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Ever seen a tree covered in crochet? Head to Chicago.

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Courtesy of Craig Summers Black

(Read caption) Magnolia stellata blooms in early May at the 1,700-acre Morton Arboretum in Chicago.

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This kind of weather really frosts my flakes.

And I mean that literally. “Literally” as in “literally.” Not “literally,” as some people now use the word, as in “I am raising my eyebrows and being hyperbolic.”

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Yes, it is the merry month of May, yet we in Madison County, Iowa, had frost this morning. And more frost is predicted for, as TV weatherfolk call it, “the overnight.”

Well, pooh. I am not merry in the least.

OK, so I am whinging (an Englishism, and a fine one) again about Iowa’s overlong winters.

At least the daffs are up and many of my magnolias are abloom. Although the constant 30-m.p.h. winds of the past week are tearing the blossoms to tatters.

Off to find better weather

The solution to dealing with this confounding weather is probably obvious to you at this point: road trip.

Surely even Chicago would be warmer than here, and what finer place to get some schooling in my tree planting than at the Morton Arboretum? Hey, it’s only a 12-hour round trip.

Turns out it was a great idea. It was clear, sunny, and warmish at the 1,700-acre park. Wish I had brought my bike. Or, like the woman in the oak savannah, knew Tai chi.

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The magnolias were out in full force [see first photo above], and I found myself admiring the brightly colored catkins of the many kinds of willows, not something I ever thought about before. Actually gorgeous.

But it was early in the season yet, so the arboretum was still a forest without canopy. Then, there appeared something rising, outreached and egg-yolk yellow – almost garishly so.

Yes, it was a tree, but … what the hey? It was wrapped in a kind of yellow tape, all so very Christo-like. [See second photo above; click on arrow at right base of first photo.] And ahead, huge cut-out letters atop a hillside: “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.” Why, thank you.

Adding art to the trees

Seems I had stumbled on the beginning of the installation for “Nature Unframed,” a collection of 11 art pieces at the arbor that will run from May 20 to Nov. 27.

The Morton, beneficiary of the salt fortune, is the fourth-most-visited public garden in the United States, and deservedly so. Besides the 4,200 different types of trees, shrubs, and other plants (190,000 specimens in all), it has 16 miles of trails, a maze, woodlands, prairies, meadows, lakes, streams, and one crocheted tree.

I’m going back. I have to show the girls how they can macramé my maples. [See photo at left and also the third photo at the top of the first page.]

What else I’m into this week: The deliciously sinister book “Wicked Plants.” I found it at the Morton gift shop. I laughed so hard I died. Well, not literally.


Craig Summers Black, The Transplanted Gardener, is an award-winning garden writer and photographer who blogs regularly at Diggin' it. You can read more of what he's written by clicking here. You may also follow Craig’s further adventures in gardening, music, and rural life on Twitter.