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.”
You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of soil, a dimension of blight, a dimension of thyme. You’re moving into a land of both dappled shadow and full sun, of bling and pet chias; you’ve just crossed over into ... THE GARDENING ZONE.
Picture, if you will, a room. But not just any room. And in not just any place.
One of the things I’ve come to notice about the horticultural racket (and I’m using the term with extreme fondness, unless I’m not), is that everyone seems to be looking for “the next great thing.” You can hardly blame them. Horticulture is not exactly a lucrative profession. In terms of annual income, it ranks somewhere just above chainsaw juggling and just below origami design. You could look it up on the world wide web. Whatever that is.
Anyway, this is the time of year when folks get all buggy-eyed about their lawns. So I thought I’d take those people to the cleaners and offer some practical advice that I think just might turn out to be “the next great thing” in lawn care. Here’s how I figure it. The American way of thinking is “more is better.” Thus, if four pounds of manure is the recommended fertilizer application, heck, why not just buy the darned cow and stick her on your lawn? See what I mean?
My family is in the backyard. Lordy, save me from my family.
They say that you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. Hah! Who is this “they” anyway? The same ones who say “The night is darkest before the dawn”? Well, for those of you who have difficulty figuring out the obvious, I usually find that the night is darkest pretty much about the time that the neighborhood cats get into a big ol’ hissy fight and guarantee that you will get about two hours of sleep–usually the night before a big morning presentation.
But before I get all depressed about the night, let me get all depressed about my family in the backyard.
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.
People ask me why, year after inexplicable year, I continue to crank out these bizarre little lyrics for the holidays. Normally, I nod and smile and ignore the question. But when it’s your shrink who is pleading for an answer, uh … let’s just say that I said I would think it over, but, gee, I’m on deadline and I’ll talk to you next week.
I’m not sure that counts as an answer. I’ll let you know next year.
“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.
If it weren’t for the holiday season, we probably would have legislated the month of December out of existence long ago. It’s not exactly a month that makes gardeners salivate–unless you’re a poinsettia freak, which is even more cause for worry.
So while you’re counting days until you can begin killing plants again (indoor varieties notwithstanding), I’ve come up with a few songs you can sing around the artificial fire in your pre-fab greenhouse. I’ve appropriated the music from some holiday songs for two reasons: 1) you already know the melodies, and 2) I don’t have to pay royalties.
A comical plant identification flow chart from our columnist, Mike Nowak.
I am writing to reach out to humanity, if there is anyone left as of May 1. If you find this note, please take it to the editors of Chicagoland Gardening. They will know what to do with it. No, on second thought, don’t take it to them, because I think I know what they will do with it.
As I write, it is the end of March, and perhaps the end of civilized gardening. It started with “The Winter That Never Was.” Oh, we were happy in our ignorance then. We couldn’t believe our good fortune. It was as if somebody up there ran out of quarters and couldn’t feed the cold/snow/ice machine. (Obviously, that machine is so old that it doesn’t take credit cards.)
“And good English has went.”
That’s how it was. At least that’s how I remember it. I am, unfortunately, old enough to have a memory of when Alfred Hitchcock made his film “The Birds.” (Hint: don’t watch it before visiting the aviary.) The tag line for the advertising campaign was “The birds is coming!” However, I was pretty young (really) and I remember the Mad Magazine parody as well or better than the actual movie. And in the Mad cartoon, there was a billboard that countered the advertising pitch with the phrase, “And good English has went.” It was just a visual throw-away line, but I thought it was about the funniest thing I had ever read.
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