When David Van Zelst comes home after a busy day running his landscaping business, he likes to cook. No surprise there, since the owner and principal designer at Van Zelst, Inc. in Wadsworth once considered becoming a chef, with architecture the other serious possibility. Both interests continue to play a commanding role in the life that he and his wife Cindy have built for themselves on the North Shore.
It was just four years ago that the pair designed the expansive Italian-style house and garden they now enjoy on their wooded 2-acre lot. “I’ve had the privilege of developing landscapes and gardens for world class homes since 1979,” Van Zelst says, “so all along I’ve collected ideas.” Those stored ideas came to the fore when it was time to design what he clearly sees as the family dream home.
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” wrote the author of Psalms 30. Something to keep in mind as we slog through winter every year.
Now it’s March, and our time of weeping is approaching its end. Oh, we may still get a blizzard, or even two, but rest assured, we’ve survived the worst of it. March blizzards melt
One of the great benefits of gardening is that it gives us so many moments of joy. We could also call them God’s-in-his-heaven-all’s-right-with-the-world moments.
If “ignorance of the law” is no excuse, does that apply also to the laws of nature? Of physiology? Of reproduction? Of supply and demand? Of fine print? Of the best intentions of friends gone awry? Of creeping rhizomes and fecund root fragments and floating, flying, fluttering husks of determined seeds?
Perhaps I should start at the beginning.
My partner Kathleen and I own a wonderful vacation house on the Olympic Peninsula in the temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest. To make a long story short, it was an impulse buy—two city folks hypnotized by the sight of mushrooms growing on trees. Okay, that and 300-foot-tall conifers in the mountains on a glacier-fed lake in a land that receives an average rainfall of over 140 inches per year and is perpetually green. We may be city slickers but even we can smell the difference between humus and concrete.
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.
We are rapidly approaching Corn-Phlegma-Plethora-Terminus-Ucopia and I’m sure that all of you are planning big parties for this beloved
annual gardening event.
Basically, CPPTU or “C-Ptui!” (as it is popularly known) marks that time late in the year when we begin to realize that we don’t have anywhere close to enough storage space to save all of the stuff we’re about to harvest and we’re really not interested in spending the next three months chained to a cutting board inside the canning kitchen pickling Tree of Heaven root and making used-leather-sandal jerky simply because the editors of Organic Flotsam Magazine claim it can be done. Gardeners celebrate C-Ptui! by tossing green pumpkins and rock-hard tomatoes at passing cars with out-of-state license plates.
Create spring and summer container combinations and enter them in our
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plants used in the container(s) and their source (local independent garden center, friend, wherever).
Gardeners perplex me. Actually, I’m perplexed by many things, including gravity and spumoni ice cream and why most Americans think a t-shirt and shorts is a fashion statement in an airport, but when it comes to gardeners, I’m often really perplexed.
In the words of my dad, who never actually said this, so I don’t know why I’m invoking him while channeling one of the Bowery Boys, “Lemme give ya a fer instance.”
I’m pretty sure that in the pre-Google era most everyone who spoke of or asked about moss was trying to get rid of it. Even now googling “moss in the garden” produces five “how to kill” results before the first “how to grow.” But I recently attended a lecture at the Chicago Botanic Garden given by Dale Sievert, whose passion for and expertise about mosses made me question how anyone could contemplate mayhem against such a beautiful, ancient and eco-friendly organism. Since mosses have slowly, over the past few years, begun to colonize the damper, shadier parts of my tiny urban forest (i.e. my front yard), I was happy to be urged to encourage the process rather than fight it.
“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.”
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?”
Seen any good movies lately? One to put at the top of your list is “Greenfingers,” whose title is the English term for having a green thumb.
The film is based on a true story of prisoners from an English jail, some of them murderers, who get a second chance in life (and save their souls) by becoming gardeners.
The main character is a burnt-out shell of a man who is given a packet of viola seeds by his roommate, a cancer-ridden octogenarian. When the violas not only germinate but bloom, it’s a transformative moment.
When food is scarce, our little feathered friends make a beeline for the feeders. Most of the birds wear drab colors — a ...
In a few weeks, we can start planting tomatoes and peppers as well as sowing seeds of squash, eggplant, beans and other ...
I’m feeling guilty. Perhaps that’s because my column was due last week and I’ve now written, let’s see, 18 words. But I’m ...
If you are reading this article, you are probably already aware that monarch butterfly numbers in Illinois are way down.
If it weren’t for the holiday season, we probably would have legislated the month of December out of existence long ago.