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.”
In this issue our primary focus is on perennial gardens – beautiful perennial gardens.
But, of course, no one sets out to create an unbeautiful garden. For thousands of years gardens have been about beauty.
Yes, they were also about utility. People need to eat and people have gardened for food. But when we view the scraps of paintings that have come down to us from ancient Persia or Egypt, it’s obvious that the spaces that people created were intended to be lovely. The gardens of those days, being in hot dry places, were enclosed with walls first of all, and then they added trees for shade, water and flowers. And they didn’t put all the plants together any which way. No, they organized their spaces with straight rows …
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. …
As I write, the guy on the Weather Channel is warning us to stay indoors. “Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to,” the earnest man says apocalyptically. The graphic at the bottom of the screen informs me that the actual temperature is 11 degrees F, the wind chill is 0 degrees. It is 2:52 p.m. Things will only get worse.
Bring. It. On. Oh, yeah. I don’t want to battle against just any weather. I want it the coldest, the hottest, the wettest, the driest. I want it to rain frogs and goats and shag carpeting. And I want to be out there in it. Running for the bus sucking in lung-crystalizing cold air. Desperately planting the last of my seven thousand daffodils in a fifty-six-year monsoon. Playing softball in a Dust Bowl storm in the twilight in Chicago. And I want to win that game.
Dear Diary, I’m soooo excited that I can hardly breathe!! Spring is almost here!! I can feel it in my very, very cold toesies, even through my warm, fluffy raccoon foot duvets. (No, no, diary, I would never ever use raccoon fur to line my foot duvets. The duvets are decorated to look like raccoons, complete with tails. It’s as if Davy Crockett got into the corn mash and started wearing his caps on his feet.)
Anyway, with spring just around the corner, it’s time to germinate seeds in the basement. I plan to spend the afternoon pushing away boxes to see if I can find the basement door. Wish me luck!
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.
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.
This is our “Ideas Issue,” designed to be a keeper, although of course we hope you keep all of our issues. So to get this new year off to a rousing start, we’ve created an issue that’s chock full of ideas for everything.
Every January and February, we get the garden ball rolling with Jim Nau from Ball Horticultural offering his appraisal of the year’s new plants. This issue we’ve tweaked that concept a bit in order to focus on plants for sun and ideas for shade, including shade-loving alternatives to the disease-prone common impatiens. There are newbies, but also a few golden oldies (well, not that old but definitely golden).
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.
You know who you are. You’re the gardeners who keep your lawn perfectly edged and weed-free, the ones who maintain an exquisitely proportioned space between plants. You’re the opposite of folks like me whose plants are forever rubbing shoulders with their neighbors and muttering under their breath about garden bullies.
Purple coneflowers (Echinacea) have been a staple in my garden for 25 years. I’ve grown them from seed, purchased them in pots and have received free cultivars from friends and growers. The flowers provide nectar for butterflies from June through October and the seed heads provide food for goldfinches in winter.
Do you sing in the shower? Um, I know that’s kind of personal and you don’t need to tell me what kind of soap you use but ...
This is the year of the hellebore, at least in my garden. I have about a dozen now, with several of the lime-green ones ...
You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of soil, a dimension of blight ...
I don’t know the names of all of the plants in my garden. There, I said it. I’m not bragging, mind you, nor am I apologizing.
The monocotyledonous geophytes are coming! The monocotyledonous geophytes are coming! I knew that would get your attention.