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.
This time last year we were heading into an awful, hot, drought-ridden summer — one that trounced the tomato plants, sent container plantings wilting if they didn’t get watered twice a day, and left gardeners exhausted and crabby. As we approach the summer solstice on Friday (yes, it’s still spring for a few more days) we’re celebrating a lush spring that’s been filled with cool days and plentiful rain. Many songbirds had a late start nesting and their melodies fill the woods across the road from our garden.
Earlier this spring, a pair of bluebirds began nesting in a box set in our mixed perennial and shrub border, but, sadly, they were chased off by sparrows. I pulled the empty nest, made of dried grasses, from the box in the hopes that they would return. And they did. They’ve rebuilt their nest, and I’ve seen them chase off curious, bullying sparrows.
African violets are pushing the envelope when it comes to colors and flower forms. Ruffles, anyone?
When I was a child, I was totally mesmerized by the intense colors of the African violets that seemed to bloom continuously on my grandmother’s windowsills. I would stare in wonder at those jewel-colored blooms surrounded by collars of fuzzy leaves, fully convinced that only experienced gardeners of my grandmother’s reputation could get plants to bloom so gloriously indoors.
(with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, Major Henry Livingston, Jr., Dr. Seuss and anybody else who thinks they wrote this first)
‘Twas the night before solstice, and all through the yard
Not a species was stirring, not hosta, nor chard
The zapper was hung by the back door with wire
In hopes that some bugs might fly in and expire …
I was awakened recently by the sound of a pigeon rattling my bedroom window. Peeking with one cautious eye from beneath my covers, I noticed that there was a small scroll attached to its leg. I opened the window, retrieved the scroll and got a dirty look from the bird as it pooped and flew off. (Just what are the rules for tipping carrier pigeons?)
This is now how my editors communicate with me. They mutter vaguely about computer viruses and such. I’m not sure but I think I’m being punished for some grammatical faux pas.
Anyway, the note was about the theme of this first issue of the year (already? can I go back to bed?), which is … uh … “Magician Tissue.” Wait. Nope. (The print is very, very tiny on this little note.) It’s … uh … ah! I think this is the “Imagination Issue.”
It might have been yesterday when, huddled under a fluorescent kitchen light with a cup of instant decaf, staring vacantly out the window at the arborvitae that was split in two by Tuesday’s ice storm, I began entertaining dark, dark thoughts about life without gardening.
I know that I am not alone. Heck, through the window I can see, somewhere just above my damaged arborvitae, a dark, dark thought-cloud hovering over the city, rising like smoke from the kitchen windows everywhere, which tells me that my fellow gardeners are on the precipice, too.
Fall is upon us but there’s no reason to put your garden to bed just yet. That’s because the show goes on with birds, thousands of which are migrating and stopping daily in local gardens for a bite to eat or a drink of water. And the activity doesn’t stop there. Monarch butterflies will be looking for nectar – a rich source of energy during their long commute to Mexico. Bees remain active and there’s an assortment of insects – praying mantis and other “beneficials” – that are present until the first fall frost about mid-October. There’s plenty to observe and enjoy.
A gardening story recently caught my attention. At which point, some of you might ask, “Hey, you’re a garden writer. Don’t most gardening stories catch your attention?” At which point, true followers of this column chuckle in disbelief that any person reading this page could be so naïve. All I can say is, “I love you, true followers. You must be very, very lonely, but I love you.”
If the truth be told, ordinary gardening stories tend to affect me the way turkey affects Uncle Ned on Thanksgiving Day. Especially if he is reclining on the couch watching a particularly lopsided football game (usually, Anybody v. the Detroit Lions) after having consumed a couple pitchers of Mom’s special peach punch.
They don’t look alike. Not even close. But kinfolk come in all shapes and sizes. True of people and true of plants.
With people you can often tell at a glance who’s related. Sometimes that’s also true of plants.
Look at any daisy-shaped flower, for example – rudbeckia, coneflower, aster, sunflower, Shasta daisy, silphium – and you immediately know they’re in the same family. They’re all composites, members of the Compositae. Kissing cousins, as it were.
Not so with the poinsettia and its kin. Also known as a spurge, it and other members of the Euphorbiaceae family are as diverse as you could possibly imagine. Did you know that the white-flowering Diamond Frost that started adding sparkle to our gardens, especially our container plantings, about 10 years ago is in the Euphorbia genus? Euphorbia hypericifolia ‘Inneuphe’, to be precise. Big splashy red “petals” (modified leaves called bracts) on poinsettias. Teeny glilttering white blossoms on the Diamond Frost.
I need to unburden myself. No, I’m not talking about figuring out what to do with the myriad of partially filled bags of soil amendments strewn about the garage. I’m talking about my past. Aha! I knew that would get your attention.
You see, it’s not easy being a horticultural genius. It’s a curse as well as a blessing. The curse part of it comes from my family, of course. Those of you with cursed families know the drill. In my case, the curse comes courtesy of centuries of ancestors who spent untold hours swimming in questionable gene pools.
Since I can’t afford therapy (I’m still waiting for my MacArthur Genius Grant-do you think they lost my address?) I thought that by examining the lives of my brilliant though sometimes, um, peculiar forefathers and mothers I could achieve some kind of peace. One can hope, can’t one?
For Denise Johnston, it started at the county fair. As a child, she’d make a “beeline” to the hive observation frame in the agriculture building, where she would become mesmerized by the bees’ activity. Then, about ten years ago, she met Bob Engle, the man behind the hives, at an antique tractor show.
He asked if she was interested in a class he was teaching. Johnston signed on to a series of five 3-hour classes detailing how to start your own hives. After attending all 15 hours, she ordered her first batch of bees. Now Johnston is secretary/treasurer/newsletter editor of the Northwest Indiana Beekeepers Association, sells her own honey and teaches classes. (nwibeekeepers.com)
You may have been told that bees are beneficial and that they pollinate a lot of agricultural crops. Most of the time when …
This giant and usually tender summer-flowering bulb can be found thriving in a Dane County garden.
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This period of the gardening year used to be called “the bleak midwinter.” That song would long ago have been changed to ...
A new project from the Garden Clubs of Illinois is hoping to halt the diminishing numbers of monarch butterflies.