angle as the branch collar and as close to the collar as possible without cutting into those regenerative plant cells. Make your cut and by the end of the season this wound will have sealed over completely.

Now you’re equipped with the know-how to shape your plants into beautiful and healthy specimens. Get clippin’!

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Be Different. Step Outside the Vase.

By maria.lawson, February 10th, 2014, Chicago, little gifts, Love Pot ups. Valentines Day gift, plant love story, Sprout Home, unique valentines day gifts, valentines day


Think pairing – like a fine wine and your favorite goat cheese or juicy steak, make this year’s February 14th a day of LOVE pairing! So, let’s go beyond the vase and pair it with a little somethin’ somethin’…

Gift #1 – A Small Terrarium to say “You float my boat”



Gift #2 - Plantable Seed Kobo Candle to watch your love grow


Gift #3 – Hoya Heart for the long term lovers


Gift #4 – Noon Handmade Soap for the dirty guys & gals


Gift #5 – Vosges Chocolates because its made local and it melts in your mouth

                  Vosges Chocolate     Vosges Chocolate

For thoes of you still thinking inside the vase, watch this short clip…. and then visit @

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