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.
I believe it was the Shakespearean actor and gardener Ralph Kean (second cousin of the even more Shakespearean Edmund Kean) who remarked, “Ya know, dying is easy. Composting is weird.” As far as I have been able to determine, Ralph didn’t work much on stage. Or in the garden, for that matter.
If the truth be known, my compost pile has never really been up to snuff. Oh, the stuff (not snuff) I throw into it breaks down well enough. Over time. Over a long, long, long, long time. Are you all familiar with how quickly a decade passes? It’s my fault, I’m sure. Whatever happens in the garden-mine or others-is always my fault and, given that mind-set, blaming myself for having slacker microbes is not all that unreasonable. Perhaps I’m not thinking enough positive compost-y thoughts.
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.
If you are reading this article, you are probably already aware that monarch butterfly numbers in Illinois are way down. Worse yet, it is our State Insect! But guess what! We can help increase monarch numbers by finding butterfly eggs and raising caterpillars and releasing newly hatched butterflies. What??? Yes, YOU!!
To Attract and Find Monarch Eggs and Caterpillars: You’ll need milkweed plants, the only plants monarchs lay their 200 plus eggs on. Go to a garden center. You know you have milkweed when you rip off a plant leaf and it has white sap. Buy any kind of milkweed. Monarch caterpillars love them all equally. Remember common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the invasive one that travels by runners.
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.
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.
Ask many skilled gardeners to name their favorite plant, and what do they reply? “The one that’s in bloom right now.”
Not what the interviewer wanted to hear, probably, but true nonetheless.
Gardeners are a fickle lot. Either we’re rhapsodizing gooey-eyed about the resplendent, transcendent wonder of whatever miracle of nature we happen to have just witnessed (the emergence of the first tomato seed always does it for me) or we’re doing Scrooge one better and snarling “Bah, humbug!” The weather this past winter had us all in full snarling mode.
Now it’s high summer and we’re in the thick of something else. Storms, heat, drought, floods, wind, mosquitoes – and the tomatoes are (choose one) not ripening because it’s too chilly at night, not setting fruit because it’s too hot at night, cracking from irregular watering, getting blossom-end rot from calcium deficiency, being eaten by giant tomato hornworms, succumbing to early blight, succumbing to late blight … and so it goes. The gods must surely be against us. Woe and double woe.
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.
There are many lovely plants in Ted and Gidget Nyquist’s garden in Bartlett. But it’s Ted’s collection of rhododendrons – hundreds of them – that stop visitors in their tracks when the plants bloom. “I just love it,” Ted says. “People come around the corner, and they’re not expecting to see a garden with all these rhododendrons.”
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.
One of the great things about being a columnist is that when you run out of ideas you can steal them from other people.
Our official National Weather Service rain gauge clocked in with 3.60 inches of rain at 7 a.m. this morning. And more is ...
I was awakened recently by the sound of a pigeon rattling my bedroom window. Peeking with one cautious eye from beneath my …
You may have been told that bees are beneficial and that they pollinate a lot of agricultural crops. Most of the time when …
Tulips come from Turkey, but woodland wildflowers come from Chicagoland. Why not have someof both in your springtime garden?