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.
One fine morning this summer I looked out the second-floor window of my study and discovered a 1-foot tall tomato plant growing a few feet away in the gutter of the back porch. Just one more example, if one were needed, of the amazing, millennia-long saga of seed dispersal on the planet. Thor Hanson offers more examples in his newly published The Triumph of Seeds.
Why do plants grow where they do, puzzled Charles Darwin and other 19th century scientists? When Darwin reached the Galapagos Islands during his 3-year-long voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle, he discovered numerous oddities, including cotton. How did it get there?
As Ned crept up to the gate, he was struck by the eerie glow emanating from the yard. The last thing Ned wanted was eerie glow all over his face but it was too late. Besides, Susan was in there somewhere and he wasn’t going to cut and run. Not now. Ned wiped some eerie glow onto his jeans, took a deep breath and moved into the yard.
The glow was coming from somewhere in the distance, partially blocked by rows of evergreens. Ned made a mental note. It was an E-flat. Then cautiously, he crept forward. Footsteps. Voices. Coming this way. A moment of panic.
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.
Brace yourself. I’m going to smack you across the kisser with a cold, wet herring of truth: Gardening ain’t easy.
There. I said it. You may now wipe that fish oil from your cheek.
One of the reasons that gardening is harder than it looks is that the people who make the rules keep changing them. I’m talking about the keepers of the binomial nomenclature. (Note: If you enjoy reading this column because it’s fact-free, just close your eyes for the next couple of sentences, while I get the serious stuff out of the way.)
Binomial nomenclature is the rule that every living thing – like a plant – has an unpronounceable scientific name that was created to confuse the bejesus out of people who are not scientists. For instance, you think you’re growing a pansy but it might really be a Viola × wittrockiana Gams ex Nauenb. & Buttler. I’m not making this up! As Randy Shakespeare always said, before he was unceremoniously expunged from the history books, “Google it!”
It’s the bleak midwinter. Or is it the weak midblinter? Who knows? I’ve been staring at the ceiling for what seems like days. I roll over to look at the time on my cell phone clock. 2:27 a.m. Oy. Must…shut out…these thoughts…must…sleep.
A comical plant identification flow chart from our columnist, Mike Nowak.
This is the time when the world waxes eloquent (or some semblance thereof) about “new beginnings.” Really? Is there such a thing as old beginnings?
Perhaps we should just call them revisions. We gardeners made a muck of many things in 2015, and now is our time to take stock and resolve to do better next time.
So this year we won’t optimistically set out the tomatoes on a warm day in May, only to see them get blasted by cold winds two weeks later, go belly up and need to be replanted. Nor will we put our new ‘Rebecca’ clematis in the shade … twice … or let the red KnockOut rose get so squished by the 8-foot wide Incrediball hydrangea that the rose actually stopped blooming for most of the summer. Who ever imagined that you could reduce the bloom on a KnockOut rose? (Solution: tell the hydrangea “you win” and donate it to the big perennial garden in Wicker Park.)
A few days ago it was cool enough to go outside and see the red needles calling me. It was my fully open haemanthus, a rarely grown South African bulb whose salmon red stamens form a round ball up to 10 inches across.
Looking for some good public plantings? Head for an airport. Not just any airport, but the airports in Chicagoland. While I haven’t been in every airport around the country, I’ve seen enough to take a look and sniff, “Chicago’s airports are better than this.”
If you grow vegetables, one of the most valuable tools around is a soil thermometer. That’s because many vegetable seeds germinate and grow even when the soil is only 45 degrees. On April 6, I took my trusty soil thermometer and discovered that the top three inches of soil where I grow annual herbs was still only 41 degrees. I waited two weeks and it gradually warmed up so I could sow spinach, lettuce, onions and Swiss chard without having the seeds rot in the cold, wet soil.
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