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.
I think I’m speaking the wrong language.
No, no, no, I’m not talking about English. I actually do all right with the mother tongue. Heck, I’m part of the 0.0000023% of Americans who know how to use lie, lay, lain and laid properly, and I know that a squiggly red line under a word I just typed means that I guessed the spelling wrong and that I should keep trying different letters until the squiggles go away.
When I do garden talks, there are a number of questions that pop up repeatedly. For instance, “Is that your real hair?” is near the top of the list. Occasionally I am asked, “How come your radio show is on Sunday instead of Saturday?” (Note: If you want to see my real hair fall out in clumps, ask me that question. Go ahead, I double dig dare you.)
The other question that I am mercilessly flogged by at these otherwise genial gatherings is, “How come my weeds do better than my plants?” Putting aside the fact that weeds are plants, it has occurred to me that I could become as fabulously wealthy as the person who invented the spork if I could just answer that one question.
Ask many skilled gardeners to name their favorite plant, and what do they reply? “The one that’s in bloom right now.”
Not what the interviewer wanted to hear, probably, but true nonetheless.
Illinois is an agricultural state.
We all know that, right?
But did you also know that Illinois imports 90 percent of its food? This is according to an August 24, 2014 article in the Business section of the Chicago Tribune.
So what’s wrong with this picture? The hard truth is that most of Illinois is a monoculture of corn and soybeans, which goes to feed cattle in this country and abroad. We’re not a state of home gardeners feeding our families from our backyards. When I buy frozen edamame (whole soybeans) at my local supermarket, I see “Product of China” stamped on the bag. What’s wrong, indeed.
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?
This is our “Ideas Issue,” designed to be a keeper, although of course we hope you keep all of our issues. So to get this new year off to a rousing start, we’ve created an issue that’s chock full of ideas for everything.
Every January and February, we get the garden ball rolling with Jim Nau from Ball Horticultural offering his appraisal of the year’s new plants. This issue we’ve tweaked that concept a bit in order to focus on plants for sun and ideas for shade, including shade-loving alternatives to the disease-prone common impatiens. There are newbies, but also a few golden oldies (well, not that old but definitely golden).
There are two kinds of bets going on among my readers. The first is whether I will follow the tried, true and now fairly stale formula of setting horticultural lyrics to holiday songs for yet another year. The other bet is that I will eventually run out of holiday songs to parody.
Those of you who had your money on my trying something different this year can pony up right now. And those who thought I would run out of songs have never Googled the X-Mas Song Canon. It’s about the size of a medium-sized Midwestern town phone book. This could go on forever. Sing ’em and weep.
“Hey, where’s Stinky?”
“Didn’t your mama ever teach you not to talk with your mouth full?”
“Well, she should have. Oh, there he is. What’s he doing wasting his time on that stuff?”
I was awakened recently by the sound of a pigeon rattling my bedroom window. Peeking with one cautious eye from beneath my covers, I noticed that there was a small scroll attached to its leg. I opened the window, retrieved the scroll and got a dirty look from the bird as it pooped and flew off. (Just what are the rules for tipping carrier pigeons?)
This is now how my editors communicate with me. They mutter vaguely about computer viruses and such. I’m not sure but I think I’m being punished for some grammatical faux pas.
Anyway, the note was about the theme of this first issue of the year (already? can I go back to bed?), which is … uh … “Magician Tissue.” Wait. Nope. (The print is very, very tiny on this little note.) It’s … uh … ah! I think this is the “Imagination Issue.”
I often worry that my neighbors think I’m lazy. Yes, they may see me on my hands and knees, covered with dirt, and they may see me mowing the lawn and dumping out bags of grass clippings, but more often they’re likely to see me just standing in front of my plants. Looking. Staring.
This begins around the middle of March when I venture forth daily to check if anything has broken dormancy. Rummage around the clump of lady’s mantle and there, by golly gee whiz, is a half-inch folded pale green leaf. Yes! The plant’s alive and already on its way to blooming in a couple months. And here’s a crocus. That shoot wasn’t here yesterday, but now it’s up at least an inch. Tomorrow, will there be a flower?
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