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Article ThumbnailGarden Tool Maintenance

A Clean Tool is a Safe Tool

In the garden, everything has its season. Fall is the season for cleaning and preparing tools for spring. Dirt and rust are harmful to just about everything, but especially to garden tools that are often wet and dirty. We depend on our tools to be safe and effective. Dirt and rust make our tools less safe and make us work harder. Water may be great for the garden, but it is the enemy of our tools.


Article ThumbnailThe Dog Dayz

Gardeners perplex me. Actually, I’m perplexed by many things, including gravity and spumoni ice cream and why most Americans think a t-shirt and shorts is a fashion statement in an airport, but when it comes to gardeners, I’m often really perplexed.

In the words of my dad, who never actually said this, so I don’t know why I’m invoking him while channeling one of the Bowery Boys, “Lemme give ya a fer instance.”


Article ThumbnailNaming Rights

Brace yourself. I’m going to smack you across the kisser with a cold, wet herring of truth: Gardening ain’t easy.

There. I said it. You may now wipe that fish oil from your cheek.

One of the reasons that gardening is harder than it looks is that the people who make the rules keep changing them. I’m talking about the keepers of the binomial nomenclature. (Note: If you enjoy reading this column because it’s fact-free, just close your eyes for the next couple of sentences, while I get the serious stuff out of the way.)

Binomial nomenclature is the rule that every living thing – like a plant – has an unpronounceable scientific name that was created to confuse the bejesus out of people who are not scientists. For instance, you think you’re growing a pansy but it might really be a Viola × wittrockiana Gams ex Nauenb. & Buttler. I’m not making this up! As Randy Shakespeare always said, before he was unceremoniously expunged from the history books, “Google it!”


Article ThumbnailSunny Disposition, Shady Needs

It is always a topic of conversation: What plants work well in sun or in shade? Or both? However, the conversation has taken on a slightly different perspective for 2014.

The plant world has been turned upside down due to a disease that has impacted one of gardeners’ favorite shade plants — Impatiens walleriana. Impatiens are the standard for any annual shade garden, and varieties belonging to this class have died in Europe, the U.K. and now, North America, from a disease called downy mildew (Plasmopara obducens). Infected plants start to drop leaves overnight and only the plant stems remain after a few days. So what can you replace them with to give color in a shaded location? Here are a few suggestions.


Article ThumbnailWeed Watch

When I do garden talks, there are a number of questions that pop up repeatedly. For instance, “Is that your real hair?” is near the top of the list. Occasionally I am asked, “How come your radio show is on Sunday instead of Saturday?” (Note: If you want to see my real hair fall out in clumps, ask me that question. Go ahead, I double dig dare you.)

The other question that I am mercilessly flogged by at these otherwise genial gatherings is, “How come my weeds do better than my plants?” Putting aside the fact that weeds are plants, it has occurred to me that I could become as fabulously wealthy as the person who invented the spork if I could just answer that one question.


Article ThumbnailTough Love

The day we brought her home from the nursery, we were the proudest parents on the block. We hadn’t always wanted one. In fact, the thought hadn’t really crossed our minds until we noticed how happy Kathleen’s brother and sister-in-law were with theirs. Slowly, irrevocably, the notion crept into our heads that perhaps it was time to make a commitment.

Still, I was the one who held back. Was I ready for this kind of a change? Could I handle the responsibility? What if I was found wanting?

As we sat in the yard and looked at her, tiny and green and purple, we thought about the years to come when we would share spring days and summer evenings and even snow-covered afternoons behind our house. I carried with me a mental snapshot of the three of us enjoying ourselves in the yard. I even had the perfect spot picked out for her, where she would always stand.


Article ThumbnailFive Hundred Years and Counting

The age of exploration isn’t over. The hunt continues for new and better plants continues.

Ever wonder where the plants at garden centers come from? Even the typical nursery features a depth of products resembling a virtual League of Nations. In addition to the plants native to North America, many originated in Asia, Europe and even Africa. How they got here is a very long story that dates back to the days of pharaohs, kings and queens who directed explorers to bring plants back from distant continents. They sought new varieties that ranged from purely ornamental to edible to medicinal.


Article ThumbnailA 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 rarely grown South African bulb whose salmon red stamens form a round ball up to 10 inches across.


Article ThumbnailPlanning Commissioner

The folks in the editorial office tell me that this issue is about planning. I’m taking their word for it, since they don’t invite me to editorial meetings anymore. That might have something to do with the time that I showed up with my Giant Burrowing Cockroach (Macropanesthia rhinoceros), an insect from Australia. I thought they would find it educational. I still don’t know how it escaped. You’d think they would have been a little more concerned about my emotional attachment to Rhino and less about how to get it out of their potted fiddle-leaf ficus.

As I recall, we didn’t get a lot accomplished that day. And the invitations to the meetings stopped about that time. Anyway…planning. Right.


Article ThumbnailMoss: Rescuing Its Reputation

I’m pretty sure that in the pre-Google era most everyone who spoke of or asked about moss was trying to get rid of it. Even now googling “moss in the garden” produces five “how to kill” results before the first “how to grow.” But I recently attended a lecture at the Chicago Botanic Garden given by Dale Sievert, whose passion for and expertise about mosses made me question how anyone could contemplate mayhem against such a beautiful, ancient and eco-friendly organism. Since mosses have slowly, over the past few years, begun to colonize the damper, shadier parts of my tiny urban forest (i.e. my front yard), I was happy to be urged to encourage the process rather than fight it.


Article ThumbnailFrom the Editor - NovDec 2015

Here’s the thing about gardening: it’s never done. So now 2015 is winding down, the year in which I thought my garden would finally achieve some state of near perfection and I would ride out the rest of my golden years just watching the plants chug along on autopilot while I sat on the porch steps sipping tea and enjoying the view. As if.

This year three of my mophead Hydrangea macrophyllas didn’t bloom – probably the spots where I planted them have become too shady, although the effects of the last two nasty winters can’t be discounted.

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Departments
From the Editor - NovDec 2018

I’ve been thinking about the difference between renovating the kitchen and gardening...


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Blog
Gardening for Your Taste Buds

In a few weeks, we can start planting tomatoes and peppers as well as sowing seeds of squash, eggplant, beans and other ...


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Features
Poinsettia and Its Kin

They don’t look alike. Not even close. But kinfolk come in all shapes and sizes. True of people and true of plants.


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Columns
Girdling the Family Tree

I need to unburden myself. No, I'm not talking about figuring out what to do with the myriad of partially filled bags of ...


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Features
Weird & Wonderful Spring Bulbs

Whether they emerge wearing crowns, sparkling like fireworks or modestly hanging their heads, these bulbs introduce surefire ...


questions

We are first-time gardeners and have planted Brussels sprouts and green and red cabbage that we are trying to grow organically. There are black egg sacs and small green worms eating the leaves. Is there an organic product we can use on the cabbage?

What are your three favorite “all-but-forgotten” perennials that every garden should include? Why do you like them?

I dislike staking perennials. Is there anything I can do to avoid it?

calendar of events

See these and more events in our calendar of gardening events.

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