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.
It helps to go out and look at your garden every day. After a Saturday morning spent hacking out purple violets with the dandelion weeder because 1) there doesn’t appear to be an organic herbicide on the market that deals with violets and 2) I worry about the after-effects of whatever strong chemical a licensed professional might apply, I decided to catch my breath with a leisurely stroll through the front yard. And there I discovered a treasure — a lovely pendulous apricot-colored brugmansia.
January (and February and December…oh, and add November to that list…and you might as well throw in March, just to complete the set) is the cruelest month. My readers don’t get to garden and I don’t get to create answers to gardening questions from whole cloth and lead people into horticultural cul-de-sacs, which gives me endless pleasure during the growing season.
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.
It’s probably been more than four years since a wild shade-loving tulip made its surprising appearance in a shady, grassy bed in my garden. Its color looked like the “before” shot in a commercial for women with faded blond hair. After a close examination on my knees, I determined it was actually a tulip. I know how long ago it was because my knees no longer permit close examinations.
In a few days I will plant my first tomato seed. Planting always makes me happy, whether it’s planting bulbs in the fall, dividing and moving perennials or putting in shrubs. But nothing holds more mystery and promise than a seed. It’s so small. How can it possibly contain the wherewithal to develop into a 5-foot-tall plant? And tomato seeds are big enough to be easy. When it comes to foxglove or ‘Crystal Palace’ lobelia, I never expect the truly teeny seeds to germinate and so always plant far too many and end up discarding many seedlings (these seeds, too, are actually easy). I never learn.
“Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to another season of exciting action! I’m Bud Blast–“ “–And I’m Hort Holler–“ “And it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, to coin a phrase.” “I sure am!” “Uh, yeah. Anyway, we’ve been through what can only be described at a long winter–“ “Hoo-boy, Bud! Long winter!” “–especially in light of the way the last season ended.” “Everything dropped dead, Bud. Door nail dead! Not a good way to end the season, Bud.” “Nope, not at all, Hort. But, as they say, ‘Hope springs eternal’–” “Specially in spring, Bud. It springs in spring.” “Yup, and this year’s team has come a long way since the fall.”
This period of the gardening year used to be called “the bleak midwinter.” That song would long ago have been changed to “In the bleak down time between Super Bowl Sunday and NCAA March Madness,” except that it doesn’t scan particularly well. But I think you know what I’m talking about. Unless you hate sports. In which case, I’m going to unfriend you on Facebook the next time I log on. But I digress.
This is the time of year that we stand at the window contemplating the garden, understanding that what was chaos just a few months ago in October will again be chaos when we get to April. Armed with that knowledge, we long to catch the flu, which would give us an excuse to toss back yet another hot toddy. But I digress.
I was recently interviewing a well-known garden writer about the benefits of an outdoor space in which to contemplate and enjoy your
plants, your sense of aesthetics and nature in general. (Ah. Just writing that sentence lowered my blood pressure by ten points.) Among
the things I learned:
• Plastic flowers have little in common with nature
• Bamboo sticks are not an optimum construction material for a pergola
• An arborvitae fence works only if the plants don’t die
That kind of advice stays with you for awhile, much like a chocolate corn dog washed down with 32 ounces of pink lemonade. …
If it weren’t for the holiday season, we probably would have legislated the month of December out of existence long ago. It’s not exactly a month that makes gardeners salivate–unless you’re a poinsettia freak, which is even more cause for worry.
So while you’re counting days until you can begin killing plants again (indoor varieties notwithstanding), I’ve come up with a few songs you can sing around the artificial fire in your pre-fab greenhouse. I’ve appropriated the music from some holiday songs for two reasons: 1) you already know the melodies, and 2) I don’t have to pay royalties.
MiNoSoRALaS Announces Best Gardening Conference Ever Anywhere
CHICAGO - Today, The Mike Nowak School of Really Awesome Learning and Stuff (MiNoSoRALaS) announced that in anticipation of the 2017 gardening season, it would be presenting its inaugural “Best Gardening Conference Ever Anywhere 2017.” Some people insist on calling it the “first annual” but Mike thinks that’s putting the compost before the wheel barrow. And he should know.
Tulips come from Turkey, but woodland wildflowers come from Chicagoland. Why not have someof both in your springtime garden?
Gardeners are a fickle lot. Either we’re rhapsodizing gooey-eyed about the resplendent, transcendent wonder of whatever ...
The age of exploration isn’t over. The hunt continues for new and better plants continues.
Gardeners are patient people, generally. Think about it. In a world in which the cable news cycle changes every 13 minutes ...
Who says that gardening on a former cornfield is doomed to fail? Certainly not Laverne and Pete Bohlin, whose garden is a …