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.
“Hey, where’s Stinky?”
“Didn’t your mama ever teach you not to talk with your mouth full?”
“Well, she should have. Oh, there he is. What’s he doing wasting his time on that stuff?”
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?
My neighbor just paved over his front yard.
For those of you who are already doubled over in laughter, saying, “That wacky Nowak! Where does he come up with these things?” all I can say is, “No, really. He paved over his front yard.” By the way, I really was called “No-Wacky” in high school. Is it any wonder that I’ve never been able to hold down a decent job? And the fact that my neighbor just paved over his front yard isn’t all that funny, anyway. At least for a gardener.!
I was recently interviewing a well-known garden writer about the benefits of an outdoor space in which to contemplate and enjoy your
plants, your sense of aesthetics and nature in general. (Ah. Just writing that sentence lowered my blood pressure by ten points.) Among
the things I learned:
• Plastic flowers have little in common with nature
• Bamboo sticks are not an optimum construction material for a pergola
• An arborvitae fence works only if the plants don’t die
That kind of advice stays with you for awhile, much like a chocolate corn dog washed down with 32 ounces of pink lemonade. …
If Mother Earth had a full-time assistant, it would be Kay MacNeil. For more than 25 years, the Frankfort resident has advocated and gardened for those with no voice — Eastern bluebirds, butterflies, hummingbirds and many other struggling creatures that most people take for granted.
Many of the homes in her subdivision, which surrounds the Prestwick Country Club’s golf course, sport manicured lawns and neatly trimmed shrubs. That look is a far cry from her garden, tucked away on a cul-de-sac where native wildflowers, trees and shrubs mingle with flowering vines and passalong plants from her late parents, grandmother and friends.
You might have noticed, as you were reading through this magazine, that there are stories about the birds and the bees (which makes some of us nervous), wildflowers, not-so-wildflowers, milkweed (which is a wildflower, not actually a weed, but don’t get me started) and other things that could be lumped generally under the heading of “nature.”
SPOILER ALERT! If you start by reading this column first (come over here and let me give you a great big hug!), I just ruined the rest of the magazine for you by giving away the plot, for which I apologize. Sometimes I just lose control.
Wait a second … this is a gardening magazine. The plot is always the same: plant the seed, water the seed, nurture the tiny plant, feed the tiny plant, water the tiny plant, transplant the plant, nurture the growing plant, feed the growing plant, water the growing plant, watch the plant bloom, watch the plant fruit, deadhead or prune the plant, watch the plant decline, watch the plant die, curse the fates, wonder what you did wrong, rinse and repeat. It’s pretty simple, really.
I had just finished an environmental talk to a local gardening group. It was the usual advice. Don’t do an oil change on your car and spread the spent lubricant on your trilliums. Adding cigarette butts to your compost pile won’t necessarily kill the pathogens, though it may get them addicted to nicotine. When you have a soil test, always check for Strontium-90 in your tomato patch. In short, we’re all going to heck in a handbasket and there’s little you can do about it. Feeling pretty proud of myself, I said I would entertain questions from the now wide-eyed and terrified gardeners.
A woman on my right (which is “stage right” and “audience left” for those of you whose misspent youths and early adulthoods didn’t include long delusional stretches when you thought you were going to make millions of dollars as actors) calmly raised her hand and demanded: “What do you spray to get rid of chipmunks?”
When David Van Zelst comes home after a busy day running his landscaping business, he likes to cook. No surprise there, since the owner and principal designer at Van Zelst, Inc. in Wadsworth once considered becoming a chef, with architecture the other serious possibility. Both interests continue to play a commanding role in the life that he and his wife Cindy have built for themselves on the North Shore.
It was just four years ago that the pair designed the expansive Italian-style house and garden they now enjoy on their wooded 2-acre lot. “I’ve had the privilege of developing landscapes and gardens for world class homes since 1979,” Van Zelst says, “so all along I’ve collected ideas.” Those stored ideas came to the fore when it was time to design what he clearly sees as the family dream home.
It helps to go out and look at your garden every day. After a Saturday morning spent hacking out purple violets with the dandelion weeder because 1) there doesn’t appear to be an organic herbicide on the market that deals with violets and 2) I worry about the after-effects of whatever strong chemical a licensed professional might apply, I decided to catch my breath with a leisurely stroll through the front yard. And there I discovered a treasure — a lovely pendulous apricot-colored brugmansia.
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.
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