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.
Every day I receive letters (well, not every day, but every few days…actually, I occasionally receive letters ... okay, okay, I got one once—are you happy?) in the mail (to be precise, not the real, old-fashioned mail, but somehow they find their way to my desk ... my computer ... and they’re somewhat about gardening ... I mean, I assume that increasing your trowel size has something to do with gardening ... uh, by the way, don’t ever open an e-mail with that subject line) like this one from Rusty:
If there’s absolutely one thing I’m sure of as I slog through this vale of tears, it’s that the MacArthur genius grant people have, tragically, lost my phone number. Why, I can think of at least half a dozen reasons why I should be cashing one of their big, oversized checks and then retiring to an exotic location like Minot, ND. (Slogan: “Why Not Minot?”)
I’m not sure whether I should be celebrating or apologizing.
Let me explain. The 700 or so words on this page mark my tenth anniversary as a columnist for Chicagoland Gardening magazine. It scares me to think that some of my readers are younger than that. It also scares me to think that some parents might allow their kids to read this column. But I digress.
I’m surprised that the tenth anniversary is generally known as the “tin” anniversary. Which means that if you’ve survived the close combat of a relationship for a whole decade, the best you can hope for a reward is a substance that is used to coat steel containers for food preservation or to stabilize PVC plastics. So, on your tenth anniversary, I suggest you give your wife a few cans of water chestnuts. Or delight your husband with a length of PVC pipe. Then prepare to sleep on the couch, whatever gender you are.
At the end of February I spent a couple of weeks in a suburb south of San Francisco, doing grandma duty while my daughter and her hubby were off in Italy, huffing their way to the top of Florence cathedral, plying the waters of the Venetian canals and wallowing through mountains of pasta.
As I never wearied of emailing back home, the Bay Area magnolias and flowering cherry trees were in full bloom, as were the daffodils, and I even spied a bright red bougainvillea as I tooled down the hill chauffeuring the grandson to high school. The boy had been studying about South Africa in his world studies class, so we kept our eyes peeled for cycads, a South African native reminiscent of palm trees that was found on the earth during prehistoric times. It was all very pleasant. Northern California is always ... pleasant.
Does your garden wear the “layered look?”
“Garden layers are made up of a variety of plants, some with complementary or contrasting colors, others with interesting shapes or textures,” writes David Culp, author of a new book, The Layered Garden (Timber Press, $34.95). “Layers are more than just perennials, or annuals or bulbs, or groundcovers — they are more than just the ground layer of plants that are the sole focus of many gardeners.”
In a few weeks, we can start planting tomatoes and peppers as well as sowing seeds of squash, eggplant, beans and other warm-season vegetables. When you’re planning what to grow this summer, think about what you enjoy eating. There are plenty of cooking themes that can make it fun: a salad garden, an herbal tea garden, a pumpkin and squash garden, a Thai garden with lemon grass, Thai basil, hot peppers, and more.
This is the year of the hellebore, at least in my garden. I have about a dozen now, with several of the lime-green ones being self-sown seedlings that have turned into grown-ups that now produce flowers. The others are rosy-red (sold as pink) and the color contrast is pleasant. So far there has been no “intermarriage” or “promiscuity” among them, so green is staying green and rose is staying rose.
You know who you are. You’re the gardeners who keep your lawn perfectly edged and weed-free, the ones who maintain an exquisitely proportioned space between plants. You’re the opposite of folks like me whose plants are forever rubbing shoulders with their neighbors and muttering under their breath about garden bullies.
The most memorable Christmas of my Chicago life was the year the temperature plummeted to 25 below zero and the pipes froze all over the house. Still, the car miraculously started and the family managed to get to the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel for the annual pageant, surrounded by neighbors bundled up for the duration in scarves, parkas and boots. Every year one lucky middle school girl would be selected to be Mary and ride down the aisle on Mabel, a real live Sicilian donkey brought in from the suburbs. A sight not to be missed.
I’m often asked, “How do you do it, Mike … year after year?” That’s the wrong question. The right question is “Why do you do it, Mike … year after relentless year?” However, even that question should be presented in a rhetorical way. In which case, I will smile sagely. If asked as a real question, I will suddenly remember that I must tend to the eggs boiling on my stove before they explode all over the unwashed dishes and the languishing pothos.
People ask me why, year after inexplicable year, I continue to crank out these bizarre little lyrics for the holidays.
Rain gardens are hot news, but are they pretty? Here are some examples that take the concept beyond mere buzz words.
We are rapidly approaching Corn-Phlegma-Plethora-Terminus-Ucopia and I’m sure that all of you are planning big parties for ...
Here we are again, folks, recovering from yet another catastrophic (pick one or more): Election. New Year’s Eve celebration …
“Hey, Gerry.” “ Morning, Al.” “ Where’s Carey?” “ They moved him to the front this morning.” “ No kidding. Think we’re next?