Fall is upon us but there’s no reason to put your garden to bed just yet. That’s because the show goes on with birds, thousands of which are migrating and stopping daily in local gardens for a bite to eat or a drink of water. And the activity doesn’t stop there. Monarch butterflies will be looking for nectar – a rich source of energy during their long commute to Mexico. Bees remain active and there’s an assortment of insects – praying mantis and other “beneficials” – that are present until the first fall frost about mid-October. There’s plenty to observe and enjoy.
The ultimate definition of an optimist may very well be a person who looks out at a mass of brown, smushed foliage; twisted, broken, defoliated branches; and lumpy, gray-green lawn and says,
“Yup. Looks like it’s going to be a good gardening season.” Who are these people? They’ve certainly never seen my yard in March.
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.
There is no better part of the year for a gardener than right now, assuming you’re reading this around March or April and didn’t misfile your magazine and rediscover it in November. Gardeners love spring more than anything except puppies (you’d have to be a true evildoer not to like puppies) and wax eloquent with words like “rebirth,” “renewal,” “spring solstice” and “spring rolls.”
But if this is a time to look forward, it is also a time to peer into the rear view mirror at those horticultural casualties of the past 12 months. I always seem to have more than my fair share. Thus it is with a heavy heart that I present:
George and Theresa Rebersky enjoy growing an assortment of colorful annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs and gigantic pumpkins in their suburban Worth backyard. But along the driveway leading to their detached garage was a triangle of lawn that separated the drive from the sidewalk. It ran 13 feet on two sides and another 6 feet wide along the patio. There was no connection to the rest of the garden, which has a large arbor, raised beds and a spectacular collection of dahlia flowers and hanging baskets. “The triangle was a dead spot,” George says.
There are people who say that autumn is their favorite time of year. I’m not one of them, although God knows I’ve tried. Yes, I sometimes wax ecstatic over the way colors change from day to day (orange yesterday, red today – “like magic!” I exclaim), but deep down my comments are suffused with whiffs of wistfulness. Yes, there are days when I observe that October is a fabulous month in Chicagoland – clear blue skies, low pollution, temps in the 80s – what’s not to like? But then I remember that all around me these plants are dying, never mind that they are coloring up the world with their last fleeting gasps.
I was awakened recently by the sound of a pigeon rattling my bedroom window. Peeking with one cautious eye from beneath my covers, I noticed that there was a small scroll attached to its leg. I opened the window, retrieved the scroll and got a dirty look from the bird as it pooped and flew off. (Just what are the rules for tipping carrier pigeons?)
This is now how my editors communicate with me. They mutter vaguely about computer viruses and such. I’m not sure but I think I’m being punished for some grammatical faux pas.
Anyway, the note was about the theme of this first issue of the year (already? can I go back to bed?), which is … uh … “Magician Tissue.” Wait. Nope. (The print is very, very tiny on this little note.) It’s … uh … ah! I think this is the “Imagination Issue.”
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.
Decisions, decisions. What’s a devoted gardener to do with brugmansia as winter approaches?
For opulence and tropical splendor there’s nothing like angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia). Tall, elegant, with draping fragrant bells of bloom, it can dominate a patio, balcony or an entry way like little else.
But here’s the rub. It’s not hardy in Chicagoland. So this raises the sticky issue of overwintering. Should you just toss the plant when winter comes? Some do. Others would like to save it for another year. But how?
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.
At Chicagoland Gardening we duly make our resolutions, chief among them our determination that 2017 will be the magazine’s best year ever. And then we get down to business.
As in years past, we begin with a cover story on the year’s new plants. Since the number of new varieties is legion, we limit ourselves to varieties that have passed the trial by fire in the well-named trial gardens at Ball Horticultural in West Chicago. Each summer we take a day to reconnoiter the grounds with Jim Nau and his aide-de-camp Katie Rotella, note the high performers, and then commission our trusty photographer Ron Capek to turn them into art.
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