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.”
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 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.
It is simply a fact of the way I garden. I don’t necessarily recommend deliberately throwing away or conveniently losing plant identification tags. I don’t advise leaving blank the pages of that fancy garden journal you received for Christmas. I don’t suggest you fail to take photographs of your precious rare specimens. I just know that these things happen, mainly because they occasionally happen to me.
If ever there was dark side to an avocation based on goodness and light, it is the idea of a “gardening competition.”
Excuse me, I had to get a towel. My hands were suddenly very, very sweaty. It starts innocently enough. We discover that the sight of a simple daisy in bloom is soooo much cheaper than a shrink, so we carve out a plot of our own in the midst of the urban or suburban asphalt and concrete wilderness. A seed, some soil, a little water, a touch of tenderness. Excuse me, I had to get a facial tissue. I was tearing up a little there.
By the time you get to this page (that is to say, if you’ve read all or most of this magazine), your brain is so crammed with horticultural knowledge that if you make one false move it will explode, spewing chloroplasts and bark and bits of binomial nomenclature and fragments of tasteful garden design all over the place. And who’s going to clean up that mess?
The hot new thing in vegetable gardening is grafted plants. Burpee and Ball and other plant breeders have developed grafted tomatoes and eggplants in recent years, and I saw them growing in the trial beds at The Gardens at Ball in West Chicago last summer. The idea is that the vigorous rootstock will make the fruiting part of the plant grow faster and produce more fruit. The idea has been common practice with roses for decades.
“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.”
Container gardening is so enjoyable because of its possibilities for creative expression. There is an almost endless variety of ways to design and use containers. For example, in a classic design, a container is filled with a pleasing arrangement of plants with differing heights, textures and colors. This method can result in stunning arrangements; however, it does have limitations.
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.
All the snow we’ve had recently brought many more birds to the feeders outside our kitchen window. A lone starling was joined by sparrows, house finches, downy woodpeckers, seven cardinals, goldfinches (which are beginning to show faint yellow feathers as they lose their winter plumage), mourning doves and the occasional Cooper’s hawk (which sends the small birds scattering). It’s a good time to be indoors cooking and sowing seeds of tomato and pepper plants. As soon as the snow melts, I’ll get my soil thermometer and when the top inch of soil reaches to 52 F or so, I’ll begin sowing kale seeds.
I’m not paranoid but it’s out to get me. It’s everywhere. It’s in my life, my dreams, my backyard, my garden. It is ubiquitous, relentless, abhorrent, insidious, formidable, unyielding, despotic and pitiless.
It is…it is…. It is pink…aaaaahhhhhh!
I cannot, for the life of me, understand the Oliver Goldsmith phrase “The very pink of perfection.” (Note that his surname belies his sentiment.) For me, pink is the very opposite of perfection. Perhaps I was frightened by a demonic little pink sock in my cradle. Maybe I just looked in a mirror and saw a pink blob that horrified me. Or, I suppose, my fear and loathing of anything pink can be traced back to the early days of color television. For those of you unfortunate enough to have lived through that transition (think “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”), the early color television sets had a tendency to make everything appear, well, pink-ish. It’s possible that watching Lucille Ball with pink hair every week had something to do with my phobia.
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