For Denise Johnston, it started at the county fair. As a child, she’d make a “beeline” to the hive observation frame in the agriculture building, where she would become mesmerized by the bees’ activity. Then, about ten years ago, she met Bob Engle, the man behind the hives, at an antique tractor show.
He asked if she was interested in a class he was teaching. Johnston signed on to a series of five 3-hour classes detailing how to start your own hives. After attending all 15 hours, she ordered her first batch of bees. Now Johnston is secretary/treasurer/newsletter editor of the Northwest Indiana Beekeepers Association, sells her own honey and teaches classes. (nwibeekeepers.com)
A funny thing happened to me on the way to writing one of my columns last year. I decided to draw something instead, thereby saving myself from writing about four hundred words and, simultaneously, terrorizing approximately 93% of the people who open the magazine to this page. (How do we know? We take dozens and dozens of scientific polls about every aspect of this publication. Doesn’t everybody?)
I titled that piece “I Can’t Draw, Don’t Ask Me” and a second funny thing happened a couple of months ago. It won an award from the Garden Writers Association (of America, no less). For illustration. This is what we in the writing business call “irony.”
Editor’s Note: Though he acknowledged that it is bad form for a writer to miss a deadline, especially when it is only the third deadline of his new column, Mike Nowak assured us that his old community college horticultural fraternity roommate would be a more than adequate substitute. Frankly, time constraints and a thin Rolodex left us with limited options in this matter. While docking Mr. Nowak’s pay for this issue and sending him a stern warning about future efforts, we present, with trepidation:
It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s a flash mob of garden writers!
Late last summer 420 garden writers from the U.S. and Canada assembled for their annual symposium and ended up dancing to Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” on the lawn in front of the University of Pittsburgh’s “cathedral of learning” (watch the video here: bit.ly/1ttDyjf).
While it may not rank up there with the moon landing, it’s sure to find a beloved spot in the annals of the Garden Writers Association (GWA), founded in 1948 with a current membership of 1500.
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. People need to eat and people have gardened for food. But when we view the scraps of paintings that have come down to us from ancient Persia or Egypt, it’s obvious that the spaces that people created were intended to be lovely. The gardens of those days, being in hot dry places, were enclosed with walls first of all, and then they added trees for shade, water and flowers. And they didn’t put all the plants together any which way. No, they organized their spaces with straight rows …
I think I’m missing a gene. Okay, maybe two or three.
This is the time of year when gardeners are told to dream, to curl up with their favorite magazine or catalog with that hot cup of cocoa or tea (naturally decaffeinated, of course), to look upon their snow-covered blank slate of a garden and imagine the endless possibilities of the coming growing season. Golden retriever at your side, your mate happily puttering away in the next room (creating ingenious and achingly beautiful mosaic tiles from thrift store ceramic pieces) you flip through the stack of horticultural publications, carefully marking and clipping articles and ads for the newest All-America Selections, secure in the knowledge that this year’s garden would be the absolute envy of even Gertrude Jekyll, had she not departed this vale of tears some seven decades ago.
I was reading a gardening book the other day (yes, I occasionally do research – don’t start on me this early in the column, okay?) and I came across a tip for how to buy the right number of plants for your garden. Unfortunately, it involved unnerving words like “numbers” and “measurements” and “calculations.”
Of course, the tried and true way of figuring out how many plants are needed is to eyeball the garden, go to the garden center, roll out a couple of Radio Flyers full of plants, take ’em home, put ’em in the ground, and try to return the extra plants … for credit, of course. If you undershoot your mark, head back to the garden center. If you’re doing this via the Intertubes and mail, add a few weeks and a couple of emotional meltdowns to the process.
They’re back, just in time for holiday decorating and gift giving! Terrariums, that is. They’ve recently made a big comeback with a new twist and a few new favorite plants.
If you were gardening in the 70s, you probably planted up an old aquarium, apothecary jar or any clear glass container with an opening large enough to squeeze through a plant. Many of us used long handled tools to strategically place plants and decorative items in containers too small to accommodate our hands. The containers were then covered with some kind of glass lid to increase the humidity.
Are we all met? Good. Have a seat, everybody. Down in front, please.
[Mumble, mumble, rutabaga, watermelon, and other crop names used as background crowd conversation.]
Annuals, perennials, biennials, trees, shrubs, tropicals, weeds, insects, arachnids, worms, gastropods, roly polies, millipedes, centipedes, garden gnomes and fellow citizens of this yard:
As we approach the Autumnal Equinox, I come to you, as your Gardener-in-Chief, to deliver my State of the Garden address. It has been a long year — heck, every year is a long year. In fact, many years seem like they are two or three years long. Do you remember last year? Wow. Now that was brutal. That year seemed to go on for decades. I was ready to put all of you out of your misery by July. By then, I was already thinking about grabbing the rototiller and…
But I digress.
Allow me to say that the state of our garden is…well…it’s pretty okay.
Did I ever mention that in my childhood I was severely traumatized when I happened to discover two snowflakes that were exactly alike? I think it explains a lot of things — perhaps even my obsession with doing irreparable damage to venerable (and often inexplicably dopey) holiday songs, all in the name of horticulture.
Meanwhile, for those of you who are waiting for me to run out of parodies, it’s only fair to warn you that I’ve already written enough to get me through 2034 — when I will be 117 years old. In fact, it’s stated in my will that whoever takes over this column when I’m planted under the poison ivy patch in my backyard must continue rolling out these songs until they’re used up.
The hot new thing in vegetable gardening is grafted plants. Burpee and Ball and other plant breeders have developed grafted tomatoes and eggplants in recent years, and I saw them growing in the trial beds at The Gardens at Ball in West Chicago last summer. The idea is that the vigorous rootstock will make the fruiting part of the plant grow faster and produce more fruit. The idea has been common practice with roses for decades.
Here we are again, folks, recovering from yet another catastrophic (pick one or more): Election. New Year’s Eve celebration …
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