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Article ThumbnailPerk Up with Pots
By Cathy Jean Maloney
Photography By Ron Capek

In our family, my sister Chris hosts Christmas and I host Easter. Among her many talents, Chris pulls out the stops when it comes to holiday decorating. Even in the dead of winter, her house brims with festive greenery, twinkling lights and potted poinsettias.

Then comes early spring and Easter. How can I compete? The ground is muddy at best or still snow-sodden at worst. No buds have popped yet, and any early bloomers have, more often than not, petrified pitifully in a late freeze. Being a gardener, I consider it a point of pride to find a way to jumpstart the season in time for the spring holidays.

Containers are a great solution since they can be moved to protect against volatile spring weather. But what plants might work well in early spring – I’m talking late March or early April – and where do we get our hands on them?


Article ThumbnailFollow the Bouncing Gall

There are two kinds of bets going on among my readers. The first is whether I will follow the tried, true and now fairly stale formula of setting horticultural lyrics to holiday songs for yet another year. The other bet is that I will eventually run out of holiday songs to parody.

Those of you who had your money on my trying something different this year can pony up right now. And those who thought I would run out of songs have never Googled the X-Mas Song Canon. It’s about the size of a medium-sized Midwestern town phone book. This could go on forever. Sing ’em and weep.


Article ThumbnailHalftime

“And I’m Hort Holler.” “Well, Hort, we’re about to enter the home stretch. Any thoughts?” “Any thoughts? Hoo-boy, Bud! A bunch of petunias. Look at ‘em!” “Petunias?” “You betcha, Bud. Never seen a bigger bunch of petunias in my life!”

“Uh, actually, Hort, I think you mean pansies.” “Pansies, petunias, whatever. I never seen a bigger bunch.” “You could be right about that, Hort. And they’ve certainly entertained this huge crowd, orange letters spelling out Viola wittrockiana in a sea of purple.” “I don’t know. That ‘W’ looks a little droopy.” “Well, Hort, it’s pretty toasty in that hot sun, especially for pansies.” “Get them pansies off the field! Get ‘em hydrated!”


Article Thumbnail10 Years After

I’m not sure whether I should be celebrating or apologizing.

Let me explain. The 700 or so words on this page mark my tenth anniversary as a columnist for Chicagoland Gardening magazine. It scares me to think that some of my readers are younger than that. It also scares me to think that some parents might allow their kids to read this column. But I digress.

I’m surprised that the tenth anniversary is generally known as the “tin” anniversary. Which means that if you’ve survived the close combat of a relationship for a whole decade, the best you can hope for a reward is a substance that is used to coat steel containers for food preservation or to stabilize PVC plastics. So, on your tenth anniversary, I suggest you give your wife a few cans of water chestnuts. Or delight your husband with a length of PVC pipe. Then prepare to sleep on the couch, whatever gender you are.


Article ThumbnailDesigning Mini-gardens Using Potted Plants

Container gardening is so enjoyable because of its possibilities for creative expression. There is an almost endless variety of ways to design and use containers. For example, in a classic design, a container is filled with a pleasing arrangement of plants with differing heights, textures and colors. This method can result in stunning arrangements; however, it does have limitations.


Article ThumbnailConference Call

MiNoSoRALaS Announces Best Gardening Conference Ever Anywhere


CHICAGO - Today, The Mike Nowak School of Really Awesome Learning and Stuff (MiNoSoRALaS) announced that in anticipation of the 2017 gardening season, it would be presenting its inaugural “Best Gardening Conference Ever Anywhere 2017.” Some people insist on calling it the “first annual” but Mike thinks that’s putting the compost before the wheel barrow. And he should know.


Article ThumbnailHope Springs Eternal

“Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to another season of exciting action! I’m Bud Blast–“ “–And I’m Hort Holler–“ “And it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, to coin a phrase.” “I sure am!” “Uh, yeah. Anyway, we’ve been through what can only be described at a long winter–“ “Hoo-boy, Bud! Long winter!” “–especially in light of the way the last season ended.” “Everything dropped dead, Bud. Door nail dead! Not a good way to end the season, Bud.” “Nope, not at all, Hort. But, as they say, ‘Hope springs eternal’–” “Specially in spring, Bud. It springs in spring.” “Yup, and this year’s team has come a long way since the fall.”


Article ThumbnailIrresistible Roses

The powers that be have hit upon a wayto get me to stop talking about roses. “Write us a story,” they said, “and get it out of your system.”

It so happens that I do have quite a few roses — more than 20, I believe, although whenever I set out to do a mental count, I keep getting confused. Did I include the ‘Harison’s Yellow’ or not? And what about the Cherry Pie in the container? Oh, I think I forgot Hot Cocoa. And so I start over, and then start over again. Finally, I decide to just let it go. As I said, more than 20.

Some of these roses I bought because I dearly coveted them ...


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 ThumbnailPathogens on Parade

Those of you who are regular readers of this column are no doubt already aware that actual horticultural content is not my strong suit. Nevertheless, gardeners are hungry for answers. Most of the time, they don’t even care about the questions. For example, you can ask, “What is the capital of Albania?” and as long as the answer is “spray with a fungicide every 10 days,” you have lifted 97.3 percent of all gardeners (and this number has been proven in scientific studies) into a Nirvana-like state.

Hoping in some way to cash in on this unnerving phenomenon, I began searching for an area in the horticultural realm that has remained relatively unexplored for which I could provide answers, regardless of whether a single question has ever been posed. Eureka! I found it:


Article ThumbnailFrom the Inside Out

In a way you could call it a kitchen garden, and why not? Although there’s not a vegetable to be seen, it was designed while Brian Helfrich was sitting on his usual chair in the kitchen, staring into the backyard, thinking.

A construction manager with Aquascape, Inc., Helfrich explains that he treats every garden he does the same way, designing from inside the house looking out. “I lived in that chair by the kitchen window,” he recalls, referring to the period in which he planned the multi-purpose garden that he built for his Downers Grove backyard.

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questions

I am growing my potted tropical hibiscus indoors for the winter. The leaves are starting to yellow and fall off. Should I give the plant iron and should I fertilize it? Do I cut it back, and if so, when?

What is the largest tree that one can plant? We are trying to replace some 7- to 8-foot trees that were recently destroyed.

I’d like to know the secret to growing a decent-sized pumpkin for jack-o-lanterns for the grandkids and for decorating. My experience in recent years is that they get about as big as a basketball and then begin to rot. What am I doing wrong?

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