For Denise Johnston, it started at the county fair. As a child, she’d make a “beeline” to the hive observation frame in the agriculture building, where she would become mesmerized by the bees’ activity. Then, about ten years ago, she met Bob Engle, the man behind the hives, at an antique tractor show.
He asked if she was interested in a class he was teaching. Johnston signed on to a series of five 3-hour classes detailing how to start your own hives. After attending all 15 hours, she ordered her first batch of bees. Now Johnston is secretary/treasurer/newsletter editor of the Northwest Indiana Beekeepers Association, sells her own honey and teaches classes. (nwibeekeepers.com)
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.
A funny thing happened to me on the way to writing one of my columns last year. I decided to draw something instead, thereby saving myself from writing about four hundred words and, simultaneously, terrorizing approximately 93% of the people who open the magazine to this page. (How do we know? We take dozens and dozens of scientific polls about every aspect of this publication. Doesn’t everybody?)
I titled that piece “I Can’t Draw, Don’t Ask Me” and a second funny thing happened a couple of months ago. It won an award from the Garden Writers Association (of America, no less). For illustration. This is what we in the writing business call “irony.”
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.
In a few weeks, we can start planting tomatoes and peppers as well as sowing seeds of squash, eggplant, beans and other warm-season vegetables. When you’re planning what to grow this summer, think about what you enjoy eating. There are plenty of cooking themes that can make it fun: a salad garden, an herbal tea garden, a pumpkin and squash garden, a Thai garden with lemon grass, Thai basil, hot peppers, and more.
January, February and March are the great equalizers of the horticultural world. This is the time of the year when I can look at the landscapes belonging to my oh-so-serious gardening brethren and cistern and taunt, “Gee, that doesn’t look much better than my garden.” I choose to ignore the fact that, even under 20 inches of snow, their yards invariably do look better than mine.
Of course, when the weather warms up (in Chicago that happens around July 15) their gardens pass mine the way that Road Runner passes Wile E. Coyote on a desert road. To make matters worse, the expression on my face then bears a strong resemblance to the one sported by Mr. Coyote. And to add injury to insult, a huge rock usually falls on my head, sometime around July 27. I guess that’s the legacy of a misspent youth.
Tulips come from Turkey, but woodland wildflowers come from Chicagoland. Why not have some of both in your springtime garden?
I knew it would be a goner as soon as it was proffered. “I don’t have the right conditions for it,” I said. “Yes, I have shade in my backyard, but the soil is clay and besides, there’s no water.” But my hostess insisted, and so I went home with a marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), even though I had no marsh. The plant died within a year, my sighs of regret tempered by some inner I-told-you-so satisfaction.
“Do you have geraniums?” “Pelargonium or cranesbill?” “Sorry?” “Er, Pelargonium or cranesbill.” “No, I’m not interested in birds. I want a geranium. Got any red ones?” “Exactly. I was just explaining that what you call a geranium is actually a Pelargonium.” “Then why don’t they call it that?” “Well, it’s sometimes called a storksbill.” “Like I said, I don’t wanna bird.” “No, I’m just saying that cranesbills and storksbills are two different things.” “Especially to their mamas.”
Well, here we are again. Funny how Jan. 1st rolls around about this time every year. It’s almost a pattern. Depending on circumstances, I’m guessing that some of you are…
A) looking out at the remnants of the Great Blizzard of ‘08 and laughing about all of the earnest prognostications about global warming. B) looking out, horrified, at the blooming roses in your yard while writing donation checks to Al Gore. C) looking out, closing your eyes and imagining the lawn expanded into a nine-hole putting course (male fantasy, most likely). D) looking out, closing your eyes and imagining your husband, still sitting on his riding lawn mower, buried under your new bed of exotic cutting flowers (female fantasy, I’d guess). E) looking out, closing your eyes and imagining a kind of shaking-the-Etch-A-Sketch approach. That is to say, wiping out the whole thing and starting from scratch.
I’m often asked, “How do you do it, Mike … year after year?” That’s the wrong question. The right question is “Why do you do it, Mike … year after relentless year?” However, even that question should be presented in a rhetorical way. In which case, I will smile sagely. If asked as a real question, I will suddenly remember that I must tend to the eggs boiling on my stove before they explode all over the unwashed dishes and the languishing pothos.
It is always a topic of conversation: What plants work well in sun or in shade? Or both? However, the conversation has taken on a slightly different perspective for 2014.
The plant world has been turned upside down due to a disease that has impacted one of gardeners’ favorite shade plants — Impatiens walleriana. Impatiens are the standard for any annual shade garden, and varieties belonging to this class have died in Europe, the U.K. and now, North America, from a disease called downy mildew (Plasmopara obducens). Infected plants start to drop leaves overnight and only the plant stems remain after a few days. So what can you replace them with to give color in a shaded location? Here are a few suggestions.
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