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, as I have been told by the esteemed staff of Chicagoland Gardening magazine, is the Ideas Issue. I learned that a little late, as there is a de facto ban on my appearances at editorial meetings. I think it has something to do with declaring at a gathering several years ago, in what might possibly have been a high, whiney voice (I seem to have somehow blocked that memory), that the tubers from sweetpotato vine (Ipomoea batatas) were among the culinary delights of the planet. Or it might have been that I served them up on skewers adorned with Jerusalem cherries (Solanum pseudocapsicum), which are reportedly fairly poisonous.
Something was wrong. I could sense it. How? That’s my job. My name is Begonia. Rex Begonia. I’m a detective. A garden detective. I speak in short clipped phrases and I pack a trowel.
There was nothing wrong with the weather. The weather was perfect. Too perfect. It was one of those evenings that give garden writing a bad name, that cause otherwise perceptive, talented writers to reach inexplicably for their thesauruses. They start using words like “dappled” and “palette” and phrases like “discordant symphony of riotous hues” and I start reaching for the bottle. Pour me a drink, Sam.
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.
Rain gardens are hot news, but are they pretty? Here are some examples that take the concept beyond mere buzz words.
Chicagoland Gardening Editor Carolyn Ulrich swore the magazine wouldn’t run an article about rain gardens until she’d seen a beautiful one. She stood her ground staunchly – some might say stubbornly – for years. Two years ago, on a trip to Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisc., she discovered not just one, but three, lovely rain gardens. So here, at last, is the rain garden article.
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.
We all have our “happy” places–where we feel at home when we’re not at home.
Some people are never so happy as when they are in the unnatural quiet of a library. Unfortunately, it’s not so quiet for me. Whenever I find myself in the presence of the looming stacks of books, I become uneasy. I can hear them whispering, “Why haven’t you read me? Check me out, baby.” It’s unnerving, especially the “baby” part. And if I try to assuage my guilt by taking a few titles home, the books sitting in unread piles in my living room get insulted and begin whispering about me behind my back…in my own house. My advice to youngsters everywhere: don’t end up like me. It’s a hard life when you’re wracked by book guilt.
“Stand back! I’m about to have a Proustian moment.
Wait…wait. Whew! It went away. For a second I thought I was going to become sick and depressed and this column would suddenly expand to about four hundred thousand pages that none of you would ever read except if you were in a hospital recuperating from two broken legs and I would start writing sentences that ran on and on and people would call me a genius but it wouldn’t matter because fewer than one person in a thousand would actually read this column but that wouldn’t matter either because the mere act of writing a four hundred thousand page gardening column would cause me to go insane and…and…
What’s that smell? As Marcel Proust once wrote, or perhaps he didn’t and should have written somewhere in Remembrance of Things Past, is a few thousand words about the sense of smell and the average garden.
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.
I’m not always the sharpest trowel in the garden bucket, but even I have noticed a recent trend in horticulture. Suddenly, gardening experts are getting all “sciencey” and stuff about growing things, and they’re debunking conventional wisdom left and right. If you do a search on the Intertubes for “garden myths,” you will see that there are more debunked myths about gardening than there are actual facts. And, as we all know, the Intertubes are the place you go for Science! and The Truth. And cat videos.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s a flash mob of garden writers!
Late last summer 420 garden writers from the U.S. and Canada assembled for their annual symposium and ended up dancing to Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” on the lawn in front of the University of Pittsburgh’s “cathedral of learning” (watch the video here: bit.ly/1ttDyjf).
While it may not rank up there with the moon landing, it’s sure to find a beloved spot in the annals of the Garden Writers Association (GWA), founded in 1948 with a current membership of 1500.
Container gardening is so enjoyable because of its possibilities for creative expression.
Pop Quiz! (Bet you didn’t see this coming. Hurry! There’s still time to turn to another page! Oops, too late.)
What do the bees do in October? If you have New England aster in your garden, they keep foraging like mad.
The first time I taught an adult photography class, I asked the participants to list what they hoped to gain …
The hot new thing in vegetable gardening is grafted plants. Burpee and Ball and other plant breeders have developed grafted ...