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.
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.
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.
I like holiday carols. Really, I do. Honest. Don’t look at me like that. I know it’s hard to tell from the annual hit job I do on them in this column. Hey, I like my plants, too, and yet I kill them with astonishing regularity. Maybe it’s a “you always hurt the one you love” kind of thing.
So a word of advice. Don’t make me like you. It could be bad for your health. Come to think of it, singing any of these ditties around friends or co-workers might land you in intensive care. Just sayin’.
Sure, you love the holidays, but maybe you don’t 100 percent love red and green. Yes, they always make a dynamite pairing, but do they always have to be the go-to colors for decorating every year? You’d really like to broaden your horizons, see what else you might do to offer a festive face to the world.
Such was the challenge a customer presented to the design staff at The Growing Place, Naperville and Aurora. “The customer wanted to stay away from the traditional reds and greens that are everywhere during the holidays,” says co-owner Carol Massat. “But she loves mauve and burgundy, so we custom designed this container using a variety of evergreens and two types of eucalyptus that had been preserved and dyed – all natural materials. Then we added some lime green color to brighten it up a bit.
Need a little inspiration or just a break from weeding? Garden walks abound this time of year, and there’s plenty to see. Here are a few you won’t want to miss.
I had just finished an environmental talk to a local gardening group. It was the usual advice. Don’t do an oil change on your car and spread the spent lubricant on your trilliums. Adding cigarette butts to your compost pile won’t necessarily kill the pathogens, though it may get them addicted to nicotine. When you have a soil test, always check for Strontium-90 in your tomato patch. In short, we’re all going to heck in a handbasket and there’s little you can do about it. Feeling pretty proud of myself, I said I would entertain questions from the now wide-eyed and terrified gardeners.
A woman on my right (which is “stage right” and “audience left” for those of you whose misspent youths and early adulthoods didn’t include long delusional stretches when you thought you were going to make millions of dollars as actors) calmly raised her hand and demanded: “What do you spray to get rid of chipmunks?”
In a Chicagoland winter, we may or may not have snow. With snow, any garden can look good. Without it, we must pull out a few garden decorating tricks to provide relief from a palette of sepia and stone. Adding a splash of red here and there is a fine way of generating excitement, and when the garden gods do bless us with snow, those winter reds glow and create real garden art.
The weather outside is still a tad frightful, but the sunshine and the longer daylight this past week seem to have triggered Mother Nature. A pair of bluebirds showed up Saturday morning in our backyard where they explored one of our birdhouses. More bluebirds on Sunday morning flying from another nest box in our front garden, into the woods across the street. But indoors, spring has already arrived.
Towards the end of February a startling fact was reported on the news. January, it turns out, had been the fourth warmest month in the history of the world. How can that be, everyone east of the Mississippi must have gasped?
Gardening may be good for the soul, but this summer it was good for larceny.
That’s right. Plants were stolen from my garden this year. Three times. I am still reeling from the shock.
Two of the plants were new — an Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ that was supposed to mature into a bushy 3-foot tall yellow-leaved perennial in a shady part of the backyard, and a small cluster of ‘Cherry Berry’ hens and chicks (Sempervivum) that looked in a catalog photo as though they might be as red as those I had once seen at England’s Sissinghurst Garden. I’ve been seeking something equally red for 20 years.
If ever there was dark side to an avocation based on goodness and light, it is the idea of a “gardening competition.”
Here we are again, folks, recovering from yet another catastrophic (pick one or more): Election. New Year’s Eve celebration …
People ask me why, year after inexplicable year, I continue to crank out these bizarre little lyrics for the holidays.
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