grow, marvel, eat, laugh, persevere

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Virtual Garden Tour: MrBrownThumb's Urban Chicago Garden

Name: MrBrownThumb
Website: MrBrownThumb
Location:  Chicago
Size: 33 x 13 feet
Age: 6 years

Bio: MrBrownThumb is the most famous, unknown American garden blogger you haven't heard of. He authors a handful of blogs that are related to gardening. His two main blogs are; the eponymous MrBrownThumb and Chicago Garden, both read by tens of people. He believes in the free exchange of information and that gardening isn't hard.


Type of garden:  Front yard, some container gardening and indoor gardening.

Style: Ghetto.

Inspiration:  Public plantings. I used to get inspiration from magazines and such, but then I realized that was like people who read a lot of fashion mags. Eventually, they begin to hate themselves because they don't look like the people on the covers. That's what was happening with my garden--it didn't look anything like the mags. Still doesn't, actually. I've been thinking a lot about this recently and If a garden follows some kind of plan or scheme, I don't think I have a "garden." What I do have is a bit of an ecosystem where plants, haphazardly placed, attract bugs and birds. Sometimes I make bugs fight, like in this YouTube video where I placed a lady bug on some poppy seed heads that were being attacked by aphids.

Favorite plant:  That's hard question because the favorite designation changes all the time. This week I'm really LOVING my cranesbill geraniums. They were something like 5 bucks at Home Depot a few years ago and I always "hated" them because they were boring and cheap. They've filled out a lot and are blooming like crazy. I saw someone decorate a trade booth recently with nothing but cranesbill geranium blooms and foliage and it looked spectacular. It made me see them in a different light. Generally, I'd have to say that my favorite blooms come from bulbs.

Biggest challenge:  Overcoming my laziness.

What your friends say:  I don't let friends visit my garden. See above about the shame of not looking like a the cover of a mag.

Biggest embarrassment:  My soil. It is really dry clay. When it dries there are these fissures that develop on the surface of the soil that are inches deep. I really only amend in places that I plant something. I figure if I plant in every square inch, eventually everything will be amended. Also, I don't mulch-- which makes the poor soil very noticeable. Ever have a gangbanger point out to you that your garden looks "dry?" I have. They can't tell you why it looks dry, but they can definitely tell that something is off.

Proudest DIY:  Just starting a garden outdoors. It aint much to look at but I'm pretty proud of the fact that I took over what was a sad-looking lawn and made it into a sad-looking garden.

Biggest indulgence:  Plants. No, really. Buying plants is pretty indulgent if you ask me. Think about what you could be doing instead with that money. Or, think about how easy it is to propagate plants from seeds and cuttings and buying plants seems like such a crazy notion.

Best advice:  Start from seeds and cuttings. If you're just starting out make friends with a gardener and get some free plants. The origins of my garden are a long and convoluted mess. But one day I came home and found that someone had given my mom two nearly wild rose bushes and some annuals. Guess who had to plant them? Then I made this online gardening friend who passed on a bunch of daylilies and bulbs and things just kept growing from there.

Dream Source: My dream source would have to be seed companies.  I like Renee's Garden, Seed Savers Exchange, Landreth Seeds, Baker Creek and Kitazawa.

Resources:  Public plantings. They're great places to "shop" for cuttings and seeds. If you can only afford to shop at big box garden centers, then do it. Nothing wrong with gardening within your means. Lately farmers markets and flea markets seem to be places I'm hitting up a lot in search of plants. 

Garden Tour

Don't forget to leave a comment to let MrBrownThumb know what you liked (or didn't. I was a little creeped out by that bug video!)  And if you would like to participate in virtual garden tours, please email me at myskinnygarden (at) gmail (dot) com.  Thanks for participating, MBT!


  1. Awesome! Do you give garden tours to the gangbangers then?

  2. Thanks for letting me part of your project, Gina. Sorry it took me so long so get it back to you.


    Yeah, sort of. They'll ask what something is and I'll explain or talk up a plant and forget the people I'm talking with don't really need to know everything about their cultivation.

  3. I liked the bug video. I felt the same way about cranesbill geraniums, but my mother in law bought some a few years ago and not that it has filled in, it is really, really pretty.

    I also think a haphazard ecosystem where plants attract bugs and birds is definitely a garden (otherwise, I don't have a garden either besides my vegetable garden).

  4. Actually, I was looking forward to more gruesome aphid action in the video, but it seemed relatively tame; like a ladybug eating popcorn. Is it better in HD? Thanks Mr. GT for showing us around. You're a pretty busy guy for a 6-year-old! (By interesting coincidence, my word verification word is cones.)

  5. Gina, I'm really loving this garden tour feature..

    MBT, I agree with Helen--I was expecting more blood and guts and possibly projectile liquids. I totally agree about that buying plants is an indulgence, both as an avid seed starter and someone who could never afford a truckload of plants all at once--I've just never put it into words. Isn't it funny how plants one used to hate begin to grow on one? Zinnias are that way for me.

    Most importantly, to me, a garden IS a hap-hazard collection of plants, which attracts critters big and small. My garden space is huge but I started out with plants from friends and seedlings, and I placed them where I had room at the time and so it's gone. I've never been able to plan something out because that would involve the time and money to purchase and plant a ton of plants all at once. I personally like the natural progression.

  6. Here's to gardens that don't look like magazine features!

  7. Beautiful garden! I love the young punk pointing out the obvious. Good times :)

  8. @ Colleen, This article from the Telegraph is what makes me think I don't have a garden as much as I have an ecosystem. Unwittingly, I've been doing this instead of following rules, like plant placement, and trying to create a garden.

    @Helen, LOL. I think the age listed is suppose to be the age of the garden. At least that was my answer when Gina asked me how old my garden was. Re: the ladybug, it is a ladybug and she's propper. Hence why she's not making a pig of herself. I don't think it is better in HD because it wasn't recorded in HD. it is a couple of years old become HD came to point and shoot cameras.

    @Monica, See my comment to Helen about it being a ladybug. A lady wouldn't eat and spill blood and guts everywhere. How could you hate Zinnias? They're rad. Well, maybe I like them since the first ones I ever grew were 'Green Envy' and I like those blooms.

    @Anne, :0)

  9. To my shame, I work for a major plant company and my 'garden' always looks haphazard and 'unplanned'. I just can't say no to a sample plant, even if I don't have the space, right conditions or color grouping to add it to. I don't show pictures of my own gardens. Good to know there are other gardeners out there that have the same troubles I have.

    P.S. Clay is the most horrid form of media. How do you plant something when you feel like your packing it in with jagged peices of cement?

  10. Ghetto gardening.... the new awesome gardening trend?

  11. What a nice site you have created and good info also... keep writing and living life the organic way!

  12. What a nice site you have created and good info also... keep writing and living life the organic way!

  13. I love this project!!! My garden is so hideous most of the time, with pockets of total loveliness. It's like moms who love their ugly baby because the baby has beautiful eyes. Or something like that.

    MrBrown Thumb! You were one of the first area bloggers I started to follow on gardening, and I have adored reading all about your garden. To see pieces here makes me want to be a gangbanger in your neighborhood!

  14. @Anonymous,

    Please tell me how I can get a job at that 'major plant company' because like you, I like to add plants even though I know I don't have the space for them. :0)


    Yes, I'm hoping someone gives me a TV show deal about ghetto gardening. :0)


    LOL. I'm laughing at the thought of you being a gangbanger. I'll post widder pictures on my blog one of these days.

  15. Gina - Great project! I'm finally getting around to visiting the tours and they're so much fun!
    MBT - We need more bug videos. I love your "It is what it is" garden philosophy.

  16. the one word garden style of "ghetto" continues to crack me up hours after reading this.