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Article ThumbnailSaving Dahlias

Big beefy dahlias with their dinner-plate-sized flowers are darlings of the garden from summer through the first autumn frosts. Although many gardeners treat dahlias as disposable annuals, it’s easy to store them over winter – and save money – for another display the following year. It’s simply a matter of digging up the tubers and roots after the first fall frost.

Article ThumbnailThere Is No “I” in Ideas

This, as I have been told by the esteemed staff of Chicagoland Gardening magazine, is the Ideas Issue. I learned that a little late, as there is a de facto ban on my appearances at editorial meetings. I think it has something to do with declaring at a gathering several years ago, in what might possibly have been a high, whiney voice (I seem to have somehow blocked that memory), that the tubers from sweetpotato vine (Ipomoea batatas) were among the culinary delights of the planet. Or it might have been that I served them up on skewers adorned with Jerusalem cherries (Solanum pseudocapsicum), which are reportedly fairly poisonous.

Article ThumbnailBluebirds, Daffodils and Orchids, Oh My!

The weather outside is still a tad frightful, but the sunshine and the longer daylight this past week seem to have triggered Mother Nature. A pair of bluebirds showed up Saturday morning in our backyard where they explored one of our birdhouses. More bluebirds on Sunday morning flying from another nest box in our front garden, into the woods across the street. But indoors, spring has already arrived.

Article ThumbnailMike’s Holiday Hort Sing-Along

I like holiday carols. Really, I do. Honest. Don’t look at me like that. I know it’s hard to tell from the annual hit job I do on them in this column. Hey, I like my plants, too, and yet I kill them with astonishing regularity. Maybe it’s a “you always hurt the one you love” kind of thing.

So a word of advice. Don’t make me like you. It could be bad for your health. Come to think of it, singing any of these ditties around friends or co-workers might land you in intensive care. Just sayin’.

Article ThumbnailSummer-Blooming Bulbs

Last spring my sister called to say that she had found a wonderful new anemone to add to her collection in a mixed flower border. When she described the flower, the deeply saturated color and the black center, I knew she had purchased Anemone coronaria, a summer-flowering tender bulb. She was disappointed to learn that these magnificent flowers would not overwinter in her Indiana garden and that they must be lifted in the fall and replanted each spring.

Article ThumbnailA Conversation on Color

At some point in a gardener’s life, he or she will likely come across the writings and photographs of the renowned gardener and garden writer Christopher Lloyd (1921-2006). Lloyd gardened at his family’s estate, Great Dixter, in Northiam, East Sussex, in the south of England. The wonderfully atmospheric and picturesque garden surrounds a rambling fifteenth-century Tudor-style manor house that continues to draw thousands of visitors each year.

Article ThumbnailDismayed in the Shade

“President Jimmy Carter once said that life is not fair. I’m not positive, but I don’t think he coined that phrase. I’m not positive about this either, but I think he was referring to gardeners. I’ll check LexisNexis when I have a spare decade.

The point is that not all gardeners are blessed with perfect growing conditions. (I haven’t gone out on a limb here, have I?) The types of soil, water and asphalt paving can all be challenges to the success of our gardens, our personal esteem and hence, our very existence. At least, that’s what I tell my therapist.

Article ThumbnailBeyond Red and Green

Sure, you love the holidays, but maybe you don’t 100 percent love red and green. Yes, they always make a dynamite pairing, but do they always have to be the go-to colors for decorating every year? You’d really like to broaden your horizons, see what else you might do to offer a festive face to the world.

Such was the challenge a customer presented to the design staff at The Growing Place, Naperville and Aurora. “The customer wanted to stay away from the traditional reds and greens that are everywhere during the holidays,” says co-owner Carol Massat. “But she loves mauve and burgundy, so we custom designed this container using a variety of evergreens and two types of eucalyptus that had been preserved and dyed – all natural materials. Then we added some lime green color to brighten it up a bit.

Article ThumbnailWeird & Wonderful Spring Bulbs

It’s like the emperor with no clothes. The crown imperial stands 3 to 4 feet tall, its Sun King-bright flowers lording it over the spring garden with the hauteur of Louis XIV, utterly unaware that its dignity is fatally undercut by the absurdity of its green bad-hair-day topknot.

Not every spring bulb has the classic sculptured grace of a lily-flowered tulip. Yet many bulbs beyond the ordinary have charms that can grow on a gardener, adding variety and interest where tulips, daffodils and crocuses may seem old hat.

Article ThumbnailAttack of the Killer Asparagus

I had one of those horticultural dreams the other night. You know what I’m talking about. The ones where you’re being attacked by giant loppers and you’re running through a field that’s been sprayed with a sticking agent so that it’s like running on fly paper and it’s slowing you down and the loppers are gaining on you and as you look back over your shoulder you can see that the loppers have a face that you can’t quite recognize but they are shouting “Snip! Snip!” as they get closer and closer and it dawns on you that the voice sounds remarkably like your fifth grade teach Sister Mary Malathion and now you’re really sorry that you threw that spit wad or maybe you’re actually sorry because you used a very toxic chemical in your garden many years ago when you didn’t really understand anything about gardening and you wish you could take it back but it’s too late or maybe it’s something else altogether but it doesn’t really matter because Sister Mary Loppers is right behind you and…

Article ThumbnailFrom the Editor - Mar/Apr2015

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” wrote the author of Psalms 30. Something to keep in mind as we slog through winter every year.

Now it’s March, and our time of weeping is approaching its end. Oh, we may still get a blizzard, or even two, but rest assured, we’ve survived the worst of it. March blizzards melt

One of the great benefits of gardening is that it gives us so many moments of joy. We could also call them God’s-in-his-heaven-all’s-right-with-the-world moments.


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The Dog Dayz

Gardeners perplex me. Actually, I’m perplexed by many things, including gravity and spumoni ice cream and why most Americans ...

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Mike’s Never-Ending Holiday Hort Sing-Along

There’s Nothing Like Loam for the Gardener (Sung to “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays”) Oh, there’s nothing like ...

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Signs of Spring?

So here I am, wandering around with my nose towards the ground, scrounging for signs of spring. I’ve found a few — snowdrops ...

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Suburban Subdivision Triumph

Who says that gardening on a former cornfield is doomed to fail? Certainly not Laverne and Pete Bohlin, whose garden is a …

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A Bulb Like No Other

A few days ago it was cool enough to go outside and see the red needles calling me. It was my fully open haemanthus, a ...


My lilac had a grayish blight on the leaves this summer. What caused this and how can I prevent it?

I want to raise the level of my lawn as much as 2 feet in places. I now have a large quantity of somewhat composted wood chips and I am wondering if I can use them as fill to raise the ground level and provide a good soil in which to sow a lawn.

From what I have read, hellebores are supposed to spread. I have a few I planted four years ago, and they seem to be the same as when I planted them. They are planted in a bed of vinca. Should I remove more vinca that surrounds them? I do fertilize them and protect them with a winter mulch. What else should I be doing to have more plants?

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