This South Side Chicago garden attracts an astonishing variety of butterflies thanks to the biodiversity it offers in a neighborhood of otherwise sterile green lawns.
Where does the time go? Seems like nano-seconds since I gave up on my overgrown, drought and heat-ravaged mess of a garden in the fall, planted a white flag in the shriveled remains of a tomato plant in a dried up container and screamed to anyone who would listen (mostly squirrels and birds), “It’s yours! You own it! Do your worst. Dig up some bulbs. Go ahead, leave some foxhole-sized divots in the lawn. Knock yourselves out! Go on, sparrows, poop all over everything. Here, I’m putting out an extra lawn chair for just that purpose! Should I leave my bicycle out here, too? You want that, too? Huh? I don’t care! I quit. I resign. I abdicate. I bifurcate. I conjugate! I’ll be back in the spring. Or summer. Or in 2017. Maybe. Don’t hold your breath because… because… there’s nothing weirder than a blue squirrel.”
And with that, I walked into the house and rather animatedly rearranged all of my ties by date of purchase. Flash forward five months or so. Here we are. Spring. Yup. Spring.
The surprise is that there have been so few surprises. But maybe that’s just what happens when you plant a 5-acre “stylized prairie” in downtown Chicago and half of the species selected are Midwestern natives. Even when the world-renowned plantsman making the choices was from Holland and had never seen a real honest-to-gosh prairie until he came to America several years ago.
The man in question, Piet Oudolf, was in town this summer for the 10th anniversary of the establishment of The Lurie Garden in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park, and Chicagoland Gardening was able to steal a few moments from his busy schedule to sit down and get his perspective on what he had done.
In this issue our primary focus is on perennial gardens – beautiful perennial gardens.
But, of course, no one sets out to create an unbeautiful garden. For thousands of years gardens have been about beauty.
Yes, they were also about utility.
The folks in the editorial office tell me that this issue is about planning. I’m taking their word for it, since they don’t invite me to editorial meetings anymore. That might have something to do with the time that I showed up with my Giant Burrowing Cockroach (Macropanesthia rhinoceros), an insect from Australia. I thought they would find it educational. I still don’t know how it escaped. You’d think they would have been a little more concerned about my emotional attachment to Rhino and less about how to get it out of their potted fiddle-leaf ficus.
As I recall, we didn’t get a lot accomplished that day. And the invitations to the meetings stopped about that time. Anyway…planning. Right.
Well, folks, you knew you were living on borrowed time. I didn’t realize it, but so was I. But when the FBI and Walt Disney (hisself!) showed up on my doorstep to ask about certain musical themes “borrowed” for a certain slightly over-the-hill garden writer at a particular Midwest horticulture magazine, I told them to go next door.
However, they came back. And after we all had a chuckle over my subterfuge and ol’ Walt told me the back story of the creation of Mickey Mouse (and I’ll bet you never thought that guy could work blue!) over a heaping glass of Ovaltine, the FBI guys agreed to remove my handcuffs with the promise that this would be the very, very, very last time that I subjected people to this cruel and unusual punishment.
So get out your pitch pipes, your hankies and your best liquor, ‘cause here we go:
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.
The age of exploration isn’t over. The hunt continues for new and better plants continues.
Ever wonder where the plants at garden centers come from? Even the typical nursery features a depth of products resembling a virtual League of Nations. In addition to the plants native to North America, many originated in Asia, Europe and even Africa. How they got here is a very long story that dates back to the days of pharaohs, kings and queens who directed explorers to bring plants back from distant continents. They sought new varieties that ranged from purely ornamental to edible to medicinal.
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.
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.
News alert! I have been known to be obsessed with weather, and weather reporting. Why is everybody laughing? Stop that. I’m serious here.
I’m the kind of guy who wants to experience the minus 25 F freeze-o-rama and the 110 F meltdown outside, so I can say I actually lived it. Then, after about two minutes, I want to duck back into my cozy living room with a suitable hot or cold beverage and watch the coverage on TV. Hey, I’m crazy but I’m not nuts.
The day we brought her home from the nursery, we were the proudest parents on the block. We hadn’t always wanted one.
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