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.
A requirement during my horticulture education was an internship at a public garden. I did mine at Cantigny Park in Winfield. After a very hot, humid summer I was left with no illusions about how many endless hours, the number of people, and how much work it takes to plant and maintain a public garden. This experience was invaluable.
Recently Cantigny’s Project New Leaf has been all the buzz in the gardening community. I recently had the opportunity to tour the grounds with the Director of Horticulture, Scott Witte and Senior Manager of Communications, Jeff Reiter.
Iris flowers are named after a Greek goddess who delivered messages to mortals while traveling on a rainbow. Just one reason they have so many colors.
For vegetable gardeners, straw bale gardening may be the best innovation since sliced bread.
Straw bale gardening essentially turns a bale of straw into a raised bed. It requires no digging or soil preparation. Because you’re not planting in the ground, you don’t have to worry about soil-borne diseases, and weeding is minimal. It doesn’t even matter if your soil is crummy or if the sunniest place in your yard is covered in concrete. You can achieve optimal growing conditions for a vegetable garden in a humble bale of straw.
My favorite plants have to meet a few important criteria. They must survive on their own because I can be a lazy gardener. Insects and diseases must be rare, so there will be no need to spray. I want plants that can grow in the water along the shoreline of my water garden; the hot, dry side yard; as well as indoors. They must have big, showy flowers to please the eyes, fragrance to please the nose, tasty would be nice, and if I could get them to make a noise, I would like that too.
Fall is upon us but there’s no reason to put your garden to bed just yet. That’s because the show goes on with birds, thousands of which are migrating and stopping daily in local gardens for a bite to eat or a drink of water. And the activity doesn’t stop there. Monarch butterflies will be looking for nectar – a rich source of energy during their long commute to Mexico. Bees remain active and there’s an assortment of insects – praying mantis and other “beneficials” – that are present until the first fall frost about mid-October. There’s plenty to observe and enjoy.
In our family, my sister Chris hosts Christmas and I host Easter. Among her many talents, Chris pulls out the stops when it comes to holiday decorating. Even in the dead of winter, her house brims with festive greenery, twinkling lights and potted poinsettias.
Then comes early spring and Easter. How can I compete? The ground is muddy at best or still snow-sodden at worst. No buds have popped yet, and any early bloomers have, more often than not, petrified pitifully in a late freeze. Being a gardener, I consider it a point of pride to find a way to jumpstart the season in time for the spring holidays.
Containers are a great solution since they can be moved to protect against volatile spring weather. But what plants might work well in early spring – I’m talking late March or early April – and where do we get our hands on them?
George and Theresa Rebersky enjoy growing an assortment of colorful annuals, perennials, vegetables, herbs and gigantic pumpkins in their suburban Worth backyard. But along the driveway leading to their detached garage was a triangle of lawn that separated the drive from the sidewalk. It ran 13 feet on two sides and another 6 feet wide along the patio. There was no connection to the rest of the garden, which has a large arbor, raised beds and a spectacular collection of dahlia flowers and hanging baskets. “The triangle was a dead spot,” George says.
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.
The first time I taught an adult photography class, I asked the participants to list what they hoped to gain. A novice photographer said, “I only have one question. Why, when I take a picture, it never looks like what I saw?”
I was speechless for a moment. Then I realized that this is what photographers spend their life trying to accomplish.
The human eye and brain are an incredible team for seeing the world. The eye can change focus on near and far objects so rapidly that we think we see everything in focus at one time, but the camera records only a frozen moment in time and focuses on only one element layer in each image. The rest is out of focus.
When we look at objects in changing light, the brain makes these color shifts seem normal, but the camera records only the color of the light as it affects the film or chip in the back of the camera.
They don’t look alike. Not even close. But kinfolk come in all shapes and sizes. True of people and true of plants.
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In a Chicagoland winter, we may or may not have snow. With snow, any garden can look good. Without it, we must pull out a few …